Margaret's Story
I immediately imagined that someone was doing something bad to them

We got thrashings from Mum. My sister and I would go to school with black welts on our legs from the jug cord. Sometimes Mum would make us go out to the hedge and choose a stick to be beaten with. If the stick was too thin or broke you got a worse hiding. We’d all get hidings until someone confessed to taking the biscuits or whatever it was. I used to wonder why Mum beat us so badly – whether it was a consequence of what happened to her as a child, or because of her relationship with Dad, or whether she just saw it as normal.

As a result of what Dad used to do to Mum, I made a conscious decision before I was even a teenager that I was never going to let any guy hit me. But what happened to my elder sister had a greater impact on me, although I didn’t make the link ‘til much later.

My sister had a different father. I recall several times, when she was about twelve and I was about seven, waking up in the middle of the night and hearing noises coming from the kitchen. One time I heard her pleading with Dad not to touch her. I knocked on the door and opened it and saw my sister standing with her back against the kitchen bench with her hands crossed against her chest as if she was protecting herself. Dad was standing over her. I think he was coaxing her to let him touch her. Of course, this happened when Mum wasn’t in the house.

On one occasion, my sister almost promised Dad that she’d let him do it next time if he didn’t do it this time. Then she told Mum that Dad had been trying to touch her breasts, and Mum asked me what I knew. After that I was afraid of being in the same room as Dad, but Mum said, “It’s okay. Your Dad would never do that to you because you are his daughter.”

That aversion to Dad dissipated, but I had a deep distrust of men. I thought the only reason they’d go out with you was because they wanted to have sex with you. I was about 21 when I was first asked out on a date. I said yes, and then a day later I panicked and made an excuse. I went to Britain in my early twenties. There were more invitations and again it was panic stations – “yes ... no!”

I was also aware that if I heard little children squealing, I immediately imagined that someone was doing something bad to them, maybe sexually abusing them, even when they might have been squealing with joy. My mind instantly leapt to the negative.

I used to mull over why it was that I didn’t trust men and it wasn’t till years later that I made the connection with what had happened to my sister.

Before I met my husband I used to think I was going to be an aunt to my nieces and nephews and never get married. I got to know him as a friend first. I think if he’d tried to come on to me with a more sexual approach I would have just run away.

He was a Muslim, from the Middle East. Before we got married he seemed like a happy go lucky person, and there was no violence or shouting or anger. I did tell him if he ever hit me, I was out of there. I don’t think he took it as a threat; that’s just the way it was.

There was one incident before we were married that was a clue to his later behaviour, but I didn’t pick it up at the time. We were on a train and a man tried to engage me in conversation. I tried to bring my partner into it, but this guy kept cutting him out. When we got off the train my partner jumped on this man’s back and started pounding him.

I was in shock at the violence he displayed, and really embarrassed. I took the message that talking to other men could result in violence. But the message I didn’t pick up on at the time was that if he could do that to a complete stranger twice his size, what would he do to me if I got on the wrong side of him? In one of the first incidents I would now call abuse, he spat in my face. That was within the first year of marriage, and it, too, really shocked me.

We came back to New Zealand after we’d been married for about three years. My husband was struggling to establish himself and the anger, intimidation and aggression escalated under financial pressure and stress. Because I’d warned him about not hitting me, he’d just bang me with his body or push and shove me. He’d shout and yell at a high pitch and slam doors and bang things. But just his threatening look made me back down.

He made it clear that things had to suit him. If they didn’t we’d get into arguments. And then out would come all the dirt on my family. Things I’d told him to give him a better understanding of me and where I was coming from were used against me.

We were living in Auckland and he’d opened a restaurant in Hamilton with a business partner. He’d be down there six days a week and home for one day. I dreaded those days. If the tiniest thing went wrong there was instant rage. He’d accuse me of saying things the wrong way, but if I didn’t say anything in order to keep the peace I’d get into trouble for that too. I was always walking on eggshells.

I did the accounts for his business and if I got anything wrong I’d be in big trouble. Once he phoned me when I was at my job because a creditor had called about an unpaid bill. He lost it big time – screaming and swearing – and I was in tears on the phone.