real life

Russ Vickery is not an 'ideal victim' of domestic violence. But his story is so similar to mine.

This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers. 

Today is LGBTQI Domestic Violence Awareness Day.

While the research, data and understanding of how people within the LGBTQ community experience family violence is limited, current statistics suggest that over 60 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people have experienced domestic or family violence.

When society thinks of a family violence victim, they probably picture someone who looks like me. I am an 'ideal victim'… I am white, straight, female, a mother, and I left my abusive relationship with physical injuries. 

This also meant that when I escaped my abusive relationship and sought support, I looked and behaved in a way that our services and systems were set up to respond to. 

In 2015, when I turned up seeking assistance, bruised face, child in my arms and unable to speak without crying, it was hard for anyone to feel anything but empathy.

Sometime later, in 2018 I began to discuss sharing my story with ABC producers; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a prickliness when the producer mentioned I’d be seated next to a male victim. 

I knew my personal bias was challenging me. And on filming day when Russ Vickery walked in, in all his colourful ways, flanked by his supportive husband, I felt a strong pang of ignorance. 

How limited was the lens of my own experience? I had not for one second thought it may have been a gay male victim.  

Russ and Geraldine. Image: Supplied. 

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My ignorance washed over me as my cheeks flushed and I introduced myself. What would follow is a friendship built on allyship.

My friendship with Russ has challenged me and taught me so much.

This is a man who has suffered and knows all too well the pain of being abused emotionally, psychologically, and physically by a person you love intimately. He also knows the depth of grief felt after being abandoned by a system which should have responded with assistance and instead turned its back because he did not fit into the gender and image of who the service response was built for. 

Russ was the first person to open my eyes to how different things might be when as a victim you do not fit the stereotypical mould.

When Russ and I taped together, we spent almost three hours answering questions and delving into the darkest parts of our personal history. What amazed me was how similar our experiences were.

The abusive relationships we had suffered through may look starkly different on the surface, but under that it seemed to me like our perpetrators had read the same instruction booklet.

Russ Vickery. Image: Supplied. 

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At their core, the drivers of the violence we had each experienced were also the same. Our society’s rigid gender norms had pushed me into a relationship where I found myself caring for my child with no access to money, isolated in our home.

These same rigid gender norms meant Russ had felt under pressure his entire like to shut down who he truly was and to conform to a masculinity that meant always being rough and tough.  

He felt he should quietly hide his male partner's abusive behaviours through fear of being told that the violence was inevitable and a deserved result of him leaving his previous straight marriage to partner with a man.

I feel a sense of guilt when Russ tells me about a time in his life when, after experiencing years of abuse at the hands of his partner, he reached out to service support only to be told they would not assist "someone who had made his lifestyle choices". 

He would never disclose to anyone or ask for help again.  

This breaks my heart, as it is completely different to the support that I received. Despite so many similarities in our experiences, this stark contrast in the family violence system’s response to us is our greatest difference and indeed a great injustice.

Today, LGBTQI Domestic Violence Awareness Day, is a day to acknowledge and support the LGBTQI community.

I hope to play a role in educating the community on family violence and who and what a victim looks like. It's not always how you might expect. 

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.

Feature image: Supplied.