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Church support helps violence recovery

Picture by Glenda Otero
IT TAKES an average of seven attempts for an Australian, English or American person to move permanently out of a relationship characterised by domestic violence, according to the most recent studies.

Many years ago it took me fewer than seven attempts to throw my daughter’s father out for good. Several weeks later he broke through our back door with a pickaxe, took a swing at me, then assaulted me before help arrived in the form of three burly male neighbours.

In the time leading up to this assault I had sought a temporary Domestic Violence Order (DVO) from the courts, stayed with my parents until a full DVO application was heard and had the good fortune to be able to call on church elders for a bed for the night with the additional blessing of a barge ticket from them so I could take my car to town.

While I took fewer than the seven attempts to get it right and finish with such a violent man, it had not helped that the elders of his tribal group told me I was not to keep my daughter from him.

They had not prepared me for a man whose absolute contempt for the law meant that he would use these opportunities to see his daughter as a time to stand over me.

Nor had the elders prepared me for a man whom we have since discovered was a pervert, having served a concurrent sentence for being a peeping tom … at the same time as he was jailed for the offences against me.

With nowhere else to stay, he had visited me and thrown out the anchor each time he came down from Far North Queensland.

I had realised from the time I became pregnant that I would have to leave this man and put as much distance between us as possible.

But his sister had warned me that without his signature on the birth certificate, the child we were expecting would not be recognised by her tribal group.

So I had stayed in the relationship, running away when things got too bad, organising for tribal elders to talk with him, among them some very good Christians.

Things would quieten down for a while when he would return, this being the honeymoon phase of the cycle of domestic violence, but soon he’d become agitated (the build-up phase) then he’d be abusing me again.

It wasn’t until the police helped me with a DVO that I could truly get away after our daughter was born but even then, a lawyer visiting the women’s shelter advised I could not take my daughter “out of country” if he was of a mind to use the law to stop me.

This problem occurs between non-indigenous people, too.

I am the friend of an English woman stuck in Australia without support of family because she met and married an Aussie guy who turned out to be a violent man, stalking her and using drink and drugs and now that they are separated she is struggling to use the courts to get the children away from him.

Even if she does, she cannot return to the UK unless he signs for a passport for the children which he is not prepared to do.

There is no place for alcoholism or drugs in a relationship or when raising children, according to Dr Phil McGraw, renowned psychologist of TV fame.

In my case, both my son’s and my daughter’s fathers were alcoholics and marijuana users.

I used alcohol and drugs in my university days but was well over them by the time my son was born and my daughter was born.

I was a church goer at the time my daughter’s father and I met but I was lonely and dropped my standards despite having had to learn this lesson the hard way previously with my son’s father.

So there I was at the women’s shelter in Far North Queensland. I knew I had to use tribal law and the help of Christians in the family to escape, asking four elders of the Kuku-Yalanji tribe to sit for my daughter’s father and I in Mossman.

I stayed with his cousin-sister, a Christian woman.

That night, in the presence of a police liaison officer to keep the peace, the elders helped him see that I had another child to raise and that I needed to be on Magnetic Island to do this as my son was with his father as we had finished up some years earlier, also because of domestic violence.

So why was my son with a man who had been violent towards me?

My health had deteriorated to the point that my son felt I was unable to do the job of raising him, this despite the help of good Christian folk who had cared for him while I was hospitalised.

So why would I swap one relationship characterised by domestic violence for another?

My belief is that the origins of this decision-making stem from my childhood, a childhood characterised by sexual abuse.

I believe I was set up for a life pattern of self-sabotage, of choosing a man, in my case two men, who would abuse me because, as abusers – like my childhood abuser who had set me up for this pattern – they could see in me a victim whom they, too, could stand over.

That is essentially what domestic violence is – it is one person standing over another, verbally, emotionally, financially, physically, or sexually or a combination of these abuses.

In each case the decision to leave was easy but doing it was frightening because, while the abuse was bad, the fall-out of leaving such sick, controlling men was likely to impact not only on me but also on my children. And each of these men had threatened to kill me.

I became quite unwell when I left my son’s father for the final time because I had stayed in the Townsville women’s shelter and it had arced up my illness.

And I had had to use the police to extract my son from school.

By way of contrast, I had church elders’ and family support so I didn’t have to do this the last time after I threw my daughter’s father out.

Staying with church friends and family while waiting on the DVO made all the difference and helped me maintain my equilibrium so I could better support my daughter’s recovery.

We each used a psychologist for trauma counselling to assist in our recovery.

I attribute the difference between my daughter’s attitude as my denigrating alcoholism for the sickness it is.

Whereas I taught my son to be compassionate about his father’s alcoholism. In the end I lost him because this compassion meant he trusted his father.

I now think being compassionate about alcoholism is appropriate for social workers, for example, but it’s not appropriate for our children who have every right to feel cheated out of their childhoods by such selfish behaviour that can be overcome with God’s help and that of good alcohol recovery programs.

Though he returned to me in later years, my son, too, has become an alcoholic. He was raised by an alcoholic and became an alcoholic.

But at the time he was so determined not to be raised by me I had thought it a better option to be with his dad than becoming a foster child.

The attentions of the Queensland Education Department psychologist helped during his high school years but the damage was done.

With his father as his friend going into reaction if he did the wrong thing rather than set up boundaries so he had appropriate consequences of action, I think he was always destined to come to a sticky end.

Even my son knew that; predicting as a teenager that his risk-taking behaviour would see him dead by 21.

Thankfully he’s still going but since age 23 has had to contend with the difficulties associated with losing a leg in a traffic accident.

I am a university educated multi-generational church person.

My grandfather’s cousin was Rev Dr Herbert Garfield Secomb, President-General of the General Conference of the Methodist Church of Australasia (1948-1950).

Yet despite having a church upbringing, I experienced domestic violence on two occasions: once at a time in my life when I had turned away from the church and the next at a time when I had returned to the church.

The difference between the two experiences was palpable.

However, I know that is not always the case.

It is time we got our heads around all facets of domestic violence and supported all members of our church who experience such problems, not just the ones with whom we are comfortable dealing.

Talking and listening as support is one thing. But opening up our homes is sometimes what’s really needed to help fellow church members end a relationship while they look for somewhere else to live, understanding that going back to that relationship may be a part of the process of ultimate separation that is a far safer option than reconciliation.

We each can only work through our recovery from our childhood traumas at our own pace if that, indeed, is what is underneath the choice of spouse that we make.

My daughter, now 12, was baptised in 2009 and, like me, draws on her faith and worship for strength during times of trouble.

Photo : Picture by Glenda Otero