I’m lucky enough to have never been a direct victim of domestic violence but I have seen it. My first exposure (that I can remember) was when I was maybe five or six. My mum owned a duplex house and, for awhile, she rented the other side to a couple and their two kids. I remember seeing my mum leant against the dividing wall with a glass pressed against her ear because she could hear the couple next door fighting. Many, many times, she’d call the cops and just as many times the woman would deny anything had happened. She’d abuse my mum and tell her to mind her own business even though she had bruises.
I remember one day my mum was giving the couple’s son Neil a ride home from school and he asked her to race him to the car and she did. I got upset because I always asked her to race me and she always said no but looking back on it, she knew how shit this kid’s life was and probably just wanted to do something nice for him.
When they moved out, mum found they’d turned the back room door handle around so they could lock the children in there while they fought. Then they’d forget about them and the kids couldn’t get to the bathroom so the room smelt of pee. Quite a while after they moved out, we were out shopping and the woman came up to us. She thanked mum for trying to help her. She said she couldn’t see that she needed help at the time but she’d left him now and things were better.
Another time, maybe when I was about 12, I saw my aunt get hot chips and gravy thrown on her by her boyfriend. We were sitting at a cafe in the city. I can’t remember what he got so angry about but I do remember thinking it was stupid, whatever it was. After he threw the food at her, he stormed out and she sat there with gravy dripping off her. I could see how embarrassed she was with me there, her daughter there and the cafe staff looking at her. I don’t remember anyone coming over to ask if she was OK.
He came back to the house later that afternoon all lovey dovey with a CD as a present for my cousin, hugging my aunt and being all affectionate. I remember thinking, “Really that’s all it takes to be forgiven?” I gave him a wide berth. From that moment on, I tagged him as a massive dickhead and didn’t really have much time for him even though he remained with my aunt until she died a few years ago.
Finally, while staying overnight at a friend’s house in Negril, Jamaica when about 13 or 14 maybe, I woke up to my friend’s mum getting beaten up by her boyfriend. They’d come home after a night out and started fighting over some chicken that got spilt in the car or something ridiculous like that. The middle sister jumped in to defend her mum but the boyfriend slapped her and she fell down on the ground. The eldest sister and me fled the house in our underwear and ran to a neighbour’s house where we knew there was a phone (not many people had phones in Jamaica back then).
However, when we called the police, they informed us that they wouldn’t be coming.It was a dangerous area and they didn’t see domestic violence as something worth leaving the station for. That was an eye opening experience. I can’t remember how it ended; if we got back into the house or if he locked us out but they got back together and stayed together until she moved back to Germany many years later.
As I said, lucky not to have experienced it personally but, having seen it first hand and remembering how it made me and those around me feel, it makes me so mad. My partner grew up with a stepfather who physically abused his mother. Australia is in a bit of a domestic violence crisis at the moment. Many, many women are being murdered and beaten by their husbands (and, yes, I know domestic violence doesn’t just happen to women but overall men are stronger than women so we often end up worse off). The government has cut funding to refuges which means a lot more women get turned away when they have made the difficult decision to leave and often have nowhere safe to go.
It’s fucked, basically.