This Friday is V-Day – One Billion Rising – a call to women and those who love them to walk out, dance, and rise up to demand an end to violence against women.
There are seven billion people on the planet. Half of them are women. One-third of them are raped or beaten. This is Anne’s story. She is just 41 but has experienced and survived numerous incidents of life-threatening violence.
Her first experience was in 2002 when she returned to the home she had once shared with her estranged husband to collect some personal belongings.
‘He had a friend called Dan, who was a returned serviceman from the Somalian disarmament. Unbeknown to me, the night before I arrived the mother of one of Dan’s children had turned up with a child in the back seat. Although she’d had an AVO against him she came to the house and he lost it and smashed the windscreen onto the baby. I arrived that following day and that morning the police knocked on the door.
‘My ex-husband was in bed and Dan said, “I have a hostage here,” and he took me hostage. He gaffer-taped a 12-inch blade into the palm of my hands pointing at my throat and then gaffer-taped my arm so I was holding the knife against my own throat. He then taped a tomahawk to his left hand and he had a 9mm Glock in the other hand. He told the police that he wouldn’t answer the door and that he had a hostage. It went on for six hours. I was dragged out on many occasions in front of the police. I wasn’t so scared of his hurting me – at the time I was more worried that they would shoot him and get me by accident.’
Anne was rescued by Police Special Operations six hours later and Dan was arrested and charged, later going on to serve a four-year prison sentence.
Understandably, Anne was in severe shock. In fact this was when she first developed PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Anne came from a happy and nurturing family environment and this was her first experience of violence.
‘I did a lot of therapy. It was a random incident. I wasn’t in a relationship with this person and they didn’t actually want to hurt me; they just didn’t want to comply with the police. I did, however, get very affected, and later, when he was in jail and I found out that he had been murdered, I developed PTSD. I knew he was having a psychotic moment and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
Feeling vulnerable and still suffering from extreme levels of anxiety, Anne moved in with her parents and remained there from 2003 till 2007.
In 2007 Anne decided that it was time to get on with her life and relocated to NSW, where she took up a job working in a thoroughbred stud.
‘I met a man called Steve and very quickly things progressed. My self-esteem was very low at the time; the pursuit stage was full of promises and he was very keen for me to move in. The cycle of violence began shortly after.’
Anne believes that she knew that Steve was a violent man from the beginning, yet her yearning to be loved and to love convinced her to stay. Like many women living with violent and troubled men, Anne believed that her love would change him.
‘He had six children to six different women and he didn’t see any of them. He had a history of violence – in fact he was on charges when we got together, but he got off.’
His violence, Anne remarked in retrospect, was seasonal.
‘The first violent incident was at Easter. I wanted to visit my mother and father and they were 1,000 kilometres away. He was adamant that I shouldn’t go. I wanted to go and I noticed he was getting agitated so I took my dog and went for a walk. I came back three hours later, and all of a sudden he accused me of being out having sex with people. He kicked me in the face and put my tooth through my lip and winded me, then he kicked me in the stomach. I got up and he fell and hurt himself and of course this made him angrier, and he pulled my skirt off and all I had was on my t-shirt and underpants; I ran to a neighbour and frantically knocked. The police came; they couldn’t get anything out of me. It was the first time I had been assaulted in domestic violence.’
Anne returned to the relationship.
‘I don’t know how I was feeling. I think I had switched off my emotions. I thought, “I can fix this. I can stop him.”’
Although her personal life was in chaos, Anne still seemed to be moving ahead with her own business ventures. She established a management company for shearing contractors, had 35 employees, 250,000 sheep on her run, as well as a small farm to manage.
The next incidence of violence happened close to Christmas.
‘I got into a conversation with Steve about his six kids and that he didn’t see them. I said, “they are your blood – how can you have such detachment from them?”
‘I was standing in front of the fireplace and I must have hit a button because he punched me in the left side of my head, which sent the right side of my head into the mantelpiece and fractured my eye socket. I fell onto a concrete step, and then he stomped on me four times. I put my hands on my head; he stomped on my shoulder and my ribcage. I got up onto my feet and he said, “get into the fucking bathroom and wash your face now.”
‘I said, “its okay, it doesn’t matter, we can fix this,” and he said, “you won’t go anywhere; you will stay here.”
‘I tried to let him know I was okay. As I was washing myself off in the bathroom, he came back out again and he said, “where do you think you are fucking going?”
‘I could feel something had happened to me. He’d ruptured my spleen, broken two of my ribs and fractured my eye socket. I sat at the back door reassuring him.’
Anne managed to escape and run to the neighbours and was airlifted to hospital.
Fourteen days later he came to pick Anne up.
‘They asked if this was the fellow who had assaulted me and I said No. I went home and the next day I saw in his eyes he was angry; I was expecting him to be remorseful. I rang friend and said, “come and get me now”.’
Very often women who are the victims of domestic violence will seek support and remorse from their perpetrator. It is part of the cycle of violence.
Watch Mandy’s recent Soapbox piece about domestic violence.
‘They don’t want to accept kindness,’ says Anne. ‘They think, “you made me do this, it was your actions, your words that made me lash out”. In the end you feel the shame and you start to blame yourself.’
With business responsibilities and animals to care for Anne chose to stay in the area and relocated to a nearby caravan park. She recalled the police as being very supportive but believed the system failed to protect her on a number of occasions.
‘After the major assault the local sergeant used to pull me up every time he saw me and said, “Anne you can still have him charged for that assault; next time you may not come out alive”. Then there was a new police officer, Tara, and she had attended a DV situation where the wife and daughter had been murdered; she was passionate about DV and she gave me enormous support.
‘I moved back in with Steve. I refused to lose everything I had worked so hard for. I thought, “you can’t break me any more, the worst you can do is kill me”.’
For a woman who had managed to leave and had survived horrendous violence, this is puzzling behaviour for those who have not been victims of domestic violence.
‘I loved him. And there were good times. I also had hope. I found forgiveness for him. And I had belief. I believed I could change the man who he was. And of course he made light of the abuse; perpetrators of DV are usually master manipulators. I also became an excessive drinker and managed to switch off my emotions. I blamed myself. I felt a lot of hopelessness.
‘During the third event he had me for 16 hours and he told me he was going to prostitute me out; he made me move all my things into the front bedroom. He said, “I have clients coming around”. I could have walked out the front door but I chose not to. I said, “I am not walking out; you need to go”. He came in and kicked me in the guts; he dragged me on the floorboards; my face was quite damaged.
‘At about 11pm he said, “get in the kitchen, cunt, and cook me dinner”.
‘I was in the kitchen facing the kitchen bench and he was behind me. I picked up the knife and I turned around and said, “if you come near me again I will be forced to use this knife on you”. I didn’t attack him; I was very calm. He picked up the phone and ran out the door and rang the police.
‘Of course when the police arrived it was Steve that they arrested, even though he had ironically rung for police help, perceiving himself as the victim.
‘This time I had had enough and he was charged. They took out a 12-month AVO – the police actually charged him. When it went to court it got extended two years. When it came to my going to court, when I saw him I fell to pieces. When I was asked by the magistrate how I sustained my injuries, I said, “I don’t know”. I’d made eye contact with him and I was terrified.’
The AVO did not stop him from harassing Anne.
‘Two days later he came around to the house. I was on the Domestic Violence hotline and they kept me on the phone and they rang the police. They arrived after he left and the police found me unconscious on the floor.
‘He went to jail. There was a $1,000 bond and his friend paid it, and then he came around to the house again. This time I was on my mobile, he put his knee on my throat. I knew this was the moment I could die. I did everything I could to get him off me and in doing so I got my hand split open, and I was badly bruised around my neck. I got away from him and rang the police and they came around. I said, “this is it, sergeant”. He was arrested stayed in jail for just nine months.’
He is now out of jail and back in a relationship with a previous partner.
Although Anne has been out of the relationship with him since 2011 she maintains ‘the fear is still there. I thought I got past it. I thought moving 1,000 kilometres away and his being in jail would be enough. I found myself very anxious and I was unable to communicate with men and women and was having flashbacks and nightmares.’
Anne continues to live with re-emerging bouts of PTSD and high levels of anxiety – although Anne has worked hard to reclaim her life and her sense of personal safety.
‘I have a part-time job now. I work closely with Michelle and Neroli from the Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre, and what gets me through is that I had a wonderful childhood and upbringing and a wonderful education; as shit as things have been, things are good now and I feel safe.’
On reflection Anne wonders why more people didn’t intervene in the situation. Why friends, or colleagues, or why the nurses at the local hospital didn’t reach out to her when she was at such risk. She is also curious as to why he received such a short sentence and how it could happen that she should receive letters from him while he was in jail.
‘If it was an assault on the street and we were strangers you would go to jail for a very long time. In a non-domestic situation those offences carry a high sentence. In a domestic situation it’s all wrong.
‘Domestic violence is not simplistic. It’s a complex web. It’s not random. There is love involved. It is about power and control. And it’s not just about physical or sexual violence; it’s about financial abuse, psychological and emotional abuse. Domestic violence is Australia’s dirty secret.’
Anne is currently heavily involved with White Ribbon Day, speaking in schools and in public about the need for behavioural change.
This extraordinary story is actually very ordinary. It happens to lots of women, many of whom either don’t leave, or who die.
According to the statistics, 1.8 women die in domestic violence every week. What is extraordinary is that this a woman who has found the courage to tell her story, hoping to instigate a dialogue so we can work towards creating a society that no longer tolerates domestic violence against women and children.
Women and men who love women are invited to attend A Billion Rising, at Byron’s Main Beach on Friday, at 7am for a 7.30am start.
* Owing to the sensitive nature of this story, the names have been changed.