Mama Mayhem

A red flag kind of day

By Ivy Jensen

THERE are days I don’t like what I do – at all.

I won’t bore you with that significant list but professionally I have always found stories coming out of family violence to be amongst the most distressing.

And at times moving.

The Riverine Herald has been super supportive of every campaign to make sure this insidious social disease remains in the spotlight until we make some permanent moves towards a cure.

My role in that has also made me the first port of call for women in all sorts of situations – from the concerned to those frightened for their lives.

Now I have received another email, prompted by the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, which the author has asked me to share with you.

It is a story of escalation with which I am all too familiar from the many interviews I have done with women in similar positions.

I strongly recommend you read it, and show it to every female in your family – especially daughters or nieces.

WHEN I was a teenager, my mother would always tell me: ‘‘if your partner hits you, leave’’.

‘‘You leave the first time he does it, because he will do it again,’’ she would say.

I shrugged it off as common sense and figured I would likely never be in that position anyway, because I was a pretty good judge of character.

How wrong I was.

Because it never just happens out of the blue. Well, at least that wasn’t the case for me.

Things I now identify as ‘red flags’ would start off small and they would escalate. Before you even know it’s happening. Until, one day, you realise you are in an abusive relationship.

This is the first time I am even voicing my experience — let alone acknowledging it.

I have always felt ashamed that I put myself into ‘that situation’, blaming myself for what happened.

More than 20 years later, I have the knowledge and skills to understand what happened to me was not my fault. And I didn’t deserve it.

It was my first long-term relationship. There was five years in age between us.

I guess it started out as most relationships do.

But things became extremely intense, extremely fast.

Lust turned to love or so I believed. You see, I had never been in love before.

The only downside (at that stage) was his jealous streak.

But he reassured me that was because he loved and cared for me so much.

‘Would you rather I didn’t care?’, he would ask.

What I didn’t know at the time was his possessiveness was actually a need to control me.

I was his and no-one else could have me.

When we would go out, he would fly off the handle if I spoke to men he didn’t know.

Being a former boxer, he would stand over anyone who looked the least bit interested. Eventually they became too scared to even try.

I lost a good friend over it; something I regret to this day.

As the months turned into years and we continued a long-distance relationship while I was at university, his need to control became worse.

And something happened that brought those words of wisdom from my mother flooding back.

He whacked me in the face after he saw me talking to a male friend at a nightclub one night.

It wasn’t hard enough to bruise me, but it was hard enough to send a frighteningly clear message – he was serious.

Of course it was followed by multiple apologies, crying and manipulation.

As much as I wanted to believe him, I planned to leave, like my mother advised.

The next day, he acted like nothing had happened and when I confronted him, he said I had exaggerated what had happened, that I was drunk and upset, and I must have been confused.

Yes, I was drunk, but I clearly remembered what happened.

Well, I do now. Unfortunately, my then much younger self, in a city thousands of kilometres from home, wasn’t so sure.

This technique he used is known as gaslighting. And it worked.

He manipulated me by psychological means into doubting my own sanity.

And so I put it down to being too drunk and emotional and decided to put it behind me.

Until, just as my mother predicted, it happened again.

But this time it wasn’t just a hit to the face.

It was an hour of being locked in a house with him where he kicked me while I lay on the floor, dragged me across the room — bruising my arms — and throwing me across the room onto a table.

All the while being blamed for causing his abuse.

When in fact, it was his need for power and control over me.

I actually feel sick writing this, I have always thought if people knew they would perhaps look at me differently.

Because that’s not what I want.

I am not a victim or a survivor. My experience is nothing compared to what some women have gone through.

More than 50 women have died horrific deaths this year because of male violence. And there will be more to come.

And that’s the only reason I have decided to write this now.

Because unless we keep this insidious scourge in the spotlight and make it known that disrespecting women is not okay, nothing will ever change.

If we keep laughing at the sexist jokes and condone violence against women, nothing will change.

If we continue to stereotype these constructions of masculinity and femininity, things will stay the same.

If we keep allowing men to control the decision-making while limiting women’s independence, nothing will change.

And if we succumb to the endless cries of ‘what about the men?’ things will never change.

You just need to look at the years of research and statistics (or even read/watch the news) to comprehend women are being being killed at a staggeringly higher rate than men and the reason is gender inequality.

I have three teenage daughters and the only thing I want for them is to grow up happy and healthy, as most parents do.

But with police responding to hundreds of domestic violence attacks across Australia every day, the likelihood of them becoming victims or even worse — another statistic — is higher than we think.

And that terrifies me.

And so, I have started telling them what my mother did all those years ago.

Well, a slightly different version anyway. Because as we all know, domestic violence is not just physical.

It’s the overwhelming emotional, psychological, financial and spiritual control.

It’s putting women down, it’s gaslighting, it’s stopping them from seeing their family and/or friends, cutting off their finances and/or denying them their spiritual or religious beliefs and practices.

In a nutshell, it’s disrespect.

And so I tell my daughters: ‘‘You deserve a partner who respects you’’.

‘‘And if they don’t respect you, they don’t deserve you.

“Then you leave.’’

Please babies, leave.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800737732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au

● As part of our 16 Days of Activism campaign, we will be running a two-part story on a woman subjected to the most degrading and debasing of assaults imaginable. You can read part one in Wednesday's Riv and online.