“And I remember my closest friend she said to me, “What happened to you?” And I said, “I don’t know.” She said, “You had everything, everything and now you’ve lost everything. You haven’t got your job anymore. You’ve lost custody of your daughter. You’ve got nowhere to live.” And I said, “Yeah, I know.” And she said, “And you’re not staying here.” So people sort of started pushing me away. And that made things worse because I was really upset.”
“I grew up in a working class suburb of Canberra in the 1970s. It was a house full of books and music and even though my parents left school in year 10, they really put a lot of emphasis on my education and my creativity. So even when we were only eating baked beans for dinner, I still had piano lessons, and things like that. And my mother drove me every Saturday to the library across town because I’d read all the books in the small local library by the time I was twelve. I even played the bagpipes for about five years and I tried playing the flute. I had singing lessons and was in the opera Aida and when I left school, I was going to go to university.
But I suppose because it was a very working class area I got bullied really badly. Now everyone gets picked on at some point about something and that’s part of growing up and it’s never nice. But bullying, when it’s relentless, is quite a different phenomenon. And did I get it… relentless, relentless, relentless! And the reason I got picked on was because I was the smartest in the class all the time. And it wasn’t just because it was a working class area but also because a lot of the kids were children of migrant parents who didn’t speak English, so they didn’t get much help at home with reading or schoolwork. So I really stood out as the ‘smarty, smarty’ girl.
I used to try and hide in the library but they’d always find me. And then it was “Ah, she’s reading the books again. Oh, you are really up yourself, aren’t you? You think you’re better than us because you’re so smart.” I was a very shy and sensitive child, and I had no idea how to deal with all the bullying because there wasn’t anything like that at home.
So my way of coping was I started pretending I was dumber than I was and deliberately making mistakes. Even though I knew the answers I’d make sure I got some wrong. But my teacher knew what I was doing, he’d say, “Emily, you know this!” And once a term we’d be given forms where we’d be rated on our various subjects — high, low, failing, etc. Your teacher would fill one in and you’d have to take one home for your parents to fill in and they would always put high, high, high. But also we’d have to fill one in and rate ourselves. Those were the days when we all sat around the table in groups of six or eight, across the classroom and the first time I made the mistake of filling in all highs because I knew I was really good at school. But the other kids saw what I’d done and aw man they went ballistic at me! So after that, although I still put some highs in to divert my parents I started to rate myself as medium, all to avoid bullying.
But the bullying went on for years. They would pick on something I was insecure about and they’d make up songs about me to try and upset me, like I had a funny nose (although I didn’t think I did). The school had rung my mother a couple of times when they’d found me in the toilets crying because I couldn’t face going back into the classroom. And my mother would come and pick me up. But the school really didn’t deal with it very well back then.
One day something out of the ordinary happened. I was in the canteen and there were six of them, the ringleaders, and they’d made a circle and were dancing around me and I couldn’t get out. And then this girl who was in another class of my year and who had a reputation as one of the tough girls – you didn’t mess with her — came over, I don’t know why, and said to them, “Oi, leave her alone!”
And the ringleader said, “Why should we? Who are you?” And this girl just punched her really hard in the face and knocked her to the ground. And I was standing there with my jaw on the ground going what just happened? And I thought, Holy shit. This is how you do it. And after that, this tough girl and I became friends. She lived just around the corner from me, in the same suburb. We were an odd combination in many ways but we used to hang out together after school and on weekends. We had this unspoken agreement though that at school she stayed with her gang and I stayed with the goody-goodies. And anyway I didn’t want to be seen with her because I was terrified of getting caught with the girls smoking in the toilets because I wasn’t a naughty kid at all.
That was all part of some learning curve I was on, the relentless bullying and the dumbing down and that tough girl and what she did for me. And something else I learned in my childhood was that you don’t get sick and if you do, you just try and keep soldiering on. And I think originally that comes from when I was about twelve and I broke my arm falling off a fence. I told my mother I’d hurt my arm and she just said, “You’ll be all right, love, go and have a hot bath and relax it.” and gave me a Panadol and sent me to bed. I suppose she didn’t realise how bad it was. In the morning I was in agony and it wasn’t until later that morning I got x-rayed and had it set.
When I left school, it was expected that I would go to ANU and do a law degree. That was what my parents wanted and I did do it… for two months, and I hated it. Then I dropped out, much to my parents’ horror and I got a job. I think I wanted a bit of time off education as well.
So, I worked and saved up all my money and then, because I had studied ancient history and loved it, when I was nineteen I booked a flight to Egypt and I got on a plane by myself with a backpack and got off in Cairo. I walked through the airport and there were soldiers down each side with sub-machine guns. I had never seen anything like that in my life and I was terrified and I nearly turned on my heel to get straight back on a plane to Australia but I didn’t, thank goodness.
I stayed in Egypt for six weeks and I did one of those adventure tours, I guess they call them, but which really means cheap. We travelled in a rickety old bus and we slept in sleeping bags in the desert and then we went on a felucca which is a sort of a dinky little sail boat down the Nile and we stopped off at different places. I made a friend on the way, someone I’m still good friends with thirty years later, and we hired horses. Well we tried camels at first but they’re no fun to ride, they spit and stuff. But we got the horses and we rode out and visited the pyramids. I had my photo taken out there on a horse by the pyramids on my twentieth birthday. I have that photo on my wall. It’s a very special photo for me; it’s a favourite of mine.
After Egypt, I got on a plane and went to Europe for six months. Then I came back and moved to Sydney and enrolled at Sydney Uni.
When I first started at Sydney Uni my habit of putting myself down made me quite insecure because it was quite acceptable to be smart there. And in fact, I wasn’t the smartest one there at all by a long way. And that was rather threatening but also, at the same time, a real relief. I even went to therapy for a time to help me overcome putting myself down. Actually I was quite overwhelmed by the whole experience of that first year and all the kids from the north shore who turned up in their BMWs. I did not come from that world at all. I had my first job at fourteen working in a bakery during late night shopping and Saturday mornings. I’d had a job the whole time I was at school and then at uni. Anything I wanted, I had to work for it. And these rich kids had this whole different life, going out in yachts on the harbour. It was, like wow, really something to me.
For a long time I was a poor student renting in a share house and working part-time. And that’s where I met my partner, she was doing the same things I was. We started out as housemates and friends and then it developed from there and we put ourselves through uni together and got our degrees. We’d always wanted to buy a house so once we both started working we bought a house in the Blue Mountains because back then I think our house only cost $160,000. Well, of course it’s gone up a lot now, but back then we were able to buy up there, which was lovely and we were thrilled. We renovated the house, nothing major, just painting and the gardens and, you know, just things that we could do ourselves.
We were both still studying. My partner had launched a successful career and now has four degrees in four different areas. I really wanted to have a baby, to have children, but I put it off until I could finish my PhD, which I did when I hit 30. Then the property market up there started to boom. So we bought another house that was a deceased estate and, again, run down so we got it at a bargain price because it needed a lot of cleaning up and we had to take it as it was. But we renovated that one too, and that was an adventure. Eventually they both went up enough in price that we sold them both and had enough money to come back to Sydney and buy a house here.
By then I was pregnant and we had decided that we didn’t want to raise a child in the Blue Mountains. Even though we loved living up there, we’d been there for ten years and we both had come from Sydney. Well, I’d grown up in Canberra, but I’d moved to Sydney to go to university. We were really pleased with ourselves that we’d made enough money to be able to go back and buy in Sydney and that’s what we did. We bought a house in Leichardt and it was a major event, not only because it was what we wanted but also because our mortgage was massive. In fact, our mortgage took all of one of our salaries and we lived on the other. So it was a big deal.
I guess, looking back at my history before I became homeless, a lot of things happened in a short space of time that meant I had what is commonly referred to as a nervous breakdown. And I did it big time. I started drinking too much, to try and manage my anxiety and I would get manic and then depressed and then the drinking crept up and up and up until it became way too much and that caused its own problems.
And the lead up to that was my partner of nearly 20 years left me and I didn’t want the relationship to end and I was devastated. I was utterly devastated. My parents have been married for over fifty-five years now. So I had this expectation that that’s what you did. And we weren’t married because back then two women couldn’t get married but we certainly made a commitment to stay together. And that was very clear. My partner and I went to couples counselling for about six months and I think, to her credit, she really tried to make it work. But, in the end it was obvious that she wanted to go and she did. And that also meant that we had to sell our house, which was devastating as well. Neither of us could afford to keep it. And I thought of every possible way that it might be done and it just wasn’t feasible.
So we sold the house and I went back to renting. And so everything started to feel out of control. I lost my partner. I lost my home. I was looking after a three-year-old child on my own, because at that point in time, my partner didn’t just not want to be with me but she also didn’t want to be in a family with a child and she left and went overseas for two months. Now she’d never wanted to have children, but she’d agreed to be a parent alongside me, I guess, because she loved me so much. And then once we had our daughter she was surprised at how much she adored her and she still does. I think that as my daughter’s gotten older, they’ve kind of grown into each other even more. And indeed my daughter who’s fifteen now lives with my ex-partner.
To make things worse, in that same year, a close friend of mine died of ovarian cancer at the age of thirty-eight, leaving behind a five-year old daughter and a husband and that was the saddest funeral I’ve ever been to and that was really hard and I missed her terribly. Also at that time my mother was diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness and was in hospital for a long time and then, to cap it off, I had to have my dog put down and dogs have always been an emotional stability in my life. So things were feeling out of control in my personal life.
While all this was going on my work environment was undergoing big changes. The university management who had no understanding of what we were actually teaching, they were just managers, had decided that they wanted our degree restructured to be taught primarily online to save money. Now I had a really good working relationship with my colleague. He ran the grad diploma and I ran the masters and we both got about twenty students a year. And that was about enough for the profession and for each of us to manage. But they wanted our enrolments to be higher. Then they decided to shut my master’s degree down and I was fighting to keep it because I loved teaching it. I loved the content and I loved the students. I really enjoyed going to work at that point in time and I was doing research, I was publishing, I went to conferences and I gave papers. So I was really establishing myself and my career and I was the youngest on staff by about twenty years because I’d finished my PhD when I was thirty.
They then decided to move us both from Parramatta Campus, which I loved, to Bankstown, which was a lot further to drive and I just wanted to go back to my old office in that same kind of way you want to go back home. I think if I hadn’t been falling apart already, I would have coped with that. But because I was already struggling it added to the pressure. And then we had to go to endless meetings where we had to justify why we should even keep the degree and they wanted me to teach a different degree, in social work, which I didn’t want to do at all.
So I started to feel I had no control over what was happening at work and the decisions were being made by people who didn’t understand what I was teaching and didn’t understand the importance of practical placements and student support. And then I got into trouble because they changed a policy and nobody had informed me. I felt like I was being treated like a little kid at work and I felt out of control in my personal life and I was just barely holding it together.
That’s when I started drinking too much and bit-by-bit it increased. Because I was trying to manage my anxiety and I was trying to manage myself and calm myself down so I didn’t cry all night. And I tried not to cry in front of my daughter but I did sometimes and I had to say to her, “It’s all right, Mummy’s okay, Mummy’s just crying, she’s upset.” So it was all kind of crashing down.
And then I got involved in a situation with someone who was a stalker who followed me around although I didn’t know that until later. It was a woman oddly enough, a very large strong woman.
There was a pub on the corner where we were renting. Upstairs was pretty pubby but downstairs there was a restaurant and a nice beer garden out the back and I used to take my daughter and the new puppy I’d bought her and sometimes my parents and we’d sit out there. It was really nice and the food was great and not expensive, which was unusual for Leichhardt. And I’d seen this large woman around and I’d talked to her in a general sense, but then she propositioned me a few times when I was out and I said no. But she was very persistent and when I look back she was bullying me too; in fact, it was real perpetrator sort of stuff.
She said, “Oh, come on. I know you’re going to say yes. I know what you’re thinking. You know you will, I know you will, so why don’t we just get on with it?” She was very persistent. Looking back, I was too… well, I’m normally quite assertive. But I look back now and I think where had I gone? Like, who was I at that point in time? You know, when I was nineteen, I went to Egypt by myself with a backpack. And I think, where was that brave nineteen-year-old girl then. I was forty by then but I just felt quite perplexed — by myself, my identity and the situation around me, both personally and at work. What was I doing? And I did some pretty crazy stuff, when I got manic and when I was drinking and yeah, I just don’t know where I was. But at some point I got some of my old self back and I said to her, “No, no you don’t. You’re not in my head. And don’t tell me that you know what I’m going to do. Only I know that.” So I got some of that spark back, on and off, but it didn’t last long enough.
I know from my area of work, that people who are really vulnerable are like magnets. Now I’m not blaming the victim at all, but one of the things I found in my research into sexual assault and rape in adults is that you are ten times more likely to be raped as an adult if you were sexually abused as a child. And one of the respected psychiatrists, an American, Richard Kluft calls it a sitting duck syndrome. And he says, if you abuse a child, you teach them to not know and to not pay attention to the signals that they’re getting, because they can’t feel what’s happening and they can carry that into adulthood.
And then he talks about the sense that predatory men, and 98% of them are men, can almost smell vulnerability a mile away and they hone in on it and will go, haha, here’s a sitting duck, here’s a target. If you take someone who hasn’t grown up with abuse and put them in a dangerous situation, they start to feel wary and think they might get out of there. But somebody who’s been abused is more likely to just carry on as if nothing’s happened. So I think that something like that is what happened with this woman and me. And as I said, in this case, it was a woman.
And she knew where I lived.
Luckily my daughter was staying with my ex-partner that night. It was her birthday in a couple of days and I’d got her a birthday cake and made some presents and games and I’d gone to bed. It was summer and hot but I’d put on a flimsy nightie thing, thankfully. My bedroom was at the front of the house where the front door was. Down the back of the house was the laundry and bathroom with a door and a window onto a little courtyard. And this woman broke in through the window and I didn’t hear it because it was one of those long narrow houses. And she came and stood at the foot of my bed and said, “Emily, Emily, Emily.” At first I thought it was my ex-partner but I thought, no, she’s gone. And then I thought it was my daughter, but, no, she calls me ‘Mummy’. And then I woke up and saw this large ominous figure at the foot of my bed. And I sat up and went, “What?” She goes, “It’s me, Anna.” And I said, “What are you doing?” She said, “I told you I’d come. I knew you’d agree.” And I said, “No, no, no. How’d you get in here?” And I went into this confused state of thinking, but I think I went into automatic pilot or survival mode, I don’t know, but something good kicked in and I started to get out of bed and she said, “No, stay in the bed. That’s where I want to be with you.” But I said, “No, come on, let’s go down to the kitchen and get a drink.” Luckily she’d brought some beer over with her and she said, “Yeah, I left my beer down there.” So I said, “That’s good. You have your beer, I want a glass of wine and let’s go sit in the kitchen.” All I could think was I wanted to get her out of the bedroom.
Sitting in the kitchen the woman started talking about how she’d just taken out a lease on a house so that she and I and my daughter could all move in together. And I thought, holy shit, I’m in one of those movies on TV and I was tossing up whether I should along with it or not. But when I said, “I don’t want to move in with you” she said, “Yes you do.” So that’s when I thought, I’m just going to have to go along with this for a bit. So I said, “But I haven’t even seen the house”, trying to divert the conversation and I’m thinking, holy shit, I’ve got a real loony here. And that’s my best professional language. I had a photo of the day my daughter was born, the moment my partner brought her to me, and she pointed at it and said, “I hate that photo.” And I said, “Why?” And she said, “Because it should be me bringing the baby to you.” And again, I thought you’re mad.
By then the conversation had gone on like that for about twenty minutes and I was umming and ahing about confronting her or not, or what to say; how to get her out of there and how to get my mobile and dial triple zero. But every time I went to stand up, she’d say, “No, sit down, you don’t move. I know what you’ll do. You’ll get your phone.” Then eventually I said, “Look, I’ve really got to go to the toilet, I really have to go.” She said, “Well, I’m coming with you,” and she followed me down to the bathroom, and I really did have to do a wee, or I was going to wet myself, and I was wetting myself metaphorically anyway.
In the toilet I tried to think how to get out. I’d locked the front door so I knew it’d take me a while to unlock it; I couldn’t just fling it open and run. Now our new little dog was in the house and he was a Staffie, but do you think my lovely Staffie came to protect me? He was in the lounge room hiding under the coffee table! But I had an idea because she’d met my dog and liked him. So I came out and said, “I just need to go and check on Benji, I’m worried about him because he’s scared. I can see him under the coffee table. I’ll just go and check on him.” But she said, “No, he’s not scared of me. No.”
And that’s when I started to get shitty and I thought, I can’t do this all night, I don’t know where it’s going to end” and I said, “Look, you can’t break into my house and act as if you own me. You don’t, and I don’t want to move in with you and I don’t want to go out with you!” And with that, she reached over to where I had one of those blocks with knives in. She got the biggest one out and she put it to my face, and said, “You can’t do this to me. You’re hurting me,” and I was thinking, oh my God, I’ve made it worse but at the same time, I thought, what else I was going to do? Then suddenly she raised the knife and said, “This is how much you hurt me,” and she brought it down and cut halfway through her other arm and blood spurted everywhere.
I went into shock, I couldn’t even stand up, She got up and staggered around. She was bleeding everywhere, and it was all over the kitchen walls and she said, “I’ll check on Benji.” So then there was blood all up the lounge room walls and all over the carpet. I started to come to a bit, and I told her to come back and sit down. I said I thought I needed to get her an ambulance but she said she wouldn’t go to a hospital because they’d ask what had happened. She said, “You did this to me. You did this.” I said, “Okay,” I said, “Look I’m really sorry. It’s a very kind offer that you’ve made about the house, I’ll think about it.” Because I was thinking if I could only stall her a bit, if she bleeds enough, she’ll be weak. So part of my brain was still working. And so I just kept being nice for about ten minutes or so, “Yes, we can be together, it’ll be okay. I’m sorry I rejected you. No, no, I didn’t mean it. You’re right.” I was crapping on; I never lied so much in my life. I would have said anything.
Eventually when she was looking a bit dopey, I said, “Look, let me just go and check on Benji, will you, okay?” And she said, “All right, but don’t you do a runner,” and I thought, “All right!” So I went in to Benji and then I bolted for the front door and she started screaming and staggered after me but I got the door open. She was right behind me, and I flung myself out the door and onto the street, and all I’m wearing is this flimsy nightie, no shoes, no wallet, no keys, no phone, no nothing … and I just ran. I was covered in blood, it was all through my hair, and I went screaming down the street.
I knew my neighbours quite well, but it was like four o’clock in the morning, and I thought if I went into their little courtyard entrance to ring their bell she’d catch up with me and I thought she still had the knife. So I just ran and ran and ran, down the street, round the corner and up around the block, and by then I’d lost her. I think she’d been too weak.
Then I went to a guy that I knew who lived with his family around the corner and banged and banged on his door, I was freaking out. Eventually he opened the door, in a towel, and he goes, “Emily, it’s four o’clock in the morning … oh, you’re covered in blood! ” and I’m standing there going, “Dial triple zero, dial triple zero, dial triple zero!” He did and he put me on, and they told me the police and ambulance were on their way and to just stay where I was until they rang me and said they were at my house. And so they rang me and said, “She’s gone and the front door’s wide open, and the dog’s still under the coffee table.”
So I went home and spoke to the police and the ambulance people there, and they told me it was really serious and they needed to get detectives out there and that I had to wait. I was shaking like a leaf. I told them that I needed to get inside to get some clothes, and my daughter’s birthday present. But they told me I had to stay outside and they put that crime scene tape around my front yard and I was thinking, what just happened? I’m in a movie. I’m in CSI or one of those cop shows. This isn’t my life. This just isn’t my life.” I kept trying to go in and eventually the police took me over to the ambulance. One of the ambulance guys got hold of my shoulders and he looked me in the eyes and he said, “You’re in shock. You need to come to the hospital.” He lifted me in and told me to sit there until I’d spoken with the detectives. And when they turned up I said to them, “I’ve got to go in there and clean it up. I’ve got to clean up the blood,” and they went, “No, no, no. You’re going to hospital.”
One of the detectives was trying to calm me down and she asked me what it was I wanted. I was worried about having some clothes to wear to the hospital, which was a bit silly because I’d be put in a gown anyway. But I kept fixating on little details that seemed important. So they took me to hospital and admitted me and the nurse asked me how I was feeling and was there anything she could get me. And I said, “Yeah, a double scotch,” and she said, “Oh, love, I’d love to, but I can’t give you that in a hospital. I can give you a couple of Valium if that’ll help?” And I said, “Yeah, anything that calms me down will do.” So they gave me a couple of Valium and I went to sleep for a while, and then the two detectives turned up, and I have to say, they were brilliant, these detectives. All the cops that I had in this incident and the one after, they were brilliant and really supportive.
The detectives said they’d found her, “It wasn’t hard. She wasn’t far away, she was staggering up the street and she’d left a trail of blood behind her.” And then they said, “So we’ve taken her to hospital but we just wanted to let you know we’ve taken her to a different hospital.” And I’m sitting there thinking, oh, that’s good, they think of everything and feeling quite cheerful … well, I think the Valium was kicking in.
I went home the next day. There were two women there, forensic cleaners. They were in white suits with white gumboots and masks and I thought I’d walked into a TV show. They were scrubbing the walls down and cleaning everything. I must have still been a bit stupid because I said, “Oh, I thought I’d have to do this. Do you want me to help you?” And they went, “No, absolutely not. You are not to come in here. Can you go to a friend’s place for a while? This is going to take us all day. You can come back tonight” And I said, “But I should help you,” and one of them said, “No, you don’t understand. This is blood, it’s contaminated; you don’t touch anything.”
So I went away and I stayed for a while at a friend’s place. He put on the TV and I remember just sitting there on the lounge, not taking anything in, just tuned out. Later, when I got back home the women were still there, they’d almost finished. I remember it so clearly, all the little details, like the covered chairs from the dining room out in the courtyard. They’d had blood all over them. They’d got a steam cleaner in to do them, they’d organised everything, and it just looked like nothing had ever happened. Mind you, later on I got a bill for $4,000!
Well, the next day we had my daughter’s birthday, and I was not in a good way, but I got through it. And then about two days later the police took out an AVO against the woman, which, as you probably know, are pretty much useless when you’ve got someone who’s determined to hurt you.
Someone had organised to have a board nailed up until the glass was replaced and the owner was really kind and had bars put on the windows so that was good. But about three days later I’d got home about seven o’clock at night and I was just putting the key in the lock when I felt as if someone was around although when I looked I couldn’t see anyone. Still I felt a bit uneasy and I thought, just get inside and lock the door, Emily. But just as I opened the door she came up behind me and knocked me flat to the floor, and said something like, “I’m going to fucking kill you,” and then she picked me up and dragged me in and locked the front door. I was screaming my head off but she put her hand over my mouth and said, “If you don’t shut up, I’ll really hurt you.”
She dragged me down the hallway and shoved me into the kitchen and then she picked me up and threw me across the room. I hit my head on the wall and landed on the floor and she came up and stood towering over me with a leg on either of my hips. I just lay there looking up and she said, “You tricked me and you ran away. Now I’m going to get you.” All I could think was that I was going to die. I was going to die without ever seeing my daughter again and she’d grow up without her mum. “I read your statement to the police about how you tricked me so you could run away,” she said, “Well, you’re not tricking me this time.”
She took off her belt and said, “This is what you deserve,” and she put it around my neck and started to choke me. “I’m going to fucking kill you, and don’t think you can trick me this time.” Now, once again, I don’t know what kicked in, part of my training, I guess, and my work in the trauma area, but I thought, okay, I know what I need to do. Part of me was thinking really clearly and part of me was this gibbering idiot who could barely speak. I managed to get my thumbs under the belt (I had bruises afterwards on each side of my neck from my thumbs holding the belt off) and I said, “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me,” and she said, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I?” And I thought, okay here’s my opening, and I’m still impressed that I thought of this. I said, “Listen, you have a daughter and she’s coming to visit next week, isn’t she?” “No, the week after,” she responded and then I said, “And you’re a mother, so you know what it’s like to love a daughter,” and she said, “Yes, I do” and she eased off on the belt a bit, and I kept looking her in the eye, trying to look friendly and I said, “And what would your daughter do if something happened to you?” “Oh my God, she’d be devastated,” “Well”, I said “You know I have a daughter and she needs her mother. And if you kill me, she won’t have a mother.” I said, “And I don’t want to lose my daughter. You’re a mother. You understand what that feels like. Now would you want this to happen to you?”
I don’t know how I knew how to do that, to go for that connection. Well I do know, but I don’t know how it came to me to do it then. Eventually I said, “Come on, we’re both mothers. We both have a daughter each. You have to understand why you can’t do this to me,” and she said, “Oh, all right,” and she took the belt off and pulled me up and sat me on the kitchen chair and she sat opposite me and she said, “So, um, are we back on then?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, of course, darling,” and I thought, “I don’t care. I’m not dead. I don’t care what I say or do, I will do anything,” so I said, “Yeah, yeah, of course we’re back on.” And she said, “Good, let’s go to bed.”
And then she raped me, well, she wouldn’t have called it rape, but I certainly did — I didn’t give consent. She didn’t even ask me to agree, she just did it, and she just took it that I was happy with it, which I wasn’t. I was freaking out even more, but I just wanted to placate her. After that she went to sleep, but in the morning, she did it again and it was quite violent and I had a lot of bruising afterwards.
When she’d finished I told her she had to get off to work or she’d be late and she said, “Yeah, yeah, but when I finish work, I’ll come and pick you up and we’ll go and you can see the house,” and I said, “Yeah, that’d be great, I’m really looking forward to it. Oh, it’s so nice that we’ve worked things out.” And I was thinking, how can she not tell that I’m lying? Like, any normal person would see through me straight away, because I was shaking and my voice quivering and I’m looking like a scared rabbit in the headlights. But she got dressed and she left and I deliberately got up and went to the door and kissed her goodbye on her way out. Yerck! That was hard!
And then I locked the door and she was gone! I sat on the lounge and I thought, I need to call the police but I couldn’t. I just sat there in an absolute stupor, I just couldn’t move, I couldn’t even pick up the phone. It was like I was just in this paralysed state, and I sat there and sat there until around two o’clock in the afternoon she rang. I answered the phone, because I saw that it was her and she said, “Darling, I’ve organized to leave work early. I’m coming now. I’ll be there in about an hour, maybe less” and I said, “All right, I’ll see you when you get here.” Again, my smart brain kicked in, and I was thinking fast. At first I thought I should get out of the house but then I thought, no, I want her on my property, because then she’s in breach of her AVO, and I don’t even have to prove that she did anything else, but that wouldn’t have been hard to prove anyway.
And what I did was I went to my neighbours, the one next door and the one next door to her and I told them what was going on, and they’d known something had happened because they’d heard me screaming. I told them I was going to lock the front door and try to keep the woman outside where I had two wicker chairs on the front porch. I asked them to stay in their courtyards and pretend to be talking about plants or something. “But” I said, “As soon as you see her coming down the street, I want you to ring the police. Can you do that? I’m just going to keep her placated until they turn up.” They were worried, “Sounds dangerous, are you sure?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m sure. I think I know what I’m doing. Well, I don’t know what else to do. I really want her taken away or she’s going to come back in a couple of days.” So they agreed.
So she turned up with beer and a bottle of wine for me, and I’d anticipated that, so I had a wine glass ready. She saw me sitting out the front and she came up and she said, “Hey, darling, how are you? Have you had a good day?” Like nothing had happened. And I was thinking, “You are mad.” That’s what made it scary. It was like there was no way of reaching her. Well I sort of did over the mother daughter thing, but, oh God, that was a gamble.
She wanted to go inside but I said, “Let’s just sit out here. Have a cigarette. I know I let you smoke inside but I really don’t like it. It makes the house smell. You enjoy your beer. It’s a nice afternoon and it’s nice being outside for a change.” I could see my neighbours talking over the fence and then one of them went inside and I thought oh thank God and I just kept trying to stall the woman. Then I heard the police car at the top of the street You know they’ve got a particular sound and I thought, Okay, they’re coming and so I stood up and I said, “Oh, I just need to talk to my neighbour about something for a minute.”
And I got out the front gate and shut it so I had it between us and I could hear the police cars, only a couple of houses away, and I started walking towards next door’s gate, when she caught on and stood up and called out, “Emily, what are you up to?” But by then my neighbour had opened her gate and she threw me in her front door and locked it and then the police car pulled up, and the woman freaked out and tried to run, but they got her. They arrested her and the same detectives came and interviewed me again, and they said, “Don’t worry, we’ve put her in jail overnight, and we’ll present in court tomorrow. She’ll remain in lock up. She’s not going to come anywhere near you. And we’ll call you as soon as we hear anything.” My neighbour went, “Oh man, that was stressful!” I thanked them but I didn’t give them the details of everything that had happened.
I went to court the next day, and they didn’t give her bail, given that she’d done it twice and breached the AVO. She was remanded in custody until the court case. And that’s what I thought would happen because I’ve worked in the area, and I know if someone breaches AVO they start to move in heavier.
After that I couldn’t stay there, I just couldn’t but I didn’t know where to go so the police put me in touch with a sort of protective custody arrangement that was a series of six villas with a fence all around it and security. To get in the front door you had to buzz and there was a camera so the people in the office could see you and they’d let you in, so it was very secure. There were welfare workers there too, so I packed up my entire house within a day, put it all in storage and my daughter and I went to stay there the next day. They suggested that I stay there until after the court hearing so we ended up being there for about six months. In the meantime, I’d meant to go back to work, but after all that there was no way I was going back to work, and then I started having all this post traumatic stress, which is classic stuff, I know, because I’ve taught it and worked with it.
But it’s really weird when you find it happening to yourself. I shouldn’t call it a stress disorder; it’s more a stress reaction. You’ve got what’s called an ‘exaggerated startle response’. I’ve written that phrase in reports about people for court so many times. And then I had it myself. One day I was in the post office and I’d left my keys on a counter when I went to queue up and a man picked them up and came to give them to me. He tapped me on the shoulder from behind to get my attention. Well, I nearly jumped out of my skin and I screamed the place down. Everyone was staring at us, wondering what had happened. He was really embarrassed… and so was I.
I’d started drinking again when I was in the villas. They had a no drugs and alcohol policy but I used to drink before I got back home. But I decided I wanted to stop so I booked myself into hospital detox. And one of the things that can happen during detox is hallucinating and that’s what happened to me. I woke up one night and there was a man standing at the end of my bed staring at me. I called out to him, “Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here?” But he didn’t say anything; just kept staring at me with his evil eyes and the person in the bed next to me said, “Who are you talking to?” I started to panic and I rang a friend and told him there was a man at the end of the bed and I couldn’t find the button to press and to please ring the nursing staff to come. And because I sounded so genuine my friend panicked and rang the nursing staff. They told him there wasn’t any way a man could have got past them into my ward but that they’d go and check anyway. And so the nurse came in to me and asked me what was the matter and I told her about the man at the end of my bed. She said, “No there’s not. There’s no man. You’re hallucinating.” And the next day I saw the psychiatrist and he confirmed that what I’d seen, that what had seemed so real to me, was just a hallucination. And he said, “Now, I know a bit about your history and I suggest that you thinking there’s a man at the end of the bed is a sort of repetition of what happened in real life with that woman.”
Fortunately, by the time court case came up I had stopped drinking so I was able to write a coherent three-page impact statement. And when they came to sentencing, the judge said that what I had written was brilliantly put and exactly what victims of domestic violence feel when someone they know violates them in their own home. She said I was very brave and that what had happened was totally unacceptable and that as a society we need to do something about it. And that felt like a bit of a victory to me because someone had heard my voice. And she turned to the woman who’d assaulted and raped me and said, “What you did was a violation of a woman’s body and her privacy and her sense of safety in the world. And that is not on. And you have to pay a price for that because there are consequences when you behave like that, whether you’re a man or a woman.” And I felt validated.
The sentence she got was quite short – I thought it was appallingly short. But the lawyer for the DPP had recommended we take out the bit where she said, “I’m gonna fucking kill you” and drop the attempted murder charge and just stick with assault and a breach of AVO. Otherwise, he said her lawyers would come after me. “They’ll dig up every piece of dirt about your personal life they can including that you’ve been to rehab. Her lawyers have already come back to me saying, well, you know, Emily always liked really rough sex. She asked for it, she gets into it.” “What! I said. I was shocked “No I don’t!” Well, he told me, the only way to counter that would be to get my ex-partner to make a statement. I did talk to her and she was willing to do it for me but we both thought it was just too much exposure of our personal lives.
So in the end we agreed to drop the attempted murder charge. He pointed out to me that if we didn’t the case could drag on for over a year. I wouldn’t be able to move on and if I lost, I’d be up for all of her legal fees. “And,” he said, “From what you said in your statements, you’ve had a really rough couple of years lately. I think it’s more important that you focus on looking after your daughter, staying sober and getting your feet back on the ground.”
I was glad he said that to me. Because although I was for social justice and I was angry, I was torn between thinking “You’re not backing down, Emily! You don’t take shit lying down!” and thinking “I’m not strong enough. It’s really going to knock me around that whole process.” It was already making me sick and I’d been in enough court cases to give statements as the therapist of somebody who’d been assaulted to see the way rape victims get treated. And I knew it was really nasty, really, really nasty. I’ve sat in too many of them. And my lawyer told me that when he’d spoken with her and her lawyer, she seemed very contrite and sad and sorry about what she’d done. So we accepted her guilty plea for the lesser offences and that was the end of that. And I haven’t seen her again since. And that was about 2008 or 2009 when all that happened.
They let me stay in the villas until after the court case but they’d already told me they wanted me to leave—because of my drinking. They said I was welcome to come back if I went to long-term rehab. But I didn’t ever want to come back there again. I hated it there. I hated it. There was one nice woman there that I became friends with. She was pregnant and had her baby while I was there. But most of the other women I had nothing in common with. And a lot of them were on drugs or methadone and were abusive to me. I got screamed at. They’d say, “You think you’re so good. Why do you talk so posh? Why don’t you just talk normal like us? You’re up yourself!” But you know, I just talk like this because I’m well educated and well spoken. It’s how my parents talk. That sense of insecurity and being not in control that I had in primary school when I used to walk to school dreading it, thinking what are they going to do today, was restimulated. Here I was getting the same bullying and having to dumb myself down again to survive but from adult women this time. And I wasn’t used to that because I’d mixed with university academics and people in the health profession and they weren’t like that. And so it was a shock to find myself back in that world.
And I was really pissed off that I was being told I had to leave because of my drinking but there were people there behaving appallingly who were on methadone. I mean I was drinking too much but the way I drink it’s just to stay mellow. I complained about it but they said to me,”Well that’s a legal drug, it’s prescribed. It’s part of her program of recovery.” So eventually they told me I had to leave and that’s part of how I ended up homeless.