Learning to swim with the current and finding myself down stream

Learning to swim with the current and finding myself down stream

“Our system genuinely questions the fear invoked by being assaulted; it doesn’t understand the feeling of being powerless to stop it.”

BY Merryn Small, 8 min READ

We watch everyday campaigns to reduce violence against women, to encourage women to step up and speak out unafraid, to raise money for charities to help women affected by violence, to not be a bystander when violence happens and ultimately help us as a society say “No, not cool mate!”

It’s wonderful to see change happening within our society but what happened within our court system – did it get forgotten somewhere in amongst these big campaigns?

While we have our police officers, counsellors, women’s refuges, workplaces, support organisations diligently trying to protect women and put an end to this epidemic (as that’s what it is), our system that is meant to serve justice has does not understand the effects of violence against women. Women who speak up walk into courtrooms and are vilified, are put on the stand and have all their lives details pulled up to the surface and more often than not, made to feel disempowered yet again.

I write this from personal experience, and as I write this I can feel my anxiety rise. I have been assaulted, and I went to the people I thought would help protect me. I went to police – what I didn’t realise is that would be the catalyst of feeling like a perpetrator, not a victim.

“Our system genuinely questions the fear invoked by being assaulted; it doesn’t understand the feeling of being powerless to stop it.”

I sat on the stand for almost four hours while I had questions drilled at me, my private life pulled apart, my medical records invaded and feeling extremely intimidated as every single word I said was dissected, questioned and twisted into new and creative meaning.

But the really unjust part of our justice system is that the person who assaulted me didn’t have to take the stand. The people in our community who we place trust in to protect us, the police, determined that there was an assault, enough to pursue charges yet we don’t hold the person called into question accountable. People are not charged, and there is a bunch of criteria that need to be met including is in the public’s best interest in terms of financial implications to pursue charges against someone. We don’t ask this person to face up to the music and be cross-examined – why is that? Where is our system going wrong?

Our system genuinely questions the fear invoked by being assaulted; it doesn’t understand the feeling of being powerless to stop it. It doesn’t understand the long-term trauma and recovery.

This is what is wrong with our system – people don’t truly understand the impacts of violence, how it occurs, the fear it generates or what runs through a victim’s mind. Pull apart my life, question my character, go through my mental health records but don’t for one-second question the severity of the fear I felt while being assaulted by someone who far outmatched me.

Our system needs to understand better the implications of violence including the intimidation, the effect of trauma, the post-traumatic stress, panic attacks, depression and fear that a person lives with long after the physical symptoms are gone.

Our system lets down the people who seek protection through orders and often takes weeks to serve them and gives the perpetrator a heads up by contacting them to find their whereabouts. If a person is convicted of domestic violence – the bail conditions lift after sentencing, and the victim has to attend court again to seek an ongoing protection order. Why? If someone is found guilty surely protecting their victim should form part of sentencing.

Our society needs to be going deeper than just talking about this issue. It needs to start in our schools; we need to educate our sons and daughters to understand the signs of violent people, we need to understand narcissistic personality disorder better, we need greater communication from survivors of violence and how they have recovered. It may be one time, it may be 1000 assaults but I assure you that you talk to a survivor of violence and assault and they will tell you it took them far longer to recover than the number of assaults they endured, they will tell you there is a sense of shame they live with, they will tell you of the fear they feel afterward. Or the devastation left for families to clean up.

Our system doesn’t include that when considering verdicts or sentencing, just ask the families of Jill Meagher, Rosie Batty or Tara Costigan.

Women are dying – whether that be from stranger violence or family violence. It takes a victim of domestic violence leaving up to 7 times before she will really leave a partner. That’s an insane statistic, and how many of us have said – ‘she chooses to stay.’

There is no choice in it. None. How do friends and family find a place to support this? Watch someone suffering but can’t do anything about it.

We need to do more – we need to teach our sons to be compassionate, to have empathy, to understand that physically they are, more often than not, stronger than women but not to use it.

We need to teach our girls self-worth, how to see the traits of someone violent, how to remain empowered as really, any form of violence, is an attempt to disempower someone else.

This is not to minimise the men that experience violence from women, they certainly do, but 1 in 4 women experience partner violence which is a staggering statistic.

To the beautiful women experiencing this – like this stream – some days you will feel like you are drowning under the weight but eventually the waters will calm, and you will find yourself on the other side, and some peace will encompass you.

First published on The Modern Mummy

 If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for advice or support. This free service providing confidential advice is open 24/7.

In an emergency, call the police on 000. All incidents of violence should be reported to the police.

For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14

If you are in danger, please call the Police – 000

Read next:

What to say to someone you know is experiencing domestic violence 

The movement to end domestic violence in a generation


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