"The rage that came out of me was frightening": The moment Jerry first assaulted his wife.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, support is available 24 hours a day through 1800 RESPECT. Please call 1800 737 732.

If you are struggling to control your anger, please contact Relationships Australia.

We at Mamamia are committed to fighting violence against women, and regularly share the stories of women who are victims. We do not condone the violence of the man in this story, but we may gain a better understanding of Australia’s problem with violence against women by hearing from the perspective of someone who’s hurt us, and what worked to make him change.

Jerry Retford’s voice is one not often heard in discussions about domestic violence in Australia. Yes, he has lived experience, but not as a survivor.

Jerry was the person responsible.

Speaking to Mamamia‘s daily news podcast, The Quicky, the Australian father acknowledged that he physically and verbally abused his former wife, sometimes in the presence of their children.

He was among those who have contributed to the statistics we hear, read and see in news reports; like the fact that one in three Australian women has experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner since the age of 15, and that police in this country field a domestic-violence related call every two minutes.

Listen to Jerry’s interview with The Quicky. Post continues after audio.

Courtesy of life-saving intervention, Jerry learned that his abusive behaviour was a choice. And now he’s seeking to help other men make the right one.

“I’d become pretty much the worst version of myself.”

Prior to his marriage, Jerry had never been violent towards a partner. But the seeds were there. He’d unleash his “rage-filled, reactive” behaviour in private, taking it out on inanimate objects when no one was around.

What followed, he described as “a slow, inexorable slide” into abuse.

“My first use of violence in my marriage really surprised me, because I’m not a violent person. Never was, never have been. And so the rage that came out of me was frightening,” he said. “It was like being a 6- or 7-year-old boy in an adult’s body, and that’s terrifying having a small child throwing a tantrum but being a grown man, physically.”

No one outside their relationship intervened, called him out or reported him. It wasn’t until near the end of his marriage, that he recognised what he’d become.

“I’d become pretty much the worst version of myself,” he said. “I realised that things couldn’t go on that way… I realised that I didn’t like who I was. There was just a tiny, little light-bulb moment; I don’t like who I am, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

Women And Violence: The Hidden Numbers.

Video by Mamamia

In an effort to curb his behaviour for the sake of his next relationship, Jerry sought help through Relationships Australia’s Taking Responsibility Program. Over eighteen group sessions, the program aims to help men who’ve been abusive to “work towards building relationships that are respectful, caring and safe”.

“One of the things I learnt about both myself and men in the group was there is no single fix. We’ve got to do the work, we’ve got to do the hard personal work to get well. I think that’s what is not understood,” he said. “You can’t just go and do the taking responsibility stuff, and be responsible for your actions and your behaviours, and learn that you are making violent choices. You’ve then got to go and look at ‘how did that come to pass? How do we stop that happening? How do we process all those things that are bringing that up?'”

In that group, Jerry saw men at all stages of the program. As he progressed, he’d recognise the behaviour of the new participants, the ways in which they deflected and minimised their abusive choices, as he’d once done.

“There were always classics, like, ‘I didn’t strangle her, I just held her against the wall with one hand.’ ‘I didn’t throw the cup at her, I smashed it on the floor next to her.’ That kind of stuff,” he said.

“And you get taken to task by men [who] have been where you were. It was amazing to go through that stuff with other men, to help each other, because you’re all in the same boat. It’s like, here’s all our crap let’s get it out on the floor.”

“We need to support women in having this stuff heard.”

For Jerry, the lack of judgement is crucial in ensuring men who’ve been abusive get help and stop the cycle of violence. It’s why he tells his story.

Since he’s done so, he’s had a number of friends he’s known for years have approached him, sharing that they too have been violent or are concerned about the potential of their anger and want to intervene.

“In my hopeful head, I would hope that one day men are able to help other men do that stuff,” he said.

“[For now] I would always say go and get on a program, get help with other people.”

For Jerry, it’s not simply about men who’ve made the choice to be violent owning up to their behaviour and doing the work to rectify it. It’s also up to men to call each other out when they witness disrespect and misogyny.

It’s behind the shield of that patriarchal culture that some men feel entitled to joke about violence, about putting women ‘in their place’, or about how they should ‘get back in the kitchen’ or down on their knees.

But it’s far from a joke; sexist attitudes are the most consistent predictor of a person’s support for violence against women.

“Men’s egos are so fragile,” Jerry said. “That’s where it’s all rooted, I think, in that ego — like, ‘It’s not me, it’s not me.’ Well, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” he said.

“We need to support women in having this stuff heard and getting it out into the open. And I think men need to have a space to be able to be vulnerable.”

To hear more of Jerry’s story and insights from a Relationships Australia group work counsellor, download The Quicky in your favourite podcast app.

Jerry has developed a web series based on his experience of the Taking Responsibility program. You can watch ‘It’s Just a Choice’ here.

00:00 / ???