Domestic Violence – Jane

The crime – especially the hours of cruel, sadistic torture – forever changed everything I’d been and everything I’d worked hard for all my life. My health, my physical abilities after the injuries, brain-numbing pain, what I looked like – particularly my face and my damaged eye reminded me daily of my ordeal. The crime cost me my wealth, I lost my business and felt unemployable both mentally and physically – incompetent. I found asking for a pension and trying to get housing demeaning, and made worse by dealing with workers with few apparent empathy or caring skills.

My family was altered forever, we lost our home, moved, and every thing changed for my children and for my mother too. Forever. It stole my self-esteem, my ‘can-do’ attitude, my willingness to ‘go the extra mile’ to assist others. The ‘me’ I had been was dead. Above all though, it took away a life-long conviction and belief in truth and justice. That was worse than the crime.

I was damaged literally from head to toe, including a badly smashed leg with a piece of bone actually kicked out of the tibia. The surgeon commented that the leg injuries were damaged “like in a car accident, being rolled on by a horse or being thrown off a balcony”. He said he might have to cut it off. It really hurt but I didn’t believe him.

Visitors were told by my husband ‘She’s broken her leg’ then when they came to see me were shocked by my facial appearance – my eye closed and black, bruising all over, and my swollen throat.  

None of the experts like police, nurses, social workers and doctors thought to take photos of my face – they seemed focused on the leg. Much later, after court, I wondered whether photos might have made a difference – if the judge could have seen how black my throat was, the black eyes, the lumps and bumps, my inability to move because of the immense pain in my spine and head. Of course doctors rightly thought my leg was more serious …but…in the end…in court…only evidence counts. Photos would have counted. Without evidence your truth – and what others say and do – becomes irrelevant.

The police came to my bedside asking me to cooperate with laying criminal charges against this man, my husband, the father of our children, my business partner. They said ‘It is escalating domestic violence and he’d kill you next time’…

Domestic Violence? I’d never ever thought people like me suffered from Domestic Violence and I said to that policeman “But he’s just got a bad temper – he only attacks me every couple of years. Just sometimes!”

I heard myself say these words out loud even as I remembered the sickening thud my head made as he slammed it into the tiled floor, over and over, and as I realised again how close I came to dying during that long, terrifying night…

I was so frightened … of everything. Yet numb. And I felt so stupid. I wasn’t ready to face the insanity of my life – not yet. And they said again that they might have to cut off my leg. Everything hurt and I couldn’t think. I cried a lot.

Taking a Statement
The police said they couldn’t charge him until I made a statement – and they took a statement when I was really woozy from the morphine for pain after the second operation in the past few days. Yet even then it still took them two weeks after that to actually arrest him and charge him with attempted murder and other things. I eventually learned that claiming you were traumatised or drugged doesn’t really mean much, in court.

My loving husband often came to the hospital. All smiles, sympathy and love on the surface, all threat when we were alone. He said it was all my fault, not his. That he’d kill me if he went to jail.

Later in court I found out why I should have refused to cooperate with police, insisting that it wait until I was fit to make that first statement. Knowing what I know now, I wonder how they would have reacted to me if I had insisted on doing it ‘my way’. Not that I knew anything about the matter – except all those TV shows about cops and robbers.

Weeks later I was asked to give a further statement to police. Even in my vulnerable state I’d pointed out at the time of the first statement that I could see mistakes when it had been typed and even spelling mistakes but they assured me it was OK and it could be fixed later.

Great ‘expert advice’ that turned out to be! (NOT). It gave the Defence Barrister an opportunity for calling me “a liar” in court and two different statements to be cross-examined on. Thanks a lot Police! You ought to know better! You see cases and courts all the time – for me this was ‘a first!’ I trusted you to ‘do the right thing’.

Eventually, a curious sort of deal was done between police, the prosecutor and my husband’s defence. They said it was called a ‘Plea Bargain’ but that’s not right because in a real plea bargain, the offender must admit guilt. Of course I didn’t know that. I trusted them to ‘do the right thing’. The original serious attempt murder charges were reduced to “assault occasioning actual bodily harm”. This was reasoned by: They said they would drop the “Attempted Murder” charge because I couldn’t recall him saying “I’m going to kill you”. I did recall him saying “Do you know how easy it would be?” as he choked me, and as I hung upside down and he had his hand shoved hard into my nose pushing it hard toward my forehead, but he needed to have added “to kill you” – apparently. It’s not good enough to ‘know’ what he meant – this man’s law insists he says the words and you remember them exactly.

To prove grievous bodily harm the Crown had to show that the leg injuries were deliberate or reckless or made worse deliberately. They said the leg might have been hurt when I ‘fell’, not when he smashed me into the ground then kicked me repeatedly – right where the bit was kicked out.

No one explained to me what all this bargaining process meant or what any consequences for me might be, and truthfully, all I wanted was to live and be safe. Not that I had any real rights anyway. I just wanted the violence to stop. I just agreed with these experts.  What else was possible? I hoped by not being hard on him it might make the accused less likely to retaliate, and perhaps even save the business we still shared.

It didn’t do either.

Economic Rationalist Job Opportunity
I observed so many inefficiencies as this matter proceeded – from a business perspective the system is old, outdated, inefficient, nepotistic, costly and unjust! I cannot think of any other business that could survive such incompetence. This piece of writing discloses just a few of the inequities for which you and I, ordinary taxpaying people, pay for in this so called system. What a misnomer – there is little that is ‘systematic’, regular, predictable from the victim’s perspective. For example, I (like many victims) was excluded from the court for most of the first day, while the “important” witnesses were heard. 

I was still very disabled at the time – six months later – still on crutches with a plaster cast from hip to toes, and alone, 400kms from my new home, in the place where I had been attacked. It was very hard. Scary. No one offered court support, an explanation of the system, or court preparation to me. I knew my husband had employed a ‘Sydney’ Barrister months earlier. I only met the prosecutor from the Department of Public Prosecution the night before the court hearing, for an hour. Frankly, I was really under-impressed.

The attacks and torture had taken five and a half hours to experience – so it seemed inadequate to me – he wasn’t at all interested in the history, the events, or my experience. I had the uncomfortable feeling that if I had employed a solicitor (although a victim cannot do so) I would not have chosen him. He was very unimpressive – and ignorant of my case and of Domestic Violence.

I still to this day have no idea what all the other witnesses said in evidence in that court. It was too expensive to get the transcripts easily, and by the time I’d saved up the amount the court asked for, the price had quadrupled. I gave up. What else could I have done?  Who do you ask?

Talking about a stupid, time-wasting, costly system, here’s one of many bits that just astounded me. I was “under cross-examination” – I’d given my evidence-in-chief and the defence barrister was questioning me like a bad-tempered afghan, looking down his nose, through his half-glasses, calling me a liar. I did my best to answer his pompous questions, and to not be sidetracked by his behaviour and appearance.

It got to be about 4pm – the end of that first court day and suddenly, there I was, being instructed by the Magistrate not to speak to anyone at all about the matter – including the police and the  prosecutor, until the next court date. Oh, I’d have to stay overnight I thought when I snapped back at the magistrate’s words giving a date was three months away!

Can you imagine that! Three months! Say nothing, speak to no-one.  What a position of powerlessness! No such limits on discussing the matter or seeking professional help were applied to the accused.

Three  months later – back in court – and I was asked – by the afgan in the half-glasses and short pants with yellow socks – over and over, usually in a very confrontational and  accusatory fashion – not just minute detail of what happened on that long, awful night of  torture, but also about the exact words in the first statement taken when I was so ill, the second statement which set things out logically and completely, and then what I had said on that first day of court (exact words), and about several other occasions  where conversations had taken place after the crime. The questions were all mixed up, out of order, often farcial, definitely meant to trip me up. I tried to stay calm. 

I realised that only I, of all the people there – the magistrate, the prosecutor, the defence, the accused, had had no opportunity to review all that material, to prepare for the ordeal of court. And I realised I was absolutely without support of any kind. I wondered why this system was so out of balance. ‘Doesn’t the community care about me?’ I wondered.

Unlike the accused who always had access to my statement and to his legal counsel – available to him for months and months – they had dinner together, got to know each other etc, I heard later that day for the very first time the accused’s version of what he said happened that awful night that changed my life. Now this is nine months after the crime.

His  version was that in fact it was I who attacked him – for that five ghastly hours. He claimed that he just sat there, for hours, and I had attacked him, punched him, kicked him, spat on him and gouged him. He stated he eventually was forced to retaliate (which left me in a wheelchair for six months – smashed from head to foot).

He pointed to a spot on his cheek where he said I’d scratched him.  (And I had ‘admitted’ I scratched him once, because that was the truth.  It was in the street, after I escaped from him after hours of torment and attack, he came after me and smashed me into the ground smashed my leg (it was broken in four places), kicked me repeatedly, and then he tried to strangle me and I scratched him to make him stop. On his face. Once. 

(Lesson – Never admit anything)

I just couldn’t believe it. All these lies. I couldn’t have punched him because I was wearing long acrylic (glued on) fingernails where I could not possibly even make a fist to punch – and if I’d gouged him he’d have been seriously scarred. And spit! How gross!

What physically fit man would take that sort of violence ‘for hours’ – and where was the evidence? How dumb I had been thinking that by the police going easy on him would work out better for everyone – especially the children and the business!

And I didn’t want to die if he went to jail, like he promised would happen.
“These lies will be so easy to disprove!” I thought confidently as I listened to him. So much evidence, so many people to show up  those lies!

In the break I spoke to the prosecution, telling him (a man I’d met only the night before court, and whom I’d been forbidden to speak to for the last three months) about the many who could easily disprove what the accused had said under Oath. I still thought the Oath was important then.

The prosecutor just waved his hand in dismissal and spoke to me in a rather condescending way. He just dismissed me saying ‘Oh it’s too late now, our case is over, and they won’t charge him with perjury. They never do!’ He’ll get off you know’. I thought “what a damn silly system!” and I began to fear, for the first time, the court outcome. How on earth could he ‘win’? 

Didn’t anyone care about the violence? About me?

The magistrate made it clear that he didn’t believe the accused at all and found him guilty and said he wanted to send him to jail. ‘Oh oh!’ I thought. ‘Here’s trouble now – because I absolutely believed he would kill me, as promised!’

The magistrate asked me for a victim impact statement, and what I wanted to happen to him. With the accused’s threats of killing me if he went to jail clear in my memory, with the absolute belief he would kill me’, the very last thing I wanted was for the accused to have anything to blame me for, or any penalty. 

And anyway – as for telling the court – including this man and his pompous solicitor – how totally he had hurt and broken me – no thanks – he had more than enough power already!

He was found guilty of causing ‘actual bodily harm’ and got a good behaviour bond for three years and a $1000 fine that he didn’t even have to pay at all if he was a good boy.

I talked to the police who told me he was going to appeal the decision and they said they’d get all the additional records – like my medical records and witnesses as to the damage I sustained, to the fact I was wearing acrylic finger-nails so could not have punched him, to witnesses who had seen him violently assault me before to overcome his evidence ‘that he had never hit me before’, before any appeal was heard. 

They hadn’t bothered to get them for the hearing – didn’t think it necessary! 

Enter The Appeal 
A year later came the “All Grounds appeal” (the basis for this sort of appeal is “I didn’t do it and even if I did, the  sentence was too severe”. It was supposed to a case heard again. What a fib!

They (police and the DPP) forgot to tell me about the appeal at all until just four days before it was scheduled to be heard. All that evidence they said they’d get for the appeal? “No, they hadn’t called for it!” they said. “Oh yes” they said, “You get it if you can!” they said. So I did.

I found the witnesses, I asked them to contact the prosecutor and I also gave their details to him. They did. He spoke to several. We all understood they would be called. He never had any intention of doing so – you can’t – but he deliberately mislead all of us.

The hard evidence they – the experts “couldn’t get in a year” I got myself, with little problem, in two days in clinical notes from the hospital where I had been taken, where operations were performed, where there was plenty of evidence to show what had happened to me. Especially notes about those nails. And about some of the other bruises etc. Comments by a social worker noting concerns about ‘the need to record all the other injuries I had suffered’. It all clearly showed he had lied many times, under Oath. (It also led me to question the allocation of resources in services.)

When I got to the appeal court, I thought  it odd that the police officer was not there – the night before he’d said he would be. What I later discovered was that not only were the police not there, the prosecutor didn’t call the other witnesses of my ex’s violence and his  perjury they said they’d call either.

You know, even then I still wasn’t really phased. It was so straight forward (I thought!) that Blind Freddy could see what had gone on. But Blind Freddy turned out to be One-eyed Freddy.

Unbelievably, the judge seemed to ignore what was written on the papers in  front of him and dismissed the rare and feeble attempt of the prosecution to get him to pay attention. He began by saying ‘We will not traverse the hapenings of that night!’

Gender Inequality
The judge exchanged some gendered conversation with the appellant and all ‘the boys’ had a little giggle at women’s expense. The judge then took exception to something I’d done AFTER the appellant had been found guilty, with absolutely nothing to do with the matter at all.

Suddenly I was on  trial and NO-ONE is on the victim’s side. So no-one asked me to explain the circumstances. He – the judge – took to asking me questions.

One question had One Hundred & Forty Two words in it! (Try it – see how confusing it gets, add some fear, no idea what he was going on about, in court, no lawyer on your side.) If the situation occurred today, I’d say ‘Huh?’ but that day I tried my best to answer him.

The prosecutor appeared to have lost his powers of speech. Why was he in a tweed jacket and all the others in gowns and wigs? I idly wondered about them.

No one ever asked me what the accused was doing to me when I took the simple (lawful) defensive action I had that the judge found so awful – and it became clear that what I had experienced, endured, suffered and lost in this hideous crime of violence was  irrelevant to this powerful little man. I found myself being asked questions about our entire life together, but twisted, out of contex, allegations that were ludicrous, manipulations I had no chance to address, no chance to show evidence that he was lying. No chance to call witnesses. No chance to challenge the accused.

Even then, I was “gobsmacked” when the judge – a position I had been taught to respect and rely on for the administration of our justice system, and whom I’d thought of as fair and  independent, – called me abusive (and quite wrong) names – like sluttish – even though it was the accused who broke our wedding vows not me; and vindictive and lots of other words allowing the use of the ‘V’ sound – viperish, venemous, venal, etc. 

Now, I thought vindictive people would be the ones that break other  people’s legs – not smash their own so badly they couldn’t walk for two years. Venal – to do bad things for money…..sounded like the legal people in this case really.

To that judge I was not a victim of horrific, life-changing violence. I became the one whose character was on trial. I had no chance to tell the whole truth because you just have to answer their questions of events and it’s easy to avoid the real questions. 

The judge took great pleasure in manipulating the word ‘Complainant’. A victim becomes ‘The Complainant – the one making the criminal complaint for court. He said, with great personal enjoyment of his words, ”The complainant, who certainly complained a lot – pages and pages of complaints of pain….’

It was as if I needed to be put down or humiliated for accepting medication whilst inpatient in hospital undergoing some pretty painful surgery, including having eleven bits of metal inserted to stick the bones together. Actually my back hurt worst of all……

The prosecutor had told me to answer ‘Yes or No, that he’d ask me anything that needed to be clarified – yet he did not ask one, single question. Not one question. Like “What prompted you to take that action?”

The judge said that on the one hand he had a pensioner (me – because of the crime and the absence of income because of the crime’s injuries I sustained) and on the other hand he had, a good businessman ( the appellant). He’d lost “our” business by then so it all seemed a bit untruthful, perhaps a set-up?
He found that, since I had admitted I scratched the accused (I had freely said that because it was the truth, I did scratch him, to get him off me as he tried to strangle me – about five hours after the violence began, after I’d escaped and he came after me), but the appealant denied ever  having touched me, so that meant, legally, that I was at fault. 

He asked, in a puzzled and pompous fashion ‘why would he give such evidence if it were not true (what the accused said was important, what he did was not – perhaps to avoid responsibility, escape a criminal offence, perchance?)

The judge then ignored all the medical evidence and described my injuries as “bruises etc” (rather than damage from head to foot including a leg with a piece kicked out of it). Oh, for a photo of my battered face just then! He said he was unable to find evidence the back of my head was hit into any surface as I had described. That’s because they didn’t get the evidence, call a nurse who had washed the blood off my head etc, felt the bumps.

He said he’d need the wisdom of Solomon to figure it out because one of us was a dreadful liar. He gave the appellant the benefit of the doubt and quashed all charges. Even the Defence barrister was stunned – he asked the judge to repeat what he’d said.

Much merriment followed in the appellant’s camp.

So, from my reflective perspective, it started to look as if it was not such a good idea to have cooperated with all the experts, the police when they said “You have to have him charged or he will kill you”…. Perhaps if I’d made him sell the business we’d both have come out of it OK….

As it was I lost everything, but I’ve already said that.

Anyway, then the  judge said to the prosecutor “There you are Mr Crown, I’ve finished on time for you, understand you are leaving us for a while.” Mr Crown reposted with another gendered remark. Boy’s games!

Was I just a convenience to be squeezed into a time-slot?

Would a single question have made these men late for their important lives?
Was this why my promised witnesses were not even called?

So much for “You don’t have to put up with Domestic Violence” as the  government slogan goes!

When Victims Feel Suicidal
I felt like this: I could throw myself under a train and end it, but that’s tough on the train-driver (come from a family of railway workers), and anyway, then the boys club would have won.

If they couldn’t get my case right with the damage I suffered that night and since, and the ordinary decent person I am, then God help other women!’ was the thought that followed my initial, give up response. I truly understood why people give up and commit suicide.

I felt utterly betrayed, used, publicly raped by these important, powerful men. What a wicked, sick game to play with an unskilled and unsupported victim as the football.

My mother said ‘We should have handled it ourselves.’

I complained to all the “right” people but this one couldn’t intervene in a court, one department blamed another, covered butt, it wasn’t the prosecutor’s job to investigate, it wasn’t their job to prepare me or act in my interest, the police should have done this or that, the judge’s  behaviour is apparently quite normal.

In the end it must have been all my fault anyway. I know I paid. Big-time.

Support? It never occurred to me until it was over that I would need support.

I trusted the experts, the truth and The System. I was an ignorant, unskilled victim. You know, if someone had apologised, someone had explained I’d have been fine. But they all passed the buck. Witness the birth of another justice pioneer.

It facilitated a good basis for VOCAL’s shared healing strategies – one of those  ‘opportunities’ that come from adversity.                               
Charles Dickens, in his novel Bleak House wrote:
“The purpose of The Law is to make business for itself”.
Jane confirms he was, and is, quite right.

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