'He held a chainsaw to my neck'
NEW Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world. Eighty per cent of incidents go unreported - so what we know of family violence in our community is barely the tip of the iceberg. Today is part four of the New Zealand Herald's We're Better Than This, a week-long series on family violence. Their aim is to raise awareness, to educate, to give an insight into the victims and perpetrators. They want to encourage victims to have the strength to speak out, and abusers the courage to change their behaviour.
It took her 10 years to leave him. Ten years of being hit, kicked, choked, strangled.
Ten years of hiding the abuse from the outside world.
But the night he almost killed her, that was the night she left. It was her son's seventh birthday. "I thought, 'I'm going to die.' I was telling myself, 'Just hold on, just hold on'."
Her husband, with their young children just metres away, sat on top of her and repeatedly strangled her and let her go. When he finally stopped, she had marks on her neck, she was in pain, her voice was damaged and she was gasping for breath.
"He looked at me and he said, 'I almost killed you'," she remembered.
"He said, 'If you go to a refuge, Child, Youth and Family will take our kids away.' There were lots of threats like that."
A month later, the final straw came.
He was checking her cellphone for evidence of an affair. For most of their marriage he was convinced she was cheating. He was constantly checking her messages and calls, smashing her cellphone, buying her new ones.
On this particular night, he was more agitated about her "cheating" than ever. He kept her up until 5am demanding she confess.
Then he decided it was time they slept. She said no, she had to take their son to school.
He said: "No school today." She did not put up a fight.
"The moment he fell asleep, I got up. I went into my son's room and started to pack. My son looked up at me and said, 'Are we leaving now?'"
She put the children in the car and, staying outside the house, called 111.
"I need to leave. Now," she told the police. "That was the last time I left."
When the couple had first met, he was "normal". But as their relationship grew, his paranoia and jealousy issues emerged.
He didn't like her speaking to anyone - men or women. He eventually convinced her not to contact her family.
The abuse started with words. He would call her names, put her down. He would always say sorry later, though, and she thought he meant it. When he was angry he'd smash things - plates usually. The emotional abuse got worse, more frequent and he was more controlling.
Her mother lives overseas and came to stay. She ended up flying home much earlier than planned because even she was fearful of him.
Then the physical abuse started.
The first time, it was a kick to her leg. She never imagined then how bad it would get.
Soon, they were spending every waking hour together.
She can't remember how many times he punched, kicked, hit or strangled her.
He even attacked her when she was pregnant, hitting her belly and putting his hands around her neck.
He would eventually use their son as a weapon.
"When my son was 4, he was asleep in bed... My husband stood over him with a knife. He said, 'If you don't tell me the truth about your affair I will stab this knife into the bed.'
She tried to calm him, but he carried out his threat.
"He started stabbing the pillow right beside my son's head. There were feathers coming out. Afterwards there were holes all through the pillow. That really freaked me out."
She left that time, but couldn't make a clean break.
Things got worse.
One Easter, he kept his wife, son and baby daughter in their home for seven days.
During that time no one ate or slept unless he said so.
"He even escorted me to the toilet. My children couldn't eat when they were hungry."
Leaving was easier said than done.
"My self-esteem was so low," she said.
"And really, I had no idea what domestic violence was really about. He was sick, he had mental health issues and he was on medication. I wanted to protect him."
It has been two and a half years since she called 111 for the last time.
She is now living with her kids, working, volunteering for a domestic violence prevention group and has great relationships with friends and family.
"I will never go back there. When I went back to him the other times, I don't know why I did. Now, though, enough is enough. I am really happy now.
"There's no more intimidation, no more anticipation of when I will be hurt. There is just the freedom of living."
She spoke out hoping other women could learn from her experience - and leave earlier.
If you're in danger NOW:
• Phone the police on 000 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you
• Run outside and head for where there are other people
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you
• Take the children with you
• Don't stop to get anything else
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay
Where to go for help or more information:
NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CRISIS SERVICES
- NZ Herald