Like the frog who is slowly boiled alive, some forms of coercion and control can be so insidious that victims don’t realise what’s happening until it’s too late. Inspired by the SBS documentary on domestic violence, “See What You Made Me Do,” by Jess Hill, this three-part series of fictional stories looks at the emotional, psychological, and financial impacts of violence against women.
The Man in the Park
I was walking home from the shops in the middle of the day. One of the first sunny days after a long winter, I decided to walk through the park and not through the streets as I would usually do. A university student at the time, I was living in a share house in a rough neighborhood. The shops had cyclone wire on their windows at night and people yelled obscenities at each other in the street. It was very different to the safe, conservative suburb I grew up in but after living there a few months without incident, I began to settle in.
Not being into sports, walking is the only exercise I do and I go for a walk almost every day. I enjoy the freedom of getting up and going whenever the mood takes me and I enjoy getting to know the places where I live and work. This day, I was enjoying the sun on my face and the vast green spaces all around me, until I heard a noise. I hadn’t noticed anyone else in the park, but this was a distinctly human noise, and it came from behind me.
Startled, I turned around and saw a man in a clump of trees near the back fence of one of the houses. The land was on an incline and he stood on top of the slope, looking down at me. He was a young man, probably a few years older than me, wearing track suit pants and no shirt. He was reasonably tall and fit looking but too far away for me to make out his features or the expression on his face.
With my heart speeding up, I picked up the pace and walked briskly. No longer enjoying the sun, the lush expanses of green grass or my own thoughts, I hurried along the path. Blocking out everything else, I was now tuned into the man on the hill. The path snaked out in front of me, with no sign of the street that would lead me back to safety. I was not familiar with the area and could not gauge how long it would take me to get out of the park.
And then I heard it. A low, guttural growl. There were words in there somewhere, but I could not make them out.
Turning to look over my shoulder, I saw the man was halfway down the slope and his hands were down his pants. He started running towards me and I screamed and ran as fast as I could. I did not look back until I had reached the street and I could not see him. Feeling sick and shaken, I slowed to a walk and when I got home, I called the police.
They came quite quickly and when I described the man, the two policemen sitting in my loungeroom looked at each other in recognition. They told me I was quite within my rights to come and go as I please but asked me not to go back to the park alone. Not that I would have.
The next day, I went to work and parked in the underground car park, as usual. But today it felt different. It was dark and deserted and I took a good look around before I left the safety of my car and raced to the lift. While I waited for it to come, I stood with my back to the doors, on the lookout for anyone who may approach. When the lift arrived, I jumped in and stabbed at the button, trying to make the doors close faster.
After that day in the park, everything changed. I no longer felt free to come and go, like I used to. I no longer felt that I was entitled to go about my business in safety, without feeling threatened. I thought very carefully about where I was and who I was with. I sized up any man I encountered as either a possible threat, or as someone who may help me if the situation required.
It has been a long time since that day. I finished my degree, got married and had a family. Apart from my watchfulness when I’m alone in a public place, I have not suffered many ill effects from that day. But things could have gone a very different way. The man in the park that day chose not to overpower me, but he could have.
And then I would be telling a very different story.