STORIES Stories about abuse from women with disabilities

ANJ’S STORY

‘Through sheer determination and willpower I’m where I am today, gradually reclaiming my life’

When I was 16 years old, my boyfriend bashed me almost to death. He beat me so badly I suffered a severe brain injury and was in a coma for four months. That evening when he bashed me he repeatedly stomped on and kicked my head.

While lying in my hospital bed my family and nursing staff could see the imprint of his shoe in my very swollen face. Intensive care nursing staff told my father they had never seen injuries like mine before, injuries that medical staff normally associated with road trauma cases.

I was 14 years old when I began my relationship with my moody, abusive, violent boyfriend – he was four years older than me and was controlling and possessive. I was a young stupid 14-year-old girl who thought she was in love. I thought everything was great at first ‘til he started the abuse. I thought it was my fault, so I made up excuses for his actions, but no-one deserves to be treated the way he treated me. I think I really thought he loved me.

Before my abusive relationship many people describe me as a very fit and healthy beautiful young girl in control of my own life, very athletic, a very strong netballer and a quick swimmer. I was pretty smart although I couldn’t see that staying in the relationship could put me in a wheel chair with a brain injury. I thought I was just living life to the fullest – not to know that really I lived it almost to the end.

Sometime after the assault that landed me in intensive care, a teacher from my secondary school told my parents that once during a classroom discussion I had raised the issue of boyfriends threatening to kill themselves if their partners went away. I had raised the issue but I didn’t let on I was talking from personal experience. At the time my family was planning a holiday and my boyfriend had said he would kill himself if I went. My family remembers that holiday, it was a holiday I had been instrumental in planning – a family trip to go to the Olympic Games in Sydney. At the time I didn’t tell Mum or Dad I was frightened of what my boyfriend would do to himself if I went away. I didn’t tell them he had said he would kill himself if I left. I just insisted that I no longer wanted to go away with the family. My parents thought they were faced with no alternative but to drag me into the car and force me to go on holiday as planned. I was unbearable; angry and uncooperative throughout the whole time we were away. I gave everyone a really hard time, I was just desperate to get back home and see that my boyfriend was OK.

I was a young girl, who foolishly believed she was in love. There are many things I am aware of now, which should have led me to end our relationship. Like when he would often verbally abuse me or when he became physically violent towards me. Like when he introduced me to drugs and supplied me with them. When he would make me stay back from girls’ days out and threaten violence if I left. When alone with him, he would gain control by breaking down. He would become very emotional, cry and carry on telling some story which was so often, if not always a big, fat horrible lie (he was a very great actor).

Seeking help to end the relationship

Before the last attack my parents tried to get help from the police but the police explained their assistance required me charging my boyfriend with assault. The only other way was to have him charged with having sex with a minor but I wouldn’t cooperate. I didn’t want him to get into trouble with the police. He had already been in contact with the criminal justice system over the assault of another person. He had been to court and ordered to attend anger management classes. I didn’t want him to get into any more trouble.

My parents also made contact with a local youth outreach program who recommended a couple of things, one was to have a look at the DVRCV When Love Hurts website which they found most helpful. That’s what my boyfriend used to tell me when he was in the right mood – that he loved me and that I was the only important person in his life.

I began seeing a psychologist in year 11 and his support had a big impact on me. He diagnosed a hidden disability – dyslexia. I had always had problems reading. When I was in early primary school my mum spoke to my teachers who said I was fine because of my skills in story writing but mum had to read books to me because I wasn’t very good. In year 9 I tried to put myself in the reading recovery program at school but the teachers thought I was just trying to get out of school work and sent me back to the classroom. My parents now wonder if my undiagnosed dyslexia had something to do with my low self-esteem as a teenager.

The psychologist convinced me to break it off with my boyfriend. I decided to focus on my studies and I was voted in to the VCE leadership group as a leader. I had finally realised I would never be able to change him. We were not boyfriend and girlfriend for the three months leading up to the assault although we continued to see each other. I still wanted to be his friend. During this time he rang me and said that he had had my name tattooed on his stomach and that we would be friends for life.

After the assault

Nine months after the assault, at age 17, I found myself living in a nursing home for years.

My ex-boyfriend was charged with assault and on us appealing his sentence, received a 10 year gaol sentence with a minimum of 7 ½ years.

What has helped me

Despite the horrific injuries he inflicted on me, and all the medical team’s belief that I wouldn’t be able to improve any further, with a bit of strength and determination I have proved them wrong. I am gaining new skills all the time and have plans for the future. I now communicate through a text-to-voice machine and use a wheelchair to get around. I always try to keep moving forward, and with the help of my family and friends I’ve been able to keep soldiering on, though it hasn’t been easy by any means.

There has been no real connection made between my disability and the fact it was caused through relationship abuse. The family’s experience of me being in hospital directly after the assault was not a positive experience. The social work department offered no support around the assault, there was a long delay in my family receiving written information about what to expect in relation to the brain injury. This information is supposed to be given to families within 24 hours of their family member being admitted to hospital.

After some time, my parents made contact with Headway who supported them through what to expect in relation to my recovery. While speaking to Mum about the assault, a police officer responded to her distress by asking if the family had received any counselling. When he found out that they hadn’t received any support he said that he would make some inquiries. Very soon after that conversation, the Victoria Police Victims Advisory Unit contacted Mum and Dad. They listened to what Mum and Dad said they needed and took action. Mum and Dad say they could not have survived without this assistance. These services made a big difference because they listened, got action out of other services and had a strong human rights perspective.

Victims of Crime paid for counselling for Mum, Dad and my brother. I have had very little counselling around the relationship abuse. I haven’t felt the need. This is my life – I will deal with it in my own way. Nothing really matters, my brain goes into complete lock down. I rarely think about it and if I do it’s just what a waste. I haven’t had anything to do with the services really, they supported Mum and Dad mostly. I’m not sure there has been anything that has really really helped me. Plenty have tried, but I fob them off. I don’t really like talking to just anyone.

A disability like mine, acquired as a result of domestic violence, is not covered by insurance. Victims of Crime provides some financial support however this falls very short of the personal injury compensation awarded to car accident victims. Lack of finances limits my access to the range of therapies required for my full rehabilitation and recovery. Without the support of Headway and the Victims Advisory Unit at Victoria Police and the dedicated physiotherapists that have worked with me, my family and I would not have survived the first three years.

I’m really pissed off and angry about the past. I don’t remember anything much about the last bashing, thank God, although I get small flash-backs occasionally of being bashed, but then they’re gone.

When I’m in a bad mood and things are getting to me I write down on the computer how I’m feeling and it helps.

What I would say to others?

Do not live your life in fear because it will consume if not kill you. The biggest thing about my relationship with my boyfriend was I wasn’t a woman with any knowledge or wisdom. I was a child. People – young and old – should be aware, in control, and comfortable with their own lives and relationships, and not be afraid to get out of a relationship where you don’t feel comfortable.

So if he threatens or demonstrates any physical violence get out. Realise it’s not worth it, no matter what happiness he may bring on a good day. If he starts insulting your friends or if he becomes obsessive, by any means, like wanting you to start spending every second with him. If he starts deterring you from spending time with anyone else or doing the things you like. If anyone else considers his behaviour strange or aggressive, think about it.

We need to build young people’s self-esteem to stop them from thinking violent behaviour is acceptable. Remember how sexy, cool and smart you all are and don’t worry about whatever nonsense anyone else thinks! Just focus on your studies and getting the best job you can. Boys don’t really matter at your age, they’re just for fun on occasions, at the moment!

If I had my time again I would listen to everyone – my parents, my teachers, my friends, the counsellors. I would listen to what they were telling me. I should have turned my ears on and heard how foolishly hormonal I was being by continuing to return to such a violent, negative, and abusive relationship. I am now aware of what I should have done to end the relationship. Number one I should have done it in public vision so he couldn’t hurt me. I shouldn’t have ever listened to or taken anything he said so seriously, unless it was at face value to avoid a violent outburst. I shouldn’t have continued to spend so much time alone with him and let him have so much power. I shouldn’t have let him gain complete control over me as soon as our relationship began. I should have realised he’s a violent dirtbag straight away, which meant I needed to end the relationship full stop, as soon as the violence was expressed, no matter what for.

Girls really need to open their eyes, accept information, and direction from all who love, respect and care for them. When you are in a relationship, no matter what your partner says, always remember you are number one. Without respect in a relationship it just won’t ever work happily for you both.

So girls if they don’t like playing by fair rules, tell them they can ‘hit the road jack and don’t you ever come back into my life’. Say: ‘I don’t have to tolerate that shit – you can’t just treat me like that. Unless you can begin to respect me as an equal I’ll have to end our relationship’. Leave and go straight to the nearest police station right then and there, so he realises you’re not stuffing around any more.

Through sheer determination and willpower I’m where I am today, gradually reclaiming my life. Though I was only 16 when I was bashed, I now hope to keep others away from violent and controlling relationships. So you all need to begin to enjoy your lives. Stop taking it for granted. Be sure that you’re the one in control of your life.

I wish to be seen as a strong, inspirational young lady and helping others is my will to achieve this. I just hope all the young women who hear my story take the right kind of power in their lives, keep it real and don’t play the fool.

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