The media circus arising from allegations that Tony Veitch had assaulted his former partner, Kirsten Dunne Powell, bothered me right from the start. Let me start out by declaring that I fully support the Women’s Refuge position on domestic violence. Not acceptable. All violence is deplorable, and for any man to use his – let’s face it, this is normally the case – superior strength to inflict physical and/or emotional harm on someone he’s supposed to care about is… it’s fucking wrong, no question about it.
But that doesn’t mean our compassion should only be directed towards the woman, and that’s where I start to get antsy. When word of the Veitch allegations broke, people commenting publicly on the issue tended to end up (whether they liked it or not) in one of two camps – you either flat-out condemned him, or you were a fellow lady basher. Is it really so black and white though? Can you (should you be able to) sympathise with an alleged abuser, offer him some degree of compassion and understanding, without you both being tarred and feathered? Apparently not, which is how we ended up with a witch hunt.
A little background…
When I was 19 years old I began a relationship with a woman I’d met at work. She was older than me, pretty close to my height, and while she definitely wasn’t ‘man-ish’, had been a gym-fanatic for many years so was very muscular. She was also a redhead, so I probably should have seen it coming. As relationships often do in one’s late teens, things were great to start with but waned over time. After about ten months I ended the relationship (or so I thought) and moved on (or so I thought). It started with her phoning me out of the blue (‘Hi, just wondering what you are you are up to’), progressed to her turning up on my door step at odd hours (‘Hi, just passing by and thought I’d pop in’), and ended up with her sitting in her car outside my work most nights (we were no longer working together) , watching me finish up in case – God forbid – I went home with a waitress. I tried to be the nice guy, tried to understand that she had had her heart broken and do whatever it took to help her, but after a while it became unbearable. I asked her to leave me alone, without success. I stopped going to my old haunts and hanging out with mutual friends (formerly my friends), I asked the police to intervene, but was dismissed out of hand. Nothing worked – I was being stalked and there was nothing I could do about it. I can honestly say I feared for my life.
One night about four months after the stalking started I went out after work and arrived home with *a guest* at about 1am. I didn’t see her car, but apparently she’d been waiting outside my house for hours. I’d been in bed for maybe five minutes when the front door of my house was kicked in, followed immediately by my bedroom door. The lights came on and there she was – screaming (‘Time to go, bitch!), kicking, and dragging my guest out of the bed by her hair. I jumped up, ran for the door, broke the hold she had on my guest’s hair, and knocked her to the floor with a right-hook.
Next day. Phone rings. All day. Highlights include nearly all of our mutual friends (now her friends) calling to tell me what a scumbag I was. Most of these people have never spoken to me since. I also vividly remember her calling to say she’d laid a complaint with the police (thankfully this turned out to be bullshit) and that I would soon be arrested. She also dropped by that afternoon to show off the black eye I’d given her, just to make sure I knew what she’d shown the cops. I was fucked. The only thing that kept me sane was the fact that the first person to hear about all this was my mother. I had called her in tears, right after the incident, racked with guilt and unable to comprehend how I had managed to do something so totally contrary to the way I had been brought up. Mum’s response?
Next time you see that bitch, smack her again and tell her I said hi!
(Mums are awesome)
Why am I telling you this? Because, as much as I’m not sure I wanted to learn it this way, here’s what it taught me:
- There are always at least two sides to every story; and
- In some circumstances it’s ok to hit a woman
(The latter point still doesn’t sit well with me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true)
Turn your clocks forward a couple of years. I’m now 22, back at varsity and totally loving my life. I start dating a woman I’m working with (a little advice for you, don’t ever dip your pen in the company ink), and we end up living together – we didn’t ‘move in together’ a such, I just ended up spending pretty much every night at her house. We both worked nights (but not the same nights), we both had friends (but not the same friends)… pretty soon we started to drift apart and one of us (her) realised it but the other one (me) didn’t.
To this day I don’t know if this was something I’d subconsciously picked up from my previous relationship (with the stalker) or just a latent trait kicking in when the going got rough, but I didn’t handle the deteriorating relationship well. The more time we spent apart, the more I tried to be with her. Every mention or inference of another man drove me crazy. We argued all the time, said the most hurtful things to each other, and – despite the fact that she started staying out till all hours (I was convinced that this was because of me, as opposed to her simply wanting to spend time with her friends) – I continued to spend every night at her house.
One night things came to a head. We both had the night off work, but when I got home from varsity she wasn’t there. Her mobile was on but went unanswered all night. I sat there waiting by the door until her key hit the lock a little after 3am. All my months of suspicion and insecurity boiled over. On a conscious level I was venting, but on a subconscious level I think I wanted her to feel all the hurt and insecurity I’d been harboring for so long. We argued. We cried. We broke up and I stormed out. But I wasn’t done. When I reached the letterbox I turned on my heel and, when I found the front door locked, kicked it open. I don’t remember what I had to say that was so important, but I said it. And while she was trying – rightfully so – to usher me out of her house I shoved her backwards and into a wall – not very hard, and without causing injury, but how much damage do you have to do for it to be a fucking stupid thing to do? I’ll spare you the details of the aftermath, suffice to say that it turns out this woman had a much kinder soul than I’d given her credit for, and the Student Health counseling services are worth every penny of the extortionate U of A fees I
paid borrowed for over the years.
This was a horrible experience and, again, I wish I could have come by the insight some other way. But nobody’s perfect – hell, we’re supposed to make mistakes, provided we learn from them. So here’s one of the things I learned:
- Sometimes good people do bad things
There, it’s done – I’ve just openly confessed my two darkest secrets. We all have skeletons in our closets, and I have many more – but none worse than these. I’ve shared them with you for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m no longer ashamed of them. While I’m far from proud of my actions, if I could go back and undo what I did I’m not sure I would. I actually quite like the man I’ve become, and who am I but the product of my (good and bad) experiences?
Second, I’d like to challenge you all to attempt a similar introspection. All you fine upstanding folks who cried out for Tony Veitch’s head when the rumors first surfaced – have you ever done anything you’re ashamed of? No? In my opinion, anyone who’s never crossed the line between right and wrong most likely has no idea where it is. Do you think Hilter had a guilty conscience? What about Osama Bin Laden? The rest of us sinners hopefully learn one or both of the following from our transgressions:
- How not to make the same mistake in future; and
- Other people are just as capable of fucking up as we are
So I was really vocal in supporting Veitchy when the rumors surfaced, and I still am. And it’s not because I’m ‘a fucking man too’, or ‘a lady basher like him’ – it’s because, regardless of how it came to be, I am a better person than those that wouldn’t.