07/03/2016 2:17 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

How We Can Help Heal The Scars That Remain

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Portrait of woman with black eye
Tetra Images - Jamie Grill via Getty Images
USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Portrait of woman with black eye

Three years ago, one of my closest girlfriends was nearly beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend. Their relationship was always volatile -- he was controlling and suspicious and their arguments most often ended in violence. Afterwards, he would plead with her to forgive him, promise he would never do it again, tell her that without her, he would not survive. And so she forgave him, over and over again.

From the outside, her friends could see a change in her -- but she would never share what was going on behind closed doors. That was until she could no longer hide it.

After luring her to his home under the guise of needing help with a business venture, he attacked her, punching her with ferocious force over and over again on her face and body. As she tried to shield her face, she begged him to stop, to which he told her: "Shut up, the neighbours will hear." Then came the words that still haunt her to this day: "I am going to throw your body in the dumpster."

He sat on top of her, his hands clasped firmly around her neck and started to count backwards from five. Images of her children's faces flashed before her as time stopped. She thought she was about to die. She begged him to please bring her a glass of water. To this day she had no idea of where that thought came from but it worked because, as he went to the kitchen, she mustered the strength and courage to run. She ran across the road to the neighborhood pub who then called an ambulance and the police.

My friend spent three days in hospital, unrecognisable. She had swelling to her brain and they thought she may go blind in one of her eyes. But the physical pain was minimal compared to the mental anguish and shame she endured. How could she explain this to her sons and her daughter, who she had raised as a single mum? What about her elderly parents? Her friends? For some time after, she told us that she had been mugged and didn't know her attacker -- but we all knew who had done this to her and waited until she was strong enough to tell us herself.

International Women's Day is tomorrow. The theme this year is "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality". The focus is on gender equality, women's empowerment and women's human rights as 34 countries around the world unite as part of joint awareness-raising efforts.

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women around the world, 1 in 3 women will experience violence in her lifetime. This is a global issue and an insidious violation of human rights.

The long-term impact on the victims' health and well-being is well documented. Fear, anger, shame, resentment, sadness and powerlessness are common emotions. Three years on, my friend still has anxiety when she hears the raised voice of a man. She is easily fatigued, sometimes needing to sleep through the day, which impacts her career and lifestyle. She suffers tremendous guilt for the concern she caused her children. With the help of intense therapy and a determination to not allow this event to define her life, she has moved forward, but her scars remain.

Her attacker was charged by the police and let off with a six-month good-behavior bond. His face pops up on social media and dating websites and it is evident by his arrogance that he has no remorse.

And this is why we need to highlight the enormity of this global epidemic, to protect not only our friends, but our sisterhood. Abused women are not weak or submissive. In fact, they are the opposite. They are survivors that deserve protection, support and understanding.