How to ask for what you wantLeadership
Catherine Brenner, Louise Adler and Sam Mostyn offered their advic...
INTRO: There’s No Place Like Home comes with a content note for anyone who has been through abuse or knows someone who has. Statistically, that is a lot of us. Some of what you’ll hear in this podcast is distressing. Although we know it’s important to hear directly from victim-survivors about what they’ve been through, this content may be confronting and won’t be suitable for everyone.
Please check the show notes for phone numbers you can call to receive confidential support.
This series is produced in collaboration with our proud partner, Commonwealth Bank, who are supporting financial independence for victim-survivors through their Next Chapter program.
We acknowledge that production took place on what always has been, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
LAURA*: All I remember saying is with my hands of going, please, I love you, I love you calm down, I love you, it’s me calm down.
TARANG CHAWLA: My name is Tarang Chawla, and I’m a writer, lawyer and anti-violence advocate. I’m also the host of There’s No Place Like Home, a podcast about family violence that puts the voices of survivors at the centre of the story.
Today, I am going to introduce you to Laura*. But of course, that’s not her real name.
Laura* is smart, funny and resilient.
When her friendly face pops up on Zoom, you’d never guess that this woman sleeps in a bedroom which doubles as a panic room, or that her entire house is lined with CCTV cameras.
She’s safe now. Happy. But her home is littered with the memories of what was done to her.
Some years ago, Laura* moved to a new city, got a job and, eventually, fell in love. She had a purely professional relationship with her older, male boss – let’s call him Michael* – for a full two years before they became romantically involved.
LAURA*: Never during that time. Did I see any direct reg flags, I suppose that you are maybe trained to see, he was always quite respectful of women. To my understanding, I’ve never heard him speak about women in derogatory ways. We work with all younger girls as well. And he was always just quiet, I suppose. But you see other people sometimes being rude or making sly jokes, I’d never seen that the whole time.
But yeah, we definitely worked very, very closely in the lead up and never had any. I never had any idea what I was dealing with.
TARANG CHAWLA: Michael* was a man whose professional persona didn’t match who he was as a partner. People like Laura*, who have been in violent relationships, explain that their abusers were outwardly charming. That charm is how they get close enough to people to hurt them, and also how they ensure their partner isn’t believed if they do speak out.
In 1979, psychologist Lenore Walker came up with a theory known as the ‘cycle of abuse’. Walker recognised that violence and abuse often occur after a period of calm, known as the ‘honeymoon’ phase. During this phase, abusers use things like affection, gifts or promises. Seemingly thoughtful actions that later often serve as a means of control.
LAURA*: There’s this man that was doting on me like sending me text messages all the time talking to me for hours, very teenage nineties romantic comedy, like, you’d be up all hours on the phone talking. At first it started out with just general support, I suppose.
It sort of feels, it felt amazing. He’d pay attention to the little things that I said and said, ‘oh, I’d like this makeup set’ or something, just an offside comment. And also ‘I like that, I’ve always wanted one of them’. And you were just talking in a group of people and all of a sudden it would magically arrive. And little things like that he was very, very kind. Very, very generous with giving gifts, I suppose. Wouldn’t let me even purchase a cup of coffee.
TARANG CHAWLA: This might sound like harmless behaviour, behaviour that’s characteristic of a person falling deeply, suddenly in love. But Michael was using a common, highly potent tactic called love bombing.
This is where an abuser overwhelms their partner with attention and affection. It means that, down the track, they can point to those intense declarations of love as evidence that they aren’t abusive. That they couldn’t possibly mean to hurt or control.
Love bombing also means that a victim feels all the more hurt if the abuser withdraws that affection or those over-the-top gestures. This creates a powerful but dangerous relationship of dependence on those love bombing tactics for one’s self esteem.
In Laura*’s case, all of Michael’s early chivalry and attention was intoxicating. And then it became confusing. And then ominous. Laura* still remembers the very first time Michael yelled at her, seemingly for no reason. They’d been dating for a few weeks.
Their fights became more frequent. Michael yelled and swore at Laura* over nothing and over everything. There was no logic to Michael’s rage. The goalposts were constantly changing.
LAURA*: You’re in a relationship with somebody, you’re sort of living with somebody, you need to make things work. But no matter how much I tried to make things work
It’s like, okay, you’ve adjusted this, but I’m going to find something else the next day to criticise you about. You’re walking around so disorientated, like walking on eggshells. Like, I don’t know what’s going to set him off today that I’m going to do, not knowing.
It’s not like you can’t talk about a certain subject at all or it’s a sensitive subject that you have to stay away from.
And it’s sort of like, ‘why are you yelling at me over this, I’m just asking you to pass me something, like calm down.
TARANG CHAWLA: When Laura* worries about the state of the relationship, Michael* insists that this is normal; that all couples fight. What’s really happening is that Michael is gaslighting Laura*. He’s making her question her own reality.
This term gaslighting comes from a 1938 stage play called Gas Light. In the play, a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming and brightening the gas-powered lights in their home and then denying that the light has changed when his wife questions it.
Gas Light film excerpt: “I’m going out of my mind!” “You’re not going out of your mind, you’re slowly and systematically being driven out of your mind.”
TARANG CHAWLA: A survey conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline in 2014 asked 2,500 callers about their experiences of coercion – all adult women who’d experienced domestic violence.
In response to the question, ‘Do you think your partner or ex-partner has ever deliberately done things to make you feel like you are going crazy or losing your mind?’, 73.8 percent answered yes.
ELISABETH SHAW: A lot of couples who have in general, a successful relationship and a good connection and see themselves as on solid ground can still behave very badly when they fight.
I think the difference is that those things are very limited, and they are repaired. In an abusive relationship, they’re often one component of a much broader range of things. So in fact, when there is name calling, or dismissing someone’s opinion, or ridiculing the person, it’s part of a much broader and more pervasive pattern where that person really does feel dismissed, ridiculed and treated with contempt in the relationship.
TARANG CHAWLA: You just heard from Relationships Australia New South Wales CEO Elisabeth Shaw. She says that fights are about context. An angry exchange of words can be just an argument – the ordinary to and fro of a pair of people who live together and love each other. Or it can be part of a pattern of abuse.
An important part of Elisabeth’s job is helping people figure out how to tell the difference.
ELISABETH SHAW: First of all, trust your own judgement. If there’s something that you feel is deeply upsetting and eroding to you then take it seriously.
Secondly, it’s often measured by what happens when you bring it up, if you’re scared to bring it up, or you bring it up and again, you get another serve of ‘oh you’re too sensitive’ or, you know, ridicule or dismissing, or a quick apology, but in fact, absolutely no change because the person really doesn’t seem to care enough how hurt you were by the behaviour, then that in itself is a sort of confirmation that there is a pattern which is not okay.
TARANG CHAWLA: A study by the Australian Institute of Criminology looked at the characteristics of violence and abuse for Australian women who had recently experienced coercive control. The most frequently reported behaviours were jealousy and suspicion of friends, constant insults, monitoring of movements and financial abuse.
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. But it is, at its core, fundamentally gendered. The federal government’s fourth National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children notes that both men and women can perpetrate or experience violence – but that overwhelmingly, male perpetrators abusing female victims is the most common form of family violence.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has also found that 95 percent of all violence is carried out by a male perpetrator. This context is important to keep in mind for survivors like Laura*.
Whenever Laura* tried to talk about Michael’s behaviour with him, he’d either get angrier still or punish her with silence – like, days and days of silence. And that had possible ramifications for Laura*’s professional life, too.
Not only was Michael her partner, he was also her boss. Michael had the power to decide how much and whether she got paid, what her job looked like, and whether or not she even had one to go to.
SIAN LEWIS: Financial abuse, which is a little bit of a kind of unsung epidemic in this country, leaves many people in very poor financial condition. It’s obviously very often accompanied by episodes of domestic violence – can sometimes either precede domestic violence or be part of the violence from control and inflicted on victims.
TARANG CHAWLA: That was Sian Lewis. She’s a group executive at Commonwealth Bank. She’s also heavily involved in the bank’s program to address financial abuse, which is called Next Chapter. Financial abuse is prevalent in the majority of domestic violence cases, and CommBank has been working in this space since 2015.
In 2020, they launched the Next Chapter program to expand the support that they’re providing to those impacted by this terrible issue. Through Next Chapter, CommBank is helping victim-survivors to regain their long-term financial independence.
SIAN LEWIS: We’ve, been involved in the area of kind of financial abuse or domestic and family violence, since about 2015. What we discovered, as we worked with, with lots of experts in this field, is that actually, long-term recovery is a harder area to get consistent support in than the immediate, emergency situation.
Very often, you emerge from financially abusive relationships with bad credit history, very little money, no assets, the need to go to court to kind of protect children or recover assets. All of that is a very difficult journey to manage on your own, particularly if you’re recovering from the trauma of violence.
TARANG CHAWLA: And Michael* wasn’t just a threat to Laura*’s financial safety. He was a threat to her emotional and her physical safety as well.
LAURA*: It started out probably, maybe just pump, like, the anger on like the fist on the table. And then it became throwing things near me, not directly at me. And then as the relationship came close to the end, there were things that were, like I’ve been hit with things, he didn’t actually throw it at my face, but he’s thrown so close to me that I’ve actually got hit, it’s like a bounce back in one of these fits of rage.
TARANG CHAWLA: At this stage in Laura*’s timeline, she is spending most of her free time with Michael. They’re not living together but they work together every day.
LAURA*: I’ve never known somebody watch somebody’s body language so intimately, you can tell with the change. He had this thing where he used to grind his teeth and he’d be sitting there very, very still.
And nobody else would notice but I could sit there and be sitting next to him in a meeting. And he’d be twitching like the side of his temper will be twitching because he’s grinding his teeth so much that, that’s one of the signs I really noticed that ‘I’m about to cop it’ like and you’d avoid him like the plague because that’s what’s about hit, or like the clenching of the hands, like he’s about he’s about to blow, I watched on the steering wheel.
TARANG CHAWLA: Michael has completely hijacked LAURA*’s perception of her own situation. She wonders if she’s crazy, just like he says she is.
In the meantime, her colleagues and friends have no idea any of this is going on.
KIM*: Hi, my name is Kim*, I am a friend of Laura*’s. I’ve known her for a few years. But I also knew her perpetrator. I met both of them because I worked with them both. And it was only after Laura* disclosed her abuse that we became really close. And the reason for that was that everyone else that we worked with either wouldn’t take a side and said they didn’t want to get involved, or they sided with her perpetrator. And in the end we became really close. Because I was sort of the only one out of that, that large group of people who would actually talk to her and take a stand and who actually believed her, and was willing to say that I didn’t think what was happening was acceptable.
I think back and he really had us all fooled.
TARANG CHAWLA: Fooling people into thinking you’re a ‘nice guy’ can be advantageous for an abuser. So, when Laura* finally felt scared and brave enough to tell people what she was going through, most of her circle, her friends and family, chose to stay out of it.
LAURA*: I was with one of our mutual friends. And I was standing there, she was on the left and I was on the right. And I was talking, talking to her going, ‘I’m really not okay. I can’t deal with the anger anymore.’ I can’t even function. I’m so distraught. Like I’m sleep deprived. And he’s fine.
Nobody wanted to get involved. Nobody. ‘I like you both. I don’t want to pick sides.’ And anytime I tried to sort of say what was really going on, I just found like, well, ‘he says that he loves you so much like the love of his life.’
KIM*: I hadn’t spoken to LAURA* for a few months. I actually called her just to check in. And she happened to be at the very start of this, having just called up 1800-RESPECT and having blocked him off everything. And it just so happened that I called her at the start of this. And she was terrified, she was so scared. And she didn’t know what to do, because she did love him. But she was so afraid of how angry he got.
TARANG CHAWLA: Too many people still believe that domestic abuse occurs because of individual stress or anger management issues. In fact, 1 in 5 Australians believe that domestic violence is a normal reaction to stress, and that sometimes a woman can make a man so angry that he hits her without meaning to.
LAURA*: And I remember him like yelling so furiously in my face. And punching the wall next to my head. He’s, he’s like ‘you’re f***ed’. And he’s just so close to my face. That… it wasn’t just that he was just yelling, it was… like within an inch of my face, like yelling down at me, and the saliva from the back of his throat was coming onto my face as he was yelling and I remember I had both of my heads up, begging him to stop and to calm down, I’m like.
And I remember I was like… it was like he was in a different state. And I was like I was trying to calm, all I remember saying, is with my hands going ‘please, I love you, I love you calm down, I love you, it’s me calm down.’ And looking up at his eyes.
This is one of the things that, that chills me to my bone to this day. His pupils were so dilated that his eyes turned black. And he’s punching the wall next to my head. And all I thought at that time is ‘this man, he’s going to hurt me, he’s really gonna hurt me’. It’s like, right next to my face. He’s like, and I could feel the wind from his hand. And like, I’ve got my hands up, and I’m like, he’s like, he’s gonna, ‘he’s gonna hurt me’.
TARANG CHAWLA: During another incident of abuse, Laura* threw herself out of a moving car because Michael* was speeding. She begged him to slow down, but Michael* only put his foot down on the accelerator harder. Laura* hid from him in bushland, without a phone, for hours.
Laura* and Michael’s relationship had become dangerous.
Laura* describes how Michael* would test her, to see and to prove just how much power this man had. During this phase of their relationship, Michael* never did something so unambiguous as punch her in the face or kick her in the ribs. He made Laura feel unsafe, without leaving a mark.
Lula Dembele is a survivor advocate who works in violence prevention advocacy. She talks about the perceived credibility of survivors who speak out when abuse is less obvious.
LULA DEMBELE: Perpetrators go for a power differential, they want to know that ‘I can manipulate this person in this situation, I will be seen as credible, they will be seen as not credible’.
TARANG CHAWLA: According to the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team, two out of three women killed by their current or former partner had separated in the last three months.
The time before or immediately after a break up is when violence most often increases. In relationships where there has previously been no physical violence, this is when violence tends to occur for the first time.
Laura* decided to leave Michael* which is a brave but also risky choice for anyone in an abusive relationship. Michael didn’t take the news well. Laura* was so afraid of Michael*’s behaviour that she also got a new job. But none of this stopped him.
Michael* messaged her new workplace. He would call her names and belittle her. Then he escalated – he would show up at her work. He never came in, but he sat outside in his car watching her.
He also turned up at Laura*’s house unannounced and uninvited. He trespassed on her property. He prowled around her garden in the dark.
Michael* even broke into Laura*’s home when she was out and moved around or stole her belongings. He filmed her through the blinds at her place and then he sent that footage to his mates.
Laura* believes Michael* may have even laid poison out for her pets, in the one place that wasn’t covered by security cameras.
LAURA*: I think it was about seven o’clock at night. And I remember noticing that my blinds were ajar. And I was like, that’s just an annoying thing. And I was just about to, like, get settled, have a shower for the night, that sort of stuff, get, get settled.
And I just randomly got up and looked, went to adjust it. And as I adjusted I seen like this flash of light and him… He was running through my front yard. My front yard is gated. Through my front yard and running across my yard, and I remember… Like, you don’t expect that. I remember running around to my front door and I was like what the f***?
He was screaming at me, accusing me of cheating on him. And I gave him multiple chances to leave. I begged him to leave. I don’t like… I’ve never been in trouble with the police. I’ve never had any issues and like… Like, I didn’t want to call the police.
CLIP OF INCIDENT.
LAURA*: What the fuck is wrong with you? I have moved on. What are you doing? You are looking through my window. Because I know with my pure heart that I have never cheated on you.
TARANG CHAWLA: Laura* called the national domestic violence hotline, 1800 RESPECT for advice. She says that call may have saved her life. Laura* described what had been happening and she was told to get to a refuge urgently. They believed that Laura*’s life may be in immediate danger.
We know, and the research shows, that Michael’s pattern of stalking, intimidating, trespassing, threatening and the attempts to kill animals can be precursors to homicide. One study from 1999 found that stalking is a factor in 85 percent of attempted homicides of women. Another study, from 2003, found that women whose partners threaten to murder them are 15 more likely to be killed than other women experiencing abuse.
As a community, we often shake off these kinds of behaviours as being not serious enough to warrant action, but the data is telling us the opposite. In reality, these are often deadly warning signs.
KATE FITZ-GIBBON: We know when we look at things through a coercive control lens that it focuses us on a pattern of abuse. It encourages us not to think about domestic and family violence as single isolated experiences of abuse, because that’s not how women experience it. They experience it as a pattern of harm that may impact their everyday; may or may manifest in a physical violent incident once a week, once a month or never. But they walk on eggshells every day and their liberty, their confidence, their well being is impacted by that pattern of abuse.
TARANG: That was Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon, who’s the Director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre. Unfortunately, without the right systems and support in place, we don’t often actually apply this knowledge to identify potential killers and to adequately protect the victims they target.
In Laura*’s case, thankfully, there was this intervention. For Laura*’s own safety, she was taken to a hotel and then to an undisclosed address. The escalation of her case by support services was what made Laura* realise just how much danger she was in. And there is whiplash that comes from such an urgent discovery – for Laura* and for other survivors.
KIM*: So the time when she left was really confusing. It was just the most bizarre series of events in that on the one side, we have this person doing a lot to try and convince people that he would never behave like this. And on the other hand, we have a woman who’s gone to a refuge. And they have assessed that her situation is so serious that she needs to be put into protection, hours away from her home. I still have no idea where she was.
We actually had a code word, our code word, was the word that if she ever texted or called to me it meant ‘he’s here and you need to call the police.’
She and I thought that she was going to die. And we prepared for it, I was ready to get the call that she had been murdered. And we, we got ready for that, we really thought she was gonna die because that’s what you know, the 1800 respects and the counsellors and the relationship counsellors were telling her.
They went to a relationship counsellor together. And her counsellor privately later told her, I don’t do this, but I need to warn you, you need to leave. This man is going to kill you. How bad can it be if your relationship counsellor who has seen both of you is willing to tell you that she thinks you are going to die.
TARANG CHAWLA: There’s a shocking contrast here. Michael* is worried about how he’s coming across on Facebook, while Laura* is in hiding to stay alive. He is feeding off the consolation and kindness of his friends, while she feels cut off and alone, disconnected from her community.
Laura* organises to have security specialists safeguard her home. In a confidential report, sighted by the makers of this podcast, they assessed her chance of being killed by Michael* as extremely high.
Laura* now sleeps with a bucket of water by her bed. She’s been warned that Michael could try and burn down her house while she sleeps.
Laura* took out an apprehended violence order against Michael*. There were plenty of times where she could have called the police or laid charges, but she didn’t. Laura* feared that if she did either of those things, the abuse would intensify and he would blame her because he was in trouble. And every time, that is exactly what happened.
What Laura* went through during the relationship ticks all of the boxes for what we call coercive control. Coercive control is a term which was popularised in the early 2000s, but most Australians only started hearing it after February 2020, when one man’s crime would send shockwaves through the entire country.
HANNAH CLARKE NEWS REPORT: “It was an act of evil that shocked the nation. Hannah Clarke and her three children – Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey – were ambushed by her estranged husband on the morning school run in suburban Brisbane. They were doused in petrol and set alight.”
HAYLEY BOXALL: I think that the thing that really shook Australia, I think, in terms of looking at what was happening here is that, even though we talk about, everyone can experience domestic violence and intimate partner violence, we don’t really think about it in those terms, we always think it’s someone else in another in another neighbourhood, in another household, not something that could happen to me or my friends, or my family members.
And I think the thing that really shook Australia was that Hannah Clarke looked like so many other women in Australia, and she presented so well on social media, and she seemed to have the ideal lifestyle. You know, she was incredibly accomplished, she was very loving, friendly, her kids and her had a really positive relationship. And also her partner presented really well through social media and things like that. So they seem to have a really idyllic and positive relationship.
TARANG CHAWLA: That’s Dr Hayley Boxall speaking there, a research manager at the Australian Institute of Criminology who works in the area of violence against women and children. She’s also worked as a victim support liaison officer and she specialises in coercive control.
The case Dr Boxall was speaking about – which she believes got people in Australia talking about coercive control – was the killing of Hannah Clarke and her children, six-year-old Aaliyah, four-year-old Laianah and 3-year-old Trey.
A man called Rowan Baxter, Hannah’s estranged husband and father to her children, set fire to the car they were all in and then killed himself. Dr Boxall says that understanding the tools and tactics used by perpetrators is critical to ending violence.
DR HAYLEY BOXALL: But what we saw after the murder was that the friends and family members came out and said, well, actually, he was quite controlling of her. He was never physically violent towards her. But he would monitor what she was wearing, and how much she weighed, and what she was doing on social media.
LLOYD CLARKE FROM PRESS CONFERENCE: “I didn’t see the red flags. I wasn’t there to help my baby.”
SUE CLARKE FROM PRESS CONFERENCE: “Little things. He would sulk and not speak for days. He would threaten to kill himself, go through her phone, through her handbag.”
DR HAYLEY BOXALL: Because coercive control can be invisible for so many outsiders. So I think that really started a really important conversation in Australia of people going ‘Well, if I wouldn’t have been able to tell Hannah Clarke was experiencing this, what else am I missing?’.
TARANG CHAWLA: Australia needs to have a national conversation about coercive control earlier. As ordinary members of the community – as friends and neighbours – we must be better educated on the warning signs and precursors to potentially fatal violence.
DR HAYLEY BOXALL: When we think about domestic violence, we still immediately think about physical forms of abuse, we still think about bruises, we still think about cuts, abrasions, we still think about knives and guns and beatings and things like that.
So even though we have progressed quite a lot in terms of how we think about and talk about domestic violence, when we even look at the media campaigns, there is still that image of a woman cowering in the corner with a bruise on her face. And that’s the predominant narrative that we’re kind of seeing.
TARANG CHAWLA: Dr Hayley Boxall says women are significantly less likely to report non-physical forms of abuse. Often, they don’t even know how to identify the abuse they’re enduring, which makes reaching out for help – from the police or even from loved ones – hugely difficult.
But coercive control is hard to prove and to make things more complicated? Experts still don’t agree on exactly what coercive control even means.
DR HAYLEY BOXALL: Even after 40 years of research, there is no really unitary one definition of coercive control which really satisfies everyone. And the thing that I kind of come back to is that the only way in which I’ve been able to really, definitively kind of get at a definition of coercive control is by asking the women themselves about the impact of those behaviours on them.
And if they talk about feeling like they have a lack of autonomy, if they feel like they have an inability to make decisions for themselves, whether they feel claustrophobic within their relationships, then we kind of go, ‘it sounds like you’re experiencing coercive control’.
TARANG CHAWLA: Listening to people who have survived and seen abuse up close can help us understand this very complex problem. Hayley has done a lot of that in her line of work, as have researchers based in Scotland who are having an incredible impact in that country. They’re showing that change is possible. That protecting victims of violence is possible.
Scotland criminalised coercive control in 2019 and their laws are broadly considered the “gold standard”. We spoke to the Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, Dr Marsha Scott, via Zoom from Edinburgh. Dr Scott oversees a network of thirty local Women’s Aid groups, all of which provide vital services to women and children and work hard to end domestic violence.
DR MARSHA SCOTT: What the law does is it defines the effects of the behaviour as, as the critical element that create a crime. And this is where I think this piece of legislation starts to move into brilliant, which is that it reflects the words of women and children who were living with domestic abuse at the time the law was written, or were very recent survivors of it. It talks about autonomy, it talks about freedom, it talks about fear, it talks about the things that in coercive and controlling relationships are the things that create the impact or the effect of the behaviour.
And one of the things that prosecutors told me here is that this is such a better tool for taking domestic abuse into courtrooms, because before all they could talk about was about whether there was a punch or there was a shove, or there was, you know, some kind of verbal abuse between the hours of nine and 10 o’clock on Saturday. Right? Now they can lead evidence about the entire relationship and that is what you need to understand coercive control and domestic abuse. And that is what you’ve always needed.
TARANG CHAWLA: Scotland’s approach has been lauded as world leading, however experts in Australia have warned that such laws would need to be adapted for our context. Marsha agrees.
DR MARSHA SCOTT: The way the criminal justice system in Australia responds to men and women of colour is different. And critical to the development of this law, I think.
What do we think? Do we think that implementation of a new domestic abuse law like this is going to be implemented in Australia in a way that puts women of colour in more danger? The answer to that is emphatically yes. Unless you plan for it not to be that way.
TARANG CHAWLA: Another thing that stopped Laura* from taking action earlier was being unsure about what she would tell police. Laura* had never been directly hit. She felt a kind of imposter syndrome.
LAURA*: One of the first questions that people ask you is like, Yeah, but did he hit you? And I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. Now I understand a lot more about the physical forms of violence. That doesn’t actually mean that you need to be punched in the face, but I’ve been held and not been able to move, I’ve been grabbed by my wrist and haven’t been able to move and all these sort of things.
DR HAYLEY BOXALL: Certainly as part of other research that I’ve done, where I’ve spoken to women who have experienced exclusively non physical forms of abuse, they talk about ‘I wish he would just punch me, I wish he would just hit me, so that I would actually be able to name this for what it feels like which is abusive behaviours’.
TARANG CHAWLA: Violence is about so much more than cuts and bruises.
DR MARSHA SCOTT: The important point is – would a reasonable person, when hearing that this, these were features of a relationship in an ongoing manner, assume that the effects would be to make somebody dependent to reduce their autonomy to you know, create fear, to manage their everyday lives to do all of the things that women and children have been telling us for decades, are the things that are most harmful.
TARANG CHAWLA: Do we think any person could hear that list of things Laura*’s perpetrator put her through and conceivably think they were anything other than a pattern of abuse? So when we recognise this complex web of activity as violence, how do we make change happen to keep victim-survivors and their children safe from more covert and difficult to pinpoint forms of abuse and violence?
DR MARSHA SCOTT: What we’re asking is a massive social change, because the social change that, that has to happen for this law to work, right, is for people to be willing to name the elephant in the room. And the elephant in the room is women’s inequality, and all of our societies failing to accord children their human rights.
TARANG CHAWLA: Relationships Australia boss Elisabeth Shaw agrees.
ELISABETH SHAW: In terms of domestic inequity, you often do see a lot of those gender stereotypes in these sorts of relationships. But I think it is really important that we also understand that violence and abuse certainly is attached to attitudes about privilege and relationships and roles and entitlement. And that that can play out even when there are elements in the relationship that look equitable.
So for example, you might have a man who’s a hugely contributing father, does half the housework, and he’s incredibly abusive. So you can have these mixed experiences to or where the woman has the better job and the greater income. So it’s important that we don’t look for sort of superficial understandings about power and privilege too, but certainly it is the most, you know, common dynamic where the man does have more, more access and privilege than not.
TARANG CHAWLA: Dr Hayley Boxall says that we need to remember that while violence can happen to anybody, that doesn’t mean domestic abuse happens to all communities at the same rate or in the same way.
DR HAYLEY BOXALL: Risk is not evenly distributed across the community. First Nations women are more likely to experience coercive control than non-Indigenous women. Women with disability are more likely to experience coercive control, when compared with women who don’t have a disability. Women who are younger are more likely to experience coercive control.
But these are also the groups that we know who are more likely to experience any form of intimate partner violence generally.
TARANG CHAWLA: Just so you know, Laura* is doing really well. She’s in a happy, healthy relationship with a man who treats her well. Laura*’s got a new job and she’s got good friends around her. And she’s made the remarkable decision to help other women out of abusive relationships.
Laura* is living proof that recovery, survival and a loving, flourishing life is possible. Survivors of family violence are incredibly resilient and while no survivor ever owes their story to anyone – we are so grateful when they choose to share it.
LAURA*: It’s that age old saying, you can’t just leave. But for people to actually listen to victim-survivors and understand how they get there, why they’ve got there, and how to actually help them. I’m saying as somebody who’s gone through… there are so many stories out there, and I’ve met so many people since.
Nobody goes through this process for no reason. Nobody does. No woman will sit there and put herself publicly out there and through a court battle. Just because she had a bad fight with a partner or she’s having a bad day. It is so traumatising. You lose the core of who you are.
It has to be a societal change. People start. Men and women have to start listening to the victims and talking about it. Stop hiding behind closed doors, stop forcing women to hide behind closed doors. And if somebody comes up to you and says that things aren’t okay, I need help, actually helping and listening to them and see how you can help instead of just walking away because it’s a bit too hard. Or I liked you both, I don’t want to get involved
Like I’m lucky. I got out. But how many women don’t?
TARANG CHAWLA: Next week on There’s No Place Like Home, we’ll meet Geraldine Bilston. Geraldine shares her story of surviving physical and emotional abuse, and how that abuse changed her forever.
Geraldine is going to help us confront one of the most complex policy questions. Should Australia move to criminalise coercive control, as some states already have? And if we do that, what should those laws look like?
GERALDINE BILSTON: The truth for me is, I wasn’t left with a lifelong physical injury. But the way that his psychological abuse had destroyed my brain, and his emotional abuse had broken my heart. And those are the things that are irreparable and they take so long to push against, to try to fix.
See you then.
OUTRO: There’s No Place Like Home is a Future Women podcast supported by our proud partner, Commonwealth Bank, supporting long-term financial independence for victim-survivors through CommBank Next Chapter.
For help or advice, please check the show notes for phone numbers for confidential support.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review. It will help these important stories to reach more people’s ears. For more information about There’s No Place Like Home, or to join the movement, please head to futurewomen.com.
This episode was produced by Jamila Rizvi, Sally Spicer, Tarang Chawla, Fleur Bitcon, Ella Jackson, Ruby Leahy Gatfield, India Bailey and Kate Leaver. Editing by Bad Producer Productions. Artwork by Patti Andrews.
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