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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Georgiou

Being subjected to Domestic Abuse as a teenager: The impact of lessons I have learned.

*TRIGGER WARNING* Please be mindful of any triggering content in this reflection and partake in self-boundaries and care when reading.

As we enter Domestic Abuse Awareness month, I wanted to share part of my experience of a ‘relationship’ where I often felt I was unable to learn lessons, or I was pleading with others to learn theirs.

My first serious relationship, when I was 16, was based on control, lies, multiple occasions of infidelity, physical aggression, and a tirade of emotional mind games.

I was trapped n a position of holding onto what I thought was love and stability. I had no where to escape to, no where else to live as I had left home young, so situations had developed that from a young age I cohabited with my abuser, living what I assumed was a responsible adult life. I had too much pride to ask for help and I was desperate not to be labelled as another ‘teen statistic’. I maintained professional job roles and had adult financial responsibility. I didn’t want to be misjudged by society, and I certainly didn’t want my boyfriend or my choice of boyfriend to be judged either. So, I protected him and made excuses for his behaviour to others, but more to myself. His tired, his young and still maturing, his family had installed beliefs that this behaviour was acceptable, he was drunk, I’m too demanding, I’m too needy, he will mature and learn etc…But it was me that had to learn.

I had to learn to read his moods or learn that anything I could do or say may end up triggering an attack. I had to learn to get over my shock the first few times he physically harmed me. I had to learn to cover my bruises with clothing, make up and a smile. I had to learn to factor in extra time to navigate his emotions and create stories to protect us and justify certain situations when we would be late or unavailable for events. I had to learn how to appease him and accept that I had ‘allowed’ myself to accept situations I never thought I would let myself be placed in.

One lesson that has always stuck with me, was when I realised how people around me at the time, that I thought would support me and help, often turned a blind eye, gaslit and minimised the situation, and made me feel judged and weak.

I remember once a few friends, who were boys my age, that I had been close to during our school years, met with me and my boyfriend for a few games of pool. We had met at a pub, that my friends and I had met many times before (back in the days when ID was not such a big issue), and I was excited to present my ‘mature’ relationship with my older boyfriend who could buy us all drinks, no questions asked. I felt safe, it was my territory, my friends…he wouldn’t be able to do anything to hurt me in front of them…right?

Being raised in the ‘90’s and early ‘00’s, I was very much under the influence of girls finding their strength in ‘lad culture’. Proud of my ‘tomboyish’ traits and being ‘tough’ around the boys, seeing my feminine side as a weakness (Yes- there is a massive conversation to be had around this terminology and mindset, but I will save that for another reflection!). Back then I ignorantly believed that this is what feminism for me looked like. Being able to ‘take it’ and fight back, whether verbally or physically and appear unaffected by socially accepted ‘laddish’ taunts and shoves.

Bantering and mucking about with my mates, I felt happy. I wanted to show them how I had moved on from school life, how I was coping living in the big world and how I had this adult boyfriend and adult life who was fun and joining in with our ‘harmless bantz’.

Then something changed that day with my perception of how boys/men acted in a group towards a female. Suddenly the bantz became smuttier and disrespectful. The playful shoving became harder, and my boyfriend took full advantage of this situation. When I was ‘giving it back ‘, he laughed as he shouted over to them that they had been missing a trick with me all these years and preceded to walk over towards me. I felt the panic, my mouth went dry, and my chest went tight as my body prepared itself for what was coming. ‘This is all you need to do…’ as he grabbed my arm behind my back forcefully into a lock and pushed my face down onto the pool table. It hurt so much, and I was mortified to be being made an example of in front of my friends of how to ‘tame’ a woman. So, I laughed it off and tried to struggle, thinking at any moment one of my good friends would come to my aid. But the more I struggled, the more amusement they seemed to gain. When he finally released me, one of my ‘friends’ then came over and to ‘give it a go’. Before I knew it, I was back face down, bent over the pool table. I swore at him and mockingly threatened him, whilst holding back my tears. I was so embarrassed and felt helpless. I felt confused as to why boys I had once felt safe with and shared vulnerable secrets with, were joining in to ‘tame’, hurt and humiliate me.

I told myself to be submissive as the pain was becoming unbearable, and as my friend pinned me down my boyfriend ‘playfully’ struck my arse with a pool cue to encourage suggestive jokes between the boys. Eventually I was allowed to stand up. I laughed it off again and subtly rolled my shoulder, to not show how much they had hurt me. I learned to shrug it off and blame myself. I learned to not show my anger and shame in front of my friends.

Another instance included a big group of his colleagues and what I believed to be mutual friends. We were at a wedding reception at a reputable golf course. Everything was going well, the atmosphere was pleasant, and I was pleased I seemed to be living up to his expectation of the doting, sociable, life of the party girlfriend he used to praise me for. Then he had his third pint…

We began to row over something trivial, so I went outside to try and de-escalate the situation. Another thing I had learned to do. But he followed me and continued to row. I wandered onto the green of the course, knowing I was in full view of the attendees of the reception, gathering on a mezzanine above. I thought this was a safe option. I will not proceed to go into full details of the attack that occurred, but I do remember thinking to myself in that moment that this is how I was going to die. Me under a spotlight on the golf course, for all to see, desperately fighting for my life and in my head saying goodbye to my family. I could not understand how this had escalated so quickly and how no one was stopping him. No one was helping me. Now of course I am aware of psychological behaviour patterns such as the bystander effect and the implications of societal norms of people’s perceptions of domestic abuse- but at the time I was a 17-year-old girl, scared and confused.

Vague comments after the event were along the lines of ‘Sorry, we just didn’t want to get involved, it was between you two and none of our business’, ‘You must have done something?’, ‘You must have encouraged that behaviour, the poor people getting married, you ruined their evening’, ‘I didn’t want to make it worse’…

Eventually I ended the assault by plunging my stiletto heel into his leg, enough to get him off me. I laid there, in the damp grass, shaking from adrenaline, bruised, bloodied, and covered in both our snot and tears. I wanted to move and try to run away, in case this was just a brief pause, and he came at me again, but I was also terrified to that if I moved it would still allow him to finish what he started. I started to hear voices and winced to see silhouettes of people coming to his aid and gently lead him away, comforting him and leaving me laying there.

I was trying to regulate my breathing, taking short sharp breaths of freezing air and willing myself to stand up. Eventually I pulled myself up from the ground and staggered towards the ladies’ toilets, feeling like I was doing a walk of shame. Some women followed me, asking if I was ok and said, ‘Oh don’t worry love, it will be alright in the morning when his sobered up’ and could they call me a taxi home or would I still be ok to go home with him, whilst giving me a sweet cup of tea to ‘calm me down’.

I learned that day that I was truly on my own and felt like I was forever going to be stuck in a cycle of being abused both privately and publicly, and having to reassure others that I was fine, putting their feelings at ease to help them not feel too ‘uncomfortable’, justifying their lack of involvement. In my mind therefore, I must have been the problem. I must be the cause, there was no obvious empathy towards me, but support for him. Just advice of ‘well if it’s that bad and you don’t like it, just leave him.’

After almost three years, I did learn to find strength and I did leave him, but the scars and the lessons I learned during that relationship, especially the perception of how I viewed people and societies ignorance of how women are abused, stayed with me.

I learned to use my experience to support others and not to be a bystander. Did I learn enough lessons to avoid toxic, abusive relationships after this one…no. What happened was I would convince myself they were acceptable and palatable in comparison, because they weren’t physically attacking me, so emotional, verbal, and coercive controlling behaviours were more acceptable. With my self-worth being minimised for years, I had taught myself to feel grateful that it wasn’t the same experience. It would take me another 18 years to realise that domestic abuse is all forms of abuse, and all are worthy of recognition and support.

Whilst society now does appear to be having more open conversations and raising awareness around aspects of abuse, with community and legal support being slightly more available, there is still so much vital work to do around understanding the complexities of victim blaming mentalities and the misogyny that allows for abuser to behave how they do towards their victims and get away with it.

My experiences have all guided me into my professional choices as well as pushing me to try and understand myself better. To give myself the support I need when no one else was willing to. Am I still learning lessons by experience…of course I am. The biggest lesson is accepting that I have my voice and I will not allow any abuser to take that away from me again. I hope with reflections like this I will encourage others to use their voice for themselves and for others.

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