Hand on the bible, I took the oath “I swear that the evidence I shall give, shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God”.
I swallowed and stared directly at who was first to question me on the stand. I couldn’t bring myself to look around the courtroom, terrified of the familiar faces I would see and what they were about to hear.
My hands woven together tightly in my lap, having hot flushes and starting to sweat down my back, I clenched my stomach and commanded the nausea to stop.
Taking a deep breath, I reached out with shaking hands and took my statement as it was offered to me. I was instructed to read it out loud to the court.
Wanting to run, wanting desperately to hide, to be anywhere but there, I simply focused myself on the task at hand.
Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Recounting the abuse I had endured for almost two years. Every humiliating detail played out for all to hear, every instance of systematic degradation vibrating down the microphone, bouncing off the walls of the packed but otherwise silent courtroom.
My statement was finished yet my anxiety continued to grow.
Then came the witness examination. Though I told the truth, I could feel their frustration as they wanted me to confirm their assumptions based on my experiences but I couldn’t. I wasn’t there to help them. Or him. I was only there because I had to be. And all I had to say was the truth of what had happened. Though how it applied to this case, I had no idea.
The day after I arrived home from my honeymoon, I was subpoenaed. Told I would need to be in Court and as the day drew near, the media hype surrounding the case grew.
Day by day it was played out on the TV, morning after morning, front page news. My dread continued to grow.
The fact that I had been granted a witness suppression order stopping my evidence being made public gave little comfort for what I had to go through, however, I was eternally grateful that the intimate details of what had played out in the years before I was married could remain, for the best part, confidential.
Except of course, that is, for the seemingly endless number of faces staring back at me in the Court.
After what felt like an eternity I was excused. I lifted my head high, stared straight ahead and walked out with as much dignity as I could muster, despite feeling as if I had been stripped bare for all to see.
Domestic Violence. “Oh it wasn’t that bad” “You could have left” “There’s always two sides to every story”… the stereotypes and misguided assumptions are everywhere when it comes to this topic.
But did you know that more than a million women have experienced an assault at the hands of their partner in Australia alone? That even still, 64% of women who experience physical assault and 81% of those who experience sexual assault at the hands of a partner do not report it? That the WHO describes the levels of violence against the world’s women as being of ‘epidemic proportions’ requiring urgent action?
Hit across the face, lifted by my throat and slammed into the wall, kicked, smothered, degraded, humiliated and insulted, I lived every day in hell. Cut off from the rest of the world, slowly, methodically until I was at the point where I felt totally dependent on him, suicide games used to keep me on edge and confused, terrified to leave for what he would do, instead of running, I tried to ‘save him’ to secure my freedom.
“People keep telling me that I look different, but there is nothing I’ve changed. I know why though. It’s my eyes. They say your eyes are the window to your soul and I no longer have one. I am empty, alone and dead inside, I now just go through ever day waiting for the rest of my body to catch up”. This is part of a letter I wrote myself, or for anyone who might find it one day, I don’t know. I just had to write. I read it back to myself with disbelief that I was the girl who could utter those words.
Four years later, happily married, yet I was having to relive something I thought I had left long ago in my past.
My testimony done, I fled to the car with my Dad behind me, ready to begin the long journey home. Three hours to be exact. And even though it was over, my body still felt exhausted, ill, from head to toe. I closed my eyes and drifted off, just wanting to wake up tomorrow and start again now that this was all over.
Later that night I sat crumpled on the bathroom floor, utterly exhausted and drained. It felt like an eternity that I sat there as the minutes ticked slowly by.
Eventually, I knew it was time to get up. Time to pull myself together and face whatever lay ahead. Slowly I got to my feet and looked deeply into the mirror. Searching every line, every tear stained blemish on my puffy cheeks for some kind of reassurance.
I looked back down again, a slow, determined smile creeping across my face and stepped over the crumpled shadow of a girl that I was leaving behind on the floor.
Purposefully and with new hope, I allowed myself to believe again. Believe in joy, in love and the possibility that life would now be just as I wanted it to be.
Because despite the fact that I had felt tossed around relentlessly from wave to wave, through a dark tumultuous night that had lasted so many years, here in my hand I had the proof, the motivation that life from here on would be my choice.
I would live it my way, on my terms and create my own future. This was my moment, my defining point where I stopped, held up my hand and decided I would never again be that girl.
Because that’s not who I really was. It’s only who I though I had to be. Who I had been groomed to be.
I was Rebecca. Wife, fighter, dreamer, believer.
And now also a mother.
I tucked the small strip with two very definite positive lines back into my pocket and went out to wait for my husband to come home.
Life for me, had simply now, just begun.
I was whole, I was complete, and I was free.