White ribbon day – and the influence of DV on extended family

So today was White Ribbon Day – the day each year to promote the ending of domestic violence.  I had hope to share more of my experience being a DV survivor before now, but it’s never an easy topic to talk about.

Some days I can get the words out easy but emotionally it’s hard.  Other days the words just don’t come.  IT would be nice if I knew from day to day in advance which days were which.  But I guess that’s the thing with trauma and PTSD – you never know in advance what days are going to easy and what days are going to be hard.

Today hasn’t been hard, but it’s been a long day.  Even though I called in sick for work,  I still work up at the time I would have woken for work (about 5:45am usually) and the guilt of missing work even though I really couldn’t work meant I couldn’t get back to sleep before little Rose woke up.  John on the other hand ended up missing work and sleeping all day which was kind of frustrating.  I know he’s depressed and exhausted, but both of us missing work (and therefore not getting paid) will be a bit difficult, especially as we’ve worked out we’ll both only be on half pay for our annual leave over christmas (two weeks for John, 4 weeks for me because my work accidentally gave me an extra 10 days more off than I requested).

But we’ll get through it.  Just Christmas will be really tight this year.  But it will still be good.  We get to meet our new baby niece which will be really special for me.  It’s John’s first niece/nephew – for me, it’s complicated.  Andrew’s sister has children – who are Sammie’s cousins and who were a big part of my life for a number of years.  I used to babysit them a lot and for the 8 years Andrew and I were married, they were my niece and nephew.

That’s the thing – domestic violence doesn’t just effect the victim, it effects whole families.  For 7 years, Andrew’s sister said she loved me like a flesh and blood sister and claimed no matter what she’d always see me that way.  Then in the last year Andrew and I were together, something changed. The more violent he got and the more I tried to get him off drugs, the more his sister encouraged him to be that way.  Which was incredibly hurtful, hypocritical and ironic since when her first husband ran off with his mistress after being violent towards her and their kids, I was the one who supported her.  Even failing out of uni because she kept begging me every day to go and keep her company to help her get over it.

It wasn’t that way at first – at first she used to beg Andrew, so Andrew and I would go over, and within five minutes he’d say he was just ducking out for a little while to see his dealer.  And then he’d disappear for hours, sometimes all day.  It didn’t matter that I needed to go home to work on assignments, or when Sammie was little and she needed to be home in her cot.  Pretty quickly his sister saw that I cared and he didn’t and so she just started asking me to come over and keep her company.

So I was stunned that when she learnt he was beating me, she not only didn’t tell him to stop, but actively helped him try to bully me into silence.  She even started verbally and emotionally abusing me herself.  It didn’t happen overnight.  It started after she started dating again and got her confidence back and no longer needed my support.  She sadly is like some victims of abuse – the ones who think the only way to be strong and stand up to being bullied is to become a bully themselves.  I wish people could see that being a bully is NOT being strong.  That it is a very cowardly act to be a bully.  But it’s why domestic violence often ends up generational – because abused children (or those exposed to domestic violence) nearly always go one of two ways – they either become bullies themselves (like Andrew and his sister) or like me, they become victims over and over.

But the cycle can be broken.  I am living proof of that. It took 27 years before I found the strength to break free of being a victim and to become a survivor instead.  And I have raised Sammie to neither be a victim or a bully.  And I will raise Rose the same way.

It just hurts though to be reminded that when Andrew and I separated, I didn’t just lose a marriage, but I lost an entire family.  Even though his sister’s behaviour was cruel, I do understand why she did it.  Andrew is her only living immediately family (other than her kids) and she didn’t want to lose him.  I understand that.  But that’s one of the biggest perpetuating factors of domestic violence – perpetrators manipulate their families into supporting their abuse by using the ties of blood, especially in small families where their family member is afraid of being cut out of the perpetrators life.

But it was also more than that.  When Andrew’s sister met the man who would become her second husband, things changed significantly.  Like Andrew, he’s a drug addict (he may have stopped by now, but he was still a drug addict when I lost contact with Andrew’s family) and Andrew’s sister got involved in the drug use.  They’d often ask Andrew to lend them money for drugs, which he was happy to do because they gave him some to use for free as a thank you, and then they’d generally pay him back with more drugs instead of money.  It was great for him – but he’d generally take all the money put aside for food or bills to lend them, knowing full well we’d never see it returned as actual money.  Sometimes I’d manage to stop him from taking some or all of our money (especially when it was all our food money for the week as I couldn’t let Sammie starve), particularly when it wasn’t even always our money – he’d often go to my parents and con them into thinking I’d sent him to borrow money off them (when I had no idea what he was doing until days or weeks later) and then take that money to his sister to “lend” her to buy drugs for her and then-boyfriend.

After I made it clear to my parents they were never to give money to Andrew without checking with me first (not that that stopped them altogether) and managed to cut back on the money Andrew was giving his sister for drugs, that’s when she started to get nasty towards to me.  Including verbally abusing me if Andrew hit me in front of her eg making threats about how I better not say a word about it etc.  For the last 6 months Andrew and I were together, I saw his sister and her children less and less – except of course when she wanted a babysitter or some other help which I was always happy to give.

I had hoped when Andrew and I separated that his sister would at least be civil for the sake of Sammie and Sammie’s cousins so they could continue having a close relationship but that wasn’t to be the case.  I tried very hard though.  The first thing that happened is I found out Andrew’s sister had known about his affairs and had been helping him cover them up, saying he was with her when he was really with his mistresses.  Then it came out that the first mistress he moved in with after we separated had actually been introduced by his sister to her children as his “new girlfriend” before he and I had even separated.  That Andrew’s sister had been welcoming his mistress into her home while he and I were still together and treating the mistress like as if she was family.

That hurt but I still kept trying.  Then after he broke up with that mistress and moved in with one of his others he had been involved with before we separated, things got even worse.  I still kept inviting Andrew’s sister and her children to things for Sammie like birthday and Christmas and other catch ups.  I used to let Sammie go over and visit by herself too (I of course wasn’t welcome) but when I found out Andrew’s sister had been inviting Andrew over when Sammie visited, I had to put a stop to Sammie going over there by herself.  Not out of spite or anything, but child protection services had made it clear that (because of Andrew’s history of abusing Sammie) that I was never to allow him access to Sammie outside of court ordered times or I’d be accused of “neglecting” her and she’d be removed from my care.

My ex sister in law refused to accept that and it wasn’t worth me risking losing Sammie to foster care so she could see her cousins and aunt occasionally.  But I didn’t cut off contact.  We still kept doing birthdays and christmas and I arranged for my mum to supervise Sammie going to visit Andrew’s sister which we did for a few years.

But as I mentioned, things got worse when Andrew moved in with the other mistress (the one he ended up marrying).  Andrew’s sister and the other mistress got on great.  They have a lot in common – they both are drug addicts, they both enjoy getting together and saying nasty things about other people, they both take pride in finding new ways to scam Centrelink and see no problem doing so and both believe working hard to support your family is for suckers and that tax payers should support them.  I know it sounds nasty, but I’m just being blunt and truthful – they have publicly made those things clear.  I knew of course of their very public conversations ridiculing and abusing me on social media (I tried to avoid it but well meaning friends would warn me about what was being said about me).  But the final straw was when they started doing it to Sammie as well.

Sammie was too young at the time to have a social media account, although I would let her use my public one to play her favourite games on occasionally (I had two accounts – one private, one public – so that I could share my full thoughts on things privately with my closest friends, but at the same time could have a public account that I didn’t have to worry about whether mutual friends would repeat private things I said online).  But I made sure on my public account, that I had these abusive people blocked so Sammie could never see the horrific things these two people were saying about her.  Unfortunately, some social media sites do nothing about online bullying and harassment.  When I reported the abusive things being said about Sammie, the site’s response was to shut down MY account and tell me that I shouldn’t be let Sammie view these things.

They didn’t understand – *I* never let Sammie view the horrible things being said about her.  As I said, I had these people blocked.  The problem is Sammie has two parents – a mother and a father.  And every time Sammie went to visit her father, he’d put her on his social media account to play games and she could see the horrible things his sister and his mistress were saying about her.  And it was all sorts of cruel things – making fun of her autism, saying she was a monster, that she’s the worst behaved child in existence, etc.  And the most ironic was the lies about her behaviour – claiming that she abused little children younger than her and that she’d abuse her half brother when he was born – coming from a pair of adults who both have abused their children (Andrew’s sister abuses her children verbally and emotionally, and the mistress lost custody of her child due to much worse).

I can actually understand the mistress doing it – she made it clear she was very jealous of Sammie, eventually making Andrew choose between her and Sammie.  But his sister?  (Sammie’s aunt) Viciously emotionally and verbally attacking her only niece and for what?  To get back at me for daring to leave her brother because of his violence??? I’ve never been able to make sense of it.

Even after that, I still tried to maintain the supervised visits for Sammie’s sake, but Andrew’s sister lost interest and we haven’t heard from her for a few years now.  While I’m not disappointed that Sammie doesn’t see her aunt because of the horrible abusive things her aunt said about her (and Andrew showed her), I’m disappointed for Sammie’s sake that she no longer sees her cousins.  As it is, they are currently her only biological cousins.  Although one of the blessings of John’s family is they treat Sammie like flesh and blood and John’s new little niece is not only my little niece but is also considered Sammie’s cousin as well.

I know that no matter what happens with John, that his family will never abandon Rose – nor even Sammie and I.  And that is reassuring.  They won’t be like Andrew’s immediately family and turn abusive, nor will they be like his extended family who just didn’t want to know (pretty much cutting Andrew out of their lives except the occasional big family gathering where they tolerate him).  I know John and I won’t get divorced – we both care too much about each other and doing the right thing to ever have that happened – but I do worry at times that he may die young (I can thank having general anxiety for giving met hat worry).  But I do know that his family will always be supportive, and after everything I’ve been through with Andrew’s family, having John’s family being so welcome and supportive means a lot.

I got a little side tracked, but basically what my post tonight is about, is how domestic violence is influenced by extended family and how it hurts extended family.  Andrew didn’t just abuse me and Sammie with his behaviour, but he ripped apart many family relationships.  By involving his sister in his abuse, it destroyed her and my relationship (and as I mentioned, I thought we were like sisters and I was the one always there for her when he never was).  It cost Sammie her relationship with her aunt (and her uncle) – although that Andrew’s sister’s choice.  But most importantly, it ended up costing Sammie and her cousins their relationship – four innocent kids caught in the abuse from Andrew and his sister.  I hope one day one or all of her cousins will seek Sammie out and they can have a relationship.  The older two cousins are now adults and hopefully will reach out to Sammie  in the not too distant future.  It’s something I hope and pray for both Sammie’s sake and theirs.

But the whole thing is just sad.  Sammie and I never asked for any of this.  We didn’t ask for Andrew to abuse us.  I loved Andrew with all my heart and did everything I could for him, and Sammie was (and still is) just an innocent child.  We certainly didn’t expect for Andrew’s sister to turn nasty and abuse us – especially poor little Sammie.  And with all the effort I put into keeping Sammie in contact with her aunt and cousins, despite the abuse and threats I got from Andrew’s sister for years, the last thing I expected was Andrew’s sister to just give up on seeing Sammie altogether, because despite her abusive comments about Sammie online, she would always claim how much she loved Sammie and wanted her in her life.

And of course, there is the issue I haven’t really addressed tonight, is how families influence and even encourage domestic violence.  I won’t address it fully tonight as I know post is already really long, but I do know that like many bullies, Andrew cares heaps about what those close to him think.  If his sister had ever condemned his behaviour (or if any of his extended family or any of his friends had condemned his behaviour) rather than supporting it indirectly by covering it up or directly by telling him that’s what men can and should do to their wives, things would have been very different.  But not one person in his life ever stood up to him being abusive to me.  The ones who think domestic violence is ok were very vocal, and the ones who are against domestic violence were completely silent “not wanting to get involved” without realising that by staying silent they ARE involved.

As the saying goes “when good men remain silent, evil triumphs”.  When people say nothing when they know abuse is happening, they are not remaining neutral – they are taking the side of the perpetrator because silence only encourages a perpetrator as they believe people who are silent are silently agreeing with them.

I wasn’t even planning to write about my former sister in law.  I don’t like saying negative things about my ex in laws because I don’t particularly like saying negative things about anyone, and ultimately they are still Sammie’s family even if they choose to have nothing to do with her.  But I felt it was important to speak up about this topic on a day dedicated to stamping out domestic violence.  Because ultimately, domestic violence rarely happens in a vacuum.  There are always innocent bystanders who suffer like Sammie’s cousins who no longer see Sammie because of the actions of their mother.  And because in many cases of domestic violence, the perpetrators family are well aware the DV is happening and at “best” they say nothing and are therefore complicit in perpetuating the abuse, or at worst they join in and also abuse the victim/s.

And something needs to be said.  Sammie and I are away from these people.  We are living happy and safe lives, but I know how lucky we are.  Not all women and children are so lucky.  Some are still trapped with their abusers either living with them or in shared custody with them.  And for their sake, I wanted to speak out.

It is so very important that the families of perpetrators speak up and say domestic violence is wrong.  That it’s better to lose contact with an abusive brother/son/father/family member, than to say nothing while they beat their wife and children.  Because silence only encourages the abuser.

We all have to speak out when we see abuse.  Every single human being. Families, friends, workmates, even strangers.  Domestic violence is not ok.  Please, if someone you know is abusing their spouse or children, SPEAK UP!

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