I met Valerie in an online group for mums. We didn’t meet when we had our babies but shortly thereafter and over the years she has shared tidbits of what she went through in her first marriage and now she has agreed to share her story.
I am astounded at the courage she has shown to go through that and come out the other side the woman she is today. She is sharing her story in the hopes that it will be able to reach someone who is in the same situation and help them to find the courage to get out. She is certainly not what you would think of as a typical victim which just goes to show that there is no typical in family violence. It could be happening to anyone. Chances are it’s happening to someone you know right now and you wouldn’t have the faintest idea. Statistics show that 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime. That is a very scary statistic.
We have included websites and helplines for Australian and NZ residents at the bottom of this post.
*Name was changed to protect privacy.
There was something about him.
Something that enticed me to leave my life and my friends; and move 800km away to be nearer to him.
He was adamant we didn’t live together before we were married. He said he wanted to do everything right so I got an apartment. Mouldy and damp, but in a great location, right on the corner of the 2 best streets in Melbourne. Life was good. I was working in gyms, teaching classes and meeting great people.
One night I got a call to fill in a class at 6am. The class was at a gym 2 minutes walk from his apartment, as opposed to mine some 2 tram rides away. I asked if I could stay. He said that would be fine.
That night he lost his temper. I can’t even remember why but I remember he threw a bag of wet gym clothes at me. It was heavy. It hit the wall. Not much, I know but enough to scare me. He was sorry of course … it was his guilt at letting me stay before we were married. There was only one thing to do. We had to get married.
OMG right?? I was excited. I called my friends back home. Their reaction was predictable: “You hardly know him!” “Are you serious?” His response was equally as predictable: “I don’t want you talking to them anymore”.
We moved back to his home state. I was accepted to finish my law degree and my parents had since moved there but I didn’t have the support of my friends and was too ashamed to tell my family that their strong willed smart kid was being bullied and hurt by someone she was supposed to marry.
There were other warning signs of course. It started off as control. Snide comments about my clothes not being appropriate. I wasn’t “allowed” to do a lot. I made friends at the gym where I worked and one of the girls invited me out to a club around the corner from my apartment. I wasn’t “allowed” to go. He framed it as ‘what would people think of him if his girlfriend was seen at a club with “those girls” ‘. I didn’t go. I was asked to fill in shifts at a pub because I had done it before. I wasn’t allowed to work in such an establishment. If I disagreed or stuck up for myself at all; he would yell, scream and throw things. I had very few friends. They were ‘our’ friends. It was easier to just do what I was told.
Leading up to the wedding, I knew it wasn’t right. He gave me instructions as to what I was to choose for my dress. No pink. Simple. He didn’t want me to look like a fat marshmallow. He told me if I was 1 minute late, he would walk (I’m notoriously late. Even now). If he smelt a whiff of alcohol on my breath, he would walk (so much for my champagne breakfast).
That sort of control isn’t normal.
I knew that; but I felt trapped. Like I had come too far and couldn’t back out. I know now that was because he destroyed my self esteem. He actually said that I would never find a man that treated me better because it was me, not him. Never him. (I have since found out he did this to both his ex girlfriends before me and also publicly humiliated a girl after me when they broke up; so I’m guessing nothing has changed).
It escalated when I started to question this control. I’m smart and independent. I worked to support myself while I went through Uni. I completed Law and practised as a lawyer. Not a wallflower by any stretch.
He didn’t like that. He threw things at me, at walls, and then started hurting me. It was slow, but it was like slow motion. I didn’t feel like there was any way out.
We were married on 27 November 2004. Even on the actual day there were reasons why I should have run. But I didn’t.
He first made the transition from throwing things at me to hitting me when I was 7 months pregnant. I tried to leave. I got in my car. He kept ringing me continuously until I eventually picked up. He asked where I was going. I said my mum’s (some 2.5 hours away). He said he would call my parents and tell them what I was ‘really like’ unless I came back. I didn’t know what this meant. I was scared. I went back.
On 15 January 2006 our daughter was born. He wasn’t there when my waters broke. In fact it took him close to 6 hours to get to hospital but that in itself is another story.
After my daughter was born, the violence stopped but the emotional bullying did not. But it was OK. He was tired. It would get better.
We built a house. When we moved in, I was sure this was it. That this was the start of our life together. We went from staying with his parents to being on our own.
Our new life.
Guess what? It wasn’t better. It got worse. The violence started again. I was working as a lawyer in family violence and living it. I would find myself cradling my toddler under a bridge at 3am because we had been kicked out of the house again. But who could I tell? He was a charmer… a good catch… and I was a lawyer… this wasn’t the profile…
With each incident it got worse. And worse. Punching the steering wheel while I was driving, pulling the handbrake when I was going 100km/hr; nearly breaking my finger. By this time our daughter was 20 months. She witnessed it. She was living it. At less than 2 years old.
I had to leave. But how?
I was living on an island state hundreds of kilometres from my friends. My parents were living in the UK. Predictably, he controlled my money. I had no access to the joint account but I received $50 a week to fuel my coffee habit.
So I started saving that $50 a week. I scrimped on groceries and saved those few dollars too. I stopped buying clothes for our daughter, syphoning the few dollars here and there into a new bank account I opened in my name. I told 1 person. My best friend in the town where I was living. Together we hatched a plan that we would save what we could and run (she was in a similar situation to me).
But there was one problem. I couldn’t leave the state without a court order allowing me to do so.
I knew this, and also knew that as a lawyer I would be made an example of and forced to return if I ran. So, I did what I never thought I would be brave enough to do. I confided in my boss (who had seen my bruises) and another friend who had her own family law practice. We drafted orders to allow me to leave and presented them to him with an explanation that if he didn’t let me leave, we would press charges. He let us go. Just like that. I had $550 to my name when I got on that boat on 23 February 2008 to start my new life. Luckily for me I was coming home to friends. To people who helped me get back on my feet. I survived. My baby survived.
People have asked me where I think I would be if I stayed. Honestly, I would be dead. He would have killed me. I truly believe that.
No matter how bad things are; you can always escape. I’m not saying it will be easy. It will be the hardest thing you ever do. But it will be worth it.
Are you looking for a way out? If you are in Australia you can find information at White Ribbon Association (Ph. 1800-737-732). In New Zealand you can contact Shine (Ph. 0508-744-633) or Women’s Refuge for further information and advice.