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The question everyone asks when a woman escapes from an abusive relationship.

Ricky Nixon and Tegan Gould during their relationship.

By MIA FREEDMAN

It’s the question everyone asks when a woman (or man but we’re mostly talking about women) finally escapes from an abusive relationship: what took you so long?

I’ve asked it myself of several friends who have been with emotionally abusive men. And many years ago it was asked of me because I was there too, with a boyfriend who told me I was worthless, a slut, a flirt, a drama queen…..it went on for two years. He never hit me but in hindsight, it was still toxic and abusive.

Why do women stay with men who belitte us? Who hit us? Who abuse us? It’s a complicated answer and is intensely personal. Every woman, every situation is unique and yet there are so many similarities.

It’s like a frog in boiling water. At first, things are lovely. Pleasant. Warm.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, it gets hotter. You wonder if you’re imagining things. He tells you you’re over-reacting. He apologises profusely. Things get better. And then they get worse. Each time is a new low point until one day you’re looking up at your life with your self-esteem in the gutter and no strength to lift yourself up and out and away from the man who is making your life hell but who has a powerful, confusing, torturous, invisible hold over you.

The water is boiling and you are trapped.

Weak men know the only way to dominate a strong woman is to demolish her self esteem piece by piece over a period of time. Isolate her from her support network. Make her feel so small and insecure and scared and destabilised that she doesn’t know HOW to leave. Or who she is.

And that’s why women who do get away are incredibly brave and generous to speak out and share their stories. Women like Tegan Gould, the former fiance of high profile sports agent and former AFL player Ricky Nixon, who was recently convicted of assaulting her. Not for the first time.

Tegan told her story to journalist Sue Smethurst in this month’s Australian Women’s Weekly and I urge you to read it. If you know someone in a similar situation or who you suspect of being in an abusive relationship, buy them a copy of AWW and press it into their hand.

According to the interview in the Women’s Weekly, 28 year old Tegan Gould met Nixon at a bar in 2011. He had been in the headlines for drink driving and the affair he’d had with 17-year-old schoolgirl Kim Duthie. Pictures of him in his underwear were all over the media.

She told AWW:

Ricky Nixon

“…He swept me off my feet. Obviously, in hindsight, I was very naive, but he had a confidence and arrogance that was kind of attractive.”

“My friends and family said, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ But I thought I knew better; foolishly, there was a nurturing side of me that thought I could change him.”

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Cracks began to emerge early in the relationship – he was controlling and aggressive and would belittle her in public. All classic signs of escalating future abuse.

Similarly, he was very possessive, which Gould brushed off as him just being “protective” of her. Despite Nixon’s temper and the fact his behaviour was getting progressively worse, in December 2011 the couple became engaged (less than a year after meeting). She hoped it would reassure him of her fidelity. But things got worse and the abuse  – emotional and physical – increased.

Tegan explained: “He told me if I reported it to police, his life would be over – and said that no-one would believe me anyway. He always made me feel like it was my fault. In the back of my mind, I knew it was never my fault, but he had me convinced that it was. I never got an apology, not once. I was terrified – I was living in a prison and I was very scared of him.”

Eventually, she found the strength to end their engagement and move out but on the night of the major July 2012 attack, Nixon was bombarding her with texts and phone calls. She was worried that he might harm himself (this too is an incredibly common reason women giving for remaining with their abusers – a fear that they might self-harm), so she went to his apartment to make sure he was ok. It was there that he attacked her.

The Women’s Weekly says: “During the violent assault, Tegan says Nixon ripped her hair clean from her skull, tried to strangle  her with such force she thought his thumbs would push throught the back of the throat, and spat in her face.”

He held a knife up to her neck and told her he was going to kill her. She then heard him in the hallway on the phone telling someone that he was going to kill her. She chose that moment to run, and called the police from a nearby alleyway. He was taken into custody, fled from police and was later arrested.

Last month, Ricky Nixon pleaded guilty to charges of (1.) intentionally causing injury to 28-year-old Tegan Gould (his then fiance), and (2.) escaping police custody after he was arrested. He was sentenced to 200 hours of community work.

Tegan agreed to testify and now speak out in the hopes she can help others in similar situations. She is now an ambassador for Adelaide-based charity With Love and Lipstick, which raises awareness of violence towards women. “I thought I’d be the last person this would happen to, but domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. You go to a very dark place when you’re abused.”

You sure do. Which is why those of us on the outside – whether you’ve experienced an abusive relationship or not – must reach out to those still trapped and help give them the strength to leave.

If you or anyone you know is suffering abuse, call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). Experienced counsellors are available 24 hours a day.

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