For Angela Hadchiti, a Penrith mother of three beautiful girls, it was almost two decades before she was able to break free from her abuser.
Today she is still recovering, but using her voice to let others know there is a way out.
“For almost 19 years I wasn’t living at all,” she said.
“I was just surviving, day by day trying to make it to the next day. I wasn’t making my own decisions, I wasn’t allowed to be opinionated.
“There was abuse from every angle whether it be social abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse.
“I’ve been away from him for three years, and it’s not a matter of thinking, ‘I’m away from that now I can get on with it’, the abuse is still there, it lingers on.
“Even some nights I wake up and I can feel him over me. It’s not a matter of me now being strong, now I am at the point where I am normal, I am living.
“This is what I should have been for the past 19 years.”
With hindsight, she can see that at the beginning of their relationship there were warning signs.
“I knew him for a few months and he wanted to quickly get married and I wasn’t comfortable with that,” she said.
“But I thought that this man must really love me, it was my very first intimate relationship.
“We were two weeks into our marriage and that was when he was first physically abusive towards me.”
She was manipulated, she was raped, she was beaten.
“In August of 2014, he broke my neck. I have a metal plate and screws in my neck now,” she said.
“They had to take out a bone in my hip to replace the broken vertebrae in my neck.
“Later on that year, I actually left him.”
But even after leaving him, the abuse continued as he would come and go from her new home as he pleased.
The pivotal moment in her life was on January 18, 2015.
“It was a Sunday and he was in the back room. It was around lunchtime,” she recalled.
Her two younger daughters were playing together, laughing and dancing, having fun like children should.
Her ex-husband was at her home resting when he yelled at his daughters because of their noise, calling them “whores”.
“He shouldn’t have even been there,” Ms Hadchiti said.
“He said to them clearly, ‘I broke your mother’s neck once, this time I’m going to chop her up into pieces, burn her and put her in a body bag and all three of you will be witness to it’.
“At that moment, I thought, ‘what the hell am I doing here’. It wasn’t when he broke my neck, it wasn’t when he abused me, but it was that moment seeing my children when he was scaring them.”
He left the house, taking all sets of keys with him to essentially trap them inside.
But with nothing aside from the clothes they were wearing, Ms Hadchiti’s handbag and a hidden folder she kept containing birth certificates and passports, the girls escaped through the kitchen window.
“I didn’t have a plan, I just knew we had to get out,” she said.
“He’s the father of my children, he’s supposed to be the man to protect me.
“It’s beyond comprehension.”
With domestic violence, there is often no logic to explain the abuse.
But for Ms Hadchiti, having had her life threatened multiple times, for years she stayed because of fear.
“You have to get to the point where a woman can see it herself, with DV there are so many contributing factors and you just don’t have clarity on anything anymore,” she said.
“You hold on to hope, maybe you could change him or maybe he will show regret or be remorseful.
“They will hurt the people you love the most.”
Ms Hadchiti was instrumental in campaigning to have domestic violence perpetrators banned from cross-examining victims after she and her eldest daughter were cross examined by her ex-husband in 2015.
Today she is sharing her story with the hopes that it might help someone else find freedom.
“I want somebody to read this and think that whoever is going through it at the moment or who has gone through it before, they’re not alone,” she said.
“I wish to God someone would have come and shaken me in the first two weeks of marriage.
“I thank the Lord that I’m not another statistic, and that I am still here alive today.”
After her escape, her father once asked her what he thought was an obvious question, why didn’t she have another phone or a secret sim card in case of emergency to help her.
“Just imagine if he had found that phone, he would have killed me,” Ms Hadchiti said.
“I was too scared to do anything behind his back.
“He was tracking everywhere myself or my daughter would go, he was getting phone logs and tracking everybody I spoke to.”
Emily Newton is the Weekender’s police and political reporter. Emily is also the Weekender’s Senior Journalist.