Over the month of November Behind the Facade will explore topics around violence and assault. If this is something which may be or, during the process of reading, becomes triggering or distressing, please reach out to safe, supportive networks. Additional community-based support services have been included at the end of the article.
Gennady Sharpe moved to Wanaka four years ago, leaving behind an abusive relationship.
For the social media content creator, the abuse started out as mental abuse.
He was older and had a child, so it seemed like he had his life together.
Looking back, she can see at that stage in life she wanted to be in the relationship, and looked past small things she now acknowledges were red flags.
‘‘He would judge the clothes I was wearing, judged how my hair sat, my body shape, and as our relationship progressed and got more serious, the judging became a lot harsher; but I think I was already mentally in that kind of relationship,’’ she said.
This was about six to seven months into the relationship, and she had met his daughter.
‘‘Our lives had kind of formed together and he started saying things like, ‘you look fat in that outfit’, ‘you’re so ugly’, ‘no-one’s ever going to love you’, ‘you’re so lucky you have me because if you didn’t have me you’d have nobody’,’’ Ms Sharpe said.
The abusive words were constantly drilled into her, and eventually she began to believe them.
‘‘Those things, the more often they were said to me, the more I believed them,’’ she said.
Nine months into the relationship, the abuse became physical.
She shared examples such as when she said something her partner did not like while he was driving one day and he ended up punching her on the side of the face.
‘‘I was always blaming myself. Because of the words, he had kind of laid the pathway without even knowing it.’’
He ended up losing his job, and that was when the abuse became ‘‘crazy’’.
After he beat her one night, she drove to a friend’s house and they asked her not to go back to him.
The police encouraged her to press charges, but she would not.
‘‘That kind of happened four or five times. I would leave and the neighbours would call the police because they would hear me screaming, and [the police] would turn up and I would be like ‘No, I don’t know what you are talking about. Nothing like that was happening’.’’
Ms Sharpe was stuck in a cycle with no way out.
‘‘It became really bad. I didn’t know what I was walking into every night I got home. I would come through the door and he would either be really lovely, or he wasn’t. It was walking on eggshells.’’
The abuse extended to controlling behaviour such as choosing the diets she was on and making her go to the gym every day.
‘‘I am quite a strong person, so for him to control me to that level . . . I don’t know how I got to that point,’’ she said.
The catalyst for change happened after an argument one night.
‘‘We had his daughter at our house, and he just flipped. He got me on the ground and was kicking me constantly — [he] broke four of my ribs, jaw and eye socket, and the only thing that stopped him I reckon from killing me that night was his 8-year-old daughter came out of her bedroom and lay on top of me.’’
His daughter cried and cried, lying on top of Ms Sharpe knowing he would not keep going.
‘‘The neighbour must have heard and called the police . . . the police turned up and that was kind of the point at the end.’’
Ms Sharpe had been in the relationship for three and a-half years.
She moved out the next day to a friend’s farm, and made sure to keep her location a secret from him.
Since leaving, she has undertaken the process of healing, which has included therapy.
‘‘It has taken me years to learn about how to have a healthy relationship . . .I had a lot of damage I had to repair to love myself before I love [my new partner].
‘‘We have now built this relationship that is built on pure love and trust. He’s not perfect, but he’s a perfect person to me and treats me with respect and never raised his voice to me,’’ she said.
‘‘It’s a complete 360 from what I had to what I have now, but it did not come easy. It’s taken a lot of work . . . but [it’s] amazing to be on the other side because I did not think I would be here.’’
Where to find help:
Shine (domestic violence): 0508 744-633 Women’s Refuge: 0800 733-843 (0800 REFUGE) Need to talk?: Call or text 1737 What’s Up: 0800 942-8787 (0800 WHATS UP) Lifeline: 0800 543-354 Youthline: 0800 376-644 or text 234 Samaritans: 0800 726-666 Depression Helpline: 0800 111-757 Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828-865 (0508 TAUTOKO) Shakti Community Council: 0800 742-584