Elaine's Story
People say you can't rescue people I dont agree

New Zealand is a happy country I couldn’t believe you have stories like that but I realised family violence happens everywhere.

Ruslan Idrisov

I went back to school and set out to prove that I did have a brain and something valuable to offer. I did studies in social work, and then I became skilled in the field. My career has definitely come out of my childhood experiences.

In the job I have now, I work with those who commit the most serious offences – including murder and rape. I feel that I work for women with men. I used to think that we needed to protect women and children from men who acted violently. Now I think we all need to do what we can to “say no to violence”. I believe the problem of family violence does not just sit at the level of the individual or of relationships. I think we need to take more of a familial and societal approach.

We need to learn to care for people better. I say to them, “how are you keeping yourself safe?” If men are keeping themselves safe, then there aren’t going to be those victims of male violence. We need to all create safe environments so that people can be honest with each other, so that we can all have a voice and feel heard.

My mother said to me recently, “communication is huge”. She believes that if she and my father had learnt to communicate and be honest with each other, the violence would not have been there. And I believe that if my husband and I had been able to communicate to each other who we were and what was really going on for us, we wouldn’t have had all that psychological warfare.

I want to help men and women have self respect and act with dignity and integrity. It comes down to taking ownership of where you’ve come from, where you’re at and where you want to go.

I hear heavy-duty perpetrators continually blaming women. What they are doing is minimising their own violence. They blame women because they think women are stupid if they don’t leave or if they keep coming back.

Women want what they can’t have in those relationships. They go in with an agenda of wanting a happy family and they don’t get it, but they continue to want it. And if they are with someone who is telling them from time to time “I do love you and I do want you” they attach themselves to that and live in the hope.

It is very difficult to own up to that. How do you face the fact that this person who says he loves you is violent to you? It defies logic but you have to realise that you’re not going to get what you want in that relationship – which is what I finally did.

Why do women stay, and go back? I think what happens is that every time something violent occurs you are developing a kind of reality checklist. When you don’t have a great sense of yourself, you don’t trust your own judgement and because you can’t make sense of it you need things to happen more than once to register them as violence. When my husband did something violating of me, I couldn’t front up to it because it was beyond my comprehension. When I went to the doctor after he had raped me, I couldn’t put words to it because I couldn’t own it. It was only at the end of my marriage, just before I left, that I named it to my husband. I said to him, “You raped me”.

So you can’t expect a woman who’s been treated violently to have the level of self-care that is necessary for her to move out. She can’t. It’s easy to minimise and normalise a certain level of violence when you are in it. I did that.

That’s why you need external comments from others and places like Women’s Refuge and people who are prepared to offer support out of these situations. People say you can’t rescue people. I don’t agree. You need the person who notices, whether it’s the woman down the road or someone working in an agency, to say “I am here if you need me. Violence is not okay.”

I eventually became a Women’s Refuge volunteer. Usually I was just helping women to get from one place to another, but they’d often suddenly open up and talk. I might just say a few words like “no one deserves that” and that would start them off.

Once a woman said to me “I’m a believer in God, and it’s not okay to leave a marriage.” And I replied, “No God would expect you to put up with this. This is violence.” I wondered if I had gone too far , but years later that woman came up to me and thanked me. Her beliefs and values had kept her in that violent situation and what I said had started her questioning.

I’m big on people just being there and allowing others to share where they are at without judging. We are so judgemental! We let people know by all sorts of signals, direct and subtle, that they can’t talk to us about certain things, that it’s not safe to share, that they can’t have a voice. There are little silos you can go to if you are experiencing violence – like Women’s Refuge – but you can’t really say it out loud in society. So I think everyone should give some thought to what their position is around violence, and then be transparent about it.

For me, the important thing is that there are pathways out of it. I will never forget the first shower I had after I’d finally left my marriage. I just felt so free under that shower. I felt I owned my own body, my own space, my own life. I can still remember what that felt like – light and free and aligned with myself. It was an euphoric feeling. It was as if the whole world was possible. I didn’t clearly know who I was, but I felt I was in a very honest and pure place because I had said, “This is not okay. I am worthy of more than this crap.” I was out and on my way to my new life – and to my real self.