Little Tangled Webs: How to address domestic and relationship abuse

Six months ago, I sat at my desk, staring at the blank page, thinking about the beginning of my new novel. As a bestselling mystery novelist, my publisher was expecting another gritty, engaging novel that would draw readers in. But I have done that time and again; I wanted something a little different for Georgiana Germaine (the protagonist and heroine of the series) this time. I wanted her to address important public agendas in my own special way.

What is the synopsis of Little Tangled Webs?

I considered the tone and theme, and more importantly, what I wanted to convey by the end of it. As I mulled different ideas around, I started thinking about important topics in the news today, what’s being talked about, and what isn’t being talked about enough.

I made the decision to center the novel around domestic and relationship abuse. As the story begins, eighteen-year-old Harper Ellis has spent the last three years searching for her aunt’s killer, looking for clues, gathering every tidbit she can find to explain the unexplainable.

She’s talked to anyone who would listen, trying to make them to see that her aunt’s death was not an accident. Could you perhaps mention why Harper was so fixated on finding an answer about her aunt? Why did it matter so much to her? Was she close to her aunt?

Not only were Harper and her Aunt Frida close prior to Frida’s death, Frida was a surrogate for Harper’s mother years earlier when she was unable to conceive a child of her own. This formed a tight bond between Frida and Harper that spanned a lifetime.

Unable to find support with her theory, Harper enlists the help of private eye Georgiana Germaine, a former police detective. As the plot unfolds, secrets emerge, and what rises to the surface points Detective Germaine in a new direction. She soon learns Harper’s aunt was murdered because of a secret—one leading her to a woman, a man, and a history of abuse.

What was the inspiration for the book?

A few weeks ago, after I finished writing Little Tangled Webs, I was sitting in the movie theater. Initially, I wasn’t paying attention to the screen, and then something caught my eye—a sponsored ad by the government. As it played, I was overcome with the heartfelt, emotional message directed at those who have been on the receiving end of domestic abuse. As the ad ended, phone numbers were given to anyone seeking help.

What an exceptional display of support. Without realizing, I had written about an ugly part of society that we were trying to squash a variety of different ways. My message was so appropriate at this time. After watching the movie, I was curious about the statistics of domestic violence in the country compared to other countries, so I did a Google search.

Australia ranks eighth in domestic violence. But what constitutes domestic violence? It is described as abuse or violent behaviour between a family member, spouse or partner. It is more common in women, with as many as one in six saying it’s happened to them. In men, one in eighteen report they have experienced abuse. These statistics left me speechless.

In 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics stated 2.2 million Aussies had endured violence. Violence of this kind has shown to lead to a higher rate of homelessness in men, women, and children. In my own life, I recollect the day I received a call from a close friend. During the conversation she admitted in recent months she had been physically abused by her partner.

So many thoughts ran through my mind that day. More than anything, I wanted to make sure she was safe. There were so many things I wanted to say during the call, but as my disappointment toward her partner rose, I resisted saying too much. The best thing I could do for her in that moment was to listen. Everything else would come in time.

How can we help victims of domestic violence?

It takes a lot for a woman or a man to admit they’re abused. Some keep it in for years. Others keep it in forever. Other still tell themselves what they’re experiencing isn’t abuse. They believe the person they’re with loves them, no matter what he/she does or says when they get angry. Why? Because sometimes believing the lie is easier than admitting the truth.

These were some of the reasons I decided to address partner violence in Tangled Little Webs – finally advocating for someone who was expiring this shocking and debilitating violence, How can you help a friend or family member who is experiencing some form of abuse?

  1. Avoid statements that make them feel like they are to blame for what they are experiencing. It isn’t healthy to suggest they should feel guilty for staying, allowing the abuse to go on, or for loving their abuser. Placing blame and judgement will only create distance between them and you and make them reluctant to speak with you again.
  2. Don’t offer an ultimatum. Make sure they know you are there for them, willing to offer your help whether they choose to stay or leave.
  3. Listen to what they have to say with an open mind. Sharing difficult experiences is never easy. In most circumstances, it takes a lot for someone being abused to open up at all.
  4. Allow them to figure out how they feel without telling them how they should feel.
  5. Let them know that you believe in them and in what they are saying.
  6. Don’t apply undue pressure by telling them what they should do unless they solicit your advice. Your unwavering support is what they need the most.
  7. When they’re ready, give them information on where they can go to get help.

To those of you who may be experiencing abuse now, I feel for you and what you’re going through. It’s not always easy to stand up for yourself but you are braver than you know. There’s no shame in admitting the truth, your truth. What you’re experiencing is not your fault. Those who truly love and support you know this and will rally by your side.

If you don’t have a good support system, there are many ways to get help, to get out, to ensure the safety of yourself and your children. If your life is in danger, call 000. You can call the National Domestic Family Counselling Service, a service open 24/7 at: 1800 737 732.

Cheryl Bradshaw is a New York Times and 11-time USA Today bestselling author who has been publishing books for the last ten years. She lives in Far North Queensland with her partner and their dachshund, Luka. Her new novel, Little Tangled Webs is the fifth book in her Georgiana Germaine mystery series and was just released at the end of August.