The bigger picture: life after domestic violence

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Source: Anika McMahon

ANIKA MCMAHON

Reading Book
“They can have what they want, they can be happy,” Hannah Said. Source: Anika McMahon

Hannah* was only nineteen when she entered into what she thought was a normal, loving relationship.

However, it was not long until the first signs of aggression emerged.

“I’ve always had such a strong personality. If you ask my family they would have never thought I was in the situation I was,” Hannah said.

“In the beginning, he wasn’t like that, he was funny, we really got along from the start, we had a lot of fun together, we always wanted to be around each other,” Hannah said.

“Then there was one incident where he said the first thing to me, I think that was about three months in.”

Hannah struggled to understand the changes in her partner’s behaviour.

“It was shocking. I thought, ‘this isn’t who I’ve been hanging out with’,” Hannah said.

“I was actually about to take off, but then I thought I would give him a second chance.”

“And then little things started to happen, the things he would say, the way he would treat me, the way he would act around his friends when I was there.”

Scared to leave the relationship with the person she loved, Hannah refrained from talking to domestic violence support groups, friends and family about her situation.

“About six months in I thought ‘I’m in love with this person now, but I’m not happy’,” Hannah said.

“I was quite young, I didn’t really want to go through it [contact support]. It was also fear, if I did do that then it would be over, and half of me wanted that and half of me didn’t.”

Hannah was aware of support networks, but she said she never considered contacting one.

“I’m not sure why, there were always ads on TV, even when we were watching TV at the same time, I don’t even know if he saw himself as abusive.”

“I thought I could figure it out on my own.”

Things didn’t get better, and Hannah’s partner’s behaviour continued to change for the worse.

“It gradually got worse and worse. It became routine,” Hannah said.

“It would get bad, and then it would be okay for a little bit, and then it would get worse, and then it would be okay for a little bit, and then it would get really bad… it [the situation] became this black cloud that was always there.”

“I found myself thinking so much about things before I said them around him, because anything could set him off.”

She suffered regular migraines from all the stress and tension.

Hannah revealed even during family gatherings her family were unknown to what was happening behind closed doors.

“I am so close with my family, but they didn’t know what was going on after so many years,” Hannah said.

“I only told them once I had gotten out of it, but that’s how good, abusive people are at hiding what they’re like… It’s almost like they’ve got a split personality.”

happiness candle
Hannah believes DV is a battle within yourself, but a battle that can be won. Source: Anika McMahon

“So he was able to protect himself in that way.”

Just after two years, Hannah made the decision to leave.

Practice Manager at DV Connect Dayle Marino spoke about the many challenges victims face when leaving their violent relationship.

“That point of leaving the relationship, and then anywhere up to two years after the relationship is the most dangerous time,” she said.

“That’s when most of the domestic violence homicides occur.”

1800 Respect encourages victims and support networks to create a safety plan for occasions when their living environment is unsafe.

Hannah couldn’t recall the exact moment she decided enough was enough because she would constantly tell herself that.

“You are really in love with that person, and you feel like you’re the one that’s going to change them, and they don’t mean what they’re saying, but that’s beyond the point because it’s wrong.”

“I wasn’t lying to myself, I knew that I was still in love with him, but I just had to get away.”

“I remember ignoring phone calls, texts, hanging out with my friends and my family and just trying my best to stay away from him and out of contact, which was really hard.”

“And moving onto a point where I wasn’t in love with him anymore, and I could do it.”

Ms Marino said there are stories of victims that have made the steps to leave their relationship that have a happy ending, but more support is needed.

“There are lot’s of women who have successfully moved on from domestically violent relationships,” she said.

“We need a range of different supports, you have your crisis support, they go into refuge and then come out of refuge, and to me this is another critical time for women, once they are through this immediate crisis and are starting to look at re-establishing their lives again, and that’s quite difficult.”

“I think women are really vulnerable at that time at either returning to the violent relationship or finding themselves in another relationship.”

“I think we really need to put an emphasis on the medium to long-term support post leaving the relationship so women can maintain living a life free from violence.”

“Because really, the hard work starts when women are trying to re-establish themselves and their lives.”

Hannah expressed her gratitude for her strong support network that helped her move forward with her life.

“I’m very close with my parents, they were a great help once it was over and a great distraction,” Hannah said.

Now Hannah is able to put measures in place to prevent her entering a similar relationship.

“I got a job that I really love and I started hanging out with a lot of new people, who were in really great relationships,” Hannah said.

“I hung out with my Dad a lot more. It was great having a male perspective on things, he has always been a good role model to me.”

“I have always been very close to my Mum. I literally tell her everything and she has been a very strong support for me through my life.”

“I think saying that [revealing her abusive relationship] and going through what I went through shows just how much someone with abusive and controlling behaviour can change you as a person, because I didn’t let my Mum know what was going on, although I think she suspected some troubles were happening.”

It has been over four years since Hannah left her abusive relationship.

“I feel like my old self again, except happier,” Hannah said.

“I’ve been in a great relationship for over three and a half years now… Just being treated normally like you should.

“Not the constant pain that you’re in, when you’re not being treated right. It’s a whole new world.”

Hannah is happy now and her goals are to “keep things how they are”.

“I just want to keep on the uphill really,” Hannah said.

Watering the garden
Hannah encourages families and friends to never give up on a victim of DV. Source: Anika McMahon

Hannah encourages friends and family to take a supportive role in abusive situations.

“Before I was in that situation I was young, but I was someone who would say, ‘I would never put up with something like that, or ‘that’s so bad why are you with him or her?’,” Hannah said.

“But really you never know until you’re in that situation.”

Hannah encourages friends and family of people in an abusive relationship to always be there for the victim, without judgement.

“Don’t give up on them. That’s really important,” Hannah said.

Hannah hopes to share her story with other people in similar situations, to let them know their life is not defined by domestic violence.

“Definitely get help from family and friends, tell them what’s going on,” Hannah said.

“I’m lucky enough to have a great family support network, but some people don’t have that.”

“Contact the facilities available for people in these situations. That’s going to help a lot.”

“What I went through was not good, but then there are also people who were and are still putting up with really bad things and I know that they feel stuck, but I just want them to know that they’re not stuck at all.”

“They can have what they want, they can be happy, they will be able to love again, and be loved by someone else who will treat them right and they will be able to move on, they just need to know that.”

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the source.

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

In an emergency dial 000

DV ConnectDVconnect : 1800 811 811

Mensline: 1800 600 636

Sexual Assault line 1800 010 120