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‘He would lie on top of me and try to strangle me’

Shannan Thomas was the domestic violence victim with an ex AFL player for six months. She now counsels women in domestic violence situations and has launched The Red Flags DV to educate and call out the “red flags”.

It was early 2017 when I thought I had fallen in love. I had fallen so deeply in love that I didn’t realise it wasn’t love at all – it was pure lust.

I received a friend request on Facebook one day from this familiar-looking guy. We had mutual friends – tick. I was pretty sure we knew each other 20 or so years ago – double tick. I accepted the request and shortly after he inboxed me – and we just hit it off. We messaged each other back and forth for a fair few months until we initially caught up. He was located in Melbourne and I was based up on the Sunshine Coast so I went down to see him. Yeah, he was great over message, but he was even better in real life. I felt that instant connection from our first date and I just knew there was something special between us.

This guy, he was just different to others. He made me feel comfortable. He made me feel welcome. He made me feel so loved; the kind of love you only hear about in fairytales.

He paid for my return flights to Melbourne every fortnight just so he could spend time with me. He opened his home to me, he brought me coffee and toasted sandwiches in bed, he let me use his car, and he even introduced me to his kids the second time I visited him.

When I wasn’t by his side in Melbourne, he would go out of his way to send me extravagant bouquets of flowers, write me letters, and would constantly call and leave messages just to tell me I was his soulmate and that he was head over heels for me.

Everything about him was perfect. But that was the major problem – he was just too perfect to be true, and this was something I began to realise a fair few months into our relationship when the cracks began to show.

We’d go out to dinner and I’d always catch people watching us in shock as he would speak to me. They would just stare and not say anything. I didn’t know what they were looking at. I was completely oblivious to the fact that he was raising his voice and talking to me indecently. In my eyes he was just the guy who deeply cared for me.

And then more signals here and there made me begin to question the guy I had learned to love.

He would start arguments for no reason, blame me for things he was accountable for, and when I couldn’t make it down to Melbourne for the weekend because work got in the way, he would make me feel guilty as though I was wasting his money.

Those beautiful messages and calls I once received turned into obsessive and abusive ones. Sometimes I would get up to 42 missed calls and 50 text messages – and when I did reply, I never got a sincere reply back; it was just question after question.

But all this was just a taste of what was to come because the verbal abuse slowly turned into physical abuse.

It’s difficult to talk about the things he would do because it’s still so raw. He would smash my phone because he was paranoid I had contacted the police. He pushed me against a fence and severely hurt my head. He would drag me across the floor, lie on top of me, and try to strangle me by clutching me so hard I couldn’t breathe.

The worst thing was that after these acts of violence he would somehow find a way to convince me that it wasn’t his fault at all, but in fact, was all my fault – that I was over exaggerating, that he didn’t do anything, and that the cuts, bruises and abrasions were just a result of my own silly accidents.

I was living every day in fear knowing that the unthinkable could happen at any moment. I was counting down the days until he killed me.

This is my story of domestic violence. My story that has destroyed me to my core. My story that will haunt me forever. And my story I want to share with everyone so that no other soul has to endure the same pain I did, and still am, going through.

With the help from friends, family and the police, I was able to get out of the situation safely. What I am thankful for is the fact that I am still here today – especially to help spread awareness around domestic violence.

The facts

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:

  • 1 in 5 (1.7 million) women have been sexually assaulted and/or threatened since age 15.
  • 1 in 6 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner.
  • 72,000 women sought homelessness services in 2016-17 due to family/domestic violence.
  • Intimate partner violence causes more illness, disability and deaths than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44.

Early domestic violence signs to look out for in a relationship

1. Listen to your gut

I would say that if you get a gut feeling or any feeling that doesn’t feel right, that’s your brain telling you that something is a bit odd. You need to trust your intuition and listen to your body senses. If your hairs stand up, listen to that. If you feel as though your energy is drained while you’re around that person, take note of that. If you get headaches around them, that’s a sign, too.

2. If your relationship moves too fast

This is really hard to judge when you’re in a relationship because people do fall in love very quickly. But try and take a step back and ask yourself – what is the intent? What is the motive?

If they’re wanting to move in with you, or if they’re wanting to stay with you very quickly, these are subtle signs. It doesn’t mean that’s the case in every situation, but it’s just something to keep in mind.

3. Trial the ‘No Test’ on them

Rob Andrew, a counsellor with 20 years’ experience, discovered the ‘No Test’ after speaking to a colleague about an argument with her new boyfriend.

“The No Test is basically to watch out for the way your partner responds the first time you change your mind or say “no”,” Andrew explained in an interview with ABC News.

“While expressing disappointment is okay, it’s not the same as annoyed. Annoyed is ‘how dare you’, a sign of ownership or entitlement.”

So, if you say ‘no’ to your partner and they respond in an abusive manner, you get a very good understanding of where they sit with you. Respect is a key factor in a functional relationship, and if they can’t agree with you on certain things, that is extremely problematic.

4. Beware of love bombing

We all grew up hoping those fairy tales could one day become reality, so it’s in our innate nature to want that feeling of affection and security from someone. But once that security turns to obsessive behaviour, including stalking, everything changes.

In my case, love bombing was through the extreme text messages and constant phone calls. And when I did respond to his call or message, I never got a decent response back – it was just a mountain of demanding questions. Love bombing feels good, until it doesn’t.

5. If they make you feel guilty

Are they putting the blame on you? Do they make you feel untrustworthy? Do you begin to hate yourself when you’re around them? In my situation, the blame was always put on me, even when it came to physical abuse.

6. They introduce you to their kids very early on

I met his kids the second time I visited him in Melbourne. I think a lot of people would see that as a good sign because they want their partner to open up, but truly, you really need to get to know someone before meeting their kids. It’s a major red-flag.

7. If your money becomes a hot topic

It didn’t happen with me, but things like them having control over your finances is another alarm bell. Make sure to always have your blinkers on so you can see the best in them.

How to deal with domestic violence

I was lucky in my case because I sought help before it actually led to someone getting severely hurt, or even worse, killed. At first, I was embarrassed to open up to anyone about the things he was doing to me, but speaking to others was, in fact, my saving grace.

My friends and family, and surprisingly even his friends, all warned me to get out before he killed me. Telling them what had happened, how bad it was getting, and hearing their opinions, all helped me realise that the relationship I was in was severely damaging. I reached out to the police and they were able to put a restraining order on him in both states.

It’s difficult to understand from the outside, but when you’re in an abusive relationship you become vulnerable, everything is a blur, and your partner can become very persuasive.

1. Break the silence

Breaking the silence is the hardest thing. You do feel isolated and that’s the technique they want – they don’t want you talking to anyone, and definitely don’t want you to understand you’re in an abusive relationship. Talk to your friends and family, and even talk to your neighbors. Help is never too far away.

2. Take baby steps

It takes 7-10 abusive actions for a victim to be in a state of mind in which they want to escape a relationship. Even though each person’s experience is different, seeking domestic violence counselling very early on is imperative. It might not be that bad, but if you talk to someone who can clarify those early warning signs and tell you yes, it is abuse, then that’s professional clarity you can’t argue with.

3. Contact authorities

There are lighter restrictions that are based on good behavior, which you can put on your partner if you are too scared to leave. This allows you to see if their behavior improves. However, if nothing improves and it only exacerbates, you need to go to the police and get a full DVO (Domestic Violence Order) or AVO (Apprehended Violence Order).

We’ve all grown up learning about fairytales and fantasies, so it’s only human to fall for someone straight away because you yearn for that fantasy to come true. But if you don’t trust your intuition, it can be too good to be true. There is a fine line between love and lust, and not being aware of the difference can send you down the wrong path.

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