“My partner killed one of my unborn twins. And I still couldn’t leave him.”

Catherine shared her story with The RED HEART Campaign’s Why I Stayed project (http://theredheartcampaign.tumblr.com), Australia’s only publicly accessible archive of domestic violence survival stories and portraits.

If you want to join the ongoing Why I Stayed project, please contact The RED HEART Campaign (https://www.facebook.com/TheREDHEARTCampaign) for details.

Trigger Warning: sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Growing up I never dreamed about my fairytale wedding, I never hoped for a house with a white picket fence or the husband and 2.5 kids.

My innocence and dreams were lost as a young child. My cycle of abuse started before I was born. I was trapped in my mother’s web of abusive relationships and quickly followed in her footstep.

I grew up thinking and believing my body wasn’t my own and my thoughts and feelings didn’t matter. I was only on this earth to be used and abused.

I was physically, emotionally and sexually abused for years, all the while hiding behind the same mask my mother wore. I had a mental breakdown at 17. I had hit rock bottom.

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Drugs and alcohol had been in my life for a while. At 18 I was gang raped, I had to fight with my own thoughts to whether I deserved it or not. I was still in early recovery from my breakdown and had no self worth.

I was a mess and didn’t know where to turn. I ended up running away and joining the travelling show and carnival. That’s where I met him. I had not long turned 19.

He was tanned, toned and strong. He told me he would protect me, that he would never let anyone else hurt or hit me again. I soon learnt it was anyone else bar him. I knew something wasn’t right very early in the relationship.

He was jealous, overly jealous. If someone spoke to me he accused me of flirting or cheating. I wanted out, we had only been together a few weeks and I already was scared and pregnant. I felt trapped. He already had such a control over me. A power I couldn’t understand. I was again weak, alone and afraid. We moved down to Victoria to be near his family (who I quickly learnt were all he same as he was) thousands of kilometres from my own. I knew no one.

I put back on that smiling mask and hoped things would change. They did. He became violent. I endured daily emotional and verbal abuse. I no longer had a say or a voice.

It was his way or the highway. I was being pinned against walls, shoved down halls and locked in rooms all while he was screaming and spitting at me. Anything triggered him. There was always some excuse or blame.

I felt I could do nothing right. I was walking on egg shells and trying to believe everything would be alright once the baby comes. I know, wishful thinking from a child.

As soon as the baby was born he started hitting me, only in places where the bruises could be covered. I wore long jumpers in summer, covered my legs with long pants, tied my hair up to hide the bald patches from chunks that had been ripped out.

I bought make up to cover bruises that were visual only to be called a slut or a whore when I wore it. I hid this from everyone.

"I no longer had a say or a voice. It was his way or the highway. Image via iStock.

Next thing I knew I was pregnant again. Twins. I’d only just found out there was two. He already threatened me to try and have an abortion.

One day while waiting for a bus he lost it. I didn’t have money so he could go score some weed. He attacked me, punched me in the stomach. I crumbled in pain. I sat there crying and started to bleed. An elderly couple driving by transported me to the hospital. I was scared.

I felt I had lost everything. I sat in the hospital alone waiting for a scan. I had no one to hold my hand and be by my side as I was told that one of the babies had died and the others heart beat was weak, to be prepared to lose it.

I grieved alone.

My remaining little one was a fighter. The heart beat got stronger. I was still pregnant. He came to the hospital with cheap flowers, all apologies and lies. I hated him for what he had done.

He had all the power and control and his mother was right by his side. They both told me that they would do whatever it took so that I would never have the kids if I left again. I believed them.

I was their little puppet, strings pulled for their amusement. Then I fell pregnant again. He called it our band aid baby. A new start now that we were back together. He promised he would change, that he would never hit me again. He lied.

At nine weeks pregnant the police took me to hospital after another physical assault. The baby was OK but I wasn’t.

I was stressed, bruised, underweight and sore. I was placed in a safe house, away from my kids again. I was starting my new life when he found me.

He didn’t leave. I was still too scared of him. Things went back to the way they were. Years passed. The daily abuse continued. The kids witnessed things that no person should have to.

I was hospitalised on numerous occasions, always making up some excuse. I tripped, I fell down stairs, I’m so clumsy. I didn’t want to lose my kids.

Image via iStock

I will always remember the fear in my children’s eyes as they watched from the back seat, their father punching me in the face and smashing my head into the window as he was driving me to the bush to end my life. I will never forget their screams and pleas as I jumped from the moving car.

It shocked him that I jumped, but when you are in fear for your life you will do anything.

My eldest child who was nine came and spoke to me. “Leave, mum, or he will kill you.” Those words awakened me, gave me a strength I knew was in me somewhere.

That conversation started something in me, a fire, a desire, a freedom that was actually achievable. I focused everything on a plan. I was becoming stronger. I started working on myself, gaining knowledge and support from DV support and other services. I started counselling without his knowledge.

I reached out to my family and we worked on an escape plan. I played the dutiful house wife. I kept up my act, but underneath the mask I was a different person. I believed I deserved better. I wanted to break the cycle and be free. In March 2011, he physically assaulted me for the last time. I fought and I fought hard. I was fighting for my life. My kids’ lives. I knew how close we were to being free of him.

As he held me up by my throat and I could feel my life leaving me I knew I had to keep fighting. I hit him and I hit him hard. His attack changed to kicking and punching. Police came, I made my statement. I wanted him charged. They took me to the hospital. I was black and blue. My whole stomach and thighs were swollen from bruising, soft tissue damage and tears. But I was smiling. I was free. From that moment on I had control. I had my kids. We were free.

The guilt and shame that is so powerful and stamped into you was gone. I no longer questioned myself if it was my fault. I was no longer worthless. He no longer had a power over me. I was no longer scared. I survived and I was free.

I am now five years free. I have lived past domestic violence. I have outlasted that point in time when I was a victim and moved past it. I found the person inside myself who could not accept domestic violence and made it past that stage in my life to find another way.

In short I regained myself; my own person, welfare, interests and beliefs. I wanted to show my boys what life was meant to be, and re-educate them on what living in a healthy environment was.

I wanted to break the cycle for them as well. I continue to share my experience with others so as I may help inspire others. I hope to give people hope that there is life after domestic violence and no matter how low you feel you do deserve better. I hold my head high and proudly say I am no longer a victim.

I am a survivor.

If you are in domestic violence crisis help is available from the Australia-wide telephone hotline 1800RESPECT. 
If you want to take part in the Why I Stayed project visit www.facebook.com/TheREDHEARTCampaign
Photography by Sherele Moody

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