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News: Why do women stay with violent men? Because they're addicted to hope

Jane Caro, The Daily Telegraph, 23 November, 2015

The women in ABC’s 'Hitting Home' all cling to the romantic ideal of the happily ever after love that little girls expect, writes Jane Caro. They cling to it despite overwhelmingly terrifying evidence to the contrary.

When ABC investigative journalist Sarah Ferguson asks “Clare” why she stayed in a violent relationship for so long before fleeing, she replies poignantly that she was “addicted to hope”.

Versions of that answer are heard from all the women Ferguson interviews in her astonishing and chilling two part investigation into domestic violence. Called “Hitting Home”, both episodes air this week.

The women Ferguson introduces us to all cling to the romantic ideal of the happily ever after love that little girls are still groomed to expect. They cling to it tenaciously despite overwhelmingly brutal and terrifying evidence to the contrary.

As Australia’s only forensic doctor — Marie Nittis — tells Ferguson, domestic violence victims universally express shame and guilt about being beaten. They see the collapse of their relationship as their fault. Somehow they feel responsible for the behaviour of the men in their lives. All the women in episode one weep bitter tears as they confess that it was “embarrassment” and fear of being judged that kept them silent for so long.

Their fears are not unreasonable, as is starkly illustrated by the court case that follows the brutal assault of Isabella by her husband Ben. Ferguson follows the couple from AVO (which Ben breaches) to court case.

Ben denies all the charges and instead claims his wife injured herself (the injuries cannot be denied because of the horrifying police photos tendered in evidence) after coming home drunk after a night out with the girls. He presents himself as a caring but helpless husband desperate to do the right thing by an out-of-control wife.

“Isabella is a great woman,” he tells the court. “Except when she drinks.” His story invokes old stereotypes of the sad, angry, crazy female. His defence might have worked too, except for the fact that the (male) police officer who attended the incident testifies that while Isabella might have had a couple of drinks, she was “steady on her feet” and not intoxicated.

And it certainly doesn’t help Ben’s case when he responds angrily to questions from the female prosecutor. You can almost see him catch himself and recall what was perhaps his lawyer’s advice to keep calm.

Despite his version of events, Ben is convicted but his ability to twist the truth reveals that the women’s fear of being categorised as “bad”, disbelieved and blamed is not unrealistic. Especially as they all articulate how systematically their confidence and sense of self are undermined by their partners’ physical, emotional and psychological reign of terror.

“He told me no-one would want me after all the damage he’d done,” says one woman.

And for those who wish to argue that domestic violence is not just a crime perpetrated by men against women, Ferguson has all the facts and dismisses this claim with a terse “and they (the perpetrators) are mostly men”.

Not that we need that, we just need to use our own eyes. There are 200 refuges in Australia — for female victims. The Safe Rooms in court houses are packed with women and kids, not a male victim in sight. The Safe Rooms, by the way, are there to protect women and children from the terror of confronting their attacker.

Indeed, Ferguson pulls no punches (if you’ll excuse the term) in exposing us to the terrible cost exacted on children when their mother is beaten and abused. 78 women and girls have been murdered in Australia so far this year, almost all of them by a man who claimed to love them.

One police officer explains that she persuaded women to take action against their abuser by bluntly warning them that if they continue putting up with violence they may well end up dead.

This is compelling and important television. Ferguson and her team have done extraordinary work, not least in finding and playing the spine-chilling emergency calls for help made by many of the women she interviews. Their frantic terror in the moment of crisis hits home in a way nothing else can.

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