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The most dangerous time for women. Story 3of 5 Kay Schubach

Introduction

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.

Kay Schubach abuse victim image www.goodgirlsgo.com

Kay Schubach

It’s seriously like being in the scariest movie you’ve ever been in when you’re being threatened in your own home. There’s nowhere to go, there’s no escape. It’s hard to explain.


Kay Schubach

Kay Schubach is an ambassador for Domestic Violence NSW and a fundraiser for White Ribbon. She is author of the book, Perfect Stranger, about her experience of being in an abusive relationship. It took just eight weeks for her relationship with her ex-partner, who is now in jail, to escalate to a point where he tried to kill her. Schubach says once distance was placed between her and her abuser, she was able to see him for what he really was and reclaim her life.

About 10 years ago, I met a very, very, charming, sophisticated, sexy man, and I really fell for him hook, line and sinker. Part of why I fell for him so heavily and so quickly was because I was just turning 40, and I was really, really eager to have a child. When we spoke about that, he promised me that we’d have a family together and he built up this great fairy tale and it just seemed too good to be true and in fact it was.

Very, very quickly he got his hooks into my life and very, very quickly it turned from absolutely amazing and whirlwind, and then cracks started to appear and he became very emotionally abusive and very critical and more and more frightening. In the end, I knew very quickly, actually within two months, I felt my life was threatened and I was seeking help from the police, and it escalated very quickly.

It’s a kind of classic scenario. Of course at the time, you don’t realise it. You’re in love, it’s a new relationship, your pheromones are going crazy. We were whirling and twirling, he was very, very charming, and it turns out he’s got a grandiose personality disorder and narcissism. And you know, the molecules would change in the air when he walked in, and people would gravitate towards him. He had this personal power that was incredible and everyone was fooled. A-listers, personalities, QCs, everyone was fooled. I was a bit like a bunny in the spotlight. He was so dynamic that one minute, you’re on top of the world but then next minute, there’d be a flash and he’d become very critical of me and all of a sudden, I’d have done something wrong.


‘Mum and Dad: my incredible parents, still in love after 65 years.’

Then keys would go missing and just little things like that, so I started to feel quite unsteady and unstable and always blaming myself. He became very jealous and obsessive and accusatory if I got a phone call from anyone, he was critical of my friends, my family, and in the end he didn’t want me to see any of my friends so very quickly I was isolated. He made life at work very difficult, he was calling maybe 70 times a day and in the end, I lost my job. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I thought I was going mad.

I kept thinking right up until the point where he actually smothered me in my apartment that I could fix it and I was really bewildered by what was happening and I was really ashamed to talk to any of my friends. I’d left a relationship to be with him. So I’d already alienated a few people and I’d put so much on the line to be with him that I was very embarrassed to admit this was going horribly, horribly wrong. My parents and family live interstate so they weren’t by my side so much.

In the end, I actually had tickets to go down to Melbourne which I’d had for a long time to see my girlfriends, and he did everything I could to stop me from going because he knew that I’d get away from him and have some clarity and that other people would have influence over me. He put sugar in my petrol tank, he threatened to burn my apartment, he threatened to throw all my things out the window if I left. But I did go.

I saw my sister-in-law in Melbourne and I finally confessed things were going badly and I was very, very stressed in my relationship and that I was probably going to lose my job. I was also pregnant to him by this stage, though I lost the baby, and I wasn’t feeling well, I was completely turned upside down. My sister-in-law grabbed me by the shoulders and said: “Kay, you can do this. Solve it like you would solve a problem at work, and go to work on this. Get the removalists in, change the lease, change the locks, call the police and get some help. Just do it.” The light bulb went off in my head, and I felt: “I have to do this or I’m going to die.” It sounds like really dramatic now, but it’s seriously like being in the scariest movie you’ve ever been in when you’re being threatened in your own home. There’s nowhere to go, there’s no escape. It’s hard to explain.


‘The emerald city. Off to visit my parents. I love photographing Sydney.’


‘On Channel 7’s Daily Edition. Speaking about domestic violence empowers me, knowing I’m helping change public perception of who it affects.’

He was always in my ear, the phone was going a hundred times a day when I wasn’t with him. He was always confusing my thoughts, telling me I was wrong and making it up and also, my self esteem had eroded so quickly. So even just having a couple of days away from him was a real breath of fresh air, and having that clear calm voice of a family member was really amazing.

When I was at the airport I called the real-estate agent and said “I need to break the lease.” I called the police and said, “I’m going to move out and I need help, and I need you to be there when I do it, it’s a really dangerous time for me.” I called the removalist vans and booked a storage unit. I didn’t know what my long-term plan was, but I knew it was critical to get out of there.

When I started to, you know, wriggle out from his control, that’s a very, very dangerous time and that’s when domestic violence is about power and control and when you start to change that dynamic, you know you can really, really raise a lot of problems. So you have to be very, very careful. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got someone around you if you’re at that point, make sure the police know that that’s what you’re doing or someone knows that’s what you’re doing. Have spare keys, have some money somewhere, try and get another phone if you can, even have some clothes at the drycleaner, a little emergency bag to take somewhere, even know the number for a taxi in case you lose your phone. There’s lots of things you need to think about doing, but if you have to leave the house with nothing when you go, you have to have a fire plan.

I would say you must reach out and talk about your fears even if it’s obliquely with girlfriends, just say things aren’t right at home. Bring it up and then at least if someone’s raised a bit of a flag with a girlfriend, if you have to make a call and then hang up really quickly, they might just understand that you’ve got a problem and reach out. Don’t let fear, embarrassment and shame stand in the way.


Kay Schubach

I moved down to a friend’s house down on the south coast and I physically put distance behind us. He was really cajoling and coaxing on the phone, and trying to find out where I was. It’s so hard to resist that, it’s a very hard time to leave something that you’ve built and to just walk away from that. It really takes all the resolve that you have.

On average, a woman will put up with 37 cases of abuse, of being hit or being violated in some way, before they leave, and we’re only just realising that‘s what happens. We’re sometimes not very supportive of people in domestic violence situations. We don’t understand the dynamics, and it’s a big learning curve for all of the community to understand that it’s a very, very difficult thing to break those ties.

Your relationship is kind of sacrosanct, and you want to hang on to that at all costs. You’ve invested a lot, even if it’s dysfunctional. You may have lived together, you’ve extended love, you’ve extended trust. You might have children, you might have a shared life. It might be for two months in my case, or it might be for 20 years, so you’ve got a huge investment there. That’s very hard to walk away from.

The other thing that happens in domestic violence cases that’s very, very common is your self esteem gets eroded. In my case, that happened very quickly but sometimes it’s a long, slow erosion. I’ve seen incredibly strong, beautiful, forthright women get completely … they disintegrate into a shell of themselves. They don’t even know who they are anymore. They have trouble getting out of the house, they have trouble putting on makeup, getting dressed. They’ve just lost all sense of themselves.

There’s a real sense of stigma and shame and embarrassment about speaking out about this, so we’ve got to make it more accessible so that people understand that this is a problem, this is happening to a lot of women and across all sectors, all races, all demographics, all suburbs, all ages.

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Henry Sapiecha


‘Targie the supercat. So dear to me.’


‘This house near Bordeaux, belonging to my friends, is where I recovered from cancer and wrote my book.’

I would say you must reach out and talk about your fears even if its obliquely with girlfriends, just say things aren’t right at home. Bring it up and then at least if someone’s raised a bit of a flag with a girlfriend, if you have to make a call and then hang up really quickly, they might just understand that you’ve got a problem and reach out. Don’t let fear, embarrassment and shame stand in the way. And if someone says to you look I’m worried you know there are people who are looking out for you so do understand that people are there for your sake.

Also the police were great for me as well. When I did actually put my hand up and go to the police station they realised the gravity of the situation and I felt that they reached out, grabbed my hand and were not going to let go until they knew I was safe.

Every time I speak that empowers me, and helps me explain what happened in my mind to myself. I know that I’m doing good for other women and hoping to enact on social change so we can change this social paradigm, it’s very cathartic and empowering. I am in a really good place and the work that I do to give back … that’s really important, giving back.

I think we need to help empower women who are recovering from domestic violence. Women have so much to contribute and sometimes they just need a hand to get into that position. All women have got it — it’s just a matter of not being encumbered by violence and fear.

 

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