During a decade when domestic violence gained increased recognition and police powers were strengthened to fight the once hidden crime, Sherynne Smith thought she was going to die.
Sexually abused as a child and raped as an adult, it seemed that by the 1980s Sherynne had finally broken free from a life crippled by this heinous crime. Then everything changed.
This is her story.
By all accounts Sherynne Smith was doing well. She’d spent more than a decade on her own, received ongoing counselling and slowly, but surely, built a career for herself.
“But then I met this man, moved in with him, got engaged, married and then four months later it just went bang,” she said.
“There were signs, I guess, beforehand, but I didn’t recognise them. Obviously, if I had had any idea I wouldn’t have gone on a second date with him.”
The Maitland woman has chosen to share her story as part of Fairfax Media’s End The Cycle campaign highlighting the prevalence of family violence.
But Sherynne’s experience with domestic violence unfortunately didn’t start at the hands of her former partner.
I’ve had a gun at my head, a knife at my throat and my life threatened repeatedly . . . I’ve had my ribs broken, my wrists broken and my children terrorised.Sherynne Smith
As a child, she also watched her father suffer abuse perpetrated by her mother.
“I believe Dad killed himself because of this so, really, I’ve had this all my life,” Sherynne said.
“So what I thought were normal behaviours were actually narcissistic behaviours that I’d seen from a very early life ... violent, abusive, manipulative and controlling behaviours.”
According to the widely recognised Counting Dead Women project, 67 women have died this year following domestic attacks in Australia as of October 2.
The latest NSW victim was Kirralee Dugo, 37, who was found dead in her Mt Druitt home. She was seven months pregnant.
Her partner Joshua Homann has been charged with her murder.
Naturally the impact of these horrendous deaths is not lost on Sherynne.
“I’ve had a gun at my head, a knife at my throat and my life threatened repeatedly,” she said.
“I was in a physically violent relationship back in the 1980s.
“I’ve got permanent pelvic damage as a result of child sexual assault and I’ve had my ribs broken, my wrists broken and my children terrorised.”
But unlike the 60-plus women listed on the Counting Dead Women register, Sherynne survived ... but only just.
“By the time I ended up at Carrie’s Place [Maitland Women and Children’s refuge], I was absolutely crushed,” Sherynne said.
“That’s the only word I can use, but I was also heartbroken.
“I even ended up in hospital last year as a result of it all.
“It all got too much and I just couldn’t see a way out.
“I fell in love with a man who didn’t exist.
“It was all a delusion and that’s been hard for me to accept. That’s why it broke my heart, because I really loved him and gave him everything.
“I told him everything about me and he used it against me. If it hadn’t been for Carrie’s Place then I don’t know where I’d be.
“Women show up with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I was stripped of everything, but that’s what they do, try to make it impossible for you to leave.
“But I had to go, because if I had gone back I would have been like a lamb being led to the slaughter.”
Sherynne has worked hard to emerge from her years of terror and now considers herself an advocate for those living in fear.
“I am so much stronger now and I feel so much more protected and becoming an advocate for saying no to domestic violence gives me strength.
“I’ve had to do a lot of work, but I’ve had a lot of help to actually get to where I am now and I want to do what I can for others.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or sexual assault, phone 1800RESPECT – 1800 737 732.
Lives lost in NSW this year
- Kirralee Dugo, 37, was seven months pregnant when she was found dead in her Mt Druitt home on September 22. Her partner Joshua Homann has been charged with her murder.
- An unnamed woman, 63, and her grandson, 7, were stabbed to death in Sydney on September 9. An unnamed man has been charged with the murder. He is the son of the dead woman and the uncle of the dead boy.
- Nadia Cameron, 52, was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide in Kelson on July 17. She had recently left her ex-partner Mr Ellie Issa, 60, who also died.
- Rebecca Webb, 36, was shot dead at a property in Hermidale. Her partner Alan O’Connor, 61, has been charged with her murder and the murder of another man at the property. The death of a second man remains under investigation.
- Wei Dung Zheng, 68, died of a neck wound at her home in Forestville on May 16. Her partner was questioned but released. Police investigations continue.
- Linda Locke, 51, died in hospital on April 28 following injuries inflicted on her the day before. Her partner, Jamie Walker, 46, has been charged with her murder.
- Melita Hart, 18, was killed at her home in Brewarrina on April 24. Her partner, Darryl Biles, 22, has been charged with her murder.
- Stephanie Scott, 26, was killed after visiting her workplace at Leeton on April 5. Her partially burnt body was found five days later in a nearby national park. Vincent Stanford, 24, a cleaner at her workplace has been charged with her murder.
- Salwa Haydar, 45, was stabbed to death and her daughter wounded at their home in Bexley on March 30. Her husband Haydar Haydar has been charged with murder.
- Leila Alavi, 26, was found stabbed to death inside her car in Auburn on January 17. Her estranged husband who was subject to an AVO has been charged with murder.
* All cases have been recorded by the Counting Dead Women Australia 2015 project.