RECOGNITION: Newcastle Women of the Year 2014, Helen Cummings, is also a domestic assault survivor and tireless campaigner. HELEN Cummings doesn’t consider herself strong or brave.
But the 2014 Woman of the Year, domestic assault survivor and author of memoir Blood Vows has been an important advocate against violence towards women over the decades.
Ms Cummings was married at 20, but after six years of physical, psychological and emotional abuse from her husband, enough was enough.
Ms Cummings packed up her children’s lives and moved away from her husband Stuart Wynter, a respected doctor.
‘‘I didn’t even think about what having strength [was] or whether I was brave, I just ran out of choices,’’ she said.
‘‘I could no longer think of a happy life with this person. I figured he had the capacity to kill us and there wasn’t anything I could do to prevent that. I couldn’t be a better wife, I couldn’t help him and I couldn’t love him better.’’
Eight years later, Wynter killed his new wife and child before ending his own life.
Ms Cummings went on to work for the Family Law Courts for 20years, earned her associate law degree and spent 10years as an associate to a federal judge.
The 61-year-old grandmother finally sat down after she retired and penned her memoir, Blood Vows, which detailed the terrifying six years she spent fearing for her life at the hands of her abusive husband.
Ms Cummings said there was no support for her in her 20s as a domestic assault victim.
‘‘Not even the ability to talk about it to anybody, to tell anybody, because it didn’t have a label on it then,’’ she said.
‘‘I didn’t at any stage think I was a victim of domestic violence, or suffering, because I blamed myself. I thought something I was doing was making him behave in the way that he was.’’
Ms Cummings said she was glad that awareness about the dangers of domestic violence had spread over the decades since her ordeal but recognised the problem was still rampant.
‘‘That’s one of the things I try to highlight in my story, especially to younger people – we all try and put on the best front when we meet someone and fall in love but truthfully, it’s better that we ask that question to that person whom we are thinking about having a relationship with, ‘What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?’’’ she said.
‘‘Not everyone is born violent or with a deep-seated hatred or anger towards women, but when domestic violence is ongoing and systematic, it’s long-term demolition of you as a person over many years.’’
Ms Cummings has worked closely with VOCAL (Victims of Crime Assistance League), providing advocacy and support for victims of crime and their families.
She was awarded the 2014 Woman of the Year in front of a crowd of 400 people at the annual International Women’s Day breakfast at West Leagues Club.
Newcastle MP Tim Owen presented the award to Ms Cummings, describing her as an ‘‘outstanding example of selfless commitment to advocating for sustainable change in the community’’.
‘‘Helen, I would like to thank you on behalf of the hundreds of people you assisted, throughout your time at VOCAL in Hamilton, an amazing and invaluable organisation providing information, support, practical guidance, advocacy, and referrals for victims of crime, their friends, family, and the wider community,’’ Mr Owen said.
Ms Cummings says her advice to women living with domestic violence is ‘‘leave’’.
‘‘If you’re living with serious domestic violence that has been ongoing, that affects you, that isolates you, if you are living in fear, get help. Talk to somebody. Then leave,’’ she said.
‘‘Tell your family, tell your best friends, tell the males in your life that you trust. If you are in fear of your life, please go, please leave.’’
If you are living with domestic assault, call VOCAL on 49262711 or Lifeline after hours on 131114.