Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 states, “To everything there is a season”. Within that text we are given…..
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate.
A time of war, and a time of peace.
Silence can be valuable thing. It can be a soothing balm amongst the jangle of the everyday. It can minimise self harm; preventing us expressing our innermost thoughts to those who would use them against us once revealed. Silence can be extremely wise.
It can also be a blanket that covers things that fester. Things that should be seen and spoken about. Silence is a double edged sword that should be wielded with wisdom. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. It is no longer the season of silence.
Australian woman Hannah Baxter and her three children lost their lives yesterday in an incident of graphic domestic violence. Her estranged husband, who took their lives and his own, did not act out of the blue. Theirs was a story that plays out over and over again behind closed doors. Control, dominance, abuse that led to her leaving with her children. Choosing to end the cycle of violence and running to a happier life. We know about Hannah and her babies because their story ended in homicide on a suburban street. Like Rosie Batty, a tale so horrible and so public it is front page news. There is outrage, grief, condemnation of events mixed with that odd cocktail of excuses for the perpetrator so unique to the landscape of domestic violence.
Nothing can bring Luke Batty or Hannah Baxter and her three little children back. This blog is dedicated to them and about them, even as I speak about my own path. In no way do I wish to detract from their stories and the mourning we all feel for them. Domestic violence is having a light shone upon it and people are listening. The pendulum is swinging a little.
A time to speak.
In November 2000 I married the only man I had ever been with. The only man I had ever loved. Details of his identity, his previous history and how I came to make that choice are not really necessary. I was a young, inexperienced woman who believed what he told me. I was a young woman who wanted to have a happy marriage. I was a girl who believed I could change the man who had already treated me badly before I walked down the aisle with vows and an open hearted commitment to be there for him. To make him a good man. I was a young woman who knew no better and hoped for the best. The best never came.
On February first 2017 I fled my family home with my three little dogs after eighteen years of domestic abuse. My husband came back to the house to find me, the pets and my personal effects gone. My abuse was known to others; but like most I kept the extent of it hidden. I spoke cautiously to others in times of crisis of helping my husband, of understanding his demons, of forgiving him. It was a merry-go-round that spanned nearly two decades. It cost me very dearly to stay. It would cost me very dearly to leave. That flight took weeks of planning and the aid of a few trusted friends. Three years on I have a new life, but the shadow of my ex husband remains. He is not at liberty as I write this but that will change. The path of an abused woman is one that comes with a rear view mirror.
My ex spouse and I lived a white collar, middle class life. It all looked rather lovely from the outside. Unless you knew. With the advent of social media that perception was allowed to flourish. Holidays. The showing of expensive gifts. Smiling photographs with friends. Loving references in facebook posts. When things were quieter and he was doing better I convinced myself it was as it appeared. My greatest loves were my two dogs whom I adored. One in particular was to become collateral damage at his hands, and I dug into my circumstances to shield them. They lived the cycle of abuse by my side. That is one of my greatest sources of grief.
When those two fur babies passed there were three more. They were not in the marriage for long and we all made it out on February first 2017. I was never leaving without them.
As I was planning my flight I was advised to seek the assistance of a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer. Police have officers who are dedicated to helping victims of DV leave safely. How many of us know that? I certainly did not. The day I walked into that station I was shaking. Was I doing the right thing? Could he still change? My circumstances had spiralled so far I was perched on a chair in the office of a Senior Constable being told what I was about to do was highly dangerous. There was a report taken, I had numbers to call, an officer looking after my welfare. It took three attempts to leave before I got it right because I was being watched so carefully. It was the first time in my marriage I had actively lied. When my ex spouse twigged I may be thinking about leaving he upped his surveillance of me through my electronic devices; inclusive of telling me he had consulted with a private investigator to see all activity on my phone and computer. Looking back at those few weeks is like looking into a prism of fear, anxiety and mysterious calm that this was my moment to save myself and I was going to take it.
When I made it to my new accommodation and informed my ex husband I had gone, his first texted response was one of regret and conciliation. Yet the new me knew this would not last. This was a pattern I had lived for so many years. The abuse, the apology, the honeymoon phase, the build up of rage, the abuse. I have a pile of letters attesting to that. All apologetic and full of promises of therapy and change before the next chapter.
He immediately wanted to see the pets, but I had lived that story many times and they were not his to see. The messages turned threatening fairly quickly with the tone changing within 48 hours. Within two weeks I had left for interstate for several months. But I was still glued to my rear view mirror.
Apart from once turning up somewhere he knew I was scheduled to be (where I was fortunately surrounded by others), I never spoke with my ex husband again. I have seen him in Family Court and on the stand in District Court. A mediator facilitated the eventual settlement of our finances and sale of our home. I was in a safe room for my own protection and he was at the other end of the premises. On that day, he demanded the ashes of one of my deceased dogs in exchange for agreeing to sell our home. The dog he had abused and freely admitted to abusing because of evidence I had retained.
It would be comforting to think that Hannah and Rosie and even myself are sad, horrible stories that are few and far between. But we know the statistics. Women are being killed at an alarming rate. Many like me get away but will forever be looking over our shoulders. Others are still waiting to run, knowing that when they do they will put everything on the line.
Hannah Baxter did, and she and her children paid the ultimate price of domestic abuse. They paid with their lives.
“To everything there is a season”. There is an unwarranted sense of shame that comes with saying you were an abused woman. Victim blaming is rife. A total lack of knowledge of the mechanics of domestic violence permeates our culture. Silence is the easy option.
A time to speak.
I hope Hannah Baxter is somewhere beautiful with her three little ones. For every woman who has lived this or is living it. Perhaps you will read this and know you are not alone. I felt utterly alone for most of those eighteen years. I would wish that for no-one. xxx