Published by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, University of Canberra

Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Why I will march: a survivor’s story…

Mar 14, 2021 | Opinion, Feature

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In 2013, I was in an abusive relationship. After months of gaslighting, isolation, aggression, and infidelity; being told I was crazy and demanding, I sat shaking on my couch with a positive pregnancy test in my hand. I didn’t cry. All I could think was: “He is going to be so angry.”

I had no consideration for myself at all, how I would be feeling, what I should do. I walked into my abuser’s apartment, my head hung in shame and I whispered, “I’m just so sorry, please don’t angry at me, I’m pregnant”. He was angry.

I knew I would have no support from him. The back and forth between loving and hating me on top of my pregnancy hormones meant my head was a mess. My abuser had declined to be part of the pregnancy at all, except to pressure me by asking “when had I booked the abortion”.

Despite the constant attempts to isolate me from them, as soon as I called my parents and friends they surrounded me with the love and kindness I had been missing for months. I made the tough decision to keep the baby, but to bring it up as a sole parent.

The day I lost that baby was the hardest of my life. I had rushed to the doctor’s surgery, bleeding, and I was there alone when they told me the awful news. My abuser texted me from holiday to say, “that doesn’t sound good”. It wasn’t, I required emergency surgery and took over two months with post-operative infections to be well again.

In the final phone conversation with my abuser, there were threats and allegations. I never saw him again. However, I felt unsafe in my home. Terrified, in fact. I went to the police who told me that as nothing was written down, and there was no signs or allegations of physical violence, they couldn’t help me. They said to come back when I had something concrete. I also was helpfully told, “You look like you can handle yourself”. I couldn’t, but I also couldn’t fight any more.

I was not a perfect victim; too tall, too big, and my evidence, while they agreed awful, did not fit what the legislation required for an AVO. There were genuinely no protections they could offer under the rule of law. The notion of coercive control was not even on the radar then. My life collapsed. I quit my job. I moved home to my parents where I began to heal. It was not easy.

My story is not remarkable. In fact, that is the most remarkable thing about it. I’m one of the lucky ones. In 2020, 55 Australian women were murdered due to intimate partner violence, with frontline services reporting a surge in serious injuries, and request for services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As I found, the law for those seeking formal legal outcomes is complicated and lacking a nuanced understanding of the spectrum of abuse and its impact on survivors. Many services have been scrambling, with not enough funds or human resources to help everyone who comes to them.

In 2021 our major headlines have been; a historical sexual assault allegation against Australia’s highest law officer, which he strongly denies; an alleged sexual assault taking place in the nation’s Parliament; a principal of a girls school warned minors not to compromise their “male teachers employment” with their outfit choices; and most disturbingly a Sydney woman’s social media petition revealing more than 2,000 alleged sexual assaults in Australian schools.

Where is the outrage in our Parliament? Where is the policy and legislation to protect and educate the young women and men who are this country’s future? Where are the national definitions of domestic abuse, including coercive control?

As a survivor, the government’s official response to the stories of abuse against women and in particular the historical rape allegation reminds me of how little our stories matter, how scant is the support for us. And when I hear the Prime Minister has not even read the case against the Attorney-General yet declared him an innocent man I recall how my own story was not taken seriously by the authorities.

Suggesting that the “rule of law” stands in the way of an inquiry into the highest law officer of this nation and their suitability for the role is to mischaracterise the matter as purely criminal. Sussan Ley lost her cabinet position with no criminal conviction. Former premier Barry O’Farrell resigned over a bottle of wine. When the NRL has a more robust code of conduct regarding sexual assault allegations than the nation’s Parliament, we should acknowledge it is a dark day for this country.

I am raging because I, and thousands and thousands of Australian women, never got the protection we deserved. To see the centre of our democracy dismiss our experience has unleashed a collective rage this country has never seen before.

I will be Marching for Justice on Monday; because I believe survivors; because I believe we deserve better leaders and because change needed to happen yesterday and as a taxpaying Australian, I demand change now.

The writer is anonymous for legal reasons.

(This article was first published in the Sun Herald 14 March 2021)

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