The shocking domestic violence act dismissed by victim’s friend

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·News Reporter
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For Sarah*, the abuse at the hands of her new husband started just 11 months after they said ‘I do’, with the birth of their first child.

While it began with coercive control, over the next 13 years, the domestic violence escalated.

“He would tell me how he wanted to kill me and hold a knife to my throat,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“Or he would tell me that he’d hunt me down and shoot me like a dog.”

But when Sarah finally turned to someone for help, she was silenced.

“I actually had a family friend say to me, ‘oh that’s not much, he wouldn’t do that’.

“But my ex had told me how easy it would be to cut my throat.”

A woman cowers from a man who's fist can be seen
Sarah wants people to learn how to have better conversations with those who may have suffered abuse. Source: Getty Images

That failure to acknowledge what Sarah was going through sent her spiralling.

“In that process I was already discounting it,” the mum of two said.

“I was already thinking, ‘if I take this somewhere else no one will believe me either’, and ‘maybe that's right, maybe it’s not that serious really'.”

It wasn’t until Sarah met with a mental health professional regarding her children that she recognised how serious it was.

“Not knowing what financial abuse was, not knowing what really constitutes as domestic violence, or what I needed to be careful of — I didn’t think it was a risk at that point, until it was pointed out to me,” she said.

“The kids and myself slept in the same room for three years with me near the door, just in case he had one of his explosions of anger.”

“He was very controlling and very demeaning, so we all had a very poor sense of self.”

After 13 years of abuse, Sarah packed her bags and sought a protection order before walking out with her two children.

A woman sits down on the floor with her hands shielding her face while a man's clenched fist can be seen in the foreground
Sarah said trauma can sometimes stop those experiencing domestic violence from being able to label what is happening to them. Source: Getty

'You don't know how to verbalise it'

Tragically, Sarah isn’t alone in being unable to label what was happening to her.

“What happens with domestic violence is that you get to a point where it has happened so much, so often, that you don’t know how to verbalise it, and sometimes you need a hand verbalising that has happened to you,” she said.

“With coercive control you learn not to value yourself, and your self worth has usually been so eroded that it is hard sometimes to stand up.”

Sarah is using this year’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month in May to raise the importance of people having the right tools to manage conversations with survivors and how to properly support them.

“One of the biggest issues, especially in regional Australia with close communities, is that family and friends sometimes don’t recognise what is happening to someone else as domestic violence,” the mum said.

“They don’t understand financial, emotional or spiritual abuse, they don’t understand coercive control, and they don’t understand things like gaslighting.”

A woman sits with her hands over her face
Sarah said she wants to spread the word around how family and friends can support survivors. Source: Getty

Sarah says conversation tools need to be around listening and believing, and the services that are available, such as Lifeline and 1800RESPECT.

“If someone has mentioned something about a domestic violence event, the chances are that it has taken them an incredible gumption to get to that point,” she said.

“So we need to start building that skill set because people are reluctant to say something to family and friends because they don’t know how they are going to respond, and that very first response is so critical.”

“People don’t need to be a psychologist, they just need to be prepared to listen and say, ‘I hear you, I understand what you are saying’, not ‘well I can’t believe that would happen’."

Ongoing support for survivors in need

The importance of support for survivors is well recognised by Next Steps Australia, a charity that supplies basic bedding items to families fleeing domestic violence and seeking alternative accommodation.

Bernadette Blair, Chair of Next Steps Australia, says services have been more important than ever over the course of the Covid pandemic with more women seeking support.

“During lockdown, Google reported a 75 percent increase in internet searches relating to domestic violence, because there were so many women and children fleeing due to close proximity with the husbands, often out of work,” she said.

“When people come into a refuge, they sometimes only have the clothes they’re standing in and a few other belongings in a plastic bag, so being able to take something so basic away with them makes a big difference.”

Police response to domestic violence to be probed

Just weeks after a historic ruling announced that coercive control will be a criminal offence in Queensland, a royal commission has been declared to look into police responses to domestic and family violence in the state.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk ordered the Commission of Inquiry in response to the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce recommendations.

The four-month $3 million inquiry will explore cultural issues in order to improve the police response to women trapped in abusive and controlling relationships.

*Name has been changed to protect identities

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au

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