Paid domestic violence leave means, to me, a rare moment of empowerment Anonymous I lived through an abusive relationship, and New Zealand’s legislation is a relief from the shame and fear I am from what many would consider an advantaged upbringing. My parents worked hard and my basic needs were always met. I am Pākehā [a European New Zealander] and I grew up in a respectable suburb of Wellington. However, it turns out that my story of domestic violence is not dissimilar to many other women in New Zealand. 'A huge win': New Zealand brings in paid domestic violence leave I have seen the effects of domestic violence many times in my work as a health professional. I had always felt privileged to be able to work with vulnerable people, but I always did say to myself: ‘Why would you stay?’ Well, now I know. The years of control, manipulation, blame, gaslighting, pity play, devaluing and relentless mental abuse created a person that I no longer recognised when I looked in the mirror. The doubt in myself turned into self-loathing and apathy. Apathy had been something I abhorred. But now I just abhorred myself. So of course, I didn’t think I deserved anything better. So I stayed. I feared being without him because I had come to believe that I was not capable of being on my own. That I needed to keep the status quo to be safe. That I couldn’t put my children through what he might do if I called an end to it. But what I couldn’t see was the damage I was doing to them and to me by staying. The crisis point, which became my turning point, came much later than most would expect. I’m pretty resilient so it took a bit to finally break me. I was drinking heavily. Anxiety attacks were commonplace. I had no contact with my once very close parents and sister. I had fallen out with some of my oldest friends and lost the trust of my daughter. I was hanging on to my job by the skin of my teeth. But what was most scary, is that I had completely lost myself. I was powerless. I was a liar. I lied to protect him. I lied out of fear. Fear of what others would think. My lying and my ability to distract people and act “normal” meant that no one really knew how bad it had become. Eventually of course people did see it but by that stage, his brainwashing of me was almost complete. There were of course his two arrests for assault but there was also so much more than anyone else ever knew. The arm pinching, elbow stabbing or terrifying death stare when I had angered him for any reason around other people. The snapped ligament in my shoulder from “falling over dancing”. The time he pulled me from a bedroom by my hair in front of my children. But “I never gave you the bash or anything, eh, babe.” There were countless times I tried to leave my home Sometimes he followed me. Sometimes he threw my keys away. Sometimes he would stand in front of the car. Once, during the day, in the middle of my neighbourhood, he drove slowly next to me as I walked and screamed at me about how “fucked up” I was and how I couldn’t even sort my “own fucking life out”. By the time the first arrest happened, I had already taken plenty of sick leave for reasons relating to the abuse – injuries, anxiety, shame. My profession is one of the most important things in my life and my ability to provide for my children and myself is essential. However, because of my inability to be stable and well during this horrible time, I took much time off. Even now, months down the track, there are things that happen at work that are unexpected triggers. If I am unable to continue in my work, I have no choice but to take leave to keep myself and my patients safe. This has left me bereft of any kind of leave at all. And of course if I can’t be at work I simply don’t get paid. I am incredibly lucky to have unwavering support from my employers but they can do only so much within the law when it comes to leave. This is why I am a great proponent of the newly passed domestic violence – victims’ protection bill. With this there will be provision for a framework that allows for more job security, less intimidation around disclosure, and the ability to attend to children and get to women’s refuge meetings, court appearances and victim support meetings. It also provides the opportunity to attend therapy sessions and care for matters such as mental health without the risk of losing your job, which could be the one safe and stable thing in someone’s life. There is a lot of shame and fear for victims of domestic violence and they are vulnerable and disadvantaged. So empowering them in any way at all is winning in my book. Comments are pre-moderated to ensure the discussion is about topics that have been addressed in this article.