Cru­sad­ing for her sis­ter

Taranaki Daily News - - Weekend -

When Sherie Ni­coll’s sis­ter killed her­self in her garage after years of abuse at the hands of a vi­o­lent part­ner the pain and suf­fer­ing con­tin­ued for her fam­ily.

The mother-of-two’s death on Septem­ber 11, 2011, came less than a year after Ni­coll first be­came aware her sis­ter had been trapped in a vi­cious and pro­longed cy­cle of vi­o­lence from the man she be­lieved she loved.

‘‘When some­body is in a vi­o­lent re­la­tion­ship and peo­ple look from the out­side and say look what is hap­pen­ing to her. It’s not ac­tu­ally just hap­pen­ing to her. It’s hap­pen­ing to so many peo­ple that are con­nected to her,’’ Ni­coll says.

‘‘This man has not only hurt her life, he’s hurt the chil­dren, he’s hurt mine, he’s hurt my mum, he’s hurt our brother, he’s hurt our whole fam­ily.’’

Even when her sis­ter died, her abuser would not let her go. While her body lay in her mother’s house, he fre­quently drove slowly past the house and even at­tempted to gate-crash her funeral with a group of about 30 of his fam­ily and friends.

Ni­coll was ex­pect­ing just such a in­ci­dent and had alerted the po­lice in an at­tempt to make sure he didn’t get to ruin the fam­ily’s last mo­ments with her sis­ter.

‘‘An almighty fight broke out in the church be­tween the fam­i­lies. So we had el­derly peo­ple and chil­dren stand­ing around the cof­fin scream­ing.

‘‘They (po­lice) ended up seg­re­gat­ing his fam­ily out on the road while we had her funeral in­side. Again it was just his need for con­trol. He wanted to con­trol that very last mo­ment of hers.’’

Fol­low­ing the death of her sis­ter Ni­coll took cus­tody of her chil­dren, a 6-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy. Spurred on by her mem­ory and a sense of guilt for not be­ing there when her sis­ter needed her, she has be­gan a cru­sade to elim­i­nate vi­o­lence against women.

‘‘It feels re­ally good. It feels like she is with me help­ing me to get her mes­sage to other peo­ple,’’ Ni­coll says.

‘‘In a way I feel that she is push­ing me in this di­rec­tion.’’

It was late 2010 when the hellish life of Ni­coll’s sis­ter was re­vealed while she was tak­ing refuge at her mother’s house.

‘‘He broke into my mum’s house where she was stay­ing, grabbed her out of bed, she was in a dou­ble bed with the kids, who then started scream­ing be­cause he had a ham­mer in his hand.

‘‘He beat her, not with the ham­mer, but mum was wo­ken up to hear­ing the kids scream­ing.’’

Her sis­ter was not alone in keep­ing silent about the abuse. Three-quar­ters of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is never re­ported to po­lice.

The mis-matched cou­ple, she was slightly built and sub­mis­sive while he was a big, burly, wom­an­is­ing rugby league player with a record for abus­ing his girl­friends, had been in an on-again, off-again re­la­tion­ship for seven years.

The sadis­tic as­sault was the last straw and Ni­coll moved her sis­ter into her home in Waitara hop­ing to break the cy­cle.

How­ever, it wasn’t long un­til she caught her sis­ter fol­low­ing her abuser on so­cial me­dia and things took a deadly turn.

‘‘I asked her what she thought she was do­ing and she said ‘I love him and I miss him’.

‘‘I slammed the lid of the com­puter down and I said ‘how can you love some­one who has done this to you and to your kids?’ She just said ‘I don’t know but I’ve got to go back’.’’

De­spite Ni­coll’s protests her sis­ter moved back to Palmer­ston North after a few months and got a flat for her and her chil­dren.

‘‘The court hear­ing was com­ing up and then he came back into her life again and it just turned to shit. He started feed­ing her up on drugs this time.

‘‘She would have to go into the toi­let and talk to me on the phone. Like he was so con­trol­ling she couldn’t do any­thing with­out him know­ing where she was and what she was do­ing.’’

She had con­cerns for her sis­ter’s safety but was un­aware how she could help.

‘‘She swore to me she was OK. I guess I also didn’t know what to do, be­cause I had her up here be­fore and she still couldn’t break away from him.’’

Mere months later her sis­ter was dis­cov­ered dead in the garage of her flat.

❚ Phone the po­lice on 111 or ask neigh­bours of friends to ring for you

❚ Run out­side and head for where there are other peo­ple

❚ Scream for help so that your neigh­bours can hear you

❚ Take the chil­dren with you

❚ Don’t stop to get any­thing else

❚ If you are be­ing abused, re­mem­ber it’s not your fault. Vi­o­lence is never OK

She says at the time of her sis­ter’s death her part­ner had 99 con­vic­tions and had been jailed three times for of­fences in­clud­ing drugs, bur­glary and as­sault.

A stack of af­fi­davits showed the events lead­ing up to her sis­ter’s death mir­rored the same vi­cious cy­cle of abuse from the pre­vi­ous years.

‘‘It was like an in­stant re­play – I will beat you, I will go down to the po­lice sta­tion and lay charges against you for beat­ing me, I’m go­ing to bug­ger off for a while.

‘‘He comes back just be­fore the court cases and woos her again, says it won’t hap­pen again, she goes ‘OK, I’ll drop the charges’, they stay to­gether for a few months and it starts up again.’’

Ni­coll says it felt ‘‘gut wrench­ing’’ to fi­nally re­alise the hell he had put her sis­ter through and it made her wish she had done things dif­fer­ently.

‘‘I felt so ashamed but I didn’t know. I felt gut­ted, ashamed that I hadn’t helped her more.

‘‘Ab­so­lutely I would have, I would have made her stay here, I would have got the po­lice in­volved ear­lier and I wouldn’t have taken no for an an­swer.

‘‘I think part of her didn’t tell me ev­ery­thing be­cause she felt it was her bur­den and she didn’t want to share it.

‘‘So she in a way was prob­a­bly pro­tect­ing me.’’

Ni­coll en­cour­aged oth­ers who found them­selves in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions to seek as­sis­tance.

While there’s a fo­cus on get­ting the mes­sage through to men that vi­o­lence to­wards women was never ac­cept­able, Ni­coll also wanted women to take mat­ters into their own hands.

‘‘I would also like to en­cour­age the women to be strong enough to say ‘I have had enough’ and make that stand.

‘‘There’s peo­ple out who can help you, can make you strong enough, es­pe­cially if you don’t feel strong enough by your­self.’’

Women’s Refuge New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Ang Jury says there are many rea­sons why women may be un­will­ing or un­able to leave part­ners who are abus­ing them.

‘‘Re­li­gion, so­cial net­works, a sense of duty, or dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing that what is hap­pen­ing is ac­tu­ally abuse can also all act as de­ter­rents to leav­ing,’’ Jury says.

‘‘Many vic­tims also face a very real fear that they won’t be be­lieved or, if they are, that poorly thought through at­tempts to as­sist them cre­ate even greater risk to their and their chil­dren’s safety.’’

She says the shame and stigma that con­tin­ued to cling to be­ing a vic­tim of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence was an­other pow­er­ful bar­rier, as was vic­tim blam­ing.

‘‘This is best il­lus­trated by the of­ten re­peated ques­tion ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ which im­plic­itly places re­spon­si­bil­ity for safety on the vic­tim... rather than the ar­guably more rel­e­vant ques­tion to ask would be ‘why doesn’t he stop us­ing vi­o­lence?’.’’

❚ Women’s Refuge: Free na­tional cri­sis­line op­er­ates 24/7 – 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733

843 www.wom­en­srefuge.org.nz

❚ Shine, free na­tional helpline 9am- 11pm every day – 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz

❚ It’s Not OK: In­for­ma­tion line 0800 456

450 www.arey­ouok.org.nz

❚ Shakti: Pro­vid­ing spe­cial­ist cul­tural ser­vices for African, Asian and Mid­dle East­ern women and their chil­dren. Cri­sis­line 24/7 0800 742 584

❚ Min­istry of Jus­tice: www.jus­tice.govt.nz/ fam­ily-jus­tice/do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence

❚ Na­tional Net­work of Stop­ping Vi­o­lence: www.nnsvs.org.nz

❚ White Rib­bon: Aim­ing to elim­i­nate men’s vi­o­lence to­wards women, fo­cus­ing this year on sex­ual vi­o­lence and the is­sue of con­sent. www.whi­terib­bon.org.nz

SI­MON O’CON­NOR/STUFF

Sherie Ni­coll’s sis­ter com­mit­ted sui­cide after years of be­ing in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship. Ni­coll hopes shar­ing her story will help oth­ers seek help be­fore they reach their break­ing point.

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