Rachael Scharrer founder of online resource, DivorceAnswered.com.au, shares her experience and advice for leaving a relationship involving domestic violence in the lead up to White Ribbon Day.
My marriage wasn’t perfect. In fact, no marriage is absolutely perfect. While we all want to portray a great relationship, the truth is that “you don’t know what happens behind closed doors”. My marriage was littered with elements that I wasn’t comfortable with. The signs were there quite early on and I consciously chose to ignore or excuse them.
Once I became pregnant, my husband’s controlling behaviours exploded. Our relationship quickly became defined by his incessant calling. I couldn’t make any arrangements or plans without his approval and if I wasn’t where he wanted me to be and when he expected me there, his aggression escalated. With his increasing verbal and physical anger, I tried to change myself and the way that I approached him in the hope to diffuse situations. I did my best to conceal the reality I faced from friends and family.
I was fortunate to live near my family and felt that I had a Plan B in anticipation for when the relationship finally ended. With a growing family, we moved homes to enjoy the benefit of a small backyard. I had not realised that my Plan B wasn’t an option anymore. I felt exposed in unfamiliar surroundings.
After driving away all of my male platonic friends, he started to create wedges between family, friends and myself. He even suggested relocating to an isolated fishing village and I seriously considered it to save my marriage.
The last time that he broke up with me, I thought about the children. They were both displaying behaviours that were not age appropriate. I had a 3-year-old who was acting out because he never got time with me and a toddler who displayed anger issues beyond her years. I took a moment to reflect on the family as a whole and I realised that it wasn’t a healthy relationship and it hadn’t been for a long time. This was the tipping point and I wasn’t going back to that relationship again.
Sometime after the relationship ended, domestic violence discussions became more prevalent in the media and I looked it up. Domestic violence comes in many forms: emotional, physical, mental, verbal, sexual and financial. I was shocked to learn that I was being groomed for far more severe forms domestic violence than I had already experienced. Isolation, control and anger were only a few elements of domestic violence that I had encountered and shared above. I was also subjected to verbal, physical, financial and emotional abuse. I was shocked to learn that threatening suicide or threatening to kill another person, stalking and intimidation are also forms of domestic violence. If I knew then what I now know today, I would have made attempts to leave the relationship far earlier. Hindsight is 20:20 vision.
Social media challenges our sense of self and the societal norms. Many people only share their great, wonderful and amazing moments and achievements. It sometimes feels like we have to ‘put on a face’, create a façade for our friends and make out that everything is more wonderful than it truly is. It is only when we, as a community, start to openly discuss the issues and challenges that we face on a daily basis that we are better able to support one another and collectively make a change. Neighbours, friends and family who are knowingly aware of any individual struggling with domestic violence often don’t want to get involved. They chose not to support, act and defend the victim and are inadvertently supporting the abuser which makes the victim’s struggle to leave and change the relationship much harder.
I became friendly with a woman whose story is too familiar for so many other people. She wasn’t willing to tolerate certain social behaviours in the marriage anymore which created friction and violence. When things got really bad, she retreated to a family residence for a night or two of solace. Despite knowing what she was experiencing, the family remained mute and sent her back to the violent relationship. It wasn’t until she turned to new friends that she broke free from the reoccurring cycle of domestic violence and finally summoned the strength to make a lasting change.
As a human being, if you see something that isn’t right, then it probably isn’t – you are morally obliged to help.
The more people that I meet, the more that I am encountering men who are speaking up about the domestic violence they have experienced by their wives or female partners – women who are hitting, screaming, controlling and/or being deceptive. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate by gender, one in three victims of domestic violence are men .
The effects that domestic violence has on individuals varies as much as the forms the domestic violence comes in does. You or someone you know may be experiencing domestic violence from their partner, children or parents. It is alarming to know that domestic violence is an ongoing issue around the country. In fact, one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence and one in four Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner .
There are ways you can find and get help if you are experiencing domestic violence:
Set up the emergency or panic function on your mobile phone. Each mobile phone is different, so research the specific functions for your phone within the settings. Enable and personalise your emergency settings so that your location and an audio clipping will be alerted to selected family or friends. When the alert has been received, your family or friends can contact the police on your behalf.
Inform the local domestic violence police officer or liaison. Remember the police are allies to victims of harassment and domestic violence. Meet with your local Domestic Violence Police Officer (DVPO) to get informed about your rights. The DVPO can refer support services and assist you wherever possible. Don’t be afraid to contact the police if you are concerned for the safety of yourself and your children. The police can instigate interim and emergency Apprehended Violence Orders (AVO) or Domestic Violence Orders (DVO) at short notice if required. Both orders help to restrict the behaviours of the offending person, allowing you to have some legal recourse against their actions. Should the offender breach the terms of the AVO or DVO, report it to the police.
Plan ahead. If you are able to prepare to leave at any time, you will feel more confident and comfortable in making the difficult decision. a) Have a planned excuse. Ensure you have a reason or excuse to leave the house, particularly if you have children. b) Know where to go and what to do. You may have a relative or friend who can offer a place to stay for a short period of time. Similarly, it is worth researching organisations that can assist with temporary accommodation in a safe place. c) Gather important documentation. This includes birth certificates, marriage certificates, copies of accounts, financials and more. DivorceAnswered.com.au provides a free Separation Checklist for items that you should take or make a copy of. Don’t forget to back up documents and emails. Consider giving a copy or access to these files to a person you trust. d) Store heirlooms. Make sure special or sentimental items of value (e.g. photographs) are located in a safe place outside of the house. e) Have an ‘exit box’ ready. This is handy if you are in a rush as your key belongings will be with you. The exit box should include money, keys, keep-sakes, certificates, licenses, passports, medication, clothes and digital copies of documentation. This box could be kept at a friend or relative’s house. Alternatively, if you do have to leave suddenly and the exit box is in your home, the police can escort and supervise while you take your belongings. f) Have some funds set aside. If possible, save money into a separate account as it will make your financial situation easier. Organise pre-payment of expected outgoing expenses. Quite often finances are tight once separated, so whatever you can save will help with starting a new life. g) Change passwords on everything. This include passwords for bank accounts, phone, emails and other resources or accounts you use.
Share with a trusted friend Tell them about your concerns and plans. Most importantly, keep in regular contact and ask them to contact police if you fail to make regular contact. It is also useful to have a ‘help’ word with your friend which notifies them to step in.
Contact support or government organisations. There are many organisations set up to assist victims of domestic violence. If you want to continue living at home, contact Staying Home Leaving Violence (NSW only). National organisations which you can contact include Victim Support Services, Domestic Violence Advisory Service, Relationships Australia and your local police station who will also know of other local organisations which can help.
Domestic violence is nothing to be ashamed of. It takes a brave person to ask for help and make the change. When you are informed and when you know what support is there for you, you will be more confident taking positive steps towards a brighter future. Children are the inadvertent victims of domestic violence and they rely upon their parent to make the self-sacrificing decisions for their future, safety and benefit. The decisions that you make today will make the difference between continuing the domestic violence cycle or breaking it and being free. By choosing to stand up against domestic violence, you are changing attitudes, increasing awareness and making a positive mark on society and our community.
DivorceAnswered.com.au also features a comprehensive FREE Separation Checklist for individuals who are planning separate or find themselves separated and needing to prepare for the future.