Domestic violence on the increase

More calls to refuges, more safety orders

BECK ELEVEN
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2014
domestic violence
123rf.com
ON THE INCREASE: While it's estimated only 18 per cent of domestic violence is reported, statistics show it is on the increase in Canterbury.

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By chance, *Jessica caught a glimpse of her abusive ex-partner in a shopping mall car park. It gave her a fright but this time she wasn't left with a case of the adrenaline shakes.

She and *Derek had been together for 14 years, during which time her self-esteem dropped to below zero and she was sleeping just a few hours each night worrying what he might do to her or her son.

"I used to hate him," she says.

"Now I just feel sorry for him. Not pity, more like, the only way he can get love is by forcing someone to be with him. How sad is that?"

Jessica has a fulltime job and while she was still in the relationship, passed a manager's course. However, she didn't accept the offer of a promotion because she still feels a bit like she has "Alzheimer's or something".

The forgetfulness is a residual effect of the abuse, a bit like "quake brain", she says. Something to do with mind games and the negative effects of adrenaline.

She doesn't even remember how it started.

Common to most people in abusive relationships, is the incremental start to the control.

"He would hide things, then tell me I was working too hard or that I was being stupid for losing them. I'd walk around looking for my wallet or mobile phone, then come back and it would be there, and he'd say it must have been there all along.

"I started to doubt myself. I thought I was going mad."

They would go to a bar. If he saw her speaking to another man, he would question her into loops.

It was the same with colleagues.

"How was work?" he would say.

"Good thanks."

"Who did you work with?"

If it was a male name, the conversation would soon turn to accusations of infidelity.

In reality, she was starting to snap at workmates, her anger growing at the situation at home.

"I could just tell, by his voice, his breathing, what way things were going to go from the minute I got home."

Derek asserted increasing control, suggesting they cut off their landline. She agreed because she didn't want him to think it bothered her and because she still had a mobile phone.

One day she came home to find the charger cord (which was in her bedside drawer) had been cut.

"He tried to tell me it must have been the dog or my son but I said I knew it wasn't. He told me he hadn't even looked in my drawer so that was when I knew it was him. He still tried to tell me it must have been me who cut my own cord."

He called her stupid. He called her a slut. It was always peppered with unprintable words.

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It may come as a surprise to some readers this story of abuse does not include much physical violence. The day Derek put his hands around her throat was the last day he did so.

People who work with family violence explain abuse comes in other forms - physical, sexual, emotional or psychological and financial. The lack of physical violence was one reason Jessica stayed with Derek for 14 years.

Jessica and her son had been close. He was 6 when she started seeing Derek but as he got older, he stayed at friends' houses more often.

Things at home were beyond unpleasant but she had started viewing their life as normal. She also felt trapped.

Her job paid a low salary and Derek was on a benefit. Whenever she threatened to leave, he told her that once Work and Income found out their pairing had one income and one benefit, she would go to jail and her son would be lost to her.

"An average day would include a death threat. I would be doing the dishes and drying a knife and he would say, 'I could grab that off you and kill you'.

"I'd say 'go ahead then'. I started to think it wouldn't matter. It might be better than the hell I was living with."

Another time, he stood in front of her and took a handful of pills telling her he would commit suicide. It is a well-used ploy by abusive partners.

Looking back, she wonders if he killed her budgies. Harming animals can also be part of the abuse cycle.

She had loved him once and believed he loved her too. She thinks he picked her because he could tell she would do anything for her family, which soon included him.

"He needed money, of course I'd help him. He struggled paying it back so I said not to worry."

It got to a stage where they had broken up but remained living in the same house in separate bedrooms.

"I was so worried, I was sleeping two or three hours a night. Listening for any noise. I'd woken up once and he was standing in my room watching me. I felt threatened. I lost 10kg and I'm little anyway.

"It got to the point where I thought someone might die, me or my son and it wasn't going to be my son."

The night it came to boiling point, her son was home and had found a spider in the hallway. They thought it might be a white tail.

"The next thing he (Derek) came out calling my son a 'f...... girl'. My son and I had this code, a kind of look so we just did that and carried on but it escalated and he grabbed me by the throat. I called the cops.

"They took me down the driveway to talk to me and within five minutes he was coming out, ranting and raving. They gave me a temporary safety order for five days. I didn't even know what that was."

Since then, she has had to work hard to get a permanent protection order. It has not been easy. There have been lawyers and affidavits and other things she didn't know existed.

It has been well over a year since she and Derek separated. She now has a permanent protection order in place which means that he can be arrested for making any contact, including a text message or phone call.

Women's refuge have held her hand through the process and suggested she take a 12-week domestic violence course.

"I didn't want to at the start. I thought it was embarrassing. I didn't think it could help but I was just worn down."

During the course she has learned to detect the telltale signs of an abusive person and met people from all walks of life whose stories were different in detail but similar in underlying circumstances.

She still cries when she thinks about it affecting her son.

"My son is very quiet. He had to write an affidavit but when I saw that my own son had said it made him want to take his own life, well, that is awful.

"The one thing I am guilty of is that I should have protected him. I might have stood between them and stopped him from being hit but I didn't protect him from being around it. I am guilty of that.

"It's only going to get better. You might think you have nothing but you have your life. I could have died. My son could have died.

"There were times if he was drunk and snoring, I just wanted to put a pillow over his face. He threatened to take my life. He threatened to take his own. Living on adrenaline isn't nice. There would be times I would be driving home with my heart going 'boom, boom, boom' wondering what I would face when I got there. That's not living.

"Your confidence is so low, even if someone pays you a compliment you think they must be after something. It happens to men too, I know. There is just no excuse for it."

INCREASE IN CANTERBURY'S FAMILY VIOLENCE

Women's refuge chief executive Heather Henare says no-one should be frightened or scared by someone in their family.

At a fundraiser breakfast in Christchurch earlier this month, Henare said two important reports relating to family violence had been released recently - the "People's Report" from the Owen Glenn Inquiry and the Family Violence Death Review.

The first report deals with voices of living victims, and the second dealt with those who had died at the hands of someone in their family. Both reports are damning and show New Zealand has a woeful record of domestic violence.

On average 14 women, six men and 10 children are killed by a member of their family every year. Police are called to around 200 domestic violence situations a day yet estimate only 18 per cent of domestic violence incidents are actually reported.

Of people arrested for domestic violence, 84 per cent are men and 16 per cent are women.

Henare gathered statistics from the Canterbury region that she said were "shocking".

"There has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of police safety orders taken out since 2012, and this coupled with the police reports of family violence that we follow up, has contributed to ongoing demand in services."

In 2003, from three established refuges including South Canterbury and one new refuge, there were 2779 crisis calls. In 2013, that number had grown to 4396 calls.

In 2003, the refuges dealt with 848 clients; by last year it had almost doubled to 1600.

The post-quake landscape in Canterbury has changed, Henare said.

There are fewer houses and an influx of people coming from outside the region to work.

"This results in an increase or escalation in domestic violence in cases where there is a lack of support networks, where women have been isolated from previous supports, or where there is a previous history of family violence.

"There is an increase in the complexity and time intensive nature of the work in this region due to co-presenting mental health, alcohol or drugs, or other issues."

She said they were struggling and a survey of women calling crisis lines showed half the callers who fitted the criteria for entry to a safe house, could not be helped because they were full. Residential or in-home services were "bursting at the seams".

July is Women's Refuge Awareness month. womensrefuge.org.nz. Call 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843.

avivafamilies.org.nz, or call 0800 AVIVA NOW or 0800 28482 669

*Jessica and Derek are not their real names.

- The Press

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