A domestic violence victim shares her experience in the hope that her story can make a difference for others. (Image source: ABC News/Margaret Burin)
By Madeline Ilee |@madeline_ilee
Imagine you’re a fly. You’re a humble little insect enjoying your life and living comfortably in a little box. Now imagine you share that box with your partner who is a spider. Your partner is much bigger than you. They have a bigger body, longer legs and are much stronger than you. It is intimidating, even for you who loves them dearly. Now imagine trying to escape from them. You know they’ll be able to stop you. They have control of you because you’re just a fly with no way of escaping the spider who looms over you every single day.
For domestic violence victim Natasha Smith*, the best way she could describe being a victim of domestic violence was to explain it to me as being a fly in a box with a spider. Natasha was in a long-term relationship that lasted for four years in her late teens. She was a victim of domestic violence throughout the relationship and was in a constant battle with her own thoughts which she was being trained to question and doubt. It was a living hell, but that didn’t stop her from going to school and work, even when she had cuts and bruises on her skin. For Natasha, the cuts and bruises didn’t matter; in her mind, they were there because she deserved it, or at least she was made to believe that she deserved it.
Natasha and I went to the same high school, and I never noticed her abuse. Not once did I realise the friendly, bubbly outgoing girl in my classroom with the stunning red hair lived a life of hell behind the scenes. When I first found out she was a victim of domestic violence, a wave of guilt came across me. I never reached out to the girl who would hug everyone in the morning and ask how you were doing because I never realised the girl that cared about everyone else was probably longing to be cared for too. As I sit with her, I can’t help but think about all the opportunities I missed to let her know she wasn’t alone. But as Natasha and I begin talking about her hardship, I discover that maybe there wasn’t a lot I could have done. Because for Natasha, seeking help was the hardest thing to do. After all, she had almost become convinced that she deserved it and that the abuse was “normal”.
“You are forced, hurt and verbally abused,” Natasha said.
“In the process, you get trained to doubt yourself and not trust your own thoughts. And you’re aware of what’s happening to you, and you know it’s wrong, but at the same time, you’ve become trained to feel as if you deserve it.
“The hardest part was being aware of the fact that it wasn’t my fault. And this took months of reassurance from friends and co-workers which, when they didn’t see instant results, felt as if I was ignoring their advice which just cemented the idea further that I did in fact deserve it.”
As I listened to her story, I began to realise that throughout our high school journey, she was there the entire time with a smile on her face even though she was suffering. I realised that I had been blinded by her brave face and bubbly personality which hid the truth. Although we weren’t best friends, I still called her a friend, but I never knew. I didn’t even have the slightest inkling, but she tells me that it became something she learnt to hide well because it was something she had to do.
“Domestic violence is one of the most isolating things,” she said.
“Usually the people around you are either so unaware that asking them could cause more issues, or they are so aware that they themselves are scared.”
While there are support services and national hotlines available, Natasha explained to me that seeking help isn’t as easy as one may think. It can be extremely dangerous for the victim, and a powerplay that the perpetrator can use against them.
“Contacting a hotline is an easy beating.”
“I called one once and he found out, and when I got home from work I copped a beating. I was extremely malnourished as I hadn’t been eating or sleeping and was just running on empty. That beating led to me blacking out on the bathroom floor and waking up two days later.
“Being a victim meant that I was always on edge, and I couldn’t do anything but live in fear. Every noise would scare me.
“Despite that, I did leave. But it was after six long months of ongoing support by a total stranger. A stranger that worked in the fruit and veg section at a local store who noticed me deteriorating every week when I’d go there.”
As I thanked her for telling me her story, she said something which took me by surprise.
“I’m just a normal human, and these things happen.”
These things happen – three words which made me realise this is the sad and devastating reality for so many women, children and men across Australia who are victims of domestic violence. One woman is murdered every nine days by her current or former partner, and the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey revealed that one in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner from the age of 15.
For some victims, their voices will never be heard; but for Natasha, the opportunity to share her story with me came from her having hope — hope that even if only one person saw it, maybe it could make a difference.
For Natasha, her previous cuts and bruises are now part of her battle scars which have shaped her to become the woman she is today. Natasha is currently working as a bartender and is focusing on her career as a music producer and DJ. She also plans on studying again in the future but says she is currently focused on living a life of happiness and working towards a house deposit and obtaining her driver’s licence. Although she believes she still has a lot of growth to achieve and issues to overcome from her abuse; she is proud of who she is in comparison to where she once was.
*Names of people and companies have been changed or omitted for privacy reasons.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.