JULIE wasn’t married, she was imprisoned. Shackled, for three years, to a sexual sadist who repeatedly assaulted her in the most debasing, degrading ways he – or anyone – could imagine.
Literally raping her into submission, never relenting; giving him absolute power over her every moment and every movement of every day.
Not even her pregnancy – with his child – stopped the vicious abuse.
Yet even as she fought to survive, Julie not once associated her living hell with domestic violence.
“I thought you had to be black and blue from being physically beaten,” she admitted.
“But my injuries and scars weren’t visible to the outside world.”
In the end it wasn’t her pain and suffering that made her flee; but the moment her ex-husband raised his hand to their newborn son Julie finally realised she was in an abusive relationship and she mustered enough strength to leave.
Which for so many is often a more feared step than being in the home and the abusive relationship – statistics prove escaping is the most dangerous time in a violent relationship.
Interviewing the Moama mother in a local cafe, it’s hard to imagine how this intelligent and articulate woman has managed to pull her life together and start anew after the abuse she suffered.
“My normal was typical wench, sex slave,” she said.
“I was never called by my name. I was everything but; you name it.
“I was just a thing for him to use. I was no longer a person. He used to go and dry-retch and tell me ‘you’re just disgusting and filthy and make me want to vomit’.’’
The torment was designed to humiliate and isolate her from her friends and family.
“The trauma can be equated to an abduction or kidnapping and rape. You’re essentially having the same thing happen and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. But it’s happening to you by someone who is supposed to love and protect you,” she said.
And as this vibrant and confident woman became more ashamed and withdrawn, no-one fully understood why.
Not even her parents.
Not that she blames them. They are part of ‘that generation’ — where what happens behind closed doors was unknown and therefore stays behind closed doors.
It was 1997 and an ambitious Julie had been teaching two departments at a private school in Melbourne.
However, her life unraveled after an ugly legal brawl led to her becoming clinically depressed.
The 25-year-old quit her job and escaped to Queensland, where she began co-ordinating programs and activities at different resorts.
That was where she met her husband — who was working as a chef on one of the islands.
“It’s really interesting looking back because he was in no way, shape or form the sort of person I would ever even look twice at,” Julie said.
“I must have been in a state. I didn’t find him attractive, he was a big man and wasn’t fit and attractive like me, he didn’t enjoy any of that stuff and we didn’t have anything in common.
“What we did have in common was our emotional state. I was extremely vulnerable and that’s how I fell into this. And he obviously had a radar for it.
“I was like a beacon. There I was in this emotional state, I’d lost a lot of my self-confidence and I really didn’t know what I was going to do with myself.
“I’d worked most of my decision-making life, working towards that career and I felt like it was destroyed.
“He just laid on the charm and I thought ‘this person is really nice’ and that I could do with some company and I felt special.
“All my life, older men have always found me very attractive, never men my own age. And he was my age. And I wasn’t used to that, so I thought that was good for a change, so I thought I’d go with it and did not expect things to develop so quickly.”
Julie was a virgin and had never had a serious relationship before.
“For the first time in my life, I’d made a decision I would have sex with someone before marriage and that changed everything,” she said.
The couple dated for 18 months before they were married; Julie quitting her job on her husband’s beckoning and moving in with him in Brisbane.
“If I wasn’t so emotionally invested, I would have picked up on the signs to get out,” she said.
“From the beginning, he had an extremely pornographic view of what is considered appropriate sexual behaviour. And because I’d never been with anybody, I didn’t understand that wasn’t normal.
“With my upbringing, sex felt like a secretive taboo subject. So when all of this was happening to me, I had no-one to talk to so I couldn’t even ask ‘is this normal?’, is this what I’m supposed to do?’ because he’s telling me this, but I didn’t feel right.
“Everything is a type of manipulation and starts small and it escalates and gets bigger and bigger until that almost becomes normal and that’s when you’re in real strife.
“When you have someone as big as him pinning you down and raping you constantly, you know that you can’t physically do anything about that.
“I have a permanent tear in my anus because of what he did to me and it will never repair.
“I can’t explain the pain of being raped that way. It is like nothing you can compare it to.
“But even then, I didn’t make the connection that was physical violence. Because that was sexual assault. But this is what trauma does to you. I couldn’t make that connection.
“While you couldn’t see my bruises, I can tell you I was torn and bruised and God knows what else down there.”
While being subjected to daily sexual assaults, Julie also lived with his constant manipulation, anger and aggression.
“He would throw a temper over something so insignificant and would constantly break stuff in the kitchen,” she said.
“We bought a puppy and he would drop it and say he fell out of the basket. One time he kicked the dog and broke its leg.
“I became scared for the dog, not realising it was fear for myself. I didn’t put myself within that picture of fear. I was in denial.”
Not being allowed to work, Julie became incredibly homesick, and the couple moved back to Melbourne to be closer to her family.
“Nobody knew him so he could throw his charm around and everyone thought he was this great bloke,” she said.
However, the facade didn’t last long.
Her husband escalated his drug use and humiliated Julie when her family and friends would visit.
“We had two toilets in the house and he would use one next to the laundry. It was absolute filth,” she said.
“He wouldn’t ever clean it and there would be excrement on the walls. He did that to create embarrassment for me.
“And that’s where he used to smoke as a drug addict. Towards the end of the relationship, he was shooting up speed and heroin.
“He had a few psychotic events that I witnessed. I’d never been around anyone involved in that stuff, so I didn’t know what was happening.
“He was very loud and all over the place. And while all this was going on, he would hold onto me so I couldn’t phone an ambulance or call the police. He held me there for hours while this paranoia ordeal was going on.
“He also used to walk and sit around the house naked, and try to make the house smell bad, he would hurt the dog and he was controlling the finances.
“I was lucky I always kept my own bank account, but he left me in debt. He would ring up phone companies and got phones connected up and then make all these sex calls and rack up these massive $2000 bills and they were all in my name.”
Completely isolated by this point, Julie found out she was pregnant.
“Although it was a shock, I always thought I was born to be a mum,” she said.
Julie said the abuse stopped initially, but it was short-lived.
“The abuse actually got far worse, he quit his job right when we’re needing to save money and I was too ill with morning sickness and gallstones to work,” she said.
In and out of hospital from 16 weeks, Julie grew weaker and weaker by the day.
“His abuse was escalating, and he was still sodomising me and amongst all that I was thinking, ‘I’m going to be a mum, how do I bring a child into this environment? Is he going to rape me so badly one night that he’ll hurt the child?’,’’ she said
During a traumatic three-day labour, Julie suffered a gallstone attack and was induced before doctors eventually ordered an emergency caesarean.
“I don’t remember much after that,” she said.
“I was so exhausted and out of it and overwhelmed and I didn’t wake up until day three.”
Once home, the abuse continued. While Julie was recovering from surgery and a gallstone removal, as well as dealing with breastfeeding and the baby’s reflux issues.
“For me, every day was just survival,” she said.
“The rapes had started again. There was never a break from that.
“It was just one thing on top of another, on top of another.
“I’m already in a compromised state, physically, mentally, emotionally, and I would dread my husband coming home.
“And every time he did, the baby would scream. Then I would cop it, this irritating child, ‘shut him up’. I was scared he would do something to my baby.”
The trauma saw her go from a fit and healthy size 14 to a size 20.
“But I just kept thinking ‘I’ve got to get stronger, I’ve got to recover from this, I’ve got to keep going so I can get well and look after this child and leave’.’’
What her husband didn’t know was that Julie had started seeing a psychologist, who had been helping her arrange to leave.
That day came when her son was about four months old.
“I was breastfeeding, and he got so angry for whatever reason and ripped his shirt off and starts coming towards me yelling and almost hit me and the baby,” she said.
“After everything I had endured, it was that point I thought in my head ‘that’s physical violence’.
“And it wasn’t me I was thinking about, it was my child.
“At that point my maternal instinct kicked in and I thought ‘you nearly hit my child. I’m out of here’.’’
It’s 16 years later, but Julie is still running.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au