Last night I read Emma Husar's powerful speech in Parliament about her experience of witnessing domestic violence as a child.
I didn't read it as a bystander. For me it's personal.
The last time I was a child witness to domestic violence was not the first time. Our kitchen and dining room was tiled, and there was an island bench in the middle of the rooms running between the sink and kitchen bench and the large glass sliding doors to the back yard.
The tiled floor is significant; Mum was in the kitchen making cordial, so when she was thrown to the floor by my father, the cordial spilled everywhere. The tiled floor was wet, slightly sticky. The messy liquid was spread across the floor into the dining room as she was dragged around the island bench. My mum was screaming at my father to stop, thrashing around in an attempt to free her arms. I heard the screams and ran down the hallway to find my father trying to do what I assumed was break both Mums arms off, and slam her face into the floor.
It's strange what you remember when you reflect on these moments. I remember the wet floor, I remember thinking that I should grab a knife so once mum had been dragged around the floor I could run past and jam it into my fathers back. But then I thought he could take it off me and use it on Mum, or me... After all, I'm just a kid.
I'm yelling, Mum's yelling. My father's eyes are black.
You don't forget that look. I had seen it before as I was picked up by the throat and slammed into a wall, before being slapped across the face. I had seen the blackness before as I got an open hand across the face that sent me flying off a bed and into a door. I had seen it before many times. The blackness of his normally brown eyes is firmly etched into my brain, and no doubt will be forever.
That night the black eyes barely looked at me as he swatted me away the first time I went in to help Mum. I didn't get close. My father was a strong and powerful man in his right mind, let alone in the middle of a rage. So I did the only thing I could think to do, and I jumped on his back, trying to choke or pull him off or something. I was only nine, so he easily pulled me off his back and threw me towards the glass door. I remember grabbing a chair to stop from flying through the window. I remember sliding in the liquid on the tiled floor.
I remember seeing my little brother and sister in the doorway to the kitchen. My baby brother's chubby face, crying, yelling. My little sister's curls sticking to her red, wet face.
They were both being held back by a man. Two of my father's friends were there that night. I don't remember their names now.
Grown men, who watched someone try to beat my mother up. Grown men who watched another grown man attempt to throw his son through a window. Those two men did nothing to get in the way, nothing to stop what was happening. Those two men doing nothing is surprisingly one of my clearest memories from that night.
Often when we recount these stories, we hear comments that encourage people to "bash these bastards" or "this guy should have his arms broken"... things of that nature. Especially among men, that seems to be how the conversations about these events go. Violence, for me, is never the answer to undo violence. I have come to a place of peace, by letting go any notion that a beating in any direction, to anybody, will undo the beating that I witnessed. However, I think that perhaps in the macho-talk about how we should beat these guys up we miss the message that we should do something.
So while I absolutely applaud the courage of people like Emma Husar and Rosie Batty and others who are bringing to light the experiences of the victims in these situations, I think we also need a conversation about the bystanders. It is true that domestic violence is often hidden; both by the perpetrators to escape punishment and the victims because they feel some sense of shame. But there are also many, many times when domestic violence is an open secret among friends and family and social groups, a secret which everyone knows but nobody speaks about or steps in to stop.
Sometimes it's about being scared that you might be the next victim. Sometimes it's about not wanting to seem like you are interfering in someone else's business. I think often it's about feeling a little helpless.
Nine-year-old Josh just wishes that those two men in the house that day had done something to step in and help his mum. Not to be heroes. Not to go in with the intention of beating the "woman basher" and teaching him a lesson. Just to help my mum in some way.
Bravery is about doing the right thing, not the big thing. You don't need to serve 'justice' on the spot, you simply need to help. In some way. In whatever capacity you can, depending on the situation and the circumstance. Ending violence is everyone's business.
It's okay to be scared. The black eyes of a man in a rage are terrifying to everyone, and no more so than to the child watching on. But don't leave that child with the memory of your indifferent observation. Don't be a bystander to violence.