Jessica Sherry, 23, grew up in a small Australian farming village. During her first few months of high school in June 2007, the star of the rugby league team wooed her into being his girlfriend. Their relationship was tumultuous, and he often threatened to kill himself. What her then-boyfriend did to her and her family next made headlines across Australia in 2009. Sherry tells Cosmopolitan.com how she's learned to stay strong for her mother and younger sisters, and why it's so important to take action at the first signs of domestic abuse.
I grew up in a small village [in New South Wales, Australia] and was the eldest of three daughters. I lived somewhat a sheltered life in a small farming town. After finishing at a primary school of just 50 students, I went to a small high school of about 450 students.
At a high school where everyone knows everything and everyone, I met [my ex-boyfriend]. He was only three months older than me but was in the grade above me. He knew everyone and was an important part of the school rugby league team.
By the beginning of my second year in high school, I had friends who were childhood friends with him. My friend and him had the same birthday and at the beginning of the year they had a joint birthday party. This was the first time we had really come in contact. In the weeks that followed, I found myself getting more and more attention to the point where I was being followed [by him] as I left school and while I was around town with my friends.
He turned up uninvited to a birthday party for friends of mine in June 2007. With peer pressure and a lot of convincing, I agreed to date him. As a friend said, "If you aren't happy with it, give it a week and end it."
I kept this news from my parents because I never thought of it as a proud moment and it wasn't something I really wanted. He wasn't the sort of person I thought my parents would approve of. I also felt like dating at such a young age didn't really have a point. I tried to end it. The next day, I went to school and found that I was bombarded with reasons for taking him back not only from him but from my friends as well. Again, peer pressure was the reasoning for taking him back. This started a trend of "breaking up" once a week because I wasn't happy and him pleading for me to take him back. The pleading turned nasty and he threatened to take his own life.
During this time, I began to think that I loved him. Maybe for a while I did. In between the growing number of fights, it looked like he cared about me and wanted me to be happy. He began to grow more and more jealous.
The vocal abuse turned into emotional abuse and blackmail. He felt like he owned me and tried to stop me from having anywhere to go.
After a year of this, he started making it harder for me to see my friends. He started rumors with information I had given him about my friends and created fights between me and my friends to the point where I started getting excluded because they couldn't handle him, my moods, or my perceived attention-seeking.
My friends and the people around me saw my cry for help as attention-seeking because no one could ever think he could be capable of being this horrible to me when it looked like he loved me.
Teachers began to notice the toll it was taking on both of us. I spoke to a few about what was going on, but nothing came of it because he was on the rugby league team that was seen to be the pride of the school. A teacher came and asked me what was going on after he was crying in class, following a fight in which I told him I didn't love him.
He used my emotions and goodwill against me. He used fake illnesses to get me to feel sorry for him and to tell me he needed me. Once, after I successfully made the point that we were horrible to each other and we weren't happy together, he sent me photos of bullets and a gun that he planned to use on himself. He told me he couldn't live without me and needed me. I showed the photo to his friends, who were dating some of my friends, and they told me they would deal with it and take him to get counseling, and promised me this wasn't my fault or my problem anymore.
Turns out they did nothing because they were too busy with their own lives. So it fell back to me to move around his bad moods that were thrown at me. During this time, the attention-seeker label people put on me made me feel like an outcast. My once friends were now subjecting me to severe bullying and I fell into a deep depression.
I left that high school at the end of 2008 and started the new year at school on the other side of town. At a different school, I was able to make the break permanent and didn't have to see him and avoided him around town. After a few months, I started seeing someone who went to my new school. Things weren't perfect with him but it was a lot better than before and I was "free." The news about my new relationship eventually reached [my ex]. He began trying to ring me and wiggle his way back into my life.
On the 1st of May 2009, I received a message saying he needed to see me because the doctors said he was dying. After hours of this, I finally agreed. When I saw him, he took my phone and texted my new boyfriend saying it was over and I was going back to him. I told him that wasn't the case, and he said I owed him and had no choice. Once I got home, I straightened out all the damage he had done and went back to ignoring him.
On the 3rd of May, he was on a football trip where a mutual friend of his and my new boyfriend told him that I had fixed things and started stirring him up. He started ringing people to find out if it was true. He was threatening to kill my boyfriend. He never threatened me but he was threatening others. I told everyone involved that he was just upset and he wouldn't hurt anyone.
On the 4th of May, I woke up at 4 a.m. to mum screaming. At first I thought I was dreaming. Then I thought she was dreaming. She was screaming out, "My babies, my babies." After it had sunk in that something bad was happening, I tried to call the police but my mobile phone didn't connect. I heard loud running through the house and more screams, then silence. I built up the courage to leave my room to see what was going on and to get another phone.
What I hadn't realized yet was that both of my parents had been stabbed.
When I walked out of my room and into the kitchen, the first thing I saw in the dimly lit room was my dad on the floor bleeding and what I thought was unconscious. I walked past him to grab the phone off the shelf behind the bench in the kitchen. I grabbed mum's mobile and walked back to my room. Just before I got to my door, [my ex] walked loudly into the room. I turned around and saw him, and in that moment, everything made sense. Before I saw him, I never even half thought this was his fault.
I yelled at him before my mind even caught up with what was happening. I said, "You have really done it this time."
He yelled back, "Now you can clean up this mess, like you clean up all the messes before anyone sees them. How are you going to explain this to her?" He was pointing at [my younger sister, who was 8 at the time] Polly*, who was now standing next to Dad holding her teddy bear.
He walked over to me, slapped me then punched me in the face. I could feel the knife touching my leg. It was cold. The adrenaline must have blocked the pain from the small scratch I got from the knife. He turned around, walked toward the front of the house, and pulled the phone out of the wall and left. Seconds later, I heard a car speeding down the road.
Once I had heard the car leave, my body immediately unfroze and I along with Polly tried to help Dad. He was covered in blood. We dragged his body up the one step in our house and both started to try to do CPR on him. I couldn't bring myself to check his pulse because I already knew that he was dead. With every compression, more blood surged out of his throat. [My other younger sister, who was 13 at the time] Morgan* opened her bedroom door because she heard Polly and me trying to talk to Dad. Morgan came out of her room and started screaming with Dad lying at her feet. I then had to decide it was time to give up on Dad. We went looking for Mum, who was lying on the front veranda.
Mum was lying on the ground heavily bleeding from many wounds all over her body. She was still conscious. She asked if we were OK and once she saw all of us, she started directing us what to do. I got blankets and a few of our thick quilts, and wrapped Mum up in them to try to stop the bleeding.
I got Dad's phone and called the ambulance. Then Mum asked me to call our neighbor so she could watch the girls. Once I explained what was going on, she came over and I called Mum and Dad's best friends, Mark and Kylie, and told them there was an accident and they needed to come over.
When our neighbor came over, she got the girls to get their robes and kept them outside. When Mark and Kylie came over, Kylie sat next to Mum and talked to her while Mark went in to see Dad. He then came out and sat with Mum. I went into Mum and Dad's room to call the police, and the bed was covered in blood, and there was blood and Mum's hair all over the wall and door. The handset of the house phone was covered in hair and blood and was smashed over the floor of the bedroom.
I called the police and they needed me to look up my ex's address in the phone book because the people working at the emergency hotline couldn't.
When the ambulance arrived, they packed up mum. The last thing she said was that none of this was my fault. The police arrived shortly after and removed us all from the scene, so we all went across the road to our neighbor's house. My sisters and I silently sat on the floor and watched the crap television programming that is on at a quarter to 5 in the morning. I washed all the blood off my hands, face, and leg. My clothing was still covered in blood and because I didn't get a spare change of clothes, I had to borrow the clothing of my neighbor's grandson.
Just before the media started surrounding our house, Polly started asking for her teddy bear, so I went and politely asked the closest policeman if they could get it for her. He said he couldn't disturb the crime scene, and after an argument I didn't win, I had to go back and tell Polly that she had just had another thing taken away from her.
Once the numbers of reporters grew outside the house, we decided it was time to go around to Kylie and Mark's house. Once there, Kylie and I took the girls into one of the bedrooms, and I told them that Dad was dead, and that Mum was alive and had been taken to a larger hospital. I then had to call my Uncle David and tell him Dad had died and Mum was struggling to not die.
Once all of Mum's friends showed up at the house, two detectives turned up to the house and said I had to go with them to the station to give my statement. I was there for eight hours. After I finished at the station, we went straight to the hospital to see Mum.
The days following, I found myself surrounded by people who weren't making decisions for me, and I realized that with one single tragedy, I had become an adult. I was a week away from my 16th birthday and I was now making the decisions that would shape the future of our family. I was now the parent to my two sisters.
Because of signs of brain and lung damage (she struggles with memory a lot; doctors say it is very slight brain damage), my mother's recovery has been slow, but she's now working as a special education teacher. My ex is now serving a 24-year sentence with 16 years of no parole because he was a minor (opens in new tab). I have a 10-year apprehended violence order on him, and my next problem will be renewing it. The AVO says he can't contact me in any way, including through other people. (opens in new tab)
Now at age 23, I try to stay strong for my two younger sisters while working as a fashion stylist. My PTSD intensifies to an unbearable degree around the holidays as I recall fond memories of my parents together, snapping endless photos of us.
A combination of desensitization therapy and my healthy relationship of three years has helped me. With my boyfriend's help, I found the right therapist. He attends sessions with me and even encouraged me to take time off university to look after my mental health. Dad's spirit lives on in our minds, and my boyfriend and I talk about him regularly. He even happily drives the four hours back to my hometown with me to visit his grave.
*Names have been changed
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