A New Zealand woman on how she and her children were abused by a string of partners – and finally managed to break free.
This essay is extracted from the remarkable book Her Say: Survivors of Domestic Abuse Tell their Own Stories, by Jackie Clark and The Aunties. There are 16 essays in the book, all based on interviews with women who have endured a world of trauma and abuse. Aunty in charge, Clark, has dreamed of a book like Her Say for years; it’s in stores from tomorrow and she could not be more proud.
In the introduction, Clark writes of the women: “They have experienced lives that few of us can ever comprehend, and they have survived. Now they are finding their voices, their light and their power, and sharing their stories is another step in the process.” On Twitter the other day, she wrote: “May you take strength from their honesty, and hope from their healing. It is what they wish for more than anything else.”
All royalties from the sale of Her Say go to support the work of The Aunties.
This essay contains true and graphic descriptions of emotional, physical and sexual violence, and of violence against children.
Scorpion Princess is a pseudonym; her story is true.
My mum was 16 when she had me. My dad was older than Mum – he was from the Islands. He left us when I was about one. The relationship between them was pretty toxic. I grew up everywhere – Mum moved quite often, and I went to 26 different primary schools around Auckland. While at Blockhouse Bay Intermediate, I started getting into a bit of trouble. I was running away, stealing cars and doing stupid things. I was 12 at the time. I have a 12-year-old now and I couldn’t imagine them doing that.
I ended up in Weymouth Girls’ Home, then Mum moved down to New Plymouth, away from everyone and everything. So I grew up there, from 13 until I was 23. I had a plan to get out: I was going to work on the trawlers. I worked for two years to get really fit and get all my qualifications, and then I went for my medical, which was required before I could start. I found out I was pregnant four days before I was supposed to go. I was 17. Soon after that I put my baby’s father in hospital for throwing a fridge-freezer at me from the second floor of a two-storey house. I had already lost the first baby I was carrying earlier that year when he gave me a hiding in the toilet.
S was a very angry guy. He ended up in jail for nine months. I came up to Auckland and I tried to live with my dad, but it just didn’t work. I was isolated, I wasn’t allowed to go out, I wasn’t allowed to do anything – my dad was pretty much the same as my partner.
I ended up moving back to New Plymouth when I was eight months’ pregnant, and got my first house. S got out of jail and I had my daughter, A. Sixteen months later I had my son, B. He was two and a half months premature. I’ll always remember the midwife saying to us: “He’s probably going to come out not breathing, and not alive.” She prepared us for the worst. And then he came out perfect.
S had this cycle. Every six months he would give me a hiding, so I knew that sometime in June I was going to get a really good one. He once threw the bonnet of the car through the windscreen when my son was sitting inside. I remember having to get my son’s ears checked, because when S smashed the windscreen, glass went everywhere. He threw the bonnet at the police as well, so they tasered him. He was pretty lucky, because a week later they tasered another guy, who died from it.
S was Māori and Pākehā. I got out of that relationship by going into jail. He went into jail first, and I ended up in jail six months after that. I had a car accident; I was drunk and I killed someone. It was just stupidity and definitely could have been avoided. My friend was sober, but I still ended up driving. I did three and a half years in jail, and when I went inside my children were left by themselves. I’m really, really lucky that my family stepped in to look after them; I got them back when I got out.
I wasn’t long out of jail and I was still on home detention when I met my third child’s dad, R. I thought he was the bee’s knees – he was Pākehā and I thought he would treat me right. I didn’t really understand about drugs and alcohol, because my first partner would only get drunk every six months.
R’s parents lived right across the road from us, and when we first moved in he would walk past the house 60 times a day, trying to catch me. He was nice at first, then the mental abuse kicked in. He would only get angry in the morning. He would drink all day and get angry the next morning.
He only hit me twice, but the mental abuse was awful. He would say really ugly things to me, and I was already down on myself – my self-worth was already shot. I remember him kicking us out; he wouldn’t even let me go back inside to get my baby’s bottle. She was only three months old. I had an abortion after that. I didn’t want to be with him, and I wasn’t going to have another baby to him. I was with R for three months in total, but it dragged out for two years because we had C together. There was a whole lot of back and forth, and it was just a mind-fuck.
Then I met my next partner, J. He was Māori – Ngāpuhi. I didn’t even like him; I just felt sorry for him because he had no teeth. And then I saw his wallet, and thought, “Cool! He’s loaded!” He had just stolen a bike and sold it, but I wasn’t to know that. He had broken up with his missus and jumped straight into my bed. He was on the run for breach of a protection order; I should have seen all the warning signs, but I didn’t. I was with him for about a month. I remember we went out one night and when we came back, we were lying on the bed, dressed, and fooling around, and then he got really angry and started hitting me. He was slapping my face and I think I passed out. I woke up in the corner of the room, naked. We had had sex, but I don’t remember any of it. I had strangle marks and bruises all over me. I was drunk, but I wasn’t that drunk. I got pregnant with my daughter D that night. I ran away from him. My three other children were with one of my exes, so I went and picked them up.
We got away from him and moved several times before we got out of Auckland. He was stalking me, robbing the house, doing some terrible things. We moved down to the Bay of Plenty and the car got stolen out of the driveway – he said he didn’t do it. I got my own house and I was still messaging him, telling him how much I loved him. I was stupid and naïve – just dumb, really. He didn’t love me; he loved everybody.
Apparently my daughter has 15 brothers and sisters, and five of them are around the same age. It’s quite yucky, really.
J would be nice one second, like a vicious dog on a chain the next … and then he would be nice again. I’d be thrown around and getting strangled, then he’d stop and say, “I love you”. Once, this went on for three days. I finally got out of there, zoomed out of the driveway, and ended up at my uncle’s place.
What I didn’t know was that he had unfastened the motor in our truck and I drove it from Auckland to Hamilton. When I got there my uncle said, “I don’t know how you got here – the motor should have fallen through onto the road!” I had to stay there for two days – nobody knew where I was; he had broken my phone. My uncle fixed my car and I was able to go back home.
He found out where we lived by following my son home from school. He knocked on the door, I opened it, and there he was. He had us on lockdown for two weeks. The kids weren’t allowed to go to school. We were doing nothing at home.
He even wrote cheques out, from my chequebook, for around $10,000 worth of stuff – clothes and a drum set – but there was nothing in the account. It was crazy.
After three bad relationships with men, I decided that I needed to try something new. Being with men wasn’t getting me anywhere, and I was sick of being beaten up. I was lonely. My stepbrother had committed suicide and he had been on crack a lot. I’d gone downhill – I felt like my support had gone, because my brother had always had my back. It’d always been him and me since I was eight.
So I was in a pretty dark place, and then I decided I’d try being a lesbian, because it seemed like a safer option, and I found someone who was interested in having a relationship with me. She was a lot younger than me. At first, she told me she was 23; then she admitted she was 21; I eventually found out she was only 19. She ended up being like one of my kids, really.
We would fight and yell and scream at each other. We would try to control each other – it was disgusting. That lasted for about four years. We even got married: I had to prove my love and prove that I was gay. The mental abuse is still there, though – for both of us. I turned into my exes – I would mentally abuse her because she wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box.
My dad and nanna turned against me because of that relationship. Then I got into some big trouble. I got really drunk and got into a fight outside a liquor store over a $12 box – and I bit this girl; I was so drunk I didn’t know I’d bitten her. I said to my wife, “If I got sent to jail, would you look after my kids?” – and she left me for another chick. That was pretty heartbreaking … I’d failed there, too. Then she tried to message me wanting to see the kids, but that door had closed for me.
About six months later, I met T. We met in January and I was pregnant by April. I would only have to touch him and I would get pregnant. I liked the fact that I was pregnant, and I loved the thought of having a baby, but I didn’t want to have his baby. I wanted an abortion. I knew he was trouble. We had only been together a month and he’d headbutted me. He was coming down off synnies [synthetic drugs] and when he was smoking that stuff his comedowns were awful. I thought he had a tummy bug once because he was spewing everywhere; I didn’t know what was going on because I had never seen what synthetics could do.
I was about seven months’ pregnant with E when he gave me a really, really good hiding. He was appearing in court that day on some charges over me and I was supposed to lie for him, and he was expecting the midwife to lie, too. The midwife was really, really scared for me. She ended up ringing the police on him, because he was on the run and she had seen him at our place. He ended up going to jail. We had been together a year.
I finally got someone to listen to me at Housing NZ. They tested the house we were in and it was contaminated with crack. I lost everything, and then they charged me $20,000 to cover all the moving costs. I had to steal back my own washing machine, fridge and TV, because they weren’t going to let me take it, because of the contamination. They weren’t going to replace anything and I didn’t have any other way of getting those items again. They moved us into a hotel, and we had to pay that back, too. Then I got a payout from ACC and I was able to replace all our household stuff.
T got out of jail and everything fell apart. He had a crack habit and was smoking weed as well. We invited everyone over on my birthday. We were having a drink and he ended up giving my best friend a hiding; when I tried to stand up for my friend, he gave me a hiding, too. He gave me plenty of hidings after he got out of jail. One New Year’s, he smashed the whole side of my face in. It was a really serious offence but somehow he got off.
T and I ended up moving back to Auckland. We had been together about two years by this time, and he was smoking synnies hard out, along with crack. He would spew all over himself, piss himself and shit himself. Then he would have fits and pass out. It would freak the living daylights out of me. And the next minute he’d be alive and jumping up and down. One time he stayed awake for 13 days – he was such a mess at the end of that. I was getting growlings and hidings from him. I was pregnant again, and he wasn’t working, nor was I. We were on the de facto benefit. The rent was paid but the power wasn’t. I was at the foodbank at the time. All the money would go on his drugs, and if I tried to steal my own money he would give me a good hiding.
One of my friends rang Aunty Jackie. I ended up texting her because my daughter F was about to be born and I had absolutely nothing for my child. T would pawn things, like our TV, so he could get his synnies. I was always at the foodbank, making up some story, but it was always because of his drugs.
We got married some time in all of that. We’d been together for a while and I was going to leave him, but we had started going to church by then. The people at church convinced him that we should get married. I was pregnant again. Two weeks before the wedding, he gave me a really big hiding; I had a huge black eye – I couldn’t even see out of it. I didn’t want to get married. I told the bishop, but he hadn’t seen what I looked like. He said to me: “T’s a really lovely guy, he’s been trying to change, and he’s been off the drugs.”
So I thought, “Okay. I’ll do what the bishop says.”
I told T and his mum that I didn’t want to get married, but I got bullied into it – really bullied into it. I ended up having to get married. A lot of people thought I was crying with happiness, but I was actually shit scared. I cried all the way down the aisle. I cried throughout the service. I had no voice whatsoever in that relationship.
Aunty Jackie turned up just after my baby was born. T and I had been together three and a half years, had two children together – but we had nothing else. Jackie helped me to get clothes for baby; she also filled up our freezer, got my son a phone and put on Christmas for us. We had a beautiful Christmas that year.
Then T’s grandmother died, so we went down to the Bay of Plenty for the tangi. We were there for 10 days and I ended up having to ring Aunty Jackie again; when she turned up I had two big black eyes. She didn’t judge me. She just said, “How can I help you?” I told her, “I’m trying to do lawns and start a business.”
She was so supportive of us. She didn’t ring Child, Youth and Family, and she bought me my first lawnmower, so I could go out and mow lawns. Mowing lawns kept T busy and gave him some synnie money, and the family could have food. That was all right for a little bit. We started the lawnmowing business in January, but by March I had kicked him out.
I would find him in the garage synnied out, or I’d walk into the lounge and the TV would be gone, and he’d be lying there synnied out. I had to ring the police to get him removed. He kicked my mouth and chipped a tooth on the front, and all the teeth at the bottom of my mouth have been kicked out.
T got out of jail in November and came up to Auckland after Christmas.
In April, he wanted me to go and pawn some stuff and I didn’t want to go – I was so embarrassed. I was ashamed and I was over it. He asked, “Can you get someone else to go and pawn it?” and I said, “No.”
I had to ask him to look after the kids – he’d only looked after them three times in our whole relationship. One of our daughters was at her friend’s place and didn’t want to come home because he was there. I was away for 45 minutes. I was only supposed to drop my friend off at the SuperClinic and come back, but the appointment went on longer, and I watched her kids while she was at the clinic.
I got back and my daughter was crying. He was still yelling at me because I wouldn’t go to the pawnshop. I said to him, “You need to leave.” Two of the kids were having their birthdays. I told him a lie and said we were going up to the urupā and then we were going to celebrate their birthdays. We were spending a lot of time at the urupā because my friend’s baby had died. I was getting all of my kids in the car, but one of them didn’t want to come. T ended up punching me because I was trying to grab her.
My mum rang me up and she told me she had been talking on the phone with E, my daughter. E had left two Rice Bubbles on the table from her breakfast, and T had beaten her up really badly because of it, while Mum was on the phone to her. E hadn’t told me any of this. I ended up bawling my eyes out, because it was her birthday and he had given her a hiding. I borrowed $20 and we went up to The $2 Shop and I let her spend all that money at the shop.
We got back and he still hadn’t gone. He was waiting until he got paid, but then he got someone to pick him up, and he was gone. I haven’t seen him since then. I’ve messaged him a couple of times – I get worried about him, I don’t know why. His choices are his own, and he chose to put me and my kids through all that – he was mean to them, with the yelling, and the abuse was just awful.
He was feeding my son up on drugs. He would say, “Come on, boy. We’ll go halvies on this synnie.” My son was 16 and he was already smoking weed. When I started going out with T, that’s when drugs came into my house. I drank but not very much. Drugs came into our lives and I remember him saying, “He’s 12 now, you’ll just have to let him. He’s already smoking drugs at his dad’s house, so you can’t say no.”
I should have stuck to my decision not to let him smoke drugs, but I didn’t. So my son was allowed to smoke drugs, and T was allowed to smoke crack in the washhouse. My son went from marijuana to synnies. I’m pretty sure they were giving him crack as well. He is so confused and hurt, and angry. From when he was three years old, he has always protected me. He took a broom to his father. He tried to take an ice hockey stick to J. I stopped fighting back with T. I would get dragged all over the floor and my son would try to save me. Of my six children, he’s my worry. He just got out of jail two weeks ago.
I know I haven’t been the best role model for my daughters. One was having relationship problems, and I asked her “Why do you let him do this to you?” She replied, “Have you shown me any better?” That broke me. I just said, “No, I haven’t, and I’m really sorry for that.” I have five girls now and I’m shit scared they’ll go through domestic violence.
My middle child – her confidence levels are pretty low. My fourth daughter – I’m pretty sure she’s suffering from anxiety, and if anyone raises their voice to my baby, she breaks and she cries. She just wants to be at home because it’s safe there. The effects of domestic violence have taken a toll and trying to unravel it is hard. Aunty Jackie has sorted out some family counselling for us – our first session is coming up. I’m really looking forward to it. There is going to be a lot of stuff come out, and it’s going to hurt, but it’s going to bring us all back together.
I’ve started building up my lawnmowing business. I’ve got about 30 lawns that I mow so far, and that money keeps us out of the foodbank. Before we started the business, after the rent and power were paid I only had $1.60 left over to pay for everything else for the family. Now the kids help out in the school holidays to earn some extra money. We can afford to go to the pools now, and I’ve been trying to save up money so we can go away camping for a weekend. We’re going to fish the kahawai run. I’ll show the kids how to do it.
With help from Aunty Jackie and Phil, I’m getting back on my feet properly. I’m bringing my family back together and I’m starting to have a voice; I’m meeting other ladies and I’m getting my sass back. I can have a conversation with people now. I had to go to court for my two younger girls. T said he was going to take me to court to get custody. When he had to leave our house, in April, he rang the police. He said to me, “You have to have some consequences, too. You’re going to lose the girls.”
He couldn’t get to me mentally anymore. He couldn’t get me physically. But he could get me through my girls, and as soon as he tried to do that I knew I didn’t want to be with him anymore, once and for all. I had CYF in my house at one point, and it was really serious. The judge told me that if I went back to him I would lose my children. I will never be with him again if it means losing my kids.
When I was with my wife, I studied social work and I’m now two papers away from getting my degree in social work. This year I want to do a business course, and then I’m going to do a degree in counselling, because I want to see how our brains work, and I want to help other ladies in domestic violence. I’ve discovered that I’m not dumb. My ex used to tell me I was dumb because I can’t spell properly. I got told I had dyslexia when I was a kid, but I think my problems are more to do with the fact that I went to 26 schools. I learnt okay when I had proper schooling. I think it will be good for me and will help me to understand my own head, too. Social work is my dream job.
I have a plan to buy us a house, once I get my business set up properly. Over the years we have moved over 30 times, and each time we had to rebuild from scratch. When my nanna died, she left me some money, and that has been ring-fenced to go towards our house. We can’t spend it on anything else. I just want to be able to settle in a house and not ever have to move again; my children deserve a place that they can call home.
My children are amazing and they’re working through the issues of being raised in domestic violence. Now I’m trying to positively mould the eight children who live in my house (I picked up some extras) – they’ve all seen so much in their lives. My children bring me so much joy; I keep on going because of them. And because there’s so many of them, I can’t stop. Once I had four kids, I wanted to get my tubes tied – I was 30, but they told me I was too young. I tried three times to get it done. I’m glad I have all my babies now. My true love is my children. My kids would never hurt me. That’s the unconditional love that I need.
I’m 39 years old and I’ve served everybody else, never myself. Now it’s time to find out who I am and just love me for myself. I haven’t done that before. I like being in my own skin; I like myself. I’m not ashamed, and I’m not with a guy I’m ashamed of either. Every day I try to find positive things in my life. My children and I are now setting out to create memories together. Every day is a new day.
Her Say: Survivors of Domestic Abuse Tell Their Own Stories, by Jackie Clark and The Aunties, with Sonia Yoshioka Braid (Random House New Zealand, $35) will be available from tomorrow from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington.
0800 88 33 00 National Rape Crisis helpline. Find helplines and websites for those affected by sexual violence in your own area at rapecrisis.org.nz
0800 623 1700 HELP Auckland – free from any phone, 24 hours a day, every day
0800 733 843 Women’s Refuge crisis line — free from any phone, 24 hours a day, every day.
0508 744 633 Shine Helpline — free from any phone, 9am to 11pm every day.
0800 456 450 It’s Not OK info line — free from any phone, 9am to 11pm every day.
You can ask for help online through the Women’s Refuge Shielded Site service available on popular New Zealand websites.
The service is private and won’t show up in your browser history, so you can get help without anyone finding out.
- Go to a New Zealand business website that offers the service, such as The Warehouse, Countdown and Trade Me.
- Click on the Shielded Site logo, usually at the bottom of the website:
- You can ask the Women’s Refuge for help, make a plan to leave and learn how to stay safe online.