Two nights ago, I was sitting with my daughter watching TV, in the somewhat affluent beachside suburb that we live in. It was 8pm, dark and rain was drizzling down. I was about to ask my daughter to brush her teeth and get ready for bed. The SBS series on domestic violence was starting soon and I was keen to watch it.
Then I heard heavy footsteps thumping down our driveway.
A woman stood at my doorstep, screaming for me to let her in as her partner was after her. I opened my door to the inconsolable woman in her pyjamas and gown. I didn’t know who she was. She was on the phone to the Police screaming at them to come and help her. I grabbed her by the arm, dragged her inside and dead bolted the door.
Her kids had been left behind with him, all four of them. I asked if she thought he would harm them and she said no, he hasn’t hurt them before. So we sat tight and waited for the Police. I looked at the woman sitting next to me and I mean really looked and what I saw was a victim of prolonged domestic violence. I saw the broken fingers, still fresh in their cast, recovering from surgery. I saw the cigarette burns on her hand and wrist and the fresh scar on the top of her lip. The fear etched on her face and the anxiety in her ragged breathing.
I asked her questions. She answered me. “I’m so sick of lying,” she said.
“I have to leave him, don’t I?” she asked. “He’s supposed to love me, not want to kill me. He’s the father of my children,” she cried.
“You deserve to be safe”, I said. “Think of the impact this is having on the children,” I quietly suggested. “I can help you,” I said.
Then her son rang to tell her the Police had arrived. “Don’t let him lie to them,” she cried.
I walked her back to her house. Standing on the verge, in the drizzle, in her gown, with a Police flashlight in her face and neighbours staring, the police started questioning her. She clammed up. I saw it happen. She went from an articulate and clearly spoken woman, clear about what had just unfolded, to appearing confused and scattered.
“Was there an argument?” asked the Police Officer.
“No,” she stated. “Nothing had happened”.
I knew exactly what she meant. Nothing in that moment had happened to set him off.
“Well what happened?” he asked.
“Well nothing really,” she said again.
I interjected. “You told me that he threatened to punch you in the head so your son told him to stop and then he swore at your son. You then asked him not to swear at your son and he came after you.”
“Did he say anything?” asked the officer.
“Well not really,” she said.
I knew that he didn’t have to. The fear was programed into her. She would know what each and every look of his meant.
“She was hysterical when she arrived at my door. She was fearful for her life,” I said. “She thought he was going to kill her,” I calmly stated.
“Do you think he would actually hurt you or do you think everything will be okay now?” the Officer asked.
Inside my head I thought, “Are you kidding me?” and outside my head I said, “Officer he broke her hand just recently as you can see and I am very concerned for her safety”. That got his attention. He looked at the brace on her hand; the finger that had been broken in six places and had to be put back together through surgery.
“Did he do that?” he enquired. “How did he do it?”
“He threw a draw at me 2 weeks ago,” she responded.
“Did you report it to the Police?” he asked.
“No and I don’t want him charged either”, she said.
There it was. I knew it all too well. The defence mechanism that kicks in; to keep him safe. She must not get him in trouble. She had been well trained. The level of control and fear he exerted over her was typical of a coercively controlling male.
I still remember when it happened to me and the Domestic Violence counsellor said to me that I must report the incident to the Police. I wasn’t ready to end the relationship. I wasn’t strong enough yet. In that moment, with the cuts to my lips healing and the bruises fading I thought to myself, “If he’s charged and found guilty, he’ll never forgive me.” Him, forgive me.
I knew this song and dance all too well.
With talk of a 72 hour interim violence order being put in place, I headed back home to my daughter, with a promise to return the next day to check on my neighbour. My daughter had searched the house for weapons and was on standby to attack any man that walked through that door, albeit with a pair of crutches. By now it was 8:30pm. With the house safely locked up, it took until midnight to get her to sleep. She said she couldn’t stop her heart jumping about in her chest and the waves crashing in her tummy. She was frightened the man would come after us for helping his partner. My daughter’s survival instincts had been triggered through witnessing someone else’s crisis unfold.
This opened up a dialogue between my daughter and I about domestic violence. A conversation that I wasn’t ready to have. I had left her father when she was two and a half and she had no memory of living with him. With her permission, I shared a very small snippet of what our life had been like.
“I didn’t know that,” she said. That was the reason I left. I didn’t want her to grow up knowing violence, or for fear to be her ‘normal’.
This morning I returned to my neighbours’ house, to check on her. She didn’t want to come to the door. When she did she was holding back tears. No, she didn’t need any further help. Yes, she was okay. No she didn’t want my number in case of emergency. He would have his 72 hours away and then things would be okay.
Through her tears, we held each other in a tight embrace. I understood.
She wasn’t ready.
I also knew she had taken the first step forward. She had rung the police and she will ring them again. Then maybe, just maybe, after the 6th or 7th call to the police, a few more bruises and a broken bone or two later, she will be ready.
And that is when Domestic Violence will come knocking at my door.