13 Mar 2021

Jackie Clark and Moeroa Marsters: Surviving domestic abuse

From Saturday Morning, 9:30 am on 13 March 2021

Her Say is a collection of stories told by New Zealand women who have lived in - and escaped - abusive relationships.

Jackie Clark

Jackie Clark Photo: supplied

Its publication is a long-held dream of Jackie Clark who, in 2013, launched The Aunties, a grassroots charity helping women to rebuild their lives after a period of trauma.

She quit her job, turning her back on her comfortable life, to focus on The Aunties full-time, becoming Aunty in Charge and assisting hundreds of women with material needs and emotional support.

Moeroa Marsters contributed to the book and is chairperson of The Aunties' board.

Moeroa Marsters

Moeroa Marsters Photo: supplied

Marsters said she had twins at 21 and her candid report in the book tells how the violence was on both sides.  

"I was very angry, I didn't know that then, but I do now ... and I have built bridges with that person and we've come such a long way from that time.

"I was really angry and I'm only just recognising some of that stuff now as I go through counselling."

Marsters said at the time she felt "stuck" with her anger and did not know how to deal with it.

But she said a turning point in the relationship came when her partner punched her in the head and her sister said "no one does that".

"I highlight that moment because I've never been able to forget it ... I remember feeling that 'you can't hurt me like you say, I'm actually stronger than you think and my family are here with me'."

Asked about her experience staying at Women's Refuge Marsters said it was where she was able to gain an outside perspective on her life.

"I think it was where I [also] got to a place where I could really think about what was actually happening and really move forward ... it was actually where it started, the change, you know the thinking.

"I didn't think I was so deep into it until you start sharing stories and start sharing it with people that can kind of navigate you through that."

She said she became involved with The Aunties after meeting Jackie Clark in about 2013 at a Christmas party at the Women's Refuge in Māngere.

Jackie Clark said there are some common factors in the stories told by women who have survived domestic abuse.

She said she has contact with and works with hundreds of people each year but does not meet with them.

"These are all white middle-class women who contact me for advice and guidance and counsel," she said.

She said her focus is on the 27 women who call themselves the Aunties' whānau.

"They're all survivors of the most extreme sexual, physical and psychological violence, so they are the stats."

Clark said initially she met with all these women individually, but they then met up as a group and decided to become a whānau a couple of years ago.

"So they discovered their commonalities, number one in their experiences in life, that they'd all survived this stuff."

Clark said many of those in the book did not feel loved as children - even if in fact they were loved.

"The commonalities for me for all of these women and their stories is that need that we have that grooms us where we end up in relationships that are not good for us."

The other commonality is that what it takes for these women to get out of these relationships is for the right person to help them at the right time, she said.

Marsters said once that happens it creates a ripple effect where you start to surround yourself with people who will support you in that way and you start to believe in yourself.

"Your belief in yourself gets to a point where you can stand in court and say to them 'I'm not going to tolerate this stuff anymore', you can go to a refuge. It is hard, it's never easy, but you still keep going."

Marsters said the abuse does not define who she is although she acknowledges it has shaped her and that it was a part of her life.

Asked what advice she has for neighbours, friends or family of women who are being abused, Marsters said if you know someone is being abused you need to call the police or if someone is telling you of their abuse - believe them.

She said it is important to remove the stigma associated with the question of 'why doesn't she just leave them' because it is not always that easy.

Court process

Clark said judges can allow their courts to be used as a tool of abuse.

She said courts are obsessed with the idea that a child needs a father.

"And one of the women ... I'll never forget the day she said to me 'My kids may need a father but they don't need a father like that'."

Marsters said she had to go to court after her violent former partner claimed parental rights to her whāngai daughter, whose birth mother was her sister.

"The fact that he wasn't even blood-related, I couldn't understand it, and I'm in court with the natural parents and they're telling their side of their story that they don't want him to have anything to do with her."

Marsters said the man had only known the girl for nine months.

She said despite numerous affidavits and a protection order against the man, that was not enough and she is still fighting the process.

Cover of the book "Her Say" by Jackie Clark and the Aunties

Photo: supplied