Margaret's Story
sometimes she'd be in tears on the phone, traumatised by his yelling and blaming

It was an eye opener to me - it brought home to me that this happens in New Zealand because it has been such a hidden topic until now. I realised the different kinds of abuse that there are, itís not just physical.

Caley Wiki

I had a few years of mistrusting relationships after the break-up. I was borderline on mistrusting men, but I thought that was an extreme reaction.

Then I got pregnant with my younger daughter. I had taken in boarders and I had a relationship with one that developed to where we became intimate. I went into shock when I realised I was pregnant. So did he. He showed early in the piece that he had power and control issues and there was no way I was going to entertain someone trying to control me again, so it died a quick death.

I had a feeling of shame about being pregnant and I was tempted by the idea of having an abortion, but that’s against my beliefs. I was considering adoption and then, at my mother’s funeral, my big sister said, “Don’t do that. If I have to, I’ll look after your baby ‘til you get back on your feet.” Just those words of encouragement were enough to make me decide I would see it through.

When I asked for maternity leave my job was disestablished. So after I had the baby I was forced to go on a benefit. When my daughter was six months old, I started applying for every job going.

The Hamilton Abuse Intervention Programme (HAIP) was advertising for a facilitator. Even at the interview I was thinking “I don’t know anything about family violence”. It wasn’t till much later that the realisation came that I’d lived in it in my childhood and my marriage. I just hadn’t ever identified it.

Part of the training was participating in a women’s support group on domestic violence issues. I thought, “Wow! I wish I’d known all this years back.” For me, it named things – what had happened to me and the effect these things had had on me. It also helped me recognise the tactics my ex-husband had used and was still using when we had contact over the kids. I learnt terms like emotional abuse, coercion, minimising, denying and blaming.

After that I could look at his behaviour more clinically. When you are in it, you know it’s happening but you don’t know what it is. It’s like you’re looking at the sky and thinking “well, the sun’s not there” but you’re not identifying that those are clouds that are covering the sun until someone says “did you know those are clouds?” Once you are able to say “those are clouds” you can clearly identify them and go from there.

I learnt strategies so that I could challenge my ex in a way I hadn’t been able to before. There were times when I’d be talking about something I was feeling and he’d dismiss it – as if to say “that’s not as important as how I feel”. But now I’d take that conversation back and say, “I’m talking about my issue, I’m not talking about your issue. I don’t need you to compare how you’re feeling with how I’m feeling. My feelings are important in their own right.”

I believe we have to model good behaviour. We need to help kids know what is acceptable, healthy behaviour and what’s abusive, controlling, bullying behaviour – by anybody, whether it’s parents, friends, family. We need to help kids know that they don’t have to accept that kind of behaviour and how they can convey that in their own language in a positive, respectful way. It’s not about being disrespectful to their parents, but it is about holding their ground and even challenging their parents.

Typically, when I work with women, their reaction is “why didn’t they teach this stuff at school?”

As a society we don’t teach our kids how to have relationships – how we respond to what people say, especially things we disagree with, how to assert ourselves respectfully but firmly, and understanding why we say what we do and do what we do.

That’s what the youth we’ve worked with in HAIP aren’t getting from anywhere else. Many don’t have anyone to talk to about what is happening in their own families except their peers – who are as ill-informed as they are. So sometimes their solutions are outside of the law. Recently, several girls beat someone up at their school. One of their friends had been raped, and no one had done anything about it. They didn’t have any faith in the police or society, so their response was to mete out their own kind of justice.

We hear that many young people who see their mothers being beaten repeatedly by their father or stepfather are just biding their time, waiting for their chance to kill him

I want to get the message out that we all have an obligation and that we can all make a difference. And that starts with our own behaviour, and modelling it and practicing it with our own children.

You often hear the term ‘early intervention’. But where does early intervention start? To me, it means starting right now. It could be working with a woman who has been a victim of violence. For her that might be an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but if she’s able to look at how she interacts with her children and can encourage them to look at their relationships – that’s early intervention.

People are now challenging it when they see violence. I don’t necessarily mean personally intervening. But if you know there’s something going on next door, call the police. It’s better to be safe than overly cautious. Drink driving campaigns have made it totally unacceptable to drink and drive. Family violence has to be treated in the same way – because it is totally unacceptable.