Patricia Hughes was born in Brisbane and has become a full time writer after having started her career six years ago with her best selling narrative, Daughters of Nazreth. She followed her success with another non-fiction named Enough and now has moved onto crime thrillers, something she has always wanted to do. Patricia now lives on the Gold Coast where she has based her new crime novel, Out of the Ashes, released in October through Zeus Publishers. She has just completed a sequel to this latest thriller to be released next year.
Interview with Patricia Hughes
What would you like to see change in the major political parties’ responses to assisting women who have experienced domestic violence?
As with most governments, they handle the situation with a ‘band-aid’ effect but I think this is because their hands are tied. Provision is made at the moment for victims to be moved to a safe place and offered support and counselling and if we are realistic, this is probably the extent of their ability. They can’t make the perpetrators stop abusing and they can’t stop a lot of the women from going back to their abusers. All they can do is pick up the pieces by offering their support. Ultimately, we all have to be responsible for our own actions, as do they abusers. We have to be able to look at ourselves objectively and decide whether we want to take the abuse or leave. When we do leave, the governments can then step in with the help needed. If I have any criticism at all, it would be the level of funding that is available. It is at a bare minimum.
What are your feelings about the way the Australian legal system deals with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence?
As a past victim, I was truly shocked at the leniency that my abuser received. When you stop and think about it, it is actually assault but for some reason, domestic violence doesn’t get the same reaction. Possibly this is because it happens in your home and with no witnesses and more times than not, the women don’t press charges. We all know that is because the women are scared of infuriating an already out-of-control man but it is also the reason why law enforcement officers throw their hands up in despair. Another reason is shame and even as I say that, I don’t know why it is we feel shame. Abuse is the other person’s lack of control, not ours. More severe penalties by a judicial system is a good deterrent for any offenders.
What do you see as being the impact of domestic violence on children who are in the same environment? What observations can you draw from the research done in this area?
We all try to save our children from the horrors of violence especially in our own home and this is no different. They are the real victims here because they are innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever and have no control of their life. We, as women, can choose to leave our abusers or choose to stay. Our children don’t have that luxury. They are dependant on our choices whether they want to stay or go. They have no choice.
What avenues of assistance are open to children who are the victims of domestic violence be it in a direct or indirect way?
As with women, children have access to counsellors at their disposal but I think most women will agree with me, that prevention is better than a cure. Taking them away from this abuse and not allowing the continued exposure of this violence to them in the first place is by far better than years of sitting with a counsellor trying to make sense out of a horrendous experience.
Can you comment on your experience of writing “Enough.”
Writing this book has been a therapy for me on its own. It has allowed me to put everything into perspective and to see it for what it was: a situation that was not my fault. It has allowed me to sit back and use it as positive re-enforcement and say ‘I was a victim but I’m not anymore. I’m a survivor.
What has been the response to your book?
There has been a great deal of resistance to Enough and it’s purely because of the subject matter. Domestic Violence is one of those ‘nasty’ subjects that people avoid. Most book sellers are happy to order the book in for you but they are reluctant to have it sitting on their shelves. The main reason for this is despite the fact that it is a self-help book and I’ve been told well written, the women who need to read it, find it too hard to go in to the shops and ask for it because of the shame they feel. They don’t want to be labelled a ‘victim of domestic violence’.
Why do you feel that the crime of domestic violence against women is under-reported?
Shame keeps a lot of women quiet. Domestic violence is an attempt to dominate and control and this mistreatment breaks down defences leaving the women with very little self-esteem and self-worth which helps to keep them silent. Also, like rape, domestic violence usually happens with no witnesses and unfortunately, most women have nowhere else to go. So they put up with the abuse in the hope that it is a one-off or two-off situation. This only makes things worse because they create more pain for themselves in the way of loneliness.
Are there common attributes associated with the men who are perpetrators of domestic violence?
Abusive men seem to share certain characteristics. Some forms of abuse are subtle and can easily be denied but aggression, anger, intimidation, manipulation and control are the main patterns of abusive behaviour. It is an attempt to establish control over its victim. Victims, however, avoid coming to terms with the abuse because there is usually an attentive stage filled with regrets and promises: reasons to deny the abuse is happening. But during this stage, the abuse is rising and tension increases. They can appear kind, affectionate, sensitive, and thoughtful, showing social charm and a winning personality but can also show selfishness or a lack of empathy for others. They have a low level of tolerance for the mistakes of others and are quick to anger over trivial matters. Perfection is expected, leading the women to impossible standards. Their behaviour is inconsistent keeping their victims unsure and afraid to make any decisions in case this leads to another bout of violence. They can also appear protective and concerned for your welfare but ultimately this leads to a possessiveness that leaves the women unable to make independent decisions on their own. And they take no blame for any mishaps that happen. Abusers often blame circumstances, life and even their victims for their own reaction to stress and their intensity of emotions and lack of emotional control are danger signals that should be noted.
Are there common attributes associated with women who are the victims of domestic violence?
Women , as a whole, are peacemakers and this is probably one of the reasons that abusers find it easy to manipulate them. We live in a male oriented society where men are dominant and regarded as the ‘boss’. Todays women have been exposed to past generations that look at the men as the head of the family. We have grown up with this and it is very hard to break the pattern of acceptance. What women need to do is to realise that this does not mean that men are permitted to be aggressive and that a modern relationship is a partnership with both parties allowed their views and opinions.
In your book, you speak of physical, verbal, psychological and social abuse. How do you see yourself interacting in a social situation when subtle or overt derogatory comments against women are insinuated with humour and sarcasm? Do you feel that women need to raise their voices against such remarks even though they are put forward frivolously? Why?
You will always get people who say ‘it’s her own fault’ for going back. The trouble is these people don’t realise that in these women’s minds, there is no where else to go. People not directly involved do not see domestic violence as the serious social problem it is and although it does no good to be complacent about derogatory remarks, it also does no good to let them slide. Voicing your opinion is your prerogative and right and you have a right to be heard. If nothing is said, then the issue stays in the background.
Do you feel the question, “How will I survive financially?” How will I take care of my children?” are the critical questions in a woman’s mind that leaves her feeling helpless and powerless to do anything but return to the abusive relationship? How do you advise women who feel that they are incapable of surviving financially if they left the abuser?
A lot of women decide to stay in an abusive relationship for many reasons. One is economic dependence. They may have children and their husband is the sole provider and they have no income of their own. Some decide to stay because we know that domestic violence is an attempt to maintain control and this mistreatment breaks down self-esteem after being told time and time again how useless they are. The decision to stay is overpowering and inevitable. Another is they are justifiably scared that they will be abused if they stay and followed by an enraged man is they go and they find themselves in a Catch 22 situation. Some women hate and love their abusers at the same time. Anger, confusion, fear and hurt all create a turmoil of emotions. What some people don’t know is that abusers can be remorseful after every episode. These women are confused by this show of love and willingly stay to feel that warmth and acceptance. We all crave love and that is another reason why some women stay.
What is your answer to the question you pose in “Enough” : How did love turn into abuse and violence?
That is a hard question. How does love turn into abuse and violence? My only feelings on that, and this is purely from my own experience, is that it was never true love in the beginning. It was a relationship based on manipulation, control, anger and submission. That is not love.
What was the turning point for you when you felt that you had had ‘Enough’ of the abuse?
My ‘enough’ was long coming. Like many women, I thought I had caused his mood changes. If only I didn’t say that or if only I didn’t do that. I knew the relationship wasn’t ideal but I had hoped it had potential because he wasn’t always abusive. He could be kind and loving. It took me a while to see that it was just an act and another way of manipulating me into doing what he wanted with no thoughts or feelings for me. Unfortunately, some of us have to nearly lose my lives before we realise that they will never change. It took the advice from a doctor to finally make me understand what I was doing with my life and my children’s future. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of that doctor and thank him.
How is life for you and your boys now? Do you feel that the pain of your 18 months experience of domestic violence diminishes with time?
Nothing will ever make the memories go away. And that is a good thing. Never try to forget what you went through. Use it as reinforcement that it is something you’ve overcome and be proud of your achievement. Think of yourself as a survivor and remember that being a punching bag for someone is something you will never go back to. You are a survivor! In my book, I have listed seven steps but I think the final one is vital. Learning to move forward. I have learnt that not all men are abusive and trusting is a natural emotion. I have moved forward in my own life and I am now happily married. The memories will never fade but I don’t dwell on them now. I have learnt to accept that things happened to me but it’s in the past now. I’ve managed to put it behind me and concentrate on the future rather than the past and that life can be rewarding and fulfilling.
Speech by Patricia Hughes
Delivered in Perth at the Amnesty International Conference for Violence against Women as well as The Queen Street Mall launch, sponsored by The Body Shop as an advocate against Domestic Violence.
There is a culture of violence engulfing our world. To our shame, future generations will look back on this period of history and identify it as one of the most violent periods ever with the severity of war and terrorism. We are almost becoming immune to seeing it splashed all over the news and television on a daily basis. But with all the expressions of violence, the worst is domestic violence. Women and children in huge numbers live in terror in their own homes, weighing up every word they say, always on the edge, afraid to relax and doing their best to please and calm their persecutors even knowing that their best will never be good enough to prevent the next attack.
Domestic violence is not just a curtain raiser for a much bigger event. It’s an event in itself. People not directly involved in domestic violence don’t believe that it’s the serious social problem that it is. It’s existed for centuries and has been hidden and ignored firstly by a society that sees it as a taboo subject to be swept under the carpet. And secondly, by the victims themselves who have chosen to keep quiet, mostly out of shame. The seriousness of this problem is diminished by the fact that like rape, the crime of domestic violence is under-reported because it usually occurs at home and with no witnesses.
One question everyone seems to ask is ‘So why don’t these women just leave?’ One factor I’m sure you’ll agree keeps women under the control of these men is they’re scared. They have this underlying hope that the man’s behaviour is just a one-off or two-off occurrence and it will stop. Unfortunately, most times it doesn’t. Even when it seems it couldn’t get any worse, not all women decide to leave their abusers.
A lot of women decide to stay for many reasons. One is economic dependence. They may have children and their husband is the sole provider so they have no money of their own. Some decide to stay because we all know that domestic violence is an attempt to establish dominance and control and this mistreatment breaks down their sense of self-worth already low after being told repeatedly how useless and worthless they are. The choice to stay is inevitable and overpowering and therefore they put up with the abuse. Another is that they are justifiably scared that leaving will not end the abuse. They find themselves in a Catch 22 situation where they are abused if they stay but then they are followed and terrorised if they leave. Statistics show that nearly HALF of all women murdered by their spouses are, at the time, separated or in the process of separating. We hear about this all the time on the news. All too often a woman knows she will be pursued by an enraged man. This is after she has made the decision to uproot herself and her children all with varying degrees of shame, low self-esteem and self worth.
Another reason is people who are abused often hate and love their abusers at the same time. Anger, confusion, fear and hurt all create a turmoil of emotions. What a lot of people don’t realise is that these violent men can appear remorseful after every attack and show regret for their actions. These women are confused by this show of love and willingly stay in order to feel that warmth and acceptance. We all crave love and human contact and this is another major reason why women go back to their abusers.
So considering all of this, why isn’t the question, ‘How on earth do these women manage to leave at all?’ And why do we never ask that question? Why do we always throw our hands up in horror and disbelief when someone keeps going back for more? Too often, you hear men say that it’s ‘her own fault’ for going back. The trouble is these people don’t understand that in these women’s minds, they have nowhere else to go.
I know these women don’t know where to turn or who to turn to because ten years ago, I was in this exact same position. Not many people seem to know the answers and even fewer people seem to care and no-one seems to understand the extent of your wounds both physical and psychological. People say wounds can’t hurt but I beg to differ. Emotional wounds need to be dressed and attended to, and long after the bruises have healed, the words still remain to haunt and damage you. Being a punching bag and experiencing emotional abuse in the form of intimidation and humiliation are almost on a par as far as women are concerned. This is why the majority of women tend to withdraw from a society that regards domestic violence with such disregard.
Mainly because of the shame they feel, they hide their injuries and this only creates more pain in the way of loneliness. Shame keeps a lot of women quiet and sometimes they refuse to put their fears into words because the words make them concrete and inescapable. I myself went through terrible agonies to keep the truth to myself. So why did I accept this dreadful behaviour? Why did I let things go as far as I did? It took me many years to ask myself the same questions but when I did, the answer came quickly and succinctly: because I thought it was ‘my fault’. Something in me not him. I’d read horror stories of women who end up with burn scars, broken limbs and dead children and like everyone else, I thought, ‘That’ll never happen to me.’ But before I even realised it, I was a statistic. One woman in every four who are abused by their partners.
Those who work to provide safe places and relieve the suffering of victims and survivors of domestic violence have puzzled for many years over the fact that societies everywhere seem willing to tolerate extreme levels of violence against women and children by their male partners and ex-partners. But it’s never too late and society can start to help these women NOW.
Prevention plays a huge part in the fix and in my book ‘Enough’, I’ve devised seven identifiable steps. The first step is Identifying Abusive Behaviour and the second is Recognising Abusers. Some forms of abuse are subtle and they can easily be denied. It can be as subtle as not liking the way their partner is treating you. At first they may appear kind, sensitive, affectionate and thoughtful but abusers have a low tolerance level and expect impossible standards that don’t seem to apply to themselves. The patterns of aggression, anger, intimidation, manipulation and control begin to appear and leave victims dependent on their abusers.
The third step is preparing for emergencies and is really a short term one. It only covers you and your children during the violence. When the violence suddenly escalates, remain near a safe exit. Think ahead and have the contact number of someone you trust nearby.
The fourth step is getting help after a crisis. This comes in the form of shelters, hotlines and advocacy groups and a great number of them are listed at the back of my book as well as their contact numbers.
The fifth step is Making the decision to stay or leave. Making changes and taking action isn’t easy, especially when you are psychologically fragile. You doubt your own abilities. Thinking clearly in the midst of so much confusion and chaos is again not easy and should be done with professional help.
The last two steps are Remaining Abuse Free and Learning to heal and rebuild.
These last two steps are vital and I want to stress to women that there is a way out and you can make a new life for yourself. You hear people say, ‘He ruined my life.’ Believing that is a crime in itself because you are making yourself a victim for the rest of your life. There is another side and I’m living proof. I won’t ever let myself forget those experiences because remembering is part of the healing process. In one respect, you remember the helplessness and utter desolation but you also know that it’s something you’ve overcome, even though painfully. Sometimes it’s a smell you remember. Sometimes it’s a mannerism. Then suddenly, the memories are there again at the top of your mind. When those memories come back, don’t let them drag you down. Recognise them as something you’ve freed yourself from. Clarify everything and put everything into perspective. Never let yourself forget those memories. Use them as positive reinforcement that you’re a survivor and that you’ve come this far and will never go back. Say ‘I used to be a victim but I’m not one anymore. I’m a survivor.’
If we are serious about wanting to rid our community of domestic violence, we have to employ a radical approach. We begin by asking questions like: Why do men and boys use violence with such ease? Why do non-violent men and boys feel so much pressure to fall into line? How early in life does the desire to degrade women and girls begin? How can we change this present culture of violence into a culture of harmony and acceptance?
Up to HALF of you out there know someone who is in a domestic violence situation. Be aware of what’s going on around you and then reach out and help those women. It’s up to us as a society who really cares, to play an active part in the easing of this terrible situation. Every society has a responsibility to respond to domestic violence as effectively as possible,
I’d like to finish with a quote from Edmund Burke, a 17th century Irish philosopher:
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.’