Until Grace Tame was announced as the 2021 Australian of the Year, I recognized you only as a woman I had seen on television from time to time talking about sex. I had never taken much notice of you, probably because on the rare occasions that I had listened, what I heard come from your mouth bore a striking similarity to what my then husband said to me regularly.
That he had sexual needs and it was my job to meet them, regardless of how I felt about it.
When Grace burst onto our screens two weeks ago, and gave that impassioned acceptance speech, Australia took notice. Many people had not heard of this remarkable young woman, her battle for legislative reform being fought in Tasmania and not widely covered in the media. We know her now, and many were captivated by her story. Within hours her abuser, who appallingly described his conviction, imprisonment and life as a known pedophile as a drastic re-direction in this life had vanished from social media and headed underground.
And a spotlight was also shone on you, for your willingness to give this man a platform, and to engage in blatant victim blaming. In 2018 in a you-tube video you introduced Bester as a ‘so-called sex offender’ notwithstanding that he had pleaded guilty and been incarcerated twice for child-sex offences.
This bizarre interview pushed my intrigue button, and despite that the fact that it pains me to have spent $13 on your book, I needed to know if you really despise victims of gender-based crimes as much as it appears.
I was hoping I would see something in your book that would explain your perplexing minimization of the suffering that women experience as a result of male violence.
I found no comfort, just disturbing misinformation, particularly about the issue that ultimately resulted in me losing my child, and almost my own life.
Your views on domestic violence.
Your book, which let’s be frank, is a regurgitation of your articles that are freely available on the internet, includes three essays that you have previously published on domestic violence. I read them carefully, and what you describe as domestic violence rang no bells for me. For example:
The vast majority of family violence is two-way aggression with international research showing about a third of couples having a go at each other — pushing, slapping, shoving or worse. Given the shame and stigma associated with being a male victim of family violence it is not surprising that men downplay these experiences in victim surveys such as Australia’s PSS. It’s only when men and women are asked about perpetrating violence that the two-way violence emerges, with women readily admitting to researchers that they are very actively involved and often instigate this type of “couple violence”. “Thirty years of international research consistently shows that women and men are violent towards each other at about the same rate,” confirms Halford.
I have not seen, anywhere in any of your articles, any statement that suggests that you know anything at all about domestic violence. You paint a picture of two grown adults trading blows, as if they have equal power. You revere Erin Pizzey, as if she is some sort of beacon of light in a grey, hazy cloud of lies about the motivations behind domestic abuse perpetuated by feminists, yet fail to see that she doesn’t understand it either. She is convinced that it is a matter of nuture, children grow up with parents who violently attack each other, and they continue the cycle.
She’s wrong. My first husband’s parents never fought physically, neither did mine. Neither did the parents of any survivor I’ve ever spoken to.
It’s disingenuous to try and explain away an international emergency on generational grounds. But I’m not surprised that you would try. I have read widely the work of Erin Pizzey and others, through my filter of two decades of suffering gradually escalating abuse. Nothing she says rings true.
What I have discovered though, is that Pizzey and similar deniers completely misunderstand what domestic violence actually is. It is not an incident or a series of incidents, it is a sustained pattern of behavior orchestrated with the intention of achieving dominance and control over the victim’s life. I have read many of Pizzey’s articles and have found no reference to coercive control, or any similar description of the underlying agenda behind domestic violence.
I found no such information in your writing either.
Why is that?
My lived experience.
My first husband never hit me. Not once. I certainly never hit him. On your definition of domestic violence, he was not a perpetrator, and I was not a victim. Correct?
Please hold that thought.
I was 18 when my first husband and I started dating, we married when I was 24. In the early days I was swept away by his demonstrations of devotion. He wanted to be everywhere I was. He adored me. I felt smothered but as it was my first serious relationship, I assumed it was normal.
My family loved him, in the early days. They were impressed by how hard working he was and his good manners. I allowed those qualities to distract me from bigger issues, that we were intellectually mismatched, that he was not interested in anything that mattered to me, and that he was unhappy if I did anything that did not include him.
Long before I feared for my safety, I felt controlled by him. Now with the benefit of hindsight I realize that I started tiptoeing around him, walking on eggshells before we even started living together, and long before we were married.
He had a temper and would fly into a rage if I wanted to do anything that didn’t involve him. He told me it was because he loved me so much, he couldn’t bear being away from me.
Over many years I was slowly conditioned by his control. Eventually everything I did was an attempt to achieve or maintain his approval. I was desperate to avoid the consequences of displeasing him. His methods to keep me in line evolved over time and included torturing me with sleep deprivation, checking up on me constantly, turning up at my office unannounced, isolating me from friends and family, sexually assaulting me in my sleep, monitoring my movements, throwing furniture, breaking my things and threatening self-harm.
To challenge him was to trigger him. I remember trying to discuss his controlling behavior with him one day when he was driving, asking if I had done anything to make him feel insecure and if that was what was driving his apparent paranoia. He was furious, and started yelling at me and then said that I was lucky that he hadn’t taken me and our son out.
Then he veered the car towards a tree, saying this one should do it.
But he never hit me.
I lived in a state of constant hyper-vigilance, in constant fear of violence. He often threaten to hurt himself, once holding a sharp kitchen knife to his own chest. Another time he suddenly stopped the car on a busy highway and started to walk in front of an oncoming truck. What did I do to trigger such a response? I can’t remember precisely, but it was probably a display of a glimpse of independence, perhaps I had made a minor decision without consulting him. It could have started because I questioned him about how he spoke to me in front of other people, embarrassing me by his cruel public treatment.
Or maybe I just had a coffee with a friend without clearing it with him first.
But don’t worry, he never hit me.
He often broke things, kicked walls, once he threw a kettle of boiling water across the room. He often clenched his fist in anger and raised it towards me.
But he never hit me.
He believed sex was his birthright. He coerced and bullied me into sexual acts that I did not want to do. Often I woke with him inside me. You can’t give consent when you are asleep. That’s called rape, Bettina.
But it’s okay, he never hit me.
He didn’t need to, I lived in constant fear that he would kill me, our son, or himself.
Perhaps all three of us.
In her groundbreaking book, Jess Hill raises a very important question. People love to ridicule victims by asking why doesn’t she leave. Jess asks why does he stay? Even more perplexing, why does he go to such extreme measures to prevent her from leaving?
For me, I honestly believed the only escape was death, his or mine. I considered suicide as an escape often. Many times I came close to jumping in front of a train.
Don’t forget, he never hit me.
The problem with your narrative about domestic violence.
Women like Erin Pizzey deny that I was a victim of domestic violence. This is difficult to comprehend. There was no mutuality in the abuse that was going on in my marriage. Mind you, I did grow into something of a strategist, learning to manage his behavior with my own, identifying what would trigger his wrath. I would quickly change the channel if an advertisement about violence against women came on, because that would send him berserk.
But that’s normal right, after all he never hit me?
But what the narrative that you promote doesn’t acknowledge is that I never ever consented to having my life controlled and my own sense of self eroded. There was nothing mutual about the abuse I suffered. On the contrary, I desperately tried to manage my abuser’s wrath by constantly becoming less so he would not become displeased. To displease was to trigger him, and to trigger him was terrifying.
I did not in any way consent to having my young life stolen by a man whose beliefs about women are so steeped in patriarchy that he believed it was his birthright to control my life and shatter my dreams.
I did not consent to living in fear every day for more than twenty years, to having my body violated, my relationships with family and friends severed, my sleep invaded and my zest for life extinguished. I never agreed to allowing him to take my life, with all its promise and potential, and make it his.
Those who passionately deny domestic violence being a gendered issue have, from my research so far, one common thread. A tunnel-visioned focus on physical violence. They mold statistics, based on a narrow understanding of domestic violence to attempt to argue that it is not a gendered issue.
They misunderstand women like me, who passionately tell their stories in the hope of reaching others. They don’t realize that I agree that women can be violent, especially women who have been subjected to long-term coercive control.
Domestic violence is not a feminist issue.
Feminists have taken up the cause. Feminists are shining a light on the reality that physical violence is only the tip of the iceberg that is domestic terrorism.
Feminists are saving lives.
But it’s not a feminist issue, it’s a human one.
I pray that the human in you has listened to the human in me.
I pray that you have learnt something.
It isn’t too late.
Previously published on medium
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