Street angel, house devil




When children are born, they are the epitome of innocence and purity.

While some are more likely to have grown up in a happy household, some would not dare  to go back.

We assume the innocence of children would make them oblivious to any evil which exists in the world, but what happens when evil becomes part of their daily existence in the home and cannot be escaped?

From the age of about six or seven, Holly* knew the household she lived in was not the same as many others.

The loving relationships she would witness between her friends’ parents when visiting their homes did not match the strained relationship she saw between her own parents.

Instead of being showered with love and affection, Holly and her mother, Audrey* would be subjected to degrading name calling and manipulating mind games.

Audrey would constantly be accused of sleeping with other men when she would take her daughter to dance lessons or go and see her family.

As Holly got older, her relationship with her father began to deteriorate. Source: Inge Hansen
As Holly got older, her relationship with her father began to deteriorate. Source: Inge Hansen

The “Gaslighting” was so intense, she began to question herself even though deep within  she knew she would never do it as it went against everything she stood for.

“I don’t know when I would have even had the opportunity to but these things were in his head and whenever he’d start drinking, it’d always come out,” Audrey said.

“I listened to it for years and years and years and I heard it that much that sometimes I was that crazy about it, I would think to myself ‘did I? Maybe I did’.”

This torment would not be visible to the outside world and those who knew Anthony* saw him as a wonderful man.

“My mum would call him a street angel and house devil,” Audrey said.

“He would treat everybody outside of the house fantastically, nobody would know, they would see him as this great family man.”

Holly said it was not until she would visit friends’ houses that she noticed how different her life was to other people’s.

“I did have that exposure to other families where it was a loving environment, it was a safe environment,” she said.

“And then going back to my own environment, it was completely different because there was no communication between my parents, there was this constant fear and this heavy feeling in the house.”

As Holly grew up and started asking questions, Audrey knew she had to ensure her daughter did not blame herself.

“Oh you know, ‘dad’s always working, he’s tired’ you know, I would always say it’s him who has the problem, it’s not you who has the problem,” she said.

“That was probably the one thing I would always say to her, you know, because she’d get upset, you know, ‘it’s not your fault, it’s not you, it’s him who has the problem just remember that’.”

Senior Clinical Psychologist and director of R.E.A.D. Clinic, Heather Irvine-Rundle said victims will often make excuses to protect their partner.

“Sometimes the mother will actually say to the children ‘oh, well daddy gets stressed when you make a lot of noise’ and she’ll sometimes try and protect the perpetrator by locating blame in either herself or the children.”

Audrey and Holly continued to live this way until one night a few years ago, they decided enough was enough.

On this occasion, Anthony had been drinking and entered Audrey’s room yelling insults and degrading comments at her before entering Holly’s room and harassing her.

Holly began pleading with her mother to leave and eventually, they grabbed their belongings, which they had collected that day, and fled.

“It was the scariest, scariest night that I have ever lived through trying to get out of that house without him catching us,” Audrey said.

Psychologist Heather Irvine-Rundle said it is common for the child to be the instigator and tell the mother it is time to leave.

“… you’ve got this teenage girl who’s developed an affinity with the person, with the victim, so she feels incredibly sorry for the victim, you know, and she feels like she needs to rescue mum which is one of the roles that children can play,” she said.

“‘Mum, we need to get out’ and the child ends up being the protector of the mother rather than the mother being capable of either protecting herself or her children.”

In the days following Audrey and Holly’s escape, Anthony had pleaded for his wife to give him a second chance, and she did.

“As much as I didn’t want to, I felt like ‘okay, I will give you one more go because when this happens again, I can be, you know, I’m okay in here [my heart] because I gave you another chance.”

Holly began defending her mother when her father would become verbally abusive. Source: Inge Hansen
Holly began defending her mother when her father would become verbally abusive. Source: Inge Hansen

Holly said when she and her mother returned home, her father attempted to make amends but within a week of being home, another red flag was raised.

“Not even a week later, I can just remember sitting in the kitchen and he came over and sat down and he was just looking at us and he just started to laugh,” she said.

“Nothing had been said. He just sat down, looked at mum, looked at me and started laughing and it was just a really weird laugh.

“He had a really weird expression on his face and to me, and I will always believe this, he was thinking like ‘oh, they’ll never leave, I’ve got them’ like ‘they’ve got nowhere to go, they’ll never leave’ and I felt sick to my stomach looking at him.

“It was at that point where I was just like ‘nup (sic), we can’t stay’, that was the last straw.”

In early 2012, Holly and her mother fled again, this time, permanently, seeking refuge at a close friend’s place.

Holly had just entered her final year of high school and the ordeal severely impacted her concentration which then affected her final results.

Not long after moving into their new home, Holly found out her mother had begun a new relationship.

Holly said she felt jealous and confused because she no longer had her mother the same way she used to.

“It was now mum being consoled when she’d be the one to console me and I’d be the one to console mum,” she said.

“Because mum was already being consoled by another person, I felt like I couldn’t really be consoled because mum didn’t really need me so therefore, I didn’t need mum as much when really, I did.

It was never just mum, it was always mum and [her new partner], it was two people now… I really struggled with that because I didn’t know how to adapt to two people.”

Holly and Audrey eventually settled into their new lives. Source: Inge Hansen
Holly and Audrey eventually settled into their new lives. Source: Inge Hansen

The feeling of betrayal made Holly consider going back to her emotionally abusive father out of spite.

“That pretty much puts it into perspective about how confused I was about them and not understanding that,” she said.

“The fact that I wanted to go back to where I was running from.”

Psychologist Heather Irvine-Rundle said this feeling of betrayal is common among children whose parent has found a new partner.

“In this situation, this little one has been, I would say, the confidant, the equal, the partner of the mother through all of this experience and to just have that sort of tossed away when mum finds someone new is betrayal on many levels,” she said.

“…’you hurt me mum, you really, really hurt me so how do I tell you how much you’ve hurt me? Well, I’m gonna (sic) hurt you the same amount back’.”

Since moving in 2012, Holly and Audrey’s life has settled, however, Holly said the entire ordeal has impacted the way she views relationships and now holds concerns for herself.

“I think it’s affected me being close in relationships and everything,” she said.

“The last thing I want is someone who is controlling and manipulative and the scariest thing is people mask that so well and you don’t see it until it is too late and you look back in hindsight and you see who they are.”

Holly said she no longer has any contact with her father and the heavy feeling and constant fear which once clouded her life, has now been lifted.

“[I’m] really happy, I have great friends, a loving family, a special person in my life who treats me really, really lovely and makes me very, very happy. Things are good.”

*Names have been changed to protect people experiencing or who have experienced domestic violence.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence in any capacity you should reach out for support.

In an emergency dial 000

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