I Never Believed I Was in an Abusive Relationship

CW: discusses domestic violence, abuse, attempted suicide

Once upon a time, I met a sweet and loving Australian boy in Manchester, England. It was love at first sight and I was smitten. It only took two weeks from the day we met for him to first put his hands around my neck. I was a love-ridden fool. I thought he would never do it again. I was wrong. But I did not leave. The good times were too good to leave. The abuse I endured was not enough to outweigh his kindness, which bloomed over his affliction.

There were times where I would choose to leave him — choose to leave the toxicity and violence behind. The only thing that was stopping me was deportation. I’m English, so if I had left, I would have lost my partner visa — meaning everything I had worked for, all the friendships I had built, would be gone. There was only so much throwing his clothes into the apartment building hallway could do. He always had a home with me. Despite the manipulation and gaslighting, I was very much in love with the sweet Australian boy I had met in England. I convinced myself that we were going through a rocky patch and we would still marry by the side of the ocean.

But let me just tell you something: I am not a saint. The relationship became extremely toxic. I am a sufferer of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and clinical depression, and at the time I was a borderline alcoholic. When you suffer from BPD it can be hard to tell the difference between right and wrong. Some of the things I did didn’t make sense — looking back they still do not make sense to me. I betrayed his trust by sleeping with other people after the rejection of not feeling wanted. I was confused; I was a wreck; I hurt the people closest to me.

It was once I started to turn to the affections of others and the warm comfort of alcohol that my mental health started to deteriorate the most.

I remember texting one of my friends, reaching out for help to understand the abuse. It broke my heart when I received back: “I can’t do this. I can’t pretend what you are saying is okay. I think it’s best if you don’t contact me anymore. If you are truly unhappy why don’t you leave?” I also tried to reach out to some of his friends, but they didn’t believe he was capable of the things I described to them, and labelled me “one of those crazy girlfriends”. No one believed me. Why would they? I thought, even if they did believe me, everyone would agree that I deserved it or that I must have been doing something wrong for such a wholesome person to lash out like that. Is it really domestic abuse if it is provoked?

My life turned violent. There were points where I thought the only thing I deserved was brutality and violence, whether that be towards others or myself. At times, I defended myself. I thought, it cannot be called abuse if I fight back …

The last time he laid his hands around my neck was the last time we were in our home together. He had physically hurt me in the past, as I had done to him in return. This time, when I woke up to his body on top of mine unable to escape, I knew he had turned into his worst self. I saw a complete lack of empathy in his eyes as he told me: “I want to kill you.” I quickly realised that I might not be able to fight my way out of this one. But he released his hands, and in a state of shock I ran out into the street and rang 000. That night he was arrested and charged for domestic violence, and the ACT police put an involuntary restraining order onto his bail conditions.

Months went by during the court trial. Months of anxiety and financial issues. Months of trying to regain control over my life, while being so far away from my family in the UK — who I did not tell because I was so ashamed. During these months, my mental health was at its worst. I was desperate to find answers as to why someone who had promised their life to me, could have caused so much pain; I attempted to end my own life because of the shame and embarrassment I felt.

As I was laying in the back of an ambulance a female police officer, who had arrested my ex-partner only seven weeks earlier, held my hand and told me “it would all be worth it in the long run”.

My ex-partner pleaded guilty to threats on my life and domestic violence. But given he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, had a clean record and could prove a strong work ethic working with vulnerable people, the courts saw him as an asset to society. My ex-partner was finally charged with a section 17 — 12 Month Good Behavioural Order.

A small positive in amongst all the darkness was that, with the help of legal aid, the DV team and a basic human right I wasn’t aware I was entitled to, I was able to apply for a new visa and stay in Australia.

On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.

One in three Australian women over 15 years of age has experienced physical violence.

One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.

One in four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

Women are at least three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner.

Women are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence, and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives.

Young women experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience far higher rates and more severe forms of violence than other women.

According to the Daily Telegraph, police are getting convictions in nine out of 10 domestic violence prosecutions as video statements from victims have an impact in our courtrooms.” Yet my case was seen as unworthy of a conviction, despite my attacker pleading guilty and a video statement being taken at the scene.

Women are scared to report their abusers because society has marginalised and stigmatised them — women who call out their abusers are all too often labelled “too emotional” and “liars”. Court outcomes like mine make it impossible for people who are in complicated, abusive relationships to seek or achieve justice.

Fostering behaviour like this has life-threatening consequences for women all around the world. We need to teach our children from a young age what is and isn’t a healthy relationship. We must educate our children that violence is never okay.

I still question myself every day about whether domestic violence truly existed in my past relationship. Maybe my question is answered when fear strikes my body each time a new partner raises their voice to me. Rebuild trust, with others and in myself, is going to be a long journey, but I believe it is possible. Thankfully, I have begun to find truth and kindness in my life, which has helped me grow into a strong woman.

DVCS, 24-hour Crisis Line, 02 6280 0900

Lifeline, Australia 24-hour Crisis Line, 13 11 14