Court allows abusive man to continue terrorising his partner

HAD anyone asked me 10 years ago what I thought about women who find themselves in a domestic violence situation, I would have been the first to say they were stupid for staying.

Why didn't they just pack their bags and leave?

Then, in 2009, I found myself at my local police station, being given directions to the domestic violence unit. I was utterly confused.

After all, my partner hadn't hit me.

I was taught if a man hits you, you walk away and never give him the chance to do it again.

But nobody ever told me about the other aspects of domestic violence: the mind games; emotional blackmail; the threats and intimidation; the insidious process that strips you of all self-respect, replaces it with self-doubt, and ultimately traps you.

My support worker, faced with my protests that this couldn't possibly be happening to me, revealed she had counselled many perfectly intelligent, educated women who had suffered domestic violence.

The first thing she did was ask me what I needed.

I had no idea, but fortunately she did. Food and drink were brought in (I hadn't eaten for two days).

My domestic violence education began, and we completed a DVO application.

Reading over my completed forms, I began to see one of the main reasons women don't leave: leaving can be much more dangerous than staying.

My partner was following me everywhere I went and made sure I knew it. I slept at a different address each night for a week.

He even made a 14-hour round trip in an effort to locate me.

The daily barrage of calls and texts went from threats to begging and back again. Threatening me, threatening to hurt anyone who helped me, threatening to take his own life and that of my beloved dog.

After his first breach of the DVO, I was shocked to have a police officer quote as fact the story my partner had been spinning to anyone who would listen: that I had had a mental episode and he was simply concerned for my welfare.

If even the police were buying his lies, what chance did I stand?

Getting legal help was another minefield.

My solicitor assured me he had dealt with domestic violence cases before. He would later admit he hadn't.

I was dumbfounded. Not only by that but also by his compliments about my appearance, his clumsy suggestions that we "talk over dinner" and his frequent references to his newly divorced status.

It sickens me now to think I was being preyed upon, but at the time it was too disturbing to acknowledge - and the least of my problems.

It was only once we were in court that his incompetence became painfully obvious.

It seemed like a forgone conclusion. I was portrayed as a mentally unstable drama queen who had used this poor unsuspecting sap to try to get a permanent visa.

Those who could have testified to my partner's behaviour were too scared.

He, meanwhile, had managed to persuade enough unsuspecting people to swear that he was a perfectly reasonable and harmless chap.

It was argued that I couldn't possibly be scared of him because I had not requested the police accompany me to our house to collect my belongings. And why hadn't I called the police on the occasions he was stalking me?

It seems odd to say, but it was because I was terrified that I didn't call the police.

Inflaming him by involving the police, or anyone else, was unthinkable. What would he do to me once they were gone?

The magistrate removed the DVO and within a week, my partner had found out my address and broken into my house. Stealing my dog was the final thing he could do to hurt me.

The police officers shrugged and said it wasn't worth taking any fingerprints as it was clear who had done it, and since he was likely across the state border by now, it didn't matter. That was the final straw for me and I spent that night sedated in hospital.

Over four years, and especially in those final few months, my partner managed to inflict enough misery and torment to eventually floor me ... all without ever laying a finger on me.

So why did I stay so long?

Shame initially.

No woman wants to admit that their Prince Charming has become a drink- and drug-addled bully behind closed doors - especially one she has travelled halfway around the world to be with.

As my visa sponsor, he joked that he owned me (though I'm not sure how much he was joking), so isolation from my family played a big part. Insults, humiliation, physical intimidation, possessiveness and threats - initially few and far between and excused - were always punctuated by charm, apologies, promises and periods of hope.

I was perhaps too hopeful for too long. I'm glad I eventually had that moment of clarity: the moment when the risk to my physical safety became apparent and overrode all feelings of shame and fear.

The cycle of violence is complicated to explain but I always start with this: Ask yourself, if you went home tonight and your spouse suddenly behaved in a way they hadn't before - with a nasty insult, an intimidating outburst or even a slap - would you pack up and leave, there and then? Of course not.

You would probably excuse their behaviour.

"They must have had an exceptionally bad day," you would say. "It was a one-off."

Could you walk out on the person you love who is apologising profusely and promising it will never happen again? For some people, that's how the cycle begins.

Simply saying "get out" to the victims of domestic violence who don't have the means, the strength or the belief that anyone can protect them is pointless.

We need to be educating our teenagers, boys and girls, as to what constitutes a healthy relationship and what does not. They need to be able to spot the warning signs and know they can do something about it.

Otherwise they may end up like I did: not even realising they need help until the damage has been done.

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