Escaping domestic violence is harder than you think
Escaping domestic violence sounds so easy to people who have not had to negotiate it, mused Sophie as she cleared up the kitchen sink after washing up the night-before dishes. She deliberated about whether to speak about the chapter that Bea had read the previous evening. Sophie didn’t want too upset her wonderful aunt and wanted to protect her, just as she had protected her own parents and all those close to her from the real truth of what had really happened in the relationship she had endured for nine years. She felt shame as she contemplated opening up more to her aunt, just as she had felt for all the nine years that she couldn’t make the relationship work.
Bea returned from tidying her room and making her bed, and sat on her sheepskin covered chair at the dining table where she could see the flocks of migratory birds, hot-air balloons and other air traffic in the sky. Sophie had sat down to Bea’s side so she could see what Bea pointed out.
‘So what happened to the women you met at the court?’
‘When I was told who the judge for my case was, I decided that I’d better have a look how things went. I was overjoyed when I saw it was a woman who appeared to be very nice and patient.’
‘Did you learn much?’
‘No, it was only a short session, where the woman who appeared, seemed close to sixty years old, could hardly speak because she was so frightened and apologetic. She was able to say enough to have her request for more time to prepare her evidence granted. Her ex-husband’s lawyer put up a big fight because the woman was still in the family home.’
‘Ah, I see. So it wasn’t a proper trial?’
‘No, unfortunately.’ Sophie picked at her vegetables and sipped some more tea.
‘Now I see why you had no idea of what would happen at your own trial.’
‘I’m pretty sure that my friend was with me, because she was much further back in the process than we were. She befriended me because she’d overheard me talking about legal proceedings to the fruit seller at the farmer’s market about half a year previously. So she went up to this other woman and asked if we could talk.’
‘And did you all become friends?’
‘Yes. We all talked on the phone a lot because my friend is a real talker, and very anxious to learn as much as possible to guide her own decisions. I remember visiting the older woman at her beautiful home where her mother and sister were also staying with her. Lucky her to have all that support! The mother was in her eighties, but like you very fit and sharp-thinking. They had moved from their home in the eastern states.’
‘Was that before or after your trial?’
‘I don’t remember, but probably after, because I had zero time beforehand. I believe they came to watch some of my horrific three days. I remember they were there at some time and it was really supportive.’
‘Family support would’ve really helped that woman, but your situation was the complete opposite. How did you cope?’
‘Well the truth is that I didn’t cope. I was a nervous wreck, and like the woman I’d watched a few days before my trial, I absolutely froze in fear …’ Sophie’s eyes glazed over as she appeared to stare vacantly straight ahead. Inside her head, she was back in the courtroom, feeling like a robot, going through the motions of trying to read out the questions that she’d printed out. Thoughts and images raced through her mind which had dissociated completely.
I always knew I’d publish it … that it would all come in useful. Presented as a novel.
They’d already presented … which came first, defendant or applicant? An image flashed into my mind. It was an A4 print of a photo of me lying on the ground behind the exhaust of his car, which was running. As I was handed it, the words ‘Jesus Christ’ blurted out.
‘Now, now no blasphemy in my court,’ Her Honour said, as our eyes connected, and I said ‘Sorry’.’
After they made up some story about why. Her Honour turned to me, ‘What was that about?’’
‘I just wanted to die!’ I howled loudly, and turned away sobbing uncontrollably. Her Honour adjourned again, and my friend came and comforted me. ‘I don’t know where that came from,’ I gasped for air.
‘Don’t worry; they are just trying to set you up. Don’t get angry. Try not to. That was good you let your feelings show.’
‘‘More of the bloody humiliation! I’ve always promised myself not to let the perpetrators humiliate me again in court cases.’’
‘But you’re here now. Don’t let them get under your skin.’’
‘I may as well not be here. They just stopped me presenting anything.’’’
Bea lightly touched Sophie’s arm. ‘Where have you gone?’
‘Sorry, I just dissociated back to the court room where they were gaslighting me right in front of the judge.’
‘What? What did the judge do?’
‘She just adjourned the hearing for a lunch break or something.’
‘And when she came back? What did she say?’
‘I have no memory of that, except the smug look all over the barrister’s face as he handed me a great thick wad of bank statement photocopies.’
‘So it sounds like the domestic violence situation they’d just demonstrated was swept under the carpet?’
‘Yes, we were told numerous times by our lawyers that DV isn’t taken into account at all in the Family Court.’
‘That’s crazy!’ Bea shook her head slowly.
Sophie ate her raw vegetables, her mind blank.
After some minutes of staring out the window, Bea relived what she could remember of the time she stayed in the brand new home that Sophie and her ex had just moved into. She remembered the feelings of helplessness when she tried to talk about it with Sophie’s mother, because her sister-in-law refused to speak about it.
When Bea tried to suggest to Sophie that she needed to do something about the horrible way her ex was ignoring Sophie, there was nothing either of them could think of. It just felt so hopeless.
Bea looked at Sophie. ‘I can see why you felt powerless to do anything about his behaviour when you were living with him. If the court didn’t take action when evidence was right in front of them, then what chance did you have?’
Sophie began to sob. Bea held her hand.
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