ni-vanuatu-cryingI met my current partner two years after I had ended a previously abusive relationship. I knew him through my work and would regularly bump into him around town.

The relationship was platonic at first – he was a breath of fresh air after I had suffocated for so long with my last boyfriend.

We ended up having daily contact over the phone and we bonded over my pain and insecurities from my previous failed relationship. He was patient and eventually asked me to accept him as my boyfriend. He promised to take it slow, as he had to move to another island anyway.

We promised to be faithful to each other while he was gone. As our contact was mostly over the phone, it allowed us to develop a relationship that was based on intense verbal communication.

After a year of communicating over the phone, he urged me to pursue our relationship further. I thought ‘Yes this man will be able to take care of me and he values me and he treats me with respect.’

We discussed our boundaries for our lives and relationship and he agreed to follow them and in the beginning he did.

I ended up moving to my partner’s island for work. It strengthened our relationship to eventually include physical contact. After a short time I became pregnant and we moved into a house together.

When I moved in him, he began to change for the worst

Within the first week of moving in with my new partner, things started to change for the worst. I noticed that my partner would chat regularly on the phone late into the night and yet he would always keep his phone on silent and tried not to make a big deal about it.

I didn’t feel comfortable but I also didn’t feel confident to approach him. I thought I should give him some space, as I also didn’t know how to express my feelings directly to him.

So I went to work and while at work I bought credit and decided to chat to him over the phone and tell him how uncomfortable and insecure he was making me feel. I also mentioned that if he wanted someone else it was best to tell me now and I would leave him to it.

He begged me to stay with him. After I finished work, my partner apologised to me for chatting with other people. In some kind of way I respected him for admitting to the chatting and apologising for it but it didn’t hurt any less. He stopped chatting with other girls and we moved on with our life.

Throughout the relationship he would go to the club occasionally and drink kava and alcohol. Sometimes he would come back as late as 3am. I didn’t like this especially because I was pregnant and felt like he was ignoring my needs and feelings.

As I was pregnant I felt I had no choice but to be patient with my partner and hoped that he would change over time. I couldn’t even stay with my parents, as they didn’t accept my new partner due to his family’s background and upbringing.

While I was still pregnant, Cyclone Pam destroyed our house so we had to find somewhere else to live. When I delivered my baby, my partner seemed very happy and kind to me. I thought ‘Ok, this is the man I met – he’s back’.

I went away and came back to a messy, dirty house

After my baby turned one month old, a family member of my partner asked for my baby and me to spend a week with them at their house. My partner stayed behind to take care of the house while my baby and I were away. When I went back, the house was empty. I called him and asked him where he was. He said that he was staying with one of his family members.

Then the neighbour told me that he was at the house that very same day with another young girl who was his ‘daughter’ (niece). They told me that the girl came and my partner had braids in his hair but when they left the house, my partner no longer had braids in his hair.

When I did go into our house, it was a complete mess. I expected to go away for a week and come back to the house as clean as I’d left it. I felt so upset as I just had a new baby.

I cried because I was exhausted and had not expected to come back to a dirty, empty house. When I finished crying, I cleaned it up. When my partner returned, I asked him why he left the house in a mess. He apologised and we spoke no more about it.

I started suspecting foul play

After a few days my partner still didn’t mention he had bought his brother’s daughter to the house but I kept on hearing my neighbours talking about it. I approached my partner and asked him if his brother’s daughter came to the house while I was away. He said yes. I didn’t ask or talk about it any longer, but I became suspicious.

My partner continued his daily routine of drinking kava and coming back when he felt like it. I never knew where he was or who he was seeing. He also started to get aggressive at very small issues and started becoming physically abusive. I knew something was wrong but had no proof and was beginning to get scared of my partner.

He also started asking me if my baby cried during the day as lately my baby had begun to cry a lot at night.

Not long after this my neighbour told me not to let my partner’s ‘daughter’ come to the house. I just kept this comment to myself but something felt wrong.

A few months passed and my partner’s ‘daughter’ came to the house when I was out at the market. When I arrived back home my neighbour told me that she was looking for me.

She reminded me again to tell my partner’s ‘daughter’ not to come back to the house. I asked my neighbour why. She didn’t want to tell me but I begged her.

Was my partner cheating on me with someone close to him?

My neighbour told me that when I was away for a week after my daughter was born, both my partner and his ‘daughter’ would come daily to the house. When they were at the house my partner would go and shower in the outside communal bathroom that we shared with our neighbours.

Then he would stay inside for hours with his ‘daughter’ in our small bedroom. After that they would sit outside and my partner would have his ‘daughter’ take out his braids. My neighbour told me that they spent time alone together like this for the whole week I was away.

I went to my partner’s niece house and asked her why she was looking for me. She asked me to give her an SD card because she wanted one. I said, ‘Okay lets go to the house and I’ll find you one.’

When we got to the house I asked her if she took the braids out of my partner’s hair the last time she visited. I also asked her what else they did when they were in the house alone.

My partner was taking advantage of his own brother’s daughter

The young girl didn’t respond and just sat there silently. I asked her if my partner slept with her. She said, ‘Yes.’ She admitted to me that my partner told her not to tell me or anyone else that they were sleeping together.

I was so angry and started to shout at her. Didn’t she know that she was sleeping in my bed and I had just had a baby? I was so angry that I blamed her for my baby not being able to settle day and night because of what she was doing with my partner.

I felt that I wanted to hit her but restrained myself, as she was still underage. She was barely 15 years old! I told her that I would take her to see her adopted father who was my partner’s uncle. I went and talked to her adopted father and he began to beat her.

Truthfully, it was my partner I wanted him to beat but this would never happen, as he is a man.

I am afraid of what he will do to me if I leave him

Now I feel powerless to change my situation and leave my partner. I have nowhere to go. My parents have said that they will not help me or take me back. I live my life every day in fear and pain.

My partner beats me and warns me regularly that I should not leave him – I am afraid of what he would do if I did try to leave. He says that if I leave him, I cannot take my daughter with me and that if I find another man, he will kill him with a knife.

I want to leave but I have two children now – one from my previous relationship and one from my current partner. There is no way of supporting both of them on my own without a house and no family support.

I feel he is an evil monster –he refuses to help me with my eldest child and I am afraid that he will sexually abuse our daughter when she starts to grow up.

After two abusive relationships, I am resigned to that fact that it’s better to be with the devil I know, than the devil I don’t. Until today, I have never heard of a protection order or a domestic violence order. No one ever showed me the Penal Code or Family Protection Act before.

I don’t think I would ever go to the Vanuatu Women’s Centre – how will my partner react if he knew I went there?

I dream of having a better life. I dream of being independent. I have finished my studies in the tourism industry and one day I wish I could work on a cruise ship and earn enough to support my children and leave this nightmare behind.

As told to Niki Taiwia, a local humanitarian journalist, who works for a not-for-profit organisation in Vanuatu.

Niki has set up a safe house for Ni-Vanuatu children from difficult backgrounds (disability and victims of sexual abuse) and assists single mothers with the ultimate goal of empowering people who are in vulnerable positions.

The passionate human rights activist says, ‘I believe in the power of advocacy and providing a voice for those who want to tell their stories but are fearful or not confident in doing so. Many issues in Ni-Vanuatu culture are seen as taboo to talk about but it is essential to bring these topics to light to change women’s position in society.’

Through her advocacy, Niki has met many vulnerable women who recognize the benefit of sharing their stories as not only a form of therapy and relief, but also as a way to empower and give hope to others who are in similar situations.

Sista Magazine is honoured to collaborate with Niki to assist women in vulnerable and disadvantaged situations to share their stories. ‘This is a way in which we can hear women and girls’ stories and raise a voice through embracing each other,’ says Niki. ‘So Speak Up Sista!’