I never thought of myself as a vulnerable person, who would put up with abuse at the hands of a man. I grew up on a farm where Dad expected the same toughness from meas he did my brother. Dad’s greatest role models were the strong independent women he had grown up with, and he expected the same from me.
When I was in my first year of university, I met a guy who was 6 years my senior, handsome and keen on pursuing a relationship with me. I was intrigued by his cultural background. I was flattered that he was interested in me.
My Dad never liked him and wouldn’t engage in any conversation with me about him. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just be happy for me. I spoke incessantly about him, and Mum indulged me in this hysteria. She was excited for me. My relationship with my Dad started to fray.
After a year together, my boyfriend’s lease came to an end, and we decided to move into a share apartment at UniLodge. He was desperate for a place to live, and things had been going well. I am a spontaneous person and had thought, why not?
Not long after we moved in together did his true personality start to unravel before me. I got to know that he smoked a lot of weed, spent a lot of time on his phone, and was exceptionally vain, spending hours obsessing over his appearance.
I started to witness him getting into punchups with random people on nights out. He got into these drunken rages. It was vile. The first violent night I witnessed was a horrible punch up with a guy outside the Melbourne building. I ran in to intervene and pulled him off the guy. He pushed me out of his way. I was thrown almost off my feet. I tried to drag him away as bouncers yelled at him to disappear. I walked past two bypassers and overheard one say to the other, “I bet he hits her too”. I was shocked. Did they really think that? As I walked home he started to shove me in the back. He shoved me again and again, laughing. I yelled at him to stop. I looked over my shoulder and noticed that the police were following us home. Perhaps they were watching to see if he would assault me. They eventually turned around.
The weed smoking was confronting. He couldn’t operate without it. If I tried to raise it with him, he would shout at me that “I was causing his depression.” He yelled at me if I dared to talk or argue with him while he was high.
The violence on nights out became a weekly occurrence. We went home and I was consumed by shame, humiliation, anger, and disappointment. He yelled at me that I was his woman and I should not have undermined him by apologising to the guy he assaulted. I threatened to move out. I started packing stuff in my car and drove off. But I felt like I had nowhere to go to. I hadn’t confided in anyone what was happening. I was too ashamed. I stayed in the car for hours until he convinced me to drive back.
Another night, we fought because I discovered he was flirting with another girl over text. I ran upstairs and started sobbing uncontrollably on the floor of our apartment. I felt trapped. He came in and started shouting at me to stop crying. “Shut up!!!” He grabbed a 15 kg dumbbell and raised it above me, threatening to drop it on my head. I was sure that my neighbours would hear what was going on, and the police would be knocking on my door. But nobody came.
The next day he apologised and rang the girl he had texted in front of me. He told her he had a girlfriend, that he was really drunk and to please not contact him again.
I discovered medication in another language and a psychiatric report from a doctor in his home country. I couldn’t read it. I didn’t know whether it was reasonable to understand that his violent behaviour was a result of whatever he was being medicated for. I forgave him.
But things didn’t get better, they got progressively worse – I discovered abusive messages to women I’d never heard of. When I confronted him he completely denied it. He deleted the messages so I couldn’t see them again. I messaged one of those girls to ask what was going on: “Why did he say what he did? I don’t understand. I’m revolted, what is going on?” She responded saying I should speak with him about it.
I suffered for several more months. I isolated myself from my friends. He began tormenting me by hinting that there were other women in his life, but then trying to convince me I was going crazy.
I felt that I was dating a complete monster, but I didn’t want people to know that I was dating such a horrible person. I was consumed by shame. How could I possibly tell my friends, let alone my parents what I had been putting up with? How could I break the lease? I couldn’t afford to pay by myself.
Not long after this incident he came home drunk and high, and attempted to cook food in the apartment. It was 3:00 am. Oil was going everywhere, and I was scared he was going to start a fire. I tried to stop him from cooking and he shouted at me. He grabbed a knife and started stabbing at a pan. I pleaded with him to stop and tried to take it off him. He lurched at me with the knife, threatening me with it, sneering. He smashed a glass at my feet. With shaking hands, I messaged a guy who knew him at Kinloch. I asked him to come over and get rid of him. He came over and removed my boyfriend from the apartment. He was sweet to me – saying that what he did was not okay and trying to comfort me as I cried. I was so grateful for him for helping me out, that is, until he sent me a message hitting on me the next day.
Another guy from campus who had witnessed a few incidents came up to me and said he realised I must be really struggling to cope with my boyfriend’s behaviour and if I wanted to chat he would be happy to. I took him up on the offer, only to have him hit on me.
Not long after this incident my boyfriend went overseas for his brother’s wedding. I felt a wave of relief. I didn’t know what to do, how to get out. We had a lease together and I felt like I wasn’t in a financial situation to continue it myself. I guess 20-year-old me didn’t think that there was help out there. I thought there is no way that UniLodge would let me break my lease, which I realise now was wrong.
When he was overseas I received a message from a random woman, telling me that she had been dating my boyfriend for a few months only to find out that I existed. We spoke on the phone, and she told me everything.
I asked her if he had been sleeping with her without a condom. She said yes. She asked me. I said yes. We both sat on the phone in silence. That was the moment that I felt like the most abuse had been committed against me. I went on birth control pills on the condition that it was just him and me. He had exposed me to an STI risk that I did not consent to. He had thoroughly violated my body.
I ended the relationship on Skype. I rang my Dad. He couldn’t understand a word I was saying but got the gist. He dropped everything and came straight from the farm to pick me up.
I had exams and sobbed to the Dean of the Law School. He let me destroy every tissue in his tissue box. I am still so grateful for the compassion and empathy he showed me that day. He deferred my exams and listened to me for as long as I needed.
We had run-ins in the months following: I ran into my ex-boyfriend in the carpark, only to have him follow me back and knock on my door. He spotted me at Mooseheads, only to punch the guy I was dancing with in the face. He sent me endless abusive messages.
He lurked around ANU and tried to toy with some of my friends. He threatened to run one over.
Every time I would walk around a corner at UniLodge my heart would drop – would he be around the corner?
I started to open up to my friends about what I had endured. I never told my parents. They think that him cheating on me was the extent of it. I also saw an ANU counsellor for one session who tried to encourage me to look into getting an apprehended violence order. I thought about it thoroughly but decided that the risk was too high. I didn’t want to provoke him.
He had tried to contact me several times by different means over the last few years – using a random person to add me on Snapchat and then sending me an intimidating snap of himself and his friend. Using a different Instagram account to send me a message. Sending me a message on LinkedIn. Sending me several emails with creepy memes.
I desperately wanted to rebuild my life, and I did. I buried everything: my feelings, my fear. I blocked him on every social network and managed to avoid seeing him again. I assumed he must have left Canberra.
He managed to get a message through recently on LinkedIn. I saw he worked in an organisation linked to government in Canberra. I thought, “shit.” He would have access to my address working for that organisation.
A few days later I went outside my house and I saw a car parked on the street down from my house. There were two men inside. I was sure one of them was him. I started shaking. I jumped in my car and tore off. I kept thinking, “surely not. Surely not.”
A few weeks later I was in a bar that I frequent, where I have always felt safe for the last three years. No way he would go to a place like this. I was with my new boyfriend. We were kissing when I saw someone out of the corner of my eye. It was him. A few people between us, he was staring at me. Glaring. He walked into my circle of friends, to stare me in the face. He turned around and proceeded to stare at me from farther away. I felt faint. I wanted to get out of there. I was terrified he was going to king hit my boyfriend. I rushed us outside and quickly jumped in a taxi.
This latest experience has really shaken me. I do not feel safe. I have expressed this to several of my friends, some of whom understand completely, others who do not. I had one male friend say to me “Maddy, you can’t live your life in fear.” Another said, “Oh but he didn’t actually punch anyone so I’m sure you’re fine, you’re safe.” These comments are deeply concerning. I know the man better than anyone else. If I say he is capable of harming me or the people I love, who are you to say otherwise?
Since this incident, I have started to come to terms with the fact that I have not fully recovered from the trauma I experienced from the relationship. These traumatic memories are the most vivid. They are etched in my brain. I have decided to take steps to properly heal.
I hope that in reading this, university students such as yourselves will be more attuned to how abusive relationships can occur. Even though we’re educated, fun-loving, university students, it doesn’t mean that abuse could not be happening in the dorm next door.
A vulnerable woman is not meat, or fair game.
If you have a friend who is isolating themselves in a relationship, it is vital to persist in keeping the connection alive and ensure that a safety rope for them is still there.
To those who are experiencing abuse – help is out there. It will surprise you how seriously most people take abuse and are willing to go out of their way to help you.
Domestic Violence Crisis Service ((02) 6280 0900)
The DVCS provide 24/7 crisis intervention services to anyone who is experiencing, or has experienced, domestic and family violence. The crisis services include telephone support, attendance with police at domestic and family violence incidents, access to safe emergency accommodation, safety planning and referrals to support services. Concerned family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and medical and allied health professionals are also very welcome to call the 24/7 telephone crisis line for information and guidance on how to support someone. It is a free, confidential service that does not require a medicare card.
(02) 6125 2442
This is the phone number to book an appointment with ANU Counselling. You can book a standard appointment (50 mins) anytime. To book an on the day appointment for urgent help (25 mins) call at 9am or go into the Counselling Centre just before 9am, as these appointments are first in first served. You can receive 6 free sessions per semester. You do not need a medicare card to access this service, but you must be an ANU student. They will not tell the police or the university that they have spoken with you.
1800 737 732
This is over the phone counselling and it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can also refer you to local services. It is free of charge. 1800 RESPECT has a triage system, so the first person you speak to is not a counsellor. We recommend that you request to be put through to a counsellor straight away.
ANU Women’s Department
Contact the Women’s Officer, Laura Perkov:
The Women’s Department is part of ANUSA, and it advocates for and supports all ANU Women and non-binary students. As Women’s Officer, Laura can provide pastoral care, referrals to local support services, and give information about options for reporting within ANU and the support ANU can offer.
ANU Queer* Department
Contact the Queer* Officer, Matthew Mottola:
The Queer* Department is part of ANUSA, and it advocates for and supports all Queer* identifying students. Matthew can provide pastoral care, referrals to local support services, and give information about options for reporting within ANU and the support ANU can offer.