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As I read yet another report detailing the psychological damage, I suffered five decades ago as a child living in domestic violence, a news flash pops up on my screen. Domestic violence takes another life. The scant details,
A 21-year-old woman died of severe wounds inflicted by a man known to her while small children were present. The alleged offender not only had an AVO but was recently released from prison.
Less than 12 hours later the face of a beautiful mother, blond, smiling into a camera nestling a small child, flashes on the screen. The victim of the previous day’s tragic domestic violence attack. She was not only young, beautiful and a mother but also brave and hopeful. She did what my mother never did. She went to the authorities, asking for protection. And she got it—or the patriarchal system’s version of that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that if you don’t go to the law, you are not brave. Living in what is akin to a PoW camp—where you are controlled, watched, and judged; constantly waiting for the next insult, the next attack; denied the means to meet your needs and those of your children—takes incredible courage and endurance. But this beautiful mother was hopeful. She hoped that by going to the law and exposing her life, she would save herself and her children.
My mother chose to fight. When she was hit, she hit back. Unfortunately, despite her strength, she was one woman against the system of turning a blind eye. As Dr Judith Herman, American psychiatrist, and author, tells us ;
‘It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.’Trauma and Recovery (2015)
You see, more than fifty years ago, domestic violence wasn’t a thing. Yes, in 1902, wife-beating was outlawed. But little was done about it. A man’s castle was his home. Women were classed as their husband’s property.
My mother was my stepfather’s personal punching bag. Her screams bounced off the concrete walls of the two-bedroom flat in Auburn. The bangs and slaps, blood smeared on the floor, the doorknobs, the walls. I still feel the rage that consumed me for the man systematically destroying my mother.
One day, amid the shrieks and my stepfather’s fists on my mother, there was a knock on the door. I ran to the door, hoping someone would stop this daily horror. A knight in shining armour, like those in my fairy tale book. You can imagine my relief when two police officers stood before me, guns idle on their hips.
We’ve had a noise complaint from the neighbours, the first officer said. He was gigantic, his hands as big as my head.
He’s hurting my mother, I sobbed through tears streaming down my face. Fear and relief overcame me. I stood aside to let them in.
Sorry, we’re only here to stop the noise.
The man who beat my mother stood behind me. His skin was slick with sweat. A middle-aged paunch was obvious under his singlet, trousers hung low. He pulled them up and pushed me away.
My sister toddled beside me.
In front of young children, you should be ashamed of yourself, the second officer said. He was shorter, his fingertips grazing the gun in its brown leather holster.
The door closed; a smirk played on my stepfather’s greying face. Silence fell in the cave that was our home, as ordered by the authorities. For that evening.
What are we doing to eliminate domestic violence? What protection do we offer the survivors (labelled victims on official documents) apart from the ink on myriads of forms?
This young mother not only took herself to the police, but she also bared her soul, the inside of her nightmares, and relived them with each document completed. Every detail must be accurate. All the particulars are harrowing. I pity whoever reads these thin sheets of evidence. The person who processes these slivers of horror for the next step in the judicial proceedings. And the young mother was successful. All boxes ticked. The forms stamped. Job done. Next.
But the system failed again. Yet another child grows up without a mother. Diagnosed with ‘reduced psychologic resilience’. Another adult learning to live with the after-effects of domestic violence and childhood trauma. The only difference between now and 50 years ago is the mountain of paperwork. The legal system ensures the victim suffers, further trauma, over and over again. Unwitting government employees perpetrating abuse with every completed line, every ticked box so that the dreadful chronicles can be filed in a dark dusty cavity of justice.
Now instead of walking away, they’re saying, here’s a form—fill it in. The ‘bystander’ registers the perpetrator in ink before looking away. Refusing to share the ‘burden of pain’.
How can we ensure this young mother and the other 15 who’ve died in the first three months of 2022 are not just statistics in the annual domestic violence tally?
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