The issue of domestic violence and domestic abuse are now receiving greater attention, particularly thanks to the sad story and incredible efforts of Rosie Batty and other women willing to open up about their terrifying and tragic experiences. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 15% of Australian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a previous partner and 2.1% from what they described as a current partner (ABS, 2005).
We can’t thank Claire enough for sharing her personal story with us and our MamaBake audience. To recall painful history and put it down on paper is a difficult though hopefully cathartic task, and we are amazed at her courage. As always please keep any negative comments or judgement to yourself.
Remember that this is a person, and her own story, with as many details included as possible; even if you might have done things differently, we can never truly understand what it was like to be in that moment. But please, if you would like to leave encouragement and positive remarks for Claire, please do so.
***Also, be warned that this story includes descriptions of often cruel and terrifying violence. Claire describes her story in her own words. Together we have edited it for security purposes.***
Told to Emma Chow
I moved to the Gold Coast in an attempt to escape my problems at home. I was alone, had no money and no idea where I would be living in a few weeks’ time. I met a couple and a male friend who lived together, and learning that I didn’t have proper accommodation, they kindly offered me a place in their share house. The friend’s name was Lennard, and before I knew it we were taking beach walks and he listened to my stories about my troublesome life. I really enjoyed being able to talk to someone who would not judge and just listen, offering kind comfort. Lennard noticed that I had barely any clothes with me, and he insisted I let him take me out to buy some, though I protested. He bought me food and let me cry on his shoulder; he became my saviour.
One day, he confessed that he thought that he was falling in love with me. My whole life I felt as though I was the most unlovable person in the world, and this kind and generous man loved me? One day he quit his job; he told me that it was because he missed me so much while he was there. Before I knew it, we were in a relationship. I was 15 and he was 21. I know alarm bells are going off, but please understand that today I am aware that I should have been home playing with my friends, not running away from home or dating older men.
We were living together, as a committed couple. I felt on top of the world that this man loved me, and about 7 months into our relationship, I fell pregnant and I was afraid. Times were tough because Lennard had left his job, and we had no income apart from his welfare benefits. Admittedly he also smoked marijuana, but I did not.
One day Lennard and I were talking about money, about how were we going to buy baby things. I got upset, so did he; so much so that he started to hit himself in the head with an iron. I didn’t know what was happening. So I stopped him, cuddled him, kissed him just to make him feel better. The arguing and fighting started to happen more frequently and each time, I would tell him that I couldn’t handle the fighting; if we kept fighting maybe we were better off without each other. Every time I said this, he would either hurt himself or he would curl into a ball and rock back and forth screaming that he could not live without me. I didn’t want to hurt him; I just wanted the fights to stop.
But then it happened, after one of our fights he lunged at me, I didn’t know what he was doing. He picked me up and seemed about to throw me against the wall, just as threw me, he realised what he was doing and quickly caught me before I hit the floor. My first reaction was to sink my nails in, to try to hold on. He laid me safely, gently down on the mattress. I was too shocked to move. In disbelief, Lennard said “I don’t know what I’ve done” and he walked away. I didn’t move from the bed for what seems like an eternity. Lennard’s mum walked through my bedroom door; she had driven all the way just to tell me “You touch my son again, and I’ll have you done” and then she stormed out. I just lay there.
Eventually Lennard came home. I asked him why he had blamed me, but his response was: “Well, you did sink your nails in my back”. I reminded him that I only sunk my nails in to try to grip on so I wouldn’t fall because he had thrown me in the air. He laughed it off.
Eventually we got our own house, and the fights continued, but they weren’t as bad as before. We had our beautiful baby girl, after a three day labour ending in an emergency C-section. I came home and life was good for a few months. The fights started to build up again, and he moved onto pushing me, pulling my hair, and worked up to punches to my face, my chest and even my healing abdomen. I would pack my bags, hoping to leave him, but every time, he would curl up in his foetal position, rock, cry and beg me to not leave. If I left him, he said would kill himself. Later he would swear that he blacked out and didn’t even remember doing it. So I would stay on the promise that it would stop.
While working part time at a café, one day I turned up to work with a black eye and marks all over my body. My kind boss called the police, went to my home, got my baby and made me and my daughter stay at her house. The police had threatened to place an Apprehended Violence Order out on Lennard, but I begged them not to. I had shown him that I could leave and would not tolerate the violence. When I went home, it seemed to work. He apologised, begged for forgiveness and had a plan. He said “I’ve been offered work in another town, we can move, start fresh, and seek couples counselling, whatever we have to do. Let’s do it.” He seemed so remorseful. So in a few short weeks, we packed up and moved three hours away from everyone we knew.
Now I know this was him trying to isolate me. Things only got worse, and the violence became excruciating, agonising, emotionless acts of evil. He put a lit cigarette in my ear because I wasn’t listening to him. He kicked me out of the car and made me walk home (living rural it was a 45 minute drive to get home) and then when he drove past me he drove the car directly at me. There were so many more incidents. When he found out I was pregnant again, I thought he might relent. I was wrong. The brutal violence continued and one day I broke down and told him that I wished I wasn’t pregnant. I cried. I loved my baby so dearly, but how could I carry a baby inside me, knowing that he was hurting us both? When he heard me saying this, he snapped, grabbed a broom and beat me on my stomach again and again. I was in agonising pain, and he called an ambulance, telling them that I had been hurting myself.
Thankfully, my baby was fine; it was just me who was injured. The paramedics did keep me overnight and knew I had not hurt myself, but there was only so much they could keep me in for and I felt anxious to leave. Eventually, even his friends joined in on the violence. His best friend chased me out of my room one night, with a knife, while I was still pregnant. When she was finally born, all I could think was “Thank god she doesn’t have to get hit any more”.
I wanted to leave, but then he would taunt me, telling me and I was nothing without him. I was afraid and this life had become normality for me; this is what I thought was acceptable and what I was worth. Instead of leaving, I gave Lennard an ultimatum: “I want to move home, I want to be close to my family”. Reluctantly he agreed. So we moved again, back to NSW near my mum and all my friends. Things changed for the better; there was little fighting, and when we did it wasn’t physically violent. We found a nice little house; Lennard got a job and our future looked positive. But it was short lived.
Lennard lost his job and we fell behind on our rent and other bills. I was pregnant with our third child by this time. We had made an agreement that if he felt he was going to snap he would go for a walk. One day it seemed he was getting angry so he went for his walk to calm down. Soon it was getting dark and I started to worry about him. Midnight came, and he was nowhere to be seen. I eventually went to sleep thinking he would be home when I woke. I rang his friends, they all hadn’t seen him. I waited another day and then I couldn’t take it anymore. I worried that he went for a walk in the bush, got lost and was stuck or worse, I wondered, “What if he killed himself?” I called the police and I had search parties searching the bush. But he was nowhere.
Three weeks passed and then I received a phone call from a friend of Lennard who said, “Look Claire, I just need to let you know, Lennard is with me and he has been the whole time. He wanted to get away from the stress.” I couldn’t believe it. I was so angry, how dare he leave me, pregnant, with our children, left to clean the mess while he goes and hangs out with his friends. He didn’t come back for three more months, and in that time I had not been able to pay the rent and had been evicted. We moved to a tiny two bedroom cupboard. He came back just before the baby was born. Once again, we found a new house, but this time I was depressed. I didn’t want to live. I felt like I had no way out. I was so lost. I had no respect for myself. I contemplated suicide many times, but each time looking at my children convinced me to keep going.
One evening, Lennard came home from work, and the house was a mess, the dishes needed to be done, the laundry pile was full. I was a mess too, struggling to take care of the children. He started screaming hysterically that I was a fat slob who couldn’t even clean a house. He went out to the shed, and I hoped he was calming down.
He came back with a jerry can and started pouring fuel around the house. I tried to stop him but he would splash fuel on me to make me leave him alone. He kept screaming that he was going to burn the house down with us all in it. I grabbed my children and ran for the car, and he didn’t try to follow. I drove as fast as I could to my mother’s house. She took me inside and ran us a bath. I sat down and finally explained to her all that had happened.
She begged me to not return, to stay with her. We stayed at her house for a few days, but Lennard was messaging me begging me to come back. It was like Lennard was a drug, and I was an addict. I felt like I could not live without him.
To my mother’s dismay, I went back.
If you are experiencing any form of domestic violence go here to find help.