It started off as a passionate relationship packed with fun and adventure.
At the age of 25, Donna met her boyfriend while working in Victoria’s restaurant industry. The pair had several mutual friends, fell in love and decided to go travelling for a year. It was the adventure of a lifetime.
Even though Donna had a lot of fun exploring new places with her partner by her side, it wasn’t always roses and sunshine.
“We would have times where we got along really well and then times where we’d have these huge blow ups,” said Donna, who did not want reveal her real identity for safety reasons.
“As time went on, it just became increasingly intense.”
Upon their return to Victoria, the couple had a child and got married. That’s when everything changed.
According to Donna, her husband became more controlling with the finances and verbally abusive. Despite the troubles brewing in their relationship, they had another child and purchased a house, but the abuse only got worse as more responsibilities were added to their plate.
“The atmosphere at home was really negative,” said Donna. “I was fearful by the end of it. I felt really beaten down. It really took a toll on my self-esteem.”
After 12 years of abuse, Donna finally found the courage to leave when a big fight prompted her eight-year-old son to call 911. She admits leaving her marriage was a tough decision, especially since her husband refused to cooperate with anything, but four years later Donna feels healthier and happier than ever despite the relentless name calling from the man she once loved.
Donna admits there are times she still struggles to keep her head above water financially and emotionally, but she knows she’s not alone.
“I know so many woman that have been through an abusive relationship or have an abusive element,” said Donna, who feels fortunate to have support from family and friends. “I know there’s a lot of (support) groups out there, but when you’re going through it and you’re emotionally distraught, it’s just really hard.”
The domestic violence files Victoria police Sgt. Kerrilee Jones receives are never-ending.
As of Nov. 19, police had received more than 1,300 files since January. Of those files, more than 300 have resulted in assault charges. An additional 200 were breaches.
Jones figures the numbers are consistent every year. This summer was especially bad, with police receiving about 60 files each month.
In most cases, Jones said the victims are women and sometimes cultural differences can play a factor. Substance abuse is also typically involved and Jones has noticed in some cases, the offender is killing animals as well.
Men are also victims, but those cases are highly under reported, which is why police have reached out to the men’s trauma centre.
“There’s still that perception that men feel they should suck it up, that they are going to be laughed at by their peers,” said Jones. “We really want to encourage people that if they have questions to call us. We’re okay to have a chat. We’re trying to bridge that gap of I don’t want to go to the police.”
According to Jones, the cycle of domestic violence typically starts with control and jealousy before it turns physical. The abusers are often quite charming, making their victims feel like the most special person in the world.
Many of the cases Jones investigates have come across her desk multiple times and the victims are often uncooperative for a number of reasons. A huge part of what Jones and her team does is appeal to the victim and try to prevent the abuse from escalating.
Part of that involves taking the stigma away of talking to the police and looking at it instead as starting a conversation. One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with domestic violence cases is the high level of emotions involved.
“With domestic violence, it could go on for years and years. These people genuinely love each other even though the rest of us might not understand,” said Jones, adding the highest per cent of victims are between 19 and 24 years old.
“The younger it starts, the harder it is to stop. People will move from one partner to another and the cycle will continue. They have to understand what is a healthy relationship and this is not okay…Some people honestly don’t know the difference.”
When it comes to stopping domestic violence, Jones said the public plays a huge role and has called police to intervene on several occasions before things got ugly. Officers typically see a rise in domestic violence during the holiday season and are advising anyone who knows an abused friend or family member to get them help before it’s too late.
“You’re not doing them any favours by not reporting it,” Jones said. “The physical abuse, people heal from that, but the emotional and the verbal abuse are damaging for a lifetime.”