Angela Cox: 'Domestic violence can happen to anyone - even our biggest stars'

Angela Cox

What does a victim of domestic violence look like? We’ve seen the ads and we know the statistics.

White Ribbon Australia says 1 in 3 Australian women have experienced sexual and/or physical abuse at the hands of someone they know. And in any given year, roughly one woman is killed every week by a partner or former partner.

But who are these women?

Are they insecure? Afraid to speak up for themselves? Scared to take control of their lives?

No. Or at least, not in the way you may think.

It turns out they can be just like Kerri-Anne Kennerley – the most resilient woman on Australian television.

The revelation that the “Queen of TV” could find herself a “battered wife” won’t surprise those who’ve been caught in the web of domestic violence. And it might not surprise anyone who’s ever tried to help a loved one break the cycle.

But Kerri-Anne’s brave admission will shock many.

If you’ve watched daytime television at some stage over the past 5 decades, you know Kerri-Anne Kennerley.

She grew up on our screens. And later, younger generations grew up watching her.

She’s a larger-than-life personality whose story we thought we knew inside out.

Kerri-Anne’s love of television started before her family even owned a TV set.

Growing up in the sleepy Brisbane suburb of Sandgate – the four kids, dressed in their PJs - would walk to a nearby store to watch the television sets blaring in the window display.

Bubbly and full of confidence, with a strong work ethic – Kerri Anne hustled her way into her first TV job when she was just 13.

She was as pretty as they come, but had no time for boyfriends.

She was feisty and focused.

Not just driven….she was hell-bent on making her dreams a reality.

Which is why her spiral into a secret hell at the hands of an abusive husband will stagger many.

I remember thinking while I was interviewing Kerri-Anne, that if I closed my eyes, if I couldn’t see the dazzling smile, the blonde hair, those sky blue eyes, and sequinned top – it could be any victim’s story.

As Kerri-Anne herself explains, it was a textbook case.

She fell in love with a man named Jimmy Miller who was charming – until he wasn’t.

His drug addiction lead to aggression. Aggression lead to violence.

Then came the heartfelt apologies and promises that it would never happen again.

As is so often the case, financial control and forced isolation became a feature of Kerri-Anne’s life. Jimmy handled the money and restricted her contact with the outside world. He abused her both physically and emotionally.

Kerri-Anne feared she could end up a statistic. But Jimmy Miller’s violence finally drove her to the edge.

Kerri-Anne decided she wasn’t going to be a victim…she was going to be a survivor.

She grabbed his loaded .22 rifle, threatening to shoot if he took another step towards her.

She didn’t have to pull the trigger.

Jimmy had enough sense to walk away.

But Kerri Anne says she would have.

She told me before that night the closest she’d come to holding a gun was firing a pretend rifle in a side show alley game.

“You get pushed so far, when you are literally hanging off on the edge. If I, at that young age, could do that, anybody could. Not a good place to be.”

In the wake of yet another tragic mass shooting in the US, it is interesting to hear Kerri-Anne’s thoughts on gun control.

After that night in New York decades ago, she is a fierce supporter of strict gun laws.

“Gun laws are an absolute must…there should be nothing in the house that people can access like that. It’s just wrong.”

So, after all these years, with that skeleton buried deep in the closet, why is Kerri-Anne speaking now about her first husband, and the years of abuse she suffered?

She says, her job was always to ask the questions, not to share her story.

“It wasn't relevant at the time. It was never relevant. I talk to other people about their stories and their lives and their successes and their hardships. It was not about me. I didn't do publicity for publicity’s sake. A lot of people would say, "Oh Kerri goes to the opening of an envelope or just dresses up because she can" and I do. But, that said, I found no need to talk deeply and personally about myself because it wasn't about me.

“I did publicity and I can look back at everything I did in the last 30 years or 40 years and tell you why I did it. It was for the show I was doing and the people I was working for to make it a better and more popular show.”

Over the years, she has spoken about her private pain but only rarely – years after losing a baby, her battle with breast cancer, and most recently, the heartbreak of almost losing John, and the very difficult road back to their new normal.

Some critics have accused Kerri-Anne of just chasing the limelight to resurrect her career.

Kerri-Anne doesn’t worry so much now about what her detractors say.

“The only redeeming factor of getting older is you care less about what people say and think,” she told me. “They can think and say whatever they like. All I know is that I am enjoying my life with John and I meet so many fabulous people, whether it be in a bank queue or in a taxi or on a plane. I meet people who seem to have appreciated some of the things I have done in my television career and that is really, really nice. The rest of them, you know that is a wonderful thing about age, you actually get over those very easily.”

Personally, I applaud Kerri-Anne for speaking publicly about being a victim of domestic violence.

One of the most dangerous by-products of abuse in the home is the sense of isolation and shame.

Shame that it happened to you.

Shame that you listened to his apologies.

Shame that you want to believe him.

Shame that you still love the person who hurts you.

Shame that you take him back.

Shame that you haven’t left.

An early photograph of Kerri-Anne and John Kennerley.

It’s one of the great tricks of the abuser to make the victim feel responsible for their own pain.

“How could I be this stupid?”

“If I was different, he wouldn’t treat me like this.”

“There must be something wrong with me.”

“Successful, beautiful, smart, talented women don’t get stuck in this sort of situation.”

But the truth is, they do.

Kerri-Anne has raised her hand and said, “It happened to me.”

Because it can happen to anyone – even one of our biggest stars.