The most dangerous time for women. Story 4of 5 Kim Gentle


Leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner.

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so. Between 25% to 31% of murders in Australia involve either spouses or sexual partners.

Here women across the country share with Guardian Australia how they left an abusive relationship, the support that helped them to regain control, and the help that was lacking when they needed it most.

Kim Gentle abuse victim image

Kim Gentle

The police knew that I was seeing this man but they couldn’t step in because of the laws. During the court case a detective came up and apologised and he had tears in his eyes, because it was recorded in police documents that it was only a matter of time before he killed someone.

Kim Gentle

Kim Gentle runs horse workshops for troubled Indigenous youth in Port Hedland, where she teaches them to care for and interact with the animals, and learn to give and receive trust. She is now expanding the program and hopes to bring adults with addiction problems into the program. She began the horse therapy clinics after leaving a violent relationship as a way of healing herself, and others. She is also an author of children’s books. She was one of three women to successfully prosecute the same abuser.

I was with him for six months. It happened very quickly. I had a top career in children’s publishing and made very successful breakthroughs, and was looking at going over to New York when I met this lovely guy. And at first, he did everything I wanted, but then little cracks started to appear. It probably took about three months to realise it was a relationship I had to get out of.

I kicked him out and I came home that night and I went to bed. And then I heard noises and I thought something’s upstairs, something’s not right. I went upstairs and he was hiding in the spare bedroom. So he stayed upstairs I stayed downstairs with my dog and prayed all night he wouldn’t hurt me and then the next morning I had to go to Sydney for a conference.

As I was leaving he said: “Do you mind if I take your dog for a walk, it’s the last time I’ll get to see her.” I said “That’s fine.” So I get to the conference and I get a phone call from him saying that I have to come home, the dog’s gone missing. And he said to me: “You loved her more than you loved me.” And I just knew something wasn’t right. He threw her off a cliff and into the ocean. He killed her. I knew I had to get out.

But there was all this other abuse. He made a big scene at my work, so I had to leave my job, and then I became financially dependent on him and I had to buy a car for us because I lost my company car, and he made me buy a manual knowing that I can’t drive a manual. Earlier on in the relationship little things happened, like I’d go to grab my swipe-card to go to work and it would be missing until the next day. Something like my car keys would go missing and then a couple of days later it would be my birth control pills. Just all these little things that would start building over time.

We were in the car one day and I was on a conference call, on speakerphone to a work colleague, and my ex-partner sort of took over the conversation. And then when I hung up he was like: “I don’t like you talking to all these male colleagues and people that you have to deal with.” And then he started going through my phone at night when I was asleep and contacting and writing down numbers of my male friends and calling them without me knowing and telling them not to have contact with me.

It got to a stage with him where it was either he was going to kill me or I was going to kill him because I thought that was the only way I could get out. Then I thought, why should I go to jail for killing a predator. So I tried to kill myself. That’s the rationale that abuse drives you to. You don’t know what is right or wrong anymore. I lost all perception of that. I wasn’t allowed out in public and if I did go out with him, I had to walk behind him and I had to look at the ground. If I so much looked at another person we’d get home and I’d get bashed. Horrific bashings.

I had no family living nearby. Some of my family had suspicions, especially my sister down in New South Wales, but it was very hard. She was scared as well, he had threatened her and she had two young children. My family knew a little about some of his behavioural issues because of things he’d said and done but they didn’t know the full extent. They just had noticed it was hard to contact me, and if they spoke to me on the phone he was always there. They started piecing things together. They didn’t think it made sense that I’d lost my job because they knew how passionate I was about it and how much I had loved it, but it was hard for them to piece it together without direct contact to me, and I only had a few friends who had direct contact with me.

He actually suffocated me on my birthday. I stopped breathing and it was pretty horrific. I remember seeing stars, dots in my eyes. I survived. I managed to somehow phone friends in Melbourne, and we actually had to talk in code, they gave me some code to speak to them in so as not to raise alarm bells because he was standing right next to me.

My friends managed to track down my brothers and some of my sisters, and then my family spent time plotting how they were going to get me out of this situation. They phoned the police, they phoned the crisis counselling team, and it turns out they couldn’t come and take me because then they could be done with abduction, so it had to be my decision. My brother had a lot to do with junior rugby league, so he said he was coming to where I was living at the time on the NSW central coast to run a rugby clinic, and that he would take me out for coffee belatedly for my birthday.

My brother turned up and I jumped in the car. My then partner came running up to my car, and my brother said: “I’m not here to see you. I’m here to see my sister.” We drove off, and when we got down to the end of the road, my brother said: “OK, one of your sisters is flying up from Melbourne. I’ve got my best mate and my wife and another friend at a cafe down the road, and we’re going to have a coffee. Now you’ve got two choices — leave with us now, or go to the police once everyone is together and we get you a cup of coffee and settled down, and we will support you.”

‘Something I hold dear. My dad’s best friend’s farm – my second childhood home from the age of 12+ when my father passed away. With me, my oldest sister and her dog Buster, my boots and my hat.’

‘Me. Rocky River, Tenterfield region – high country New South Wales. This is where I prepared myself mentally to face my ex-partner in court eight months after I was rescued in 2001.’

I knew that if I didn’t stand up against him in court I would never be safe, because he would hunt me down. because that’s what he does, it turned out he had a history of it. Due to the way the judicial system works there was information that wasn’t allowed to be disclosed to me. The police knew that I was seeing this man but they couldn’t step in because of the laws. During the court case a detective came up and apologised and he had tears in his eyes, because it was recorded in police documents that it was only a matter of time before he killed someone, but they’re not allowed to disclose that, even to help possible next victims. “I’m so sorry about what has happened, we were so scared for you but couldn’t do anything” he said.

I spent nearly eight hours in the police station when I gave my statement, and then I had to go back to the house with about six plain-clothed and a couple of uniformed police and they all had their vests on and they were fully loaded up with rifles. No one was home, and police said: “Get in the house, you’ve got 15 minutes, grab what you need and get out of there.” I just remember I was in there grabbing my things and all of a sudden the house was empty and quiet. I just panicked. It turns out my brother spotted my partner’s car and alerted the police and everyone had just taken off and left me in the house.

The police arrested him and took him away. I was asked to stay for the hearing in the court the following day. I just wanted to leave with my family the next morning, I didn’t really want to have to hang around. The case wasn’t heard until the last session the next day in the afternoon, so I had to spend all morning and all afternoon in court waiting for this case. But I knew he was locked up and he didn’t have bail so I knew I was safe.

But I still felt like he was controlling my life. lt was like being on a really fast roller coaster. Up and down and the whole time your head is just literally spinning and you’re just trying to hit the stop button or a pause or a slow down button, just so you can seek some clarity. I couldn’t think for myself. My brothers and sisters would say Kim, it’s hot, you don’t need to wear that. They literally had to tell me what to wear, and say, “No it’s OK, you can do that.” I didn’t know right from wrong, I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. I lost all confidence, respect and trust within myself. He appealed and for about two years we went in and out of the court system in NSW. I was also in huge debt as he forced me to take out a bank loan, it was horrific, he placed a loaded gun in my mouth, and forced me to sign. I ended up paying it all off myself because getting the bank to overturn it was too hard.

I kept moving houses between all my families and luckily where I went back to was a very small community and our family was very well respected, we’d all been born and bred there, and I knew the community would look after me if he had of come into town and asked for me. So that’s virtually where I hid for the next two years while I underwent treatment to reprogram my brain and start putting my life back together.

‘Pepper, my “Grey Goose” who had been with me for many years. Together we overcame many hurdles and have brought much joy to local Indigenous youth.’

A couple of times we were going to court and I had to be kept in the room upstairs for my own safety and I thought, hang on, I’m the supposed victim — I hate that word — he’s the offender, shouldn’t he be kept aside? He knew the court and the legal system and he abused it, he milked it for all it was worth. So you know, he’d go away when the trial was coming up and he’d say he was away on work and things like that so it would get adjourned. It was exhausting. You prepare your headspace for the court battle and you teach yourself to look at what happened as a movie in black and white, and break it down, and you have got to take a lot of the emotion out so you can hold it together. He is now in jail, I was one of three women to successfully prosecute him.

One thing about the court system I really don’t like is having to face the accused in the court room. Having them sitting there, smirking and smiling and pulling faces. It’s tough. It’s tough on anyone. But I think really the legal system needs to look at that, especially if they are trying to get the most accurate information out of the victims. How do you face these people that have done horrendous things to you in a courtroom while you’re trying to give evidence? It’s just wrong.

After I left my abusive relationship, the doctor wanted to put me on an antidepressant and I said: “I’m not taking them, because it only masks what I’m going through.” I just decided that I wanted to get back into riding horses again. I was searching for my good spot in my head, and one of my good spots was when I was a child and I was riding horses out in the bush, out in the high country. So something inside me told me I needed to find that good spot again to give myself some relaxation and time, where I’m not stressed about everything that happened and worrying about the future and how to put my life back together.

What I do is use horses as the tool to deal with mental health issues. They’re just amazing animals. The medical profession might not like me for saying this but horses are one of the best psychologists out there, because they are non-verbal. When you work with horses, you work with confidence, trust and respect, and that’s something that’s missing from people these days. My love is the Indigenous community, they are the most naturally talented people when it comes to horses. I go down to the shops in Hedland here and see so many kids out of school, and we just don’t understand them. So I decided to dedicate my life now to helping to bridge the gap thanks to the power of the horse.

I had one girl I’ve been mentoring and she’s sitting down there one day and I nearly tripped over myself when I saw she had this pony, which we call the cranky pony because it kicks and bites, with its head right in her lap. This young girl looked at me and said: “It’s all right Kim, we get each other.” I stopped and thought about it and this pony was raised without a mother who rejected her at birth, and this young girl had also been rejected by most of her family. Those two just connected like magic.

When I’m feeling a lot of pressure, I’ve actually learned to be a horse and step back from it, and re-circle. I reassess and I go to my safe place, which is picturing myself out in the mountain driving and then I come back and look at the threat, and you look at it in a totally different light.

You know, we read about all the statistics about domestic violence and deaths, but we haven’t even tapped into what’s happening in the Indigenous community. (5)

Henry Sapiecha

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