opinion

'Last night, I attended a domestic violence vigil. I didn’t expect to be triggered.'

This story deals with domestic violence and family violence and could be triggering for some readers.

It was such a long time ago now, and he is someone buried deep in my past. 

But at the time, we were in our 20s and in love, and so when it happened, I was in shock. My trust had been shattered.

On a lazy afternoon, we lay on his bed, chatting and laughing. We were being silly and joking around. I poked his side playfully, once, twice.

On the third poke, he snapped.

Women and Violence: The Hidden Numbers. Article continues after video.  


Video via Mamamia.

He flipped me over him and onto his other side, with the ease of a pancake. My neck sunk into his pillow, and I remember the white wall staring at me as he yanked my arm behind my back. The force jolted me. Did he not know it? 

“Stop! You’re hurting me. Stop!” I yelled out.

He didn’t. Instead, he mounted my back, wrenching my arm tighter still. I wriggled and writhed, trying to free myself, but couldn’t. Powerlessness. I kicked, my legs not long enough to connect with him as he continued to sit on me. 

Utter fear.

He is going to break my arm. He is going to break my arm.

“You’re hurting me! My arm!” I screamed, my face now wet. 

Moments passed until he decided he'd had his fill. That he “taught me a lesson”.

I leapt off the bed and ran through the hallway to the bathroom, fumbling to clasp the lock on the door. I sat on the edge of the bathtub, trying to process my racing thoughts. 

My heart pounded in my ears and questions urgently rushed through my mind as I tried to make some sense of what had just happened.

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How could he do that to me? How could he hurt me like that?

Was that my fault? Was I being "too playful"? 

My tears descended into sobs, gut-wrenching and gasping. 

As I lifted my head, I caught my reflection in the mirror. My eyes were red; my face, blotchy. My hair was messy. 

I looked so… Small. Unfamiliar.

Is this what domestic violence looks like?


*****


Purple lights punctuate the Melbourne dark. 

From the backseat of an Uber that zips along Punt Road, I see AAMI Stadium, Rod Laver Arena, and the MCG, all glistening in a purple hue. 

Tonight, 60 iconic Melbourne buildings have turned their lights purple to remember those who have lost their lives to domestic and family violence. 

And as I lower the window to try to snap a photo of a magenta-spotted AAMI stadium, the one thing I didn’t expect to feel was… pride. Pride, as my Melbourne publicly acknowledges our country’s domestic violence and family violence crisis. 

And hope. 

Hope, that by seeing even some of our greatest sporting venues under a purple veil - venues that give stage to sporting players, some of whom have too often been in headlines for violence against women - that just maybe, we might be in the throes of a cultural shift. 

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A shift towards an Australia that takes a consistent and strong stand against domestic and family violence - in our law, society, organisations and communal institutions, media and behind our closed doors.

As I wrote earlier this week, domestic and family violence steals the life of one woman each week … and one child each fortnight. And then there are the lives we don’t see reflected in hollow numbers: those who were driven to suicide because of the domestic or family violence that plague and consume them.

And this evening, I will hear from those who are forced to live their lives without their loved ones - the daughters and sons and sisters who died from violence behind closed doors.

My Uber pulls up at the Safe Steps Candlelight Vigil.


*****


Kerryn’s daughter Rekiah was killed by her partner over eight years ago. 

She was just 22 years old when she was shot at close range, and killed instantly. He was found guilty of manslaughter - not murder - by a Supreme Court jury in 2015. 

Reflecting on the birthdays since, the wedding of Rekiah’s brother, and birth of her first niece, Kerryn shares at the vigil: “Time goes by, and other people move on. But when you’ve lost a child or a sibling, nothing is ever the same again.”

“We were an ordinary family thrown on to a path we never would have imagined. Family and domestic violence can happen to anyone.”

Tash and her siblings grew up in family violence. She speaks in memory of her brother Matthew, who tragically ended his life in 2014. And her brother Luke, who took his life earlier this year too. 

Reciting a poem she wrote, Tash chokes back tears: 

“When our father died, 

Our justice was denied. 

He would never pay for his crimes, 

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Still, I thought we’d made it out alive, 

But trauma lasts a lifetime.”

She continued:

“We had to unlearn our past, 

Too late for most of us.

We are left with permanent scars, 

And now my brothers rest among the stars.”

Katrina is a proud Palawa woman.

Indigenous women and girls are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence-related assaults than other Australian women and girls.

Katrina remembers all Aboriginal people who have lost their lives as a result of domestic and family violence. And she pays tribute to her own daughter - who lost her life before she was born - because of family violence. 

Bereaved mother Jaya speaks in memory of her daughter, Meagen at the Safe Steps Candelight Vigil in Melbourne on Wednesday. Image: Safe Steps. 

Kerryn, Tash and Katrina are just some of the bereaved family members who struggle through the vigil. They share their raw heartbreak before the crowd - cold, wet and huddled together in East Melbourne’s Family Violence Memorial Gardens. 

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The grief is palpable, heavy. One mother’s legs bounce and shake uncontrollably as she returns to her seat after speaking on the loss of her daughter this year. A brother cradles his face between his knees. Small sobs can be heard over rain drops slapping umbrellas. 

Between the Call to Ceremony and Welcome to Country, Aboriginal man Craig Murphy performed a traditional Smoking Ceremony; a ritual cleansing the place and people of bad spirits and protecting the wellbeing of visitors.

A strong breeze picked up throughout the vigil and the smouldering Eucalyptus leaves have me awash with a thick stream of smoke. 

And as it moves through me, so does something else: Grounding. A wave of emotion. 

In that safe space that is held, and the ocean of sorrow that surrounds me, my own long-unspoken feelings rise to the surface. 

The cool bed linen pressed hard against my face. His weight on my back. The pain of my arm. Helplessness. 

My experience does not for a moment compare to the devastating suffering of those that stand next to me. But that lazy afternoon could’ve easily ended differently. Worse. As could have the few months that followed when I stayed with him in blind loyalty. Thank God, it didn’t. 

And as my shroud of smoke fades up and into the night, I allowed it to take that part of my past with it. 

Absolving. Healing.

“Family and domestic violence can happen to anyone.”

This is what domestic violence looks like. To me. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The Men’s Referral Service is also available on 1300 766 491 or via online chat at www.ntv.org.au. 

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram, @rebeccadavis___

Image: Supplied/Mamamia.