White Ribbon Day shows abuse not a private matter

FOR the first few years of her relationship, Siobhan Kent did not have an inkling that things would turn so bad. That one day she would turn up to work with her arms marked with bruises and her spirit battered.

Her partner was someone she thought she'd spend her life with.

''He was the love of my life. I thought we were going to get married eventually,'' she said. ''It was fine for the first few years or so. I was working in media and PR (public relations) and he had a good career going also. We were living by the beach and doing other ventures on the side.''

Ms Kent, who was living in Sydney when she met him, gave up her career to pursue a shared dream together. They uprooted their lives to start a business in Queensland.

But in time, as the business started to turn sour, so did their relationship. ''He was trying to exert his control in other areas, over me.''

And from then the abuse started, both physical and emotional. ''Mentally, I didn't feel like I could live. I felt trapped. He told me 100 times a day that I was pathetic, ugly, worthless and that I was an insult to be around,'' she said. There was also physical violence. The attacks on her were so bad that she was hospitalised several times from her injuries.

It was a position she never expected to find herself in as an educated woman with a good career. But her story is not unusual.

Bureau of Statistics figures from 2005 suggest partner violence happens to women from all types of backgrounds. About one in six women had experienced domestic violence from either a previous or current partner. That's about 1.3 million women.

Academics say that changing the attitudes of men is important in tackling violence against women and that abuse should not be seen as a private matter. Rather, abusers need to be told calmly that it is not all right.

University of Wollongong senior lecturer Michael Flood, a researcher on men's violence, said events such as White Ribbon Day on Sunday were important as they involved thousands of men in the community taking a stand against violence. ''We'll fail to stop men's violence against women unless we can engage a large number of men in taking everyday action,'' he said.

Ms Kent - now championing the White Ribbon anti-violence message at her work and in her private life - says if one of her ex-partner's friends had pulled him aside about his behaviour ''that would have made the world of difference to me''.

''I was isolated. Just one offer of assistance from someone would have helped,'' she said.

Then, in early 2010, she abandoned her life in Queensland. Now, working in public relations, she feels ''I'm never going to be fully healed.''

This story White Ribbon Day shows abuse not a private matter first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.