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By Steph Whitehouse
Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence
This is a topic is often shrouded in secrecy that I almost hesitate to write of it. Yet my hesitation only adds to the secrecy when in fact, it needs to brought out into the open. It must be done so that others do not feel so isolated and know they are not alone. By sharing our stories and knowledge we can feel united and end the shame and secrecy around domestic violence.
There has been a of talk recently in my country about it and the possibility of it occurring across all ethnicities and classes. The backlash some have faced has shown how unwilling we are as a society to accept white men accused of domestic violence.
I could be accused of being one of those people, because ignorance is bliss. Recently I had those rose tinted glasses wiped clean. I experienced domestic violence from a white male. It was so subtle at first that I didn’t even see it for what it was. I had been indoctrinated, unintentionally or otherwise to not see that white men can cause harm.
I have pondered the wisdom of sharing my experience. At first, I worried about what his reaction might be but then I realised that still meant he had a hold over me and this is something I do not want.
When I first met my now ex-partner we had a passionate on and off again relationship that abruptly ended after an argument that led to a year of silence. During that time, I thought of him often as I felt we had been too hasty in ending our relationship. I was also willing to overlook his actions at the time because I had yet to understand what was happening. Then, I was willing to believe his unkind and cruel comments were unintentional and his actions unplanned. When we reassumed our relationship, we picked up where we had left off. Our time together reminded me of why I liked him so much, how well we got on and how much we had in common. Quite simply he got me and I got him. I thought he could be ‘the one’. I know the feelings were reciprocated. We talked a lot about the future, our future.
Yet, from our first (round two) date things were going wrong. I just couldn’t see it. If we were having a conversation and saw an issue from different perspectives, he would talk over me, get in my space and intimidate me until I backed down. I would be accused of not understanding the issue properly. I would have my arguments swept aside without regard, but I could not do the same to him. After we moved on from a heated conversation, he would apologise and say he was ‘just caught up in the moment’ or ‘this is something I am passionate about.’ I could understand that. We can all get lost in something we believe in.
If I looked at my phone when I should have been looking at him, it would be knocked out of my hands. If I wanted to use the internet to verify a fact, it would be taken away with a smile and a witty quip. One time, not long after we started dating again, he threw my phone onto the concrete when I attempted to argue with him and prove my point. The screen smashed. We were both shocked. I think this was the first time I was truly afraid of him. Yet, I still wasn’t willing to believe what I was seeing and feeling. I was still willing to give him a chance because at other times he would be charming, affectionate and kind. He offered to have my phone fix, I refused and it remains a smashed, but useable screen as a reminder.
These examples, looking back are clear red flags. But in the moment, I couldn’t see it because it wasn’t overt violence. It was insinuated, under the radar and often caused me to question myself and my actions rather than his. This was just the beginning. Perhaps he was testing the waters, what was I willing to put up with? What could he get away with?
The more time we spent together, the more we compatible we felt together. We started spending whole weekends together. Most of the time it was good, great even. We met each other’s families; it was all going well until he started extending his control into the bedroom. What had once been gentle, exciting and passionate became demanding, domineering and painful. When I complained or asked him to stop, he would tell me that I hadn’t had enough experience, everyone did these things and enjoyed it. It started with choking, hair pulling and continued to escalate. I tried to rationalise these actions, but it didn’t make me feel good. I tried to raise my concerns or direct his attention to activities outside the bedroom, but it made no difference.
The first time (second time around) I broke up with him was after an outing when I made an innocuous comment, but interrupted his story by doing so. He lost his temper, threw our food off the table and gave me the silent treatment. I was shaking from the quick change of pleasant conversation to intense anger and desperately tried to calm the situation and placate him. When I tried to find out what I did wrong, he told me I interrupted him and I wasn’t allowed to do that. When I tried to raise my point he yanked me out of my chair and we left the café. Given that this had happened in a public place and no one stepped in I feared for what would happen when we got back to his house. I couldn’t stop shaking and couldn’t form coherent thought. All I knew was that I wanted to go home, but I couldn’t see how I could leave without incurring his wrath again. I stumbled on the walk back to his house, but I never fell as he never let me go. I would find bruises down my arms later. When we got to his house, I said I wanted to go home. He told me I wasn’t going home until he let me. I didn’t get to leave his house for another 2 hours.
I broke up with him a few days later. He gave me a concussion and 5 stitches in my arm. He started stalking me. He would be outside my house, never saying or doing anything, just being there. I began to see him everywhere. I was always looking over my shoulder, checking my mirrors, changing my routes. He seemed to take great pleasure in knowing he was intimidating me without actually breaking the law. This went on for many weeks with my friends urging me to report him to the police. But I didn’t know what I would be reporting exactly. That I was scared even though he no longer laid his hands on me? It sounded too stupid for words and a waste of police time.
After some time, he actually approached me and begged my forgiveness. He told me he would be different if I gave him another chance. I wanted to stop looking over my shoulder so I said yes. I believed him. It’s easy to read this and scoff and believe I was stupid. But unless you’ve had the misfortune to be in this position, don’t judge. It’s easy to say, “I would never do that”, but until you’ve been totally worn down by stress and fear, you’ll never know what you will do to make that stress and fear go away.
He didn’t change. I didn’t think he would, but I hoped it might be different. I hoped he would be more on his guard, more in control. I hoped we might go back to the pleasant times we once shared. But he didn’t. If anything it got worse. It caused some of my friends to abandon me because they didn’t understand why I just didn’t leave. They would become angry at my inability to change my circumstances and I felt I could no longer confide in them for help.
Trust me, it’s not as simple as ‘just leaving.’ There are so many things to consider, children, pets, finances, transport, personal safety. It takes courage to leave because in doing so you enter into the unknown. By staying, it’s the devil you know. I was lucky that I did have some friends that stood by me and gave me great advice and counsel so when I was ready to leave, I was able to.
It took me another month to get out of the relationship and it took police involvement to get him to understand that this time I was serious. The second (third) time I broke up with him, the police did it for me, verbally over the phone with a warning to stay away this time. This time there was no going back. In retaliation he broke my wrist, among other things. It took a protection order to stop his harassment and violence. For my own reasons, I decided not to press charges.
Despite all this, I am lucky. Lucky that I had my own resources to get out and stay out of this relationship. To know me, you would never guess I has lived these experiences. To meet my ex-partner, you would never guess he was capable of dealing out such violence. Here in lies the problem. Both of us are too white, too middle class and too educated to be believed that such things are possible. It’s too easy to brush this problem aside because neither of us fit the stereotype for domestic violence. That’s why it is so easy to attack people who bring the truth out into the open. We simply do not want to know and do not want to do anything about it. We are willing to believe that only certain types of people are capable of violence and only certain types of people are willing to endure it. None of this is true and this is why we need to tell our stories to ensure the reality of the situation is clear to all. By doing this, more people will be willing to come forward and share their experiences and stop feeling ashamed and isolated by their experiences.
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