A United Stance Against Abuse

by Courtney Devine
(Melbourne, Australia)

Anya was in my year group in high school. We weren't good friends, but I knew of her. She was always pleasant, friendly and a very attractive girl. We had our formal after party at her parents house which was all of a kilometre down the road from my parents house. She never appeared to have any trouble with anyone and was liked by all of her fellow peers.

The news of her death, seven years after our graduation, not only saddened all that knew her but sent the community into an absolute state of shock, disbelief and fear.

She was 24 years old when she was murdered by her ex boyfriend who was also a student, known to many, from our high school.

The events surrounding her death were extremely horrific. The years prior, that she spent in and out of a relationship with that man, the years that would ultimately lead her to the end of her life, were equally as horrific and the justice served wasn't served.

I got in touch with Anya's best friend earlier this week after it had been brought to my attention that she was pledging dry August in an attempt to keep Anya's legacy alive. "Justice for Anya".

She directed me to the "Justice for Anya" website where I found, and I've spent the weekend reading, the court transcripts of what DIDN'T go to trial.
74 dot points in the transcript of sentencing between the state of Western Australia and the "accused". I'm not here to attack the justice system, but anyone of sane mind that cast their eyes on that transcript would have locked him up and thrown away the key.

Essentially he was "rewarded" with a discounted sentence because of an early guilty plea. Because of some minor technicalities around the actual cause of death it never went to trial. The long and short of it is he was sentenced seven and a half years, it was back dated and he walked free after four. The cold hard evidence of excessive abuse, his record of multiple violent armed robberies and heavy drug addiction didn't seem to come into play.

But like I said, I'm not here to attack the justice system. They are just the facts.

Anya was in a relationship with this man between December 2004 and May 2006. A violent relationship with occasional separations and significant assaults made by him on her that had obviously been reported to the police because they were in that transcript. Anya separated from him in May 2006 after her friends and family had seen her with a lacerated lip, eyebrow, black eyes, a bleeding head wound and bruising to her body on multiple occasions. Following the separation and the ordeals that followed she stayed in temporary accommodation in a secret location until she was able to leave the country to "escape his attention" which I translated to "because she feared for her life".
She did leave the country, where I believe she worked in a bar in a small town in the UK and built a large circle of friends who were very fond of her. She returned after seven months and it seemed that the nightmare was over. She returned to her life, her family and continued to be one of her mothers primary carer's as her mother suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. They were very close.

After being home for six or seven months, in July 2007, Anya coincidently ran into a mutual friend of "his" in which she learnt of some photos he had of her that she would want to retrieve. She phoned him and agreed to meet with him on the 27th of July around 8pm and that was the last time she was ever seen alive or heard from by her friends and family.

Her body was in his bathtub after he reported her death on August 1st around 2am. The precise time of death is not known, it's possible she lay dead in that bathtub for three days.

The forensic evidence showed multiple bruising to the surfaces of her body, underlying tissue and muscle. An acute subdural haematoma and multiple fractures to her ribs. Facial injuries and damage to the mouth. Detailed examinations found multiple haemorrhages to the brain and severe head injuries. Extensive neck injury with haemorrhage over the front and both sides of the neck. In addition to that she had a black left eye, swelling to the left side of her face, lacerations to the mouth, a chipped tooth, bruising and fractures to the second, third, fourth and sixth ribs. The brain injuries were summarised as constituting a traumatic axonal brain injury with a subdural haematoma. She had multiple bruises all over her arms, legs and torso, including a large bruise on her left thigh, an abrasion over her left hip, bruising and abrasions over both knees and the tops of her toes and the majority of the bruising was recent and occured within six hours of her death. The axonal brain injury was the most serious and without medical attention resulted in her lapsing into a prolonged coma.

The post mortem was unable to positively determine the cause of death and it was possible that Anya died by drowning. He admitted carrying her to the bathtub but "not with intent to kill her" but he did admit to "hitting her". Not being able to determine the cause of death was one of the "technicalities" that it didn't go to trial. It was stated that he was in an amphetamine fuelled rage at the time of the viscous assaults and showed no remorse.

Despite Anya's family pushing for a full trial it did not go ahead. Despite the judge stating that it was a "vicious and sustained attack" the case was closed before a trial was had. In fact the justice system declared that "even in a case like this, where the evidence is extremely strong, a plea of guilty is of significance and advantage because it spares the community, and in particular the family of the victim, the great stress and anxiety and in this case the horror and revulsion of a full trial in which every detail would be publicly explored. That this has been avoided demonstrates that in this case a suitable discount for a plea of guilty should be allowed"
Well how about that. A suitable discount. How could anyone even comprehend that sentence. But I'm not here to attack the justice system.

Imagine the final hours of her life.

I have mentioned that I'm not here to attack the justice system a number of times because I'm not. I don't need to. The writing is on the wall. He beat her to within an inch of her life whilst on an amphetamine fuelled rampage, put her in the bath to drown and left her there for one, two or maybe even three days. Served four years. I'm sharing this with you because it happened, because it's still happening and because, like hundreds and thousands of others Australian women, Anya should still be alive.

I'm sharing this with you because for a long time I wondered why on earth she would have gone there that day. After all that time. After everything he had put her through. Why did she even stay with him for that long in the first place, long enough to endure such physical and emotional pain that drove her out of the country. It would have been blatantly obvious to anyone else that he was destructive and harmful to her. It just seemed so crazy that she would have agreed to meet him again. Unfortunately that's what society does if they don't understand something, they just deem it crazy. Up until earlier this year, and I am not at all proud to admit this, I was stereotyped with society in dismissing it as crazy because I had absolutely no comprehension of the situation.

Now I do. Not that the events I have recently endured are the same as the events that I have stated above. I was not physically abused in my most recent relationship. In fact, outside of the boxing ring a man hasn't laid a hand to me in 9 years, I guess I am not so much of an easy target for a physical assault these days. I was, however, involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. One that was so blatantly obvious so many other people and I kept going back. The power of manipulation that an abuser has over its victim is impossible for anyone that is not involved in it to understand. I loved him, or I loved who I thought he was or who I wanted him to be. It is hard for me to even comprehend it now, let alone try to explain it to anyone else. But I always knew something wasn't right and regardless of the strength I display in my everyday life I felt powerless to do anything about it.

I don't know what went through Anya's mind that day. I don't know why she went there but I can almost guarantee you that there was no part of her that anticipated what her fate was going to be that night, because she saw something different in him than what the rest of the world saw. She saw something that he wasn't.

These are the lives I want to save. These are the situations I want to prevent. Not just through teaching self-defence because the fight to escape such abuse doesn't come from the fists, it comes from deep within. The benefits associated with martial arts help's empower a person. They increase your physical AND mental strength and aid you to you to have more control over your life. I want to create more awareness that will change societies perception, an awareness that help people whose vision is so clouded to decipher that they are in fact in an abusive relationship and seek help.

Anya was a victim of abuse. May she rest in peace. May her story help me save lives.

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