ND, a victim of domestic violence, hid under her house for 18 months while her husband continued to live there. Photo: Ryan OslandSydney’s White Ribbon DayComment: Victims shouldn’t leave home
A Hunter woman hid under her house for 18 months, enduring spiders and cockroaches, to escape her abusive husband.
The woman, who wants to be known as “ND”, left her 15-month-old baby with her mother in the house. Her husband continued to live there too.
ND, who endured verbal degradation and physical violence at the hands of her husband, has now called on the government to provide more refuges and affordable housing for vulnerable women.
“I wanted to leave but I couldn’t find anywhere that would take all three of us,” ND said.
“We didn’t have anywhere else to go and I couldn’t just leave my baby or my mother.
“I tried private rentals but they were too dear, I couldn’t even afford the cheapest of the cheap. Plus, the home loan was in my name so I didn’t have many options.
“I just disappeared one day and he had no idea, I was so, so quiet.”
ND met her former husband through mutual friends when she was 18.
He was four years older and liked a drink, but was from a good family.
The couple dated for about 13 months before they married and moved into ND’s house.
They were only six months into their honeymoon phase when the verbal taunts began.
When he started drinking, the insults would lead to pushing, shoving, bashings and stabbings.
On one occasion, he asked ND to pick him up from the pub, only to get behind the wheel of his own car and run over her feet.
Another time, he put a noose around her neck, tied it to his car’s bumper bar and dragged her along the ground.
ND was eight months pregnant with their only child when she was admitted to hospital with injuries so severe her shocked and angry father-in-law said he wanted to set his own son “on fire”.
“There was a lot of self doubt,” she said. “I was thinking maybe I should be doing things differently, maybe my upbringing had been different.
“Maybe he didn’t want to be a father and was taking it out on me. But I never really understood the reasons why he did what he did.”
The last straw came after he knocked her unconscious and then locked himself inside their bedroom with their baby.
ND decided one day to vanish and start living and sleeping under the house.
She settled in spot that was not exposed to the wind or rain, but she had to endure filth and insects.
When she heard her former husband leave for work in the morning, she would wait 15 minutes and then go inside to shower, eat and ask her mother to wash and dry her clothes, before getting her car from her neighbours’ garage and heading to work.
“I was always on guard, always listening, always looking around, it wasn’t like a sit-down conversation,” she said.
“It was like I was foraging in the wild; it was never peaceful.
“I would hold and feed my baby but I was always nervous. When I was rocking my baby, it was like I was in a rocking marathon.”
ND’s sister and then her godmother made sure the house was stocked with food.
Her former husband did not ask where the groceries came from, try to find or call her.
“I still worked, earned money, paid the bills and the home loan, did everything a normal person would do, but my heart was in my mouth the whole time,” she said.
“What kept me going was thinking, ‘It’s not always going to be like this, there will be a way.’
“Before I met him I was really strong and while he cut me down and hurt me, he didn’t destroy me.”
After ND realised he was never going to leave the house, she came up with a plan.
She waited until he left one Sunday morning and then bought new locks for all of the doors and put his belongings in bags that were sent in a taxi to his parents’ house.
When he returned early the next morning, he yelled abuse for about 40 minutes before leaving.
For the next few weeks, ND received messages and phone calls from her former husband promising to change.
He would drive past the house or sit in his car and stare.
Soon after ND filed for divorce, he disappeared.
But the legacy of his abuse did not.
ND continues to suffer health problems after leaving her injuries untreated and has urged others to seek medical help for physical trauma sooner rather than later.
Even years later, she locks the door behind her as soon as she gets home and then checks every room before being able to relax.
“If someone close to me raises an arm or makes a sudden movement, I’m jumping away so fast I could be in the Olympics,” she said.
“He burned my eyebrows with a lighter so if anyone lights up near me, I’m on the other side of the room.
“But I don’t suffer fools gladly now. I question, I advocate.
“I’m not a survivor or a victim, I’m a stronger me.”
ND said that, while the refuge system was not perfect, it played an important role for women escaping violence.
“A lack of affordable accommodation can destroy them, it can make them stay in situations they are not safe in,” she said.
“If you’re trying to get away, you don’t want to be burdened with other people’s troubles [in communal housing].
“But without it [affordable accommodation] there, it does not give women many options after they leave.
“I know if I had it, my life could have been very, very different.”
❏ Support is available by phoning National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732; Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491.