The Australian Women's Weekly


She describes the final night as a shattering. The eggshells she had been walking on shattered. The invisible tension that warned her anything could trigger a torrent of abuse shattered. And the green ceramic pot that he threw at her head in a furious rage shattered. It split her lip open, causing a deep gash, then broke into dozens of shards on the cold, hard floor.

“I remember saying, ‘I don’t want to go to hospital’. That was part of that deep humiliation and shame. You know, ‘these things don’t happen to us’ … and the fear that he was going to come back,” Rachel recalls.

She’d been living in fear, but the terror had crept into her life so slowly that she hadn’t noticed how bad it was until it was too late. Coercive abuse, sometimes called intimate terrorism, is a methodical process whereby abusers strip away their victim’s liberty and sense of self. Isolation, gaslighting, surveillance and malicious criticism are all symptoms. Rachel’s abuser threatened self-harm if she left. She describes it as like being in a hostage situation.

“Even though people say to you, ‘It’s not your fault,’ you think, ‘Of course it’s my fault. I invited trouble into the door’,” she says.

In the months since the night she was assaulted, she has thought a lot about the manipulation that ensnared her, and what she can do to change things for other victim-survivors.

“My life at this moment feels like those shattered shards of ceramic,” she says. “I’m trying to pick them up one by one. How did this happen? How did I get here?”

Early warnings

Wearing a long, cream dress,

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