Susan Davis shares her story of domestic violence in locally made film The Ripple Effect

SURVIVOR'S STORY: Susan Davis shares her harrowing experience of domestic violence in locally made documentary The Ripple Effect.  Picture: MARK JESSER
SURVIVOR'S STORY: Susan Davis shares her harrowing experience of domestic violence in locally made documentary The Ripple Effect. Picture: MARK JESSER

It starts with the little, almost inconsequential things.

Not coming back with the correct change, a passing remark about the way you’re dressed or why you’re wearing make-up.

When you’re in love, it creeps up on you.

That’s how it started for Albury’s Susan Davis.

Then one day, in front of friends, her partner threw a huge box of nails at her face and split open her eye.

“My girls were so beside themselves and I thought, ‘No I can’t do this, he’s going to end up killing me’,” Susan says.

When she asked him to leave, things got worse, she reveals in The Ripple Effect, a documentary about domestic violence launched in Albury on Tuesday.

It's not about why does a victim stay ... it's about why does a perpetrator choose to be violent.

Shayli Ballard, wellbeing worker at Betty's Place

Statistics show the intensity of domestic violence tends to escalate when the abused person decides to leave the relationship.

Frightened and unsure where to escape to, Susan says her partner would stalk her and ring all the time.

VIDEO: Short clip from The Ripple Effect, a locally made film about domestic violence. Filmmaker: Helen Newman

“He would say, ‘Look I’m not going to hurt you, can I come in?’

“I let him back in again … and that’s when he murdered my son.

“It was the only way to get back at me – taking my child away.”

The shocking savagery that stole Deon’s life will haunt Susan forever.

“You can’t even fathom it yourself; why you stay,” she says sadly.

Danielle Thompson, program manager at Albury women’s refuge Betty’s Place, says there are a multitude of reasons why a woman doesn’t leave a violent situation.

“Financial, children, fear – the list is endless,” she says.

For those working at the coal-face protecting women and children, it’s the wrong question.

“It’s not about why does a victim stay,” says Betty’s Place wellbeing worker Shayli Ballard.

“It’s about why does a perpetrator choose to be violent.

“That’s the biggest message that needs to get across the community.”

That and the fact domestic violence is not confined to physical abuse.

“It’s (also) finanical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse,” explains Ros Lovell from the Centralised Intake and Assessment Team at YES Unlimited.

“It extends into so many areas and travels across every single socio-economic area of our society.”

In The Ripple Effect, survivor Donna Soroka describes her inability to make even simple decisions because she feared the repercussions.

“I lost my identity,” she says.

“Honestly I had no idea it was classed as domestic violence … the psychological, the emotional, the financial – I just thought that was part of being in a married couple.

“And what do you tell the police? Do you ring them and say, ‘My husband’s controlling me; I can’t even make a decision?’”

Shame silenced Louise McOrmond-Plummer.

The author and now public speaker was the victim of brutal partner rape as a young adult.

“The violence escalated from pushing and shoving and hair-pulling to slapping and outright battery in the end,” Louise says in the film.

She describes how the sexual abuse went from coercion to rape as punishment or if he thought she was going to leave.

“In many ways the sexual violence carried a far darker, nastier message,” she says.

Statistics show a physically abused woman experiencing sexual assault is more at risk of being murdered by her partner or ex-partner.

Louise survived by “a mix of trying to appease him”.

“What would have been really fantastic was compassion and respect from doctors, police and family and friends,” she says.

“Nobody was asking: how can we support her to be safe knowing he is likely to kill her.”

Danielle says resources are being directed to the education of police and others on the front-line.

“It’s important for services and places like the hospital and GPs to be aware of who to contact as well as their reporting obligations if children are involved,” she says.

The sanctuary offered by refuges such as Betty’s Place is life-saving – and life-changing.

Most women seeking its shelter are homeless or at risk of homelessness and present with a huge amount of trauma.

“It’s our role ... to make them calm, give them a bit of a plan – just small steps, provide hope and advocate on their behalf,” Ros says.

“There’s always hope … we can get that person back on track.”

Reassuring victims they are not alone and that there are resources out there to help them is the key.

“Living in a constant state of fear; it can take a long time to undo,” Shayli says.

“It becomes part of your normal to walk on eggshells.

“(But) that healing process is possible – it’s about safety and nurturing for both victims and their children.”

Susan’s tenacity is testament to that.

“I’m an Aboriginal indigenous woman who lost a son through domestic violence in a horrific way,” she says

“I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

“Find the strength, talk to someone and express to them that you need to leave and how they can help you.”