Power and control destroys family - 17 November 2016


Taupo & Turangi Weekender

Author: Laurilee McMichael


Frida had been married for only six weeks when her husband beat her up for the first time.

Then in a fit of rage, he smashed up their house and threw the TV out the top storey window onto her car.

But when he went to court on wilful damage charges she wrote a victim impact statement to say he had never touched her and she felt safe with him and wanted him back. The witnesses to the assault also withdrew theirs, fearing for their safety.

Frida's husband came back but if she thought things would get better, she was wrong.

We can't tell you Frida's real name or where she lives as she's worried her husband will harm her or her children. Five years later, having escaped what became a physically and psychologically abusive relationship she's now made it her mission to raise the issue of domestic abuse, particularly psychological abuse, which is subtle, insidious and almost always hidden.

The middle-class professional mother of one met her future husband in 2011 and married him within three months.

She says her friends and family were upset by the hasty nuptials and tried to warn her off him.

"They saw something they didn't like and his reputation wasn't the best. He had had violent relationships before."

But Frida believed him when he said it wasn't him, his exes were crazy accusing him of violence.

"That was the start of it because then from there I kind of lost all my friends so I got really isolated because no one wanted their children around him. He kind of isolated me as well because he would tell me that my friends and family hated me and he was going to protect me from them."

After the wilful damage episode, Frida's husband moved them to a little country town where she didn't know anybody. He told her if she wouldn't come, the marriage was over and to give people the name of a different town and change her phone number so they couldn't find her because, as he put it, they weren't her real friends.

Her parents went to court and gained custody of her young son because they feared for his safety. This gave her husband more ammunition. He told her her parents had taken her son because they hated her. She believed him. He was on methamphetamine, and he introduced her to it too. That made her even more dependent on him because he was the person getting it. He was violent too. There was physical abuse, beatings, strangulation.

But when she got pregnant she kicked the meth. After her daughter was born, her husband went to prison for possession of an unlicensed firearm. It was a chance for Frida get her life back on track. She got back into contact with friends and family. She wanted to get her son back and she had to pass three-monthly hair follicle drug tests for a year before she could.

When her husband came out of jail he wanted to try to live a normal life. He gave it a shot. He gave up the drugs, but instead he turned to alcohol. Now, he was getting plastered every night, but for Frida it was easier because it meant if the police turned up, there was nothing illegal.

The physical abuse began again, but also more subtle emotional harm. Constant put downs, threats of taking the children away, criticising her in front of her son and telling her his mother was a bad mother.

"'Your mum's awful to you, she doesn't even like you, she wishes she never had you'. My son lived in quite a lot of fear while he was around."

He'd tell her she was beautiful one day and then spend the next week tearing her down. He would drive erratically, speeding up and swerving at lampposts to frighten her. He punched holes in the walls, threw bottles and glasses. He would question the things she said, make her she was going crazy or hearing voices. He took all the control away . Gradually, she couldn't function properly.

"I would have to call him 10 times a day to ask him stupid stuff, like should I have a shower now? Do you think I should wash my hair?

"He was the chief decision maker and he would say things like 'you can't make decisions, people use you. Don't make a decision, ask me'. I became incapable of making a decision for myself."

It didn't stop there. He rang IRD and WINZ alleging she was committing fraud. They found nothing. He rang the police saying she couldn't look after her children.

Things had been rocky for a long time when she finally asked him to leave. There had been another beating, this time when he had disagreed with something she said. He had hit her in the face with such force that he split her cheek, broke her molars and knocked her out - while she was driving the car. A friend of Frida's who was also in the car, was shocked but it was lucky she was there. Frida's husband said later that if she hadn't been, he would have killed Frida. He seemed proud. She didn't seek medical help because she knew they would ask how she had got the injuries.

It was about four months after that episode that she realised he was using meth again. Her friend had already warned her that if she didn't leave him, he would kill her. She told him to go. But then she missed him. He came back. He left again and then came back.

Frida discussed the abuse with Women's Refuge, who showed her an illustration of a wheel showing power and control. She realised her husband ticked every one of the boxes. It was the first time she realised what was really going on.

She went to the police, who assessed her as at high risk of being murdered, and put her on a police watch. As a domestic violence victim she had extra help from WINZ and Women's Refuge conducted regular welfare checks.

But her husband wasn't finished. He had taken her name off their joint accounts so she had no access to money. But he made sure all their personal debts and credit cards were in her name. She went from having $30,000 in savings when they met, to owing $30,000 in debt. He refused to give her money and she had to declare herself insolvent.

More than a year later, he went to prison on charges of assault with intent to injure, wounding with intent to injure and breaching a protection order. He pleaded not guilty, showed no remorse. He got three and a half years' jail.

Now Frida is trying to get on with her life again, looking after her children, rebuilding. She's been working on getting herself and her children right, with counselling and courses, but worried about what her husband will do when he gets out of prison. She hopes she has enough safeguards to keep herself and her children safe.

She is also working for the domestic violence campaign herself to tell her story and highlight what abuse looks like. Sadly, her story is far from unique.

"It's really not different to what's happening to a whole lot of other people out there."

She also wants to highlight the dangers of psychological abuse because it is so much harder to detect and prosecute than physical violence. For people who think they may be being psychologically abused, she says starting with the power and control wheel is a good place because like many others there were things on it she had no idea about.

"It's about assessing what love is and isn't and making healthy choices for you and your children ... the cycle needs to stop."

See the Power and Control Wheel

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