McIvor Times

Local author spreads message of hope on family violence

By Vanessa Wiltshire

IN 1861, a woman from Redesdale, Harriet Cooley, met a brutal demise at the hands of her husband Henry. In the weeks and months that followed, Henry was arrested, charged and hanged for her murder.

Since then, remarkable social transformation has occurred in Australia and around the world. Many important achievements have been made toward gender equality.

But we still have a long way to go. Statistics shared by violence prevention agency Our Watch back it up.

By the age of 15, one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence. One in five have experienced sexual violence. One in six have experienced physical or sexual violence by current or former partner, and, one in four have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. 

Then, the most shocking. One woman dies each week, on average, at the hands of her current or former partner.

In the past, such murders were called ‘crimes of passion’. Today we simply know them as crimes.

Violence against women happens everywhere, even in small towns and communities like Heathcote.  Though a greater number of men are killed in Australia each year, those crimes are more likely to be perpetrated by acquaintances or strangers. Women on the other hand, are far more likely to be killed by a current or former partner.

According to Crime Statistics Australia, 77 per cent of victims killed by an intimate partner in 2013-14 were women. Twenty-three per cent of victims were men. Though intimate partner homicide incidents decreased by 24 per cent between 1989-90 (when there were 82) and 2013-14 (62), any form of violence is unacceptable.

The #MeToo movement has lifted awareness dramatically.

Women have a right to feel safe. Everywhere and always. Yet many still feel unsafe. They encounter harassment, physical, emotional, sexual and psychological violence.

Too many women are afraid to share their stories, to report crimes to the police. This is especially pertinent in small towns and communities where people know one other.

Each day, women change or modify their behaviour. Until you’ve had to clutch a set of keys in your fist as a possible defence weapon, it’s tough to understand.

Women censor themselves. They do this because they are afraid of not being believed. Or being blamed and shamed for something that wasn’t their fault. Social media can be particularly damaging.

Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said violence against women is driven by gender inequality.

“Wherever masculinity is assumed to involve control, dominance and aggression, wherever disrespect and violence against women are condoned or excused, and wherever rigid, hierarchical gender roles and stereotypes exist, we create the conditions for violence against women,” she said.

“For women in regional, rural and remote communities, these conditions can be compounded by the lack of anonymity, making it difficult to access help as everyone knows each other. 

“There are also fewer support services in regional settings, and distance and opening hours can be a barrier.” 

Heathcote local, Tess (Terri) Ryan, is bravely stepping out from behind the shadows to help. Her debut memoir, I Survived: domestic violence and stalking, is a harrowing account of her seven-year marriage – and life beyond - to ex-husband Ted. He has since passed away.

The book reads like a series of diary entries or letters to a friend.

Starting in 1979, it charts Tess’s journey from a young single mother, to meeting – and marrying – the supposed man of her dreams, to becoming the victim of control and abuse.

It documents her escape, which was unfortunately not the end. Tess experienced stalking and post-traumatic stress, the latter after Ted's death.

“At first meeting, Ted came across as a wonderful person," Tess said. "If you didn’t live with him it would be difficult to believe he was anything else. He was charismatic, but he was a narcissist. Ted was very good at fooling people.”

Despite the confronting topic, the book is about hope.

Ultimately it describes a journey to acceptance and self-love, documented in the lessons Tess has learned. It’s a path to emancipation through forgiveness and letting go.

“I reached a point where I was able to forgive the person, but not the actions,” Tess said. “It was difficult, but necessary if I truly wanted to move on."

Today Tess lives in Heathcote and his happily married. She has a happy and vibrant spirit and a strong level of self-determination.

“Although I’ve never considered myself to be a writer, writing music or poetry has always been my healing method,” Tess said. “But it goes beyond that. It’s a way for me to share the lessons I learned, to talk about hope, forgiveness and healing. I want to help others."

Tess said many people asked why she didn't leave earlier.

“Like so many women, I struggled with rock-bottom self-esteem. But it’s about control. It’s not as simple as packing your bags and walking away.

“Sometimes you just need to hear a success story to give you hope. If mine is that story for someone, that’s wonderful."

Book launch I Survived will be launched at the Heathcote Golf Course at 11am on August 16. Please RSVP on Facebook 

Find Terri Ryan on Facebook.

Help and Resources

Police Fire Ambulance

Call 000 in an emergency.

Centre for Non-Violence

 The Centre for Non-Violence is a not for profit organisation that provides a range of services and programs that respond to and work to prevent family violence and homelessness across the Loddon region.LifelineLifeline has a national number who can help put you in contact with a crisis service in your state. Anyone across Australia experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide can call 13 11 14.

Kids Help Line

Free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25 in Australia. Call 1800 551 800 for help.

1800RESPECT

24 hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Call toll-free 1800 737 732.

Daisy App - by 1800RESPECT

Daisy is an app developed to connect people experiencing violence or abuse to services in their local area. The app includes safety features to help protect your privacy. However, domestic violence service apps are only recommended to those who have safe and secure access to their phone.