The Ten Reasons She Does Not Leave – Busting Myths
by Kirsten Macdonald
WARNING: There are parts of this story that may trigger emotional pain and trauma including PTSD for readers.
A friend commented on Facebook she hoped women of strength would come forward to help raise the voices of women impacted or at risk of domestic violence.
I held some close conversations with my women folk. I am an editor of a magazine, I have a voice, I have a platform, so F*ck the small talk. Let’s do this. Why? We lived it and these are the voices of survivors.
- The intervention order doesn’t stop the trigger, the lighter, the acid, the fear or the knife on the day of the attack.
- If I get an order, it will make him angrier
- It’s all over; he said it was my fault. Years of gas-lighting tell me it is my fault. – Associate Professor of Philosophy Kate Abramson published a paper which is worth reading unpacking the term Gaslighting. The script for gaslighting goes a little like this:
Don’t be so sensitive.
Don’t be paranoid.
I was just joking!
That’s all in you.
It doesn’t mean anything
I don’t know why I did that, you made me so angry, it will never happen again.
Are you proud of yourself? Look what you made me do.
You’re imagining things.
You should be grateful I do so much for you
Don’t get so worked up.
That never happened.
There’s no pattern.
It wouldn’t be any different anywhere else.
You’re just acting out.
I’m worried; I think you’re not well.
How are you going to look after yourself?
These statements on their own are not a case for gaslighting but when it is consistent, constant and insistent, you might be in hot water. You will begin to believe it and this makes it another control mechanism.
- My children are now sleeping, their familiar doonas, their toys. Their place of family. Am I going to rip them out at night time and sleep in the car? Sneaking out? They will be terrified. Plus he has the keys and the money. I don’t have access to the money any more. He has the location settings on my phone; he is tracking me. It’s not worth it. It is worth it, but we need to support you more and our community needs to, our court systems, our education and disruption of male rage towards women needs to stop.
- If I go to my parent’s or friends’ house, he might hurt them too. I am taking my drama to their home, putting them in danger. – In 2003 Ingrid Poulson was in a police interview regarding an assault by her husband when police drove her back, Grandfather Peter Poulson, 60, Marilyn “Marli” Kongsom, 4, and Sebastian “Bas” Kongsom, 20 months, were found stabbed to death in the driveway.
- The homeless shelters are unknown to me, what if they have no room? In Hobart alone, 2017 saw 180 women a MONTH TURNED AWAY; there was no room at the inn. According to Mission Australia, more than 121,000 people experiencing domestic violence sought help from specialist homelessness services in 2017-18. Three out of four people seeking refuge due to domestic and family violence-related issues were female.
- Where will I end up? I have no money, no home, no way to support my children. Centrelink will need an address. I have no address to put down. I am told there is a 4-month waiting list for an emergency home. But will this be in a nice area? Will it be near good schools? What if I take my children to a neighbourhood that is worse? What if he finds me? Social media makes it more accessible. –Women need to know exactly where to go, how to and what to do.
- He says he is sorry and will go to counselling. He cried so hard, and he can barely live with the guilt. He’s a good man, and had a terrible time as a child; I don’t want to stigmatize mental health. I need to help him, be patient and get him help and not trigger him so much. He’s so lovely to everyone. Over the years, he has convinced everyone how difficult I am. Even my family, I will lose everyone in my life. Everyone will hate me, and I will be even more alone. People will doubt me.
‘As reported by The Guardian, Detective Inspector Mark Thompson said the police need to determine whether this was an instance of “a woman suffering significant domestic violence” or “a husband being driven too far. We need to look at every piece of information and to put it bluntly…is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband, or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues he’s suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?”
I have no words.
- It’s not like he actually hit me or anything. – “For such a long time, she didn’t believe she was in a DV relationship. It hadn’t crossed Hannah Baxter’s mind, (Hannah) because as she said to me, her words ‘he didn’t hit me’,” Ms Whaley, who worked in the domestic violence sector, said.
- He has photographs of me he took, I trusted him, and he said it would make me more attractive to him and make our marriage better. We have been married for 15 years. Why not be body proud and spice things up? But, now he says he will put them online with my phone number and my children will see them. -Since 2016 Revenge Porn – All states in Australia except Tasmania have made it a criminal offence to distribute non-consensual intimate images. The non-consensual sharing of intimate images commonly occurs in the context of domestic and family violence. According to a survey of 4,122 Australians we conducted for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner in 2017, one in ten Australian respondents had experienced a nude or sexual image of themselves being distributed to others or posted online without their consent.
Theres so many more than ten reasons…
He will kill himself, and everyone will blame me, and I love him. I don’t want to bury him and explain this to his family and children. We have kept this our dirty little secret for so long, not many know. My children will have no father, and it will be my fault. I don’t want him to die. I love him; I don’t like it when he intimidates me or makes me feel so bad. – Preliminary findings from new research by Griffith University indicate more than 60 per cent of male suicides can be traced back to breakups.
He will kill me.
He will kill them.
He will kill us.
She doesn’t leave because they kill. They kill every day.
Every day. Around the world. A woman and her children perceived as property to be kept, damaged, discarded and killed at will in a moment of blinding horrific rage. Yes it happens across other relationship genders, however the numbers speak for themselves and require attention here right now.
Abuse can create a vicious generational cycle of trauma unless there is a positive disruption point and some very big changes in our world.
There may be a small chance families can be healed here.
When broken is left broken, it breaks more things. When broken is recovered, it can create life-changing opportunities for unity. How do I know this? I have lived it.
My hands are shaking because this is real. That means talking about it.
When I was ten years old, my stepfather, who was well liked in our town, he gave piggy backs, made people laugh and smile- beat me and then threw my baby sister across the room. She flew like a basketball and hit the wall with a thud I have forever lodged into my memory. I covered her and my baby brother’s bodies on the bed with my own to protect them while my mother calmed him, claiming responsibility for his aggravation.
Once he accepted her heartfelt apology, she told him she was taking us to the shop to buy a treat to cheer us up and would be back soon. Just her wallet, and us. The three kids. We walked to the corner cafe, 500 metres away. My mother told the cafe owner calmly we were in danger from her husband, could he hide us? He did. Immediately. Mr. Cafe owner you were a lifesaver. We hid out back with his wife.
Not 15 mins later a furious stepfather came in and asked where his wife was. The cafe owner said he had not seen us. A few hours later, under the night sky and cover, we were picked up by my mother’s best friend. We would stay at their family home that night and work out the next plan.
Her cousins came over and organised a caravan from a friend that would be put in a secret location, and we would start putting the pieces back together. My baby sister; an early talker kept saying over and over again “My Daddy hurt my arm.” He had never hurt her before.
Once everyone was calmed, we all went to bed. I slept on a trundle bed of Mum’s friend’s daughter, a sister to me. I remember the house being hushed and then the screaming, shouting and breaking sounds started. He worked out where we were, and he broke down the door. He hit my mother’s friend and threatened to kill her husband; he pushed past, found us, picked up my baby sister and brother and pulled me along.
My mother was screaming, and her friend yelled at me to run. At the time, I remember thinking, man, he must want us to go home if he is going to this trouble. I listened to the urgent yelling “Run Skin run.” (That was my little nick name back then, I had very skinny legs) I stomped on his foot as hard as I could and took off into the blackness of the backyard. An old car was parked out the back, and I scrambled underneath it. I hid there for what felt like hours. The police were called, one was a friend and lived at the end of the street.
I am told there were chains and tape in the boot. We weren’t going home. It appears we were going for a deep dive into the Murray River. Police removed him, and we travelled the countryside under fake names; in a caravan park, a women’s shelter, couching it with family and then finally a long time later, a housing commission home became ours.
The gun was confiscated a few weeks before.
If you ever want to play, hide and seek, I am a champion.
This event was after years of horrific violence, psychological abuse and terror. The local doctor was the patch up man, and our bond with him will never die.
The psychiatrist my stepfather agreed to see at the request of our family doctor informed my stepfather there was nothing wrong with him and my mother was antagonising him, pushing his buttons: I hope you have a long day in hell wrapped in the blanket of a million children’s bruises, sir. My stepfather could have received critical help. This would have flowed through to us.
Graphically depicted parts of this article have been removed due to respect of sensitivity to those triggered by PTSD.
He was likeable. He showed kindness too. He had good traits. These two components and opposites don’t sit well do they? They make us feel uncomfortable. When we “monstify” the man, we don’t possibly think its our mate, or the bloke next door, our workmate or a relative.
Scared to leave? You better believe she was. By staying she believed she was keeping us alive. But she did leave and we were lucky and we are alive.
There are some stories too horrific to repeat, and I don’t want to share them. I have seen psychologists; very objective ones, including blokes weep with my personal stories. Transference is pretty much inescapable. They are stories that belong to the voice of others in my family too, and I do not wish to take that away. We had a support system, we had friends, and we had a whole lot of healing. Years of counselling and psychological understanding. We are resilient. Because we had SUPPORT.
But there is a stigma in telling this story. What creates stigma? Assumptions. Let’s smash those apart shall we?
Were we from a lower socio economic background? Nope. It doesn’t matter if we were, but we weren’t. No one deserves to be unsafe.
We must be all really fu**ed up now, right? Nope.
All abusers have terrible parents right? Nope. Some boys are taught to respect women no exception and yet it STILL HAPPENS
Intense education and psychological scaffolding helps to create incredibly mentally healthy adults capable of reason, rational and emotional balance and an authentic understanding of problems and human behaviour.
Does it mean you will become an abuser? Not always, no.
It can actually generate perfectionism in your own parenting, and a really strong instinct on what NOT to do. You imagine the ideal childhood you didn’t have, and you take from the examples you did have, and you build that family with significant intent. My sister and I can attest to this. It made us want to be the safest, best parents in the world. We try not to be overprotective. We were taught nurture by our womenfolk, bravery and smarts, resilience, and how to pick danger. It took us a long time to trust men. It might take us the rest of our lives, to be honest. Our mum remarried, and he is a good man. He taught us that not all men hit. We had some beautiful uncles and family friends who taught us about good men too. Really good men. Uncle Steve, we love you. You will never know the example you set at the most crucial time.
Because we had the tools, family and love, we developed hope. I remember one night, he found us and was walking around the house. We were all in mums bed, hands over mouths, not making a sound. She whispered to us: one day we won’t live like this, one day you will all be grown up and safe and have beautiful lives. She was 100% right. She was a hard worker; we all got that from her. There was nothing she could not learn to fix or repair, and she was strict, sometimes too much for our liking, but I think she needed to be because there had to be boundaries and control in place.
We drove a shitty car, and that’s its own story, I had a red matchbox sports car we would make-believe drive around the carpet. No rust, or long walks. No gear stick that came off in your hand. One day when we were safe… I have the same one today, but I can drive it. This little beauty on four wheels reminds me of where we have come from and arrived, and it makes me smile every time I get behind the wheel and take the roof off. It is a shiny red physical metaphor. We never not live with story of “it”, but it has not defined us; such is the power of transformation.
Fact: Homelessness doesn’t just happen to poor people.
My mother was successful. We had a new 4WD, lived in a lovely home with a yard, a tree swing and the best treehouse you have ever seen. My mother read Enid Blyton until we breathed the Magic Faraway Tree and we came from good stock. It’s beside the point. It crosses all bridges, street names and car types, bank account balances and titles. We grew up in a nice house, and then we moved to the town ghetto, and I can tell you it crosses both sides of the tracks. We were safer in the ghetto.
Fact: Not all poor people are useless, generational traumas waiting to be rescued. Some are doing a great job of saving themselves, they just need the rest of the world to create opportunities for this to be successful.
Fact: Not all women in this situation are weak.
They may be empaths, seeking to heal the wounds of another and are deeply compassionate. Little boys carry trauma, and while they might try very hard to be good men when they grow up, this trauma can develop and seek violence as a means of control and perpetuated fear. Which means women can and do fall in love with the charismatic ‘not-so-good- man.’ They might be warrior women who quite simply fall in love with an abuser. When violence first starts to bubble, the little boy within can be fixed. He doesn’t mean to… here’s the thing- you are never going to fix him. Only intense psychotherapy, professionals and a changed society can try and do this.
Sometimes women have not experienced domestic violence and don’t see the signs, they actually do not see it coming and sometimes they have, but it isn’t until it happens to their children that the self-realisation of ‘this is not okay and we are not safe’ stirs change. It all comes in different shapes, sizes and psychological profiles.
Sometimes a man will physically intimidate a woman, she makes a stand, someone else pulls him up, incorrect behaviour is identified, recognised, he goes to anger management, he takes responsibility for his actions, gets rehabilitation, is accountable, and he never does it again. This is a beautiful outcome. But sadly, it is rare for a whole lot of reasons. It doesn’t have to be this way.
What can you do?
1) When you see shitty behaviour you can see reduces the other person, or makes them feel unsafe or humiliated, speak up. It is your business. Your taxpayer dollars pay for our mental health, the judicial system, etc. you get it. It’s your problem. It’s our problem. Our tribe. Our people. Our species. Violence against women is estimated to cost the Australian economy $22 billion a year. Domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and their children. Women and children are dying in our neighbourhoods. End of story.
2) A mother and her children have to have somewhere to go immediately that is safe and not an overnighter, and NOT a car. Once it is established that a woman and her children are at threat of harm, a woman should have access to instant escape. This means interstate protection with access to a secret location where her whereabouts are known to police only. This way, she is not committing a kidnapping offence and won’t be plastered all over the internet when she does a “runner.” (cringe) There is always someone who can validate. Consider providing a haven.
3) Stop using negative language, why don’t they just leave, —all untrue. Use positive language and do something to help. Change the language. The language you may have heard and come to accept or even used:
He shoved her, but she pushed him first, if you are going to give out you are going to get it back.
Why don’t they just leave?
Homeless people could get benefits, they don’t have to live like that
He shouldn’t have done that, but it isn’t like he punched her in the face or anything.
I never saw him hit her, well I never saw anything.
People say things all the time, he is so loving with his kids, there’s no way he’d hurt them.
I don’t want to get involved, what if he turns up at my place?
I think there might be a bit of biffo, not sure on that one.
How did she fall? It didn’t make much sense, but he doesn’t look like the type.
I think there was a bit of push and shove.
He messed with her sexually, you know, but it’s not like they aren’t married or anything.
I think it was just a once off.
It’s none of our business.
6) Not all domestic violence is the same. There is no single profile. If you notice early behaviour of a boy, young man or grown man that is intimidating to a woman, encourage him to seek intensive counselling. These controlling, and destructive defence mechanisms can be altered, re-education is possible and so is a positive growth mindset. This does not have to be concreted in, it can be changed, but we need to be very aware and have a low tolerance, and act quickly. Put simply; it must be, otherwise actions transform into senseless, murderous and rage filled inexcusable heinous crimes.
7) If someone begins to tell you their story and it’s uncomfortable, please hold the space for them.
It will be uncomfortable. These things aren’t nice to hear. But there should be no such thing as feeling you are oversharing when you have chosen people to be vulnerable with and hear your story. Positive communication is the heart of every healing and the continuation of a healthy species. If someone brings this up, don’t get weird because the vibe dropped at a dinner party, feel honoured that this person chose this time and place for their voice to be heard. It might just be a whisper. But allow.
8) Regular reporting and accurate profiling and exercising the proper use of the judicial system. If he’s been violent and he breaks his AVO, lock him up. Lock him up, or pay for the funerals and visit their graves every single day of the rest of your life and ask yourself why this woman or child is no longer here.
9) SPEAK UP—this way the validating testimonial can be used to establish the truth.
The statistics scream across the lands: it is women and children that are dying by the hands of men. It is women and children who are being abused by men in epic proportions and have done for a very long time. Men can and do suffer from domestic violence, however, our pondering here is where the proof shows the biggest threat. Let’s change this NOW.
If you are in immediate danger you should leave and seek police assistance.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK YOU NEED A PLAN. When women leave, they are at their highest risk of harm, so be smart and back yourself. Leave at a safe time. Get a support network, seek legal advice. Do your research and find out where you can go if you have to do it urgently. Save money he does not know about, keep it somewhere he cannot find or with a trusted relative. Have a trusted person know where you are, and inform police but keep your profile low. Do not use social media, and if you are in a controlled relationship, one where you may not be physically hurt but are being threatened, don’t risk it. Some women don’t see it coming and never believe he can go to that level. Keep records of threatening text messages, and report incidences always. A trail means evidence, and establishing evidence for yourself if needed is another means of backing yourself. Keep yourself safe. For more tips see this resource: https://www.facs.nsw.gov.au/domestic-violence/stay-safe/leaving-safely
What do we need from our leaders?
Better equipped shelters that can take more women and children and give them privacy along with instant access to counselling, food, clothing and a monetary fund of emergency assistance money. It needs to be unbreakable, consistent and available AT ALL TIMES. Let us also include comprehensive free counselling by the best professionals, and children must not be handballed from case manager to case manager like a tennis ball. This would be an excellent area for increasing private social enterprise investment.
Safehouses for those at risk; I know several people whom by word of mouth have spare rooms, or separate dwellings available for women hiding with their children, with only a handful of people know the whereabouts, and secure anonymity is provided. Let’s make this a national scheme.
Use the laws we have to prosecute with accuracy and swiftness! Our judicial system needs to step up, the entire show needs to. For God’s sake, what the actual F? My experience was over 30 years ago, yet here we are.
We need to obliterate the stigma, identify the threat and step up, speak out and reverse engineer our perceptions- one that helps to triage domestic violence to the point of it becoming a rarity. The cycle can and does stop. I am a testament to this. You can absolutely change a woman’s life, a child’s life and redirect the path into wonderful. You change a man’s life too. But it starts with you. Fuck the small talk.
For Hannah and the many before you x
If you are in danger, ring 000 or go directly to your nearest police station.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
https://www.safesteps.org.au – We assist women and their children experiencing family violence through our 24/7 phone line and specialist support services. 24/7 family violence response phone line
1800 015 188
Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au and lifeline.org.au.
The Orange Door is a free service for adults, children and young people who are experiencing or have experienced family violence and families who need extra support with the care of children.
You should contact The Orange Door if:
- someone close to you is hurting you, controlling you or making you feel afraid – such as your partner, family member, carer or parent(s)
- you are a child or young person who doesn’t have what you need to be OK
- you are worried about the safety of a friend or family member
- you need more support with the care of children, e.g. due to money issues, illness, addiction, grief, isolation or conflict
- you are worried about the safety of a child or young person
- you need help to change your behaviour and stop using violence in your relationships
The Orange Door can work with you on your own, or together with your family members depending on your situation. The Orange Door welcomes everyone, regardless of migration status. You can seek help or support if you are a migrant or a refugee or do not have permanent residency. Workers at The Orange Door also know that people continue to be affected by family violence long after the violence stops. If you have experienced family violence in the past and would like help now, contact The Orange Door.
The Women’s House is a welcoming, safe and supportive engagement hub tailored to the needs of all women (trans and cis) who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless.
We strongly welcome Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women to our space. The Women’s House recognises that a gender-specific response is needed to address homelessness. Women who access the house may be socially isolated, in crisis or experiencing housing difficulties due to a range of reasons, including family violence, poverty, sexual violence, physical and mental illness, trauma and problematic drug and alcohol use.
DVConnect is a not-for-profit organisation that has provided state-wide specialist domestic, family and sexual violence crisis counselling, intervention, information and pathways to safety (emergency housing and refuge) for over 18 years.
DVConnect operates four telephone helplines; they are Womensline, Mensline, Sexual Assault Helpline, Pets In Crisis and 1800 RESPECT (Queensland operator).
The Vinnies Women’s Crisis Centre is a service of the St Vincent de Paul Society SA, to complement our existing men’s shelter and support women with short term, emergency accommodation. Guests must be referred by government and agency channels, which include the domestic violence help line and the South Australian Police. The Vinnies Women’s Crisis Centre is unable to accept private bookings.
Crisis Care is a telephone information and counselling service for people in crisis needing urgent help. It operates 24 hours, seven days a week.
Crisis Care can be accessed through the translating and interpreting service on 13 14 50.
Telephone (08) 9223 1111
1800 199 008 (country free call)
Dawn House Women’s Shelter provides safe and secure crisis accommodation for women with accompanying children escaping domestic violence in their homes or community.
Hobart Women’s Shelter provides support and a coordinated approach to assist women and children to address their housing, legal, emotional support, health, education, employment, financial support and other needs. Please feel free to call us on 03 6273 8455 between the hours of 9am and 5pm – Monday to Friday.