Tamahere writer Venetia Sherson and friend and co-author Denise Irvine recently launched their book, Stand By Me.
It is the story of Te Whakaruruhau Waikato Women’s Refuge and courageous women – those who survive domestic violence, and those who help them get their lives back on track.
Te Whakaruruhau is New Zealand’s largest women’s refuge and has helped thousands of women and children during its more than 30-year history.
The refuge began in a humble one-bedroomed flat and grew to a multi-million dollar organisation, advising governments on how to combat violence in the home. The story of the refuge’s founders – Roni Albert and Ariana Simpson – is the backdrop to a story of horror and healing.
Reflecting on the many months researching and writing the book, Denise Irvine wrote recently about a woman she met a few years ago who told her about her abusive marriage.
We were attending the same event, enjoying our new acquaintance, and somehow her story just unfolded, Irvine wrote.
The abuse was more mental and controlling than physical. It started in the early years of their marriage and escalated into her husband taking charge of her money, the people she could see, where she could work, belittling her appearance, undermining her at every opportunity. Sometimes he pushed and shoved her. She bore it for 20 years, never told a soul.
She pre-empted my question, “Why didn’t you leave?” She had been asked that many times. She said she stayed for her boys, her husband loved them and he masked his behaviour around them. He’d never let her take them. It would be the ugliest fight. She stuck it out until her sons left home and then she left too.
I’d never ask that question again. Or the other common one about battered women: “Why do they keep going back?” Such questions are loaded with judgement. They assume that leaving – and staying away – may be as simple as packing a bag, closing one door and opening another.
I’ve spent much of the past year writing a book about domestic violence, and I’ve learned that leaving and staying away from abusive partners is the hardest thing. I wish I could go back and say this to the woman who talked about her abuse. I’ve learned it takes huge courage to leave, there are many risks, and there may be many attempts before it works. Or not. You also need unconditional care and support, and dollops of kindness, to help you make changes.
In Hamilton, we’re lucky to have that support system, and kindness, at Te Whakaruruhau Waikato Women’s Refuge.
Go here to read more, including a chapter from the book.
Stand By Me is an inspiring read, beautifully written and a story that deserved to be told.
Go here to purchase the book ($29.95) or buy it at the refuge’s office, 59 Commerce St, Frankton.