It’s more than 35 years since a woman from Taree was the victim of domestic violence but she still remembers it like it was yesterday.
“The physical bruises go away but the mental bruises stay,” she said.
“Actually the mental bruises come to mind regularly, but I can handle it.”
The woman agreed to tell her story to the Manning River Times to raise awareness of domestic violence and help others, but due to legal reasons she will not be identified.
The woman met her Spanish ex-husband while working at a boarding school in England.
“The first day he met me he said ‘I’m going to marry you’ and two years later we did.”
It was the mid-1960s and she explained that in the country she grew up, if you weren’t married by the time were were 21 you were “left on the shelf”.
“I thought if I don’t take him I’ll never have anyone. He picked me and no one else is going to love me. I thought ‘us’ was the better choice than nothing.”
She said he had “a lot of jealousy” but initially it didn’t concern her, quite the opposite in fact.
“I thought it was absolutely wonderful all the jealously, I thought it was fabulous.
“I’m a very outgoing person and he liked the quality but he was jealous.”
The couple moved to London with the woman’s best friend and shared a flat with two other Spanish men.
“Wherever I went he kind of followed me. He was extremely possessive.
“One night I was in a cafe speaking to two guys when he came and grabbed me by the coat and dragged me out of the restaurant in front of everyone and called me a few choice names.
“That’s when it started.
“Then he started abusing me mentally and then one night he threatened to choke me.”
A year and half later they became parents, welcoming a daughter.
“I became pregnant and we had no choice but to get married. He kept saying, ‘are you sure it’s mine?’
“He was very accusatory. He hated my family and called my brother a stupid alcoholic and insulted my mother.”
The couple decided to move to Australia and he refused her request to travel back to her home country nearby to say goodbye to her family before they left.
She said things became even more “off balance” in Sydney.
“At a party I got up and was dancing with somebody, and my ex asked me to go to another room, he pushed me down on the floor and tried to strangle me.”
Over their time together she said he made four or five attempts to choke her, held a gun to her head (there was no bullet in it but had something inside that made it rattle), tried to throw her off a balcony and kicked her in the leg so hard the spot he hit is permanent numb.
“My daughter saved my life.
“I had left him at a party because I didn’t want my daughter to experience drunk people.”
He didn’t like that.
He returned home and as the woman heard him open the door to the balcony she went down to her daughter’s room because she thought she would be safer there.
“He pulled me down the corridor (towards the balcony) and my daughter, who was six, ran along with us.
“He was trying to grab me by the hair and she jumped on him to try and get him off me.”
It was then she made the decision that enough was enough and she had to get out.
“I had to go. I didn’t want to put (my daughter) in danger. He was never violent towards her but there was a time he might have turned.”
She said it was so bad she even considered suicide.
After her decision to leave, initially she was still living in the home, sleeping on two cushions on the living room floor while he kept the bed and took other items including the radio and more, which she wasn’t allowed to access.
“I paid for practically everything but he hid it in the garage and I couldn’t get any of it.”
The accusations and insults kept coming.
“I was accused of being a lesbian, that I was standing on Manly wharf selling drugs and was a prostitute and of sleeping with half of the Warringah club.”
Telling other people what had happened was another challenge.
“I had painted the perfect, lovely fantasy. Everyone thought I had the perfect marriage because I hadn’t ever told them the reality of what was going on.
“When people heard I was splitting up with my ex they asked ‘What did you do?’.”
She went to stay with a friend but she remained a target.
“He damaged lots of cars, threw black paint over cars and one day I came home to find he had burned all of my clothes.
“We had an AVO and he disobeyed it four times.
“I don’t know what I did wrong to deserve it. He comes from a lovely family.”
The woman said the man remarried a friend of hers and they had three children.
The woman said that when she left him, she never told her mother-in-law the reason. “They just thought he’d fallen in love with someone else.”
It wasn’t until years later that the couple’s daughter told her why.
The woman’s current marriage is the polar opposite or her previous experience. “That man is mindblowing, he’s just amazing.”
“He understands if I go quiet and he knows not to say anything.”
She met him in a wine bar in Sydney in 1980 through friends. They were both going through separations from their spouses at the time.
She was firm with him from the start that if he raised his hand to her she would be gone.
Sometimes women are afraid to call the police because they may pay for it even more. This one I know.Domestic violence survivor
“I thought there was something wrong with me. This thing has made me very strong and it taught me a big lesson.”
Speaking up is key
The woman said speaking up is part of the fight against domestic violence.
“This is the problem. People won’t speak up.”
She said support levels for victims has improved.
“It was all very well in the 1970s-’80s, there wasn’t the help there is now.”
Her advice for people going through domestic violence or concerned for someone in a situation is to go straight to the police.
“The police were fantastic when I needed them.
“Sometimes women are afraid to call the police because they may pay for it even more. This one I know.”
She said speaking out about her experience is something she has wanted to do for years and while she was fully prepared to have her identity shared, the Times has chosen for legal reasons to keep her anonymous.
She also urges people to stop shielding the perpetrator and to “raise your sons to respect women and be men.
“It all starts from childhood, what they see and what they see their parents do.”
As for her upbringing, she said she never saw her parents fight in front of her.
“My dad was an alcoholic but I never saw him raise his hand to my mother.
“My ex did all those things to me when he was sober.”