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My mother's gift: a life without fear

Opinion

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Zahra Abrahimzadeh was murdered at the Adelaide Convention Centre by her estranged husband five years ago.

Now her children Atena, Arman and Anita are setting up a foundation in her name to support other women who are rebuilding their lives after domestic violence. Today Zahra’s eldest daughter Atena tells her own story.

My father Zia was a quiet man in public, friends knew him as a gentle and helpful person. He was well respected amongst the Afghan and Persian community, however at home he was a different person. He was controlling and abusive, and for as long as I can remember, we all feared him.

Zia treated my brother and I differently. My brother was allowed to go out with his friends, have female friends and enjoy much more freedom than I did. Because I was a girl I was not allowed to go out with friends, especially male ones, and spent many weekends at home.

When I was caught chatting to male friends on the phone and online Zia punished me by yelling, hitting and prohibiting me to leave the house alone. When I was 17 years old, Zia caught me speaking to a guy on the telephone; he got mad and belted me all night. I ended up with cuts and bruises on my back and shoulders. He threatened to kill me. “I would rather kill you and end up in prison than to have you ruin my reputation,” he said.

At the time I was in year 12 and doing work experience at a hair salon. The next day when I went there I struggled to stand on my feet; the pain from my injuries was unbearable. Two girls from the salon could tell I wasn’t well. I told them what had happened; they took me to a social worker nearby. I talked to her but didn’t show her my injuries, as she would be obligated to report it.

Arguments and fights between my mum and father were normal for our family. Zia was verbally and physically abusive towards mum and had no respect for her. We were all afraid to stand up to him; he liked having that power over us.

In 2007 we discovered that Zia was having an affair with a woman who had four children. When mum confronted him initially he denied it but continued to see the other woman. His behaviour worsened while he was having the affair; he became more aggressive towards mum and it escalated. I was afraid he would hurt mum so I stayed awake at nights until they went to sleep.

I hated the way Zia treated mum. I used to tell my mum she deserved better, I kept telling her to leave him. But mum was afraid of him – she knew what he was capable of. Mum was also afraid she wouldn’t be able to survive without him. Many years of abuse and threats had affected her self-esteem and confidence.

One night in February 2009 an argument between mum and Zia turned into a big fight. Zia hit my mum. I stood up to him – I’d had enough! He did not like that I interfered and assaulted me. My brother got involved and Zia did not like that we all stood up to him. He threatened to stab mum with a knife. He started shouting and threatened to burn down the house with all of us inside. There was so much rage in his eyes; I had never seen him like that before.

My mother Zahra was a beautiful person, a very strong woman and a loving mother who sacrificed so much for her children. I will always be thankful for the life she has given me; a life with no abuse, threats or fear.

A couple of days later I spoke with a counsellor at university and told her about the fight and the threats. She insisted that I get help and encouraged me to contact the domestic violence crisis service.

Within a week after the fight we had packed our bags and left the house. We went to the local police station, gave statements and were then sent to a motel. A few days later we were sent to a safety house that was provided by Central Domestic Violence Service (CDVS). Though we were all frightened that Zia would find us, we were glad to be away from him, the threats and fights. It took mum a while to get used to the change – a new place, a new life – but she began to feel safer as days went by. We did not tell anyone where we lived or where we shopped. We even placed my sister in a different school. Staff from CDVS would visit us on a regular basis to make sure we were okay.

Shortly after, my mum filed for divorce but it was a lengthy and stressful process for all of us. Lawyers were involved and Zia was difficult. It was an especially hard time for mum and my siblings but there was light at the end of the tunnel. Hope kept us going. After a long day at uni or work it was nice to come home to a peaceful and safe house.

I was so proud of my mum for leaving my father. She regained her confidence, started to go out, started part-time work and even enrolled in English classes. Like a beautiful flower Zahra began to blossom. Mum was finally living life, as it’s meant to be.

Though we were in hiding, Zia still made threats towards mum. On 21 March 2010, Mum and I attended a Persian function at the Adelaide Convention Centre, which Zia also attended. Towards the end of the night my father stabbed mum in the back in front of 300 witnesses.

One year and one month after we had left the family home, Zia took his revenge. Mum was taken to the RAH and, shortly after, in the early hours of 22 March she passed away.

That night my life changed.

My brother and I, both in our early 20s, became guardians to my sister who was only 12 at the time. There was so much going on … uni, work, family court, police investigations and adjusting to life without mum.

Life became meaningless and a struggle. I could no longer see that light at the end of the tunnel. However, with support from our friends we managed to get through the tough times. Staff at CDVS kept in contact with us and helped us in many ways, which means a lot to us – even today.

Knowing that the support is there is comforting.

My mother Zahra was a beautiful person, a very strong woman and a loving mother who sacrificed so much for her children. I will always be thankful for the life she has given me; a life with no abuse, threats or fear.

My siblings and I, along with CDVS, have established a foundation in honour of mum – the Zahra Foundation Australia. It aims to help women and children who have experienced domestic violence. These are the families who flee their home and leave everything else behind in search of safety – just like us.

As someone who has experienced abuse throughout my life, and witnessed my mum experience it throughout her marriage, I know how difficult it is to seek help.

It takes a lot of courage to finally make the decision to leave your home. Therefore, when a woman takes the brave step to leave her abusive partner, we need to be there for her. That is what this foundation will do. It will support and empower these women and children; it will assist them to rebuild their lives without fear.

After all, we all deserve to feel safe in our own home.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Domestic Violence Crisis Service on 1300 782 200.

To find out more about the Zahra Foundation go to zahrafoundation.org.au

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