‘My husband has never accepted our son has a disability. I have an intellectual disability and my husband doesn’t accept that either, because he can’t see it.’
My husband has been a bully…
My son and I are currently living in a women’s refuge. I moved into refuge because my husband has been a bully to our son. I always have to protect him and I’m absolutely tired and exhausted from protecting my son from his father. My husband is either having a go at our son or me. He never ever apologises. You have to force him to apologise and even then he will say ‘Oh! Why should I have to apologise? I haven’t done anything wrong’ or he will sit there and say nothing.
A friend of ours phoned my husband to tell him that he was absolutely wrong and rude. He didn’t like that so he was going to make trouble. So I thought ‘Right if you are going to come back to make trouble, I won’t be here’. So while he was away collecting our son I thought ‘Right, he will be away about an hour so I’ll go around by myself and pack up everything’ – so I did. I thought ‘No more, I can’t stand anymore. I’m having headaches galore, I’m frustrated to the T’s, I’m ready to wring his neck. I can’t get through to him, it’s like speaking to a brick wall. He says he will do it and then he doesn’t do it, then he says I’ll never do it. I’m sick of freezing all the time in the winter because the heater is not on or it’s on so low it may as well not be on. Nothing’s ever good enough except the dinner. Well if that’s the only way to get through to him is through his stomach he can stick it’.
When I met my husband
I started working at 25. I met my husband when I was 32. Met him at the Town Hall. I was sitting on this seat and up came this guy and asked me to dance. He was tall, dark and handsome and I thought goodness gracious me someone has asked me to dance. He liked the way I dressed. I like to dress very feminine. We went out together for about two years and lived together before marrying.
My husband’s family is posh – posh and arrogant. They are very snobbish. I was never accepted by his family. My husband doesn’t spend much time with them. His mates are who he spends most of his time with. They all have degrees, and according to them I wasn’t allowed to have kids because I didn’t have a degree. I said ‘What a load of bull crap. If only the people who had degrees had kids there would be a lot less kids around. Where would everyone be if there was no plumbers and anyone collecting the dust bins?’
The way my husband treated me and my son
My husband has never accepted our son has a disability. I have an intellectual disability and my husband doesn’t accept that either. He won’t accept my disability because he can’t see it. He sees it but then he says I shouldn’t act that way. Like I’m not allowed to be me, I have to blend in – so he thinks. But I found out only to his way of blending in. If he wants me to blend in then I have to blend in but if he doesn’t want me to blend in then I don’t have to. So I thought ‘You can shove that. I have had enough. I’m not doing that anymore’. My husband wanted to choose who I could be friendly with and who I couldn’t. When we were first married he controlled all the money. Then he started to give me $40 for meat and vegetables and I was supposed to have what was left over but there was never any money left.
My husband was physically violent towards the dog which hurt me because I love animals more than most humans I think.
I don’t know if he ever wanted a sexual relationship, I don’t know what he wanted, it was absolutely bananas. On the honeymoon we had only one really good day of our marriage. Then the next day we were on a plane and he said ‘Do you mind if I don’t sleep with you?’ I said ‘What! What on earth is going on?’ I said ‘OK if you’re not my husband, where has my husband gone?’ Before we were married he was this fun-loving guy that would make my sides split from laughter then he just disappeared. The honeymoon was just a nightmare from start to finish. He would walk a mile in front of me. He would go for breakfast without me and sit at another table. We had lived together before we got married and we had a sexual relationship so it was a shock to me that he no longer wanted to have sex with me.
Throughout our marriage, when we lived together, we would sometimes have sex but it was like being his personal whore/housemaid/cook. Then when our son was born I became his personal whore/housemaid/mother/cook. He expected me to be the mother and do everything for our son. If our son is sick I look after him, I am the one who does everything for our son. He would only do things for our son if he was forced. He only took our son out three times within the year. One time when I was in hospital with a serious lung problem he visited me and said ‘By the time you come out you will be right to do everything won’t you?’ and I thought ‘Thanks a lot love. That’s really nice.’ He used to send me shopping, I would drag myself one foot in front of the other pushing the trolley. I saw one of the girls from church and she said ‘You’re not well are you?’ Where’s your husband? Why didn’t he come with you?’ I said ‘He wanted to stay home and I didn’t have the strength to argue with him.’ I had actually only been out of hospital for about a week.
The first time I left my husband
I had left my husband once before. The only reason I went back to him was because at the commission house I was having trouble with my son – he used to bash me up. I thought my son needed his father. Members of the church encouraged me to return to my husband because they believe in staying married for life. I do agree but not if you are being abused. No one deserves to be abused. A friend of mine from the church, who is a true Christian and believed that if you are married you are married for life, I don’t think she really knew what my husband was like though. She had that opinion and I have since told her that she is wrong and I think she has finally got it, but she had the opinion that if the husband bashed the wife up it was the wife’s fault because she chooses him in the first place. I said to her that sometimes the man is a good actor and you don’t know what he is really like until it is too late. My husband is a con artist, he conned me, he can con anyone. At the time I returned to him I was also sick and tried of trying to deal with men that call themselves plumbers and electricians, who came to fix things around the commission house and then didn’t.
The first time I left my husband the Department of Human Services was involved. They saw how my husband treated me. My husband hit my son on the head. I reckon he caused the brain damage. Child Protection was brought in because my husband rang Family Services and said his wife was in hospital and he couldn’t look after our son and they phoned Child Protection. I was in hospital. I had had a lung biopsy and I had this machine making my lungs work and I had Child Protection at my bedside saying they had my son. Now it took me a long while to understand that taking my son was the best thing. You see, I couldn’t get it through my head that it was the best thing, but it was the best thing because my husband could not handle him.
They took my son into foster care and I wasn’t allowed to see him. When I told the social worker she said it wasn’t fair. She had a real go at Child Protection. She said that firstly, I was the one in hospital and secondly, I wasn’t the one that had attacked the baby so they had no right to stop me seeing him. I was then allowed to see him as long as I didn’t take him home. You have to fight to keep your children. My son was in foster care for three or four months. My husband said he would fight to get our son back but we could lose the house. I said I didn’t care. He was my son and I would fight for him on my own if I had to. He laughed at me and said that I didn’t have any money to fight. I said I didn’t give a stuff.
At first I was too sick to have my son come home and my husband wasn’t capable of caring for him. Then I was allowed to have our son home but my husband decided he needed to be in crèche. If I didn’t take him to crèche my husband would give me hell. Crèche was all his idea. He kept saying that I couldn’t care for our son so we needed crèche. He turns everything around to make himself look rosy. He was the one that hurt our son but he then turned it around and said I wasn’t coping. Anyone who does what he did is a mean person in my opinion.
My son and I got a private rental flat, then a commission house. I first separated from my husband when our son was 18 months old. We were split for ten years. My son had been seeing his dad for weekends while we were separated. He tried to escape his responsibility as a parent to look after our son when I was sick. But my son’s social worker would say bad luck – she’s sick, he is your son and you need to be responsible to look after him. He has always tried to avoid his responsibility where our son is concerned. There is always an excuse – ‘I can’t do that I’m working’, or ‘I can’t go, I’m busy’. Nowadays he is either too busy on the Internet looking at the bums and the boobs, or too busy with his nose in the paper. I thought, ‘Well that comes before us, you have no time for your son because you are too busy looking at pornography, this is mad’.
When I went back to him
The agreement when I went back to him, this time, was if I was sick or half dead he was to cook or go out for take-away, I didn’t care which one. If he ever had to cook it was absolutely murder and we wouldn’t get our dinner until 8:30 which wasn’t fair on our son, he would be starving. My husband would say he had to do this and that first. Never mind our son may be hungry.
My husband owns his own home. It’s in his name only. He wanted it that way so he was in control. Before we got back together I said the house needed to be in both names. He agreed but when I moved back with him he said it couldn’t happen because of Centrelink. I found out that was a lot of garbage it wasn’t Centrelink after all, it was his control. He made me feel without my name on the house title I was a boarder, our son was a boarder.
We weren’t allowed to do what we wanted. We weren’t allowed to put cushions on the couch. We had to ask permission. I was going to make a nice home for us, machine cushions and curtains but he wouldn’t let me. He threw out in the dust bin over $2,000 worth of craft materials he said I wasn’t allowed to do it. He would put me down and I couldn’t eat, and then sometimes he would put me down so much I would eat anything. The problem is once I start munching I can’t stop. We weren’t even allowed to have someone over for dinner. He said it was because the house was a mess but it wasn’t a mess it only had a couple of baskets on the floor. People come to spend time with you not the house. I love entertaining but I wasn’t allowed. He says he’s too old for our son, he’s too old for BBQs and socialising with others. He has been in trouble at work too for his aggressiveness and stuff. He eats people up and he expects them to just not worry about it.
I don’t trust him – I think he could explode and hurt someone and I don’t think it would take much for him to hurt someone because he has to have his own way.
My husband wanted me to return to him because he wanted a housemaid. When I returned to him I was sleeping in the second bedroom on the floor, while he was in a double bed. When I left him this time he said to me ‘I’ll get you a bed if you stay.’ I said ‘No! What, me being in another room, while you’re sleeping in a double bed in your own room? Forget it.’
What helped me cope
What helped me cope while I was living with my husband was being aware; being three steps ahead of him. Knowing he is in a bad mood and telling our son he’s not in a good mood; doing what he said; keeping the house clean; keeping our son occupied, keeping our son happy because that was half or three quarters of the battle. If I could keep our son happy and occupied that helped a lot with my husband’s moods. Admittedly I did stand up to my rights a few times but that fell on deaf ears and my husband would eventually go back to his old ways. Nick-naming things around the house actually helped me mentally because it amused my son. He could see the fun side and if he could see the funny side it really helped me. Being creative – going out, having a cappuccino. Oh that was wonderful, having a cappuccino. Oh God! that was good. Cake and cream is what I would want if I had a bad day. But then I put on weight and my husband would say ‘You will never be able to lose that weight.’ The guy at the coffee shop knew me and I bet you if I burst into tears I bet you he would have come over and sat down beside me and said ‘Never mind, whatever it is it will be all right’.
If I cried at home my husband would never worry about it. His attitude was ‘it’s her problem – don’t worry about it’. If our son came home from school all excited and he couldn’t wait to tell Mum and Dad something my husband would go off. I would have to say to my son ‘Don’t do that again, bad idea, you have to wait until Dad comes in and settles down and whatever before you speak to me’. I would say ‘Don’t worry one day we will be out of here.’
What helped me to leave
What helped me decide to leave and start again is having a friend to talk to, a friend who will support you. Being stubborn and using that stubbornness to help myself and my son. I can be determined all right, I’m determined that my son has the best he can. Knowing the difference between right and wrong; thinking ‘I’m not going down that track again, I’m going down this one instead’.
Telling friends, school and contacting services
I spoke with my friend about my relationship problems, my son’s social worker and my son’s school. I was going through depression. I was feeling there was help for my son but not me. The school got involved because they were concerned and contacted Child Protection after my husband attacked our son. Child Protection asked me what I was going to do about my husband’s treatment of our son. I said that I was trying to leave and they said that was a good idea. So they said they would back off from removing my son from my care if I left his father. When the school got Child Protection involved I asked them not to speak to my husband. I said ‘I don’t trust him, I don’t trust what he will do. I’m trying to get out, speaking to him will make it worse for me and my son’. I said that I am trying to leave but there are no houses available – I had missed out on five or six different rental houses .
While I was trying to leave I spotted a housing organisation near our local shopping centre – you can’t miss it because it sticks out like a sore thumb. I went in and asked for help. They couldn’t help me because of the violence but told me about a local domestic violence service. The domestic violence centre put me on a waiting list to see their outreach service. I would be still waiting for help from the outreach service, it’s hopeless, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Then my son’s social worker rang and spoke to the domestic violence service. One time she couldn’t get through and there was a number on the answering machine for women who didn’t have a home because they were tossed out. So on that Friday I phoned them before I left. They said ’Go to the police station and then we will fix you up from there’.
Living in a refuge
While we are living in refuge my son can’t go to his regular special school or the behavioural centre where he and I get support. This has made him anxious. I am working on getting him back to what he knows because I don’t want to uproot him too much. He doesn’t like having to start again and I think it’s a bit much for him. I’m wondering how he is going to cope when we have to move again. There is also the stress of worrying about how he’s going to handle things. I don’t want to have to put myself through more than I have to. I want him back at the school that knows him because they know what he is like, they know his temperament, they know what makes him start up and they know what makes him go off. They know how to handle him. At the moment I’m missing the services that know my son and know me, the services that have supported me to care for my son. I particularly need that support when his behaviour is difficult.
Thinking about going into refuge I thought I would cope but I wasn’t sure about my son. It has been great actually. I now wish I had done this beforehand. I didn’t leave my husband earlier because I was worried about how my son would cope. I didn’t realise they had a house (refuge) for disability and they do. I was worried because disability kids get along with disability kids but not to the same extent with normal kids. There is a big risk that the normal kids will make fun of the disability kids.
Sometimes if you have a disability people can actually see they are not so frightened of it because they can see it. Like you know people are easier on a blind person or a person with no legs because their minds are intact. But when the mind is not intact, and people can’t see it, they are worried you will go off. They worry: is this person going to go nuts? Is this person going to attack me? Is this person going to go absolutely ballistic and we won’t be able control him? I think normal kids are the ones that like to get their foot in first and have a go at the disability kids. They do it to protect themselves but I think the disability kids are often gentler. Kids with intellectual disabilities are really good kids. You just have to be patient with them, a bit understanding with them.
The thing is that normally with safety houses you are put in with a group of other kids and kids with disabilities can drive other kids up the wall. They can also drive the other parents up the wall too. So hearing that I could go to a refuge with just me and my son was wonderful. I had been worried about my son sharing with other people, I knew my son would be clinging to my skirt and because of some of his actions, I know that the other kids would say he is bonkers. For example my son is in love with my toes – I am working on introducing something he can do that distracts his interest in my toes because that’s the behaviour of a two year old. Sometimes my son’s behaviour is like a small child and in other ways he is quite mature. He is really becoming a teenager, I have to adjust to the change.
The help I have been getting from the refuge workers has been great. Like if you’ve got no food they’ll get food for you. I left with $33 dollars in my account because my husband took my money from the account. The refuge workers are going to help me with Centrelink this week because Centrelink has stuffed up. The children’s worker has been fabulous with my son. She comes over and takes him out to play basketball and things just to give me a break. The refuge supported me at court when I got the Intervention Order
 against my husband. That was difficult – my husband didn’t want to let go of our son. I thought ‘Why in hell are you hanging on to him now because you don’t want him anyway?’ He once said to me our son should never have existed because then he wouldn’t have had to deal with his disability. So if that doesn’t tell you he doesn’t want him, what does? The refuge helped me at court. The first time I went to court the intervention order was knocked back basically because the judged asked me ‘Do you reckon he will find you?’ and I said ‘No, it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.’ I had to tell the truth. The second time I went to court I got a lady magistrate and she understood more about how I was feeling.
What has been helpful is being in a quiet place with just my son. Getting help and being supported. Being given the time to think about what to do next. Taking things slowly because otherwise I lose it. Because of my disability if things are rushed I can’t follow what’s happening and I forget. Having a nice warm place to walk into when it’s freezing cold outside. Knowing that if you want food and you can’t get it someone will get it for you. Before getting to refuge we stayed at another safe place. Following them from the police station was like being in Get Smart on a secret mission because we went this way and we went that way. I thought ‘Why are you doing this is it in case we got followed or something?’ When we eventually got there they had dinner ready for us. I said I had forgotten about my son’s toothbrush and stuff. I had just run around and got what I could before leaving. The worker said ‘Not a problem’ and gave us an emergency toiletry bag and that kind of thing, which is good.
The pastor of our church, she told me that my husband had got up in church and told everyone what a rotten so-and-so he had been to me and how he had treated me, how he didn’t give me the love and everything and how he had treated his son badly too. The pastor was so surprised he did it but he is such a good actor. He now has the pastor fooled. She said to me she can’t work out who is telling the truth. That’s because he is such a good actor. I reckon he should go to America and get his Oscar. I am sure he would win gold.
This time I am going to get divorced. It is going to end. I am definitely not going to go back with him. I can’t look at him. I reckon he will treat anyone the same.
I’m concerned about my son’s violence now that we don’t live with his father; he has had three tantrums since leaving and when he tantrums he picks up knives. I have to hide all the knives. When we were with his dad he didn’t behave that way because he was scared of his father. My husband thought that our son was too timid and he said he had to bully him so he wasn’t so timid anymore. The Behaviour Unit that my son attends helps me by teaching me how to defuse the situation.
I would like to divorce and with the settlement buy my own place. I don’t know whether or not I will get enough money for a place of my own but as long as I can have animals – I would go bonkers without animals. I would like a piece of land in the country, with a little house on it and room for animals. I wouldn’t move to the country until my son is about 18. I want him to be independent, rent a little place of his own because I am not going to be on this earth forever and I want to prepare him well and truly beforehand because my body is not in great shape. He needs to be set up independently with services supporting him.
Abuse in my own family background
My friend often said she wouldn’t be able to stand living with someone like my husband. A lot of people would be off quick smart but because I didn’t have any family it made it hard. I have always had a very difficult relationship with my mother. I am one of four children – the only girl. My mother resented my independence. My brothers were mummy’s boys but I wasn’t, and Mum didn’t like that. My mum was verbally and physically cruel, for example she would not let me wash my own hair. She would get her knuckles and rub them on my scalp by the time she was finished my head was splitting. If you moved she would say ‘Stand still or it will be harder.’ She told me I was never to wash my own hair. When I was about eighteen I had had enough and washed my own hair she was furious. She didn’t approve of me getting married. No one was allowed to get married, even the boys were not supposed to marry. We were supposed to just stay her children forever, stay and look after her.
I got slung out of home at twenty and lived in my brother’s caravan but that was when my brother decided to sexually assault me. He kept moving out of the caravan back home then back to the caravan again. Then he and Mum decided they were going to sell they caravan while I was still living in it. She is so powerful that although my brother owned the caravan she acted as if she did. Mum thought she would be really cunning about it, she thought if she sold the caravan I would go back home. But guess what – that didn’t work. I went to look for a flat. I didn’t even know how to look for a flat, so I went to an estate agent. He told me I needed references. I got one from a family friend and one from my work place. When I went home to return the caravan keys my mother said ‘And what do you expect me to do with a caravan?’ I said ‘I don’t know, you wanted it, you wanted to sell it. So here are the keys and don’t fool around with me because it won’t work.’
I reported the sexual assault to the police and got an intervention order out against my brother saying not to go within 200 metres of me. Then my mother and father came and harassed me because my brother wasn’t able to come near me. I opened the door and she tried to force her way in, she was verbally abusing me and I would say she would have physically abused me if she got the chance. She was a tough, tough woman and she was so angry. I slammed the door with her foot in it and screamed ‘If you don’t go I will call the police!’ So off they went because they are shit scared of police.
What is helpful to women?
A good support worker sees the problem through the woman’s eyes. Not everything is straight forward and workers need to understand that. Workers knowing that when you talk to some people it is like talking to a brick wall.
Some things that workers can do are:
- Trying to help but not overstepping the mark. So asking the woman first maybe, instead of blasting your way through. Some support workers go in with a strip of dynamite and that’s not the way to go because it’s too powerful and the woman gets frightened. Maybe taking the time to explain not just that everything will be fine but if anything happens here’s the number to call and we will be there.
- Taking the kids off your hands for a while giving you space to think.
- Supporting women with money because they may not have any – I left with $33 dollars.
- Understanding that everyone is different, and listening to the woman’s story.
- Looking through the woman’s eyes and understanding; thinking ‘All right they have been coping with this for so many years, how did they cope? They must be tired, they must be worn out; they must be absolutely frustrated and everything else’. The thing is you can’t let the kids see it. You have to be a happy person because you have to keep the kids happy. You have to hide your true feelings from the kids and it makes you so tired. You have to keep things going and it’s a hassle and it’s different again because your child has a disability and it’s different again because you have a disability.
- Understanding mental abuse. Sometimes I wonder – it’s very hard for workers to understand, they can see physical abuse but it’s hard for some workers to understand women that have been mentally battered. The bruises are in your head and not all workers understand that. You get battered but it actually takes a long time to reach a point when you leave.
- Understanding that, for women, screaming on the top of your head helps. You have to get that frustration out of your system because some support workers think you are going mad but you are not.
My message to other women:
There is light at the end of the tunnel. If you have children, you might think you are doing the right thing by keeping them there – but actually if they are going through hell too then it’s not fair on them either. Once you get out you find there is a heaven. If you are at peace, the children are going to be more at ease because they will find Mum at ease and they will think we don’t have to protect Mum. You think you have been protecting them but they have also been trying to protect you. Everything comes together and it is like living in harmony.