I've had to retrieve written information to place myself once again in those months (2 years) during which I was put through a real ordeal. Time has fortunately erased the unpleasant memories and, after 5 years of peace and tranquillity, when I can even say I’ve let down my guard, I will happily tell you about my experience because luckily it ended well.
It all began when I noticed something wasn't right about the relationship a close friend of mine was in. Little things, situations, things she said… began to make me thing she might be suffering abuse, but I didn't dare say anything. It all came out when this friend of mine and I went on holiday on our own to celebrate our 30th birthday, far away, crossing the Atlantic, and she compulsively called her partner two or three times a day from phone booths. From then on, all of us, a group of her closest friends, went on the alert. Two months later, we began to tell her how we felt about her situation and advised her to seek professional help. She rejected the offer, refusing to see herself as an abused woman.
We could hardly have imagined at the time what was going to happen. The obvious pressure, control, insults, degradation, shoves... ended up as beatings. From then on, she began a series of appointments to the doctor check her injuries, appointments with the counsellor at the Health Care Centre (CAP), sick leave from work… more beatings, threats, being held hostage in her own home… off once again to the doctor.
She tried to get out but couldn't. It was like being on a roller coaster. It seemed as if she wanted to leave him but she kept going back. She would justify his behaviour and then run away again and take shelter at one of her friends’ houses, again and again. For those of us closest to her, this roller coaster was pure torture. First you feel lost, everything is new, and you don't know how to help her. Common sense helps but the situation gets to the point where it’s so surreal that your common sense fails you. I asked for help from an abused women's telephone helpline and the people there became my advisers and emotional support, people I spoke to practically every day.
Afterwards, when you're trapped in this world, despair, frustration, sadness and disappointment are the order of the day. When you go for a coffee with your friend, she tells you everything her partner has done to her, you attempt to control your emotions and you explain to her with all the tact in the world that she doesn't deserve such treatment, that she has to run away, that she can start again, that you love her, that you’ll help her, that this could end really really badly (a day comes when you're talking to her about death), and when you've had your coffee, you pay, and your friend tells you she’s going back home to him. And you see her going off, walking back to her prison, to her hell, which she considers her home, and you can’t do a thing about it. It's the most horrible feeling, which makes you very tempted to just give up. But you don't. You keep on going.
It all finally ended after yet another violent episode, which I saw at first hand, and we went together to report him to the police. Totally exhausted, she reported him and this time she made a statement against him. Another friend and I were witnesses and made statements as well. I sincerely believe she thought that she was doing the right thing, although she had no other option given the circumstances. This time, yes, the abuser went to prison and my friend had a long enough period of uninterrupted peace to undergo good psychological treatment and to finally get through this nightmare.
It was a really tough experience, which initially distanced my friend from me. She was grateful deep down but she ended up feeling more comfortable with people who didn’t know about her past than with friends she’d known all her life and couldn’t hide anything from. I suppose that we needed this time. I understood that and she also understood the negative expressions on my face at certain times during the process. But with time, things fell back into place and we're once again two friends who love and help each other and we can talk about the subject, though we practically never do, because they were very tough times.
I now think that it was worth being at her side and not throwing in the towel but it’s the victim who really has to climb out of her predicament herself. You can only hand her a ladder or a rope to make it a little bit easier, but she has to be the one to take action. So lots of enthusiasm and patience are needed for anyone going through a similar process. As incredible as it seems, things can get back on track.
Has a woman close to you been suffering from gender violence? How did you help her, what was your role?
If one of your neighbours, friends or colleagues at work has been suffering from gender violence, send us your testimony explaining your role. What did you do to support her? What feelings and challenges did you experience? Do you think it was worth it? How did she react?
Send your testimony along with your name (or alias), age and the district you live in:
Many thanks. Your experience may certainly help others to stand up to gender violence.