Weekend Crusading for her sister
Spurred on by the memory of her sibling, Sherie Nicoll is speaking out over violence against women. Leighton Keith reports.
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.
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?’.’’
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.