This photo was taken before I was meant to die


After years of suffering, Judy found the courage to escape and has never looked back.

Here, Judy Sharp, 59, tells the story in her own words.

It was the first day of my new job and as I settled in, the man on the desk next to mine turned to introduce himself.

‘Welcome to the team,’ Mick* grinned. ‘Don’t be afraid to ask if you need help with anything.’

A favourite in the office, Mick was a real charmer. It wasn’t long before I fell for his charismatic ways too and we started dating.

Sometimes, however, Mick would get jealous over the smallest things and I saw bursts of anger. But I didn’t realise at the time that it was a warning sign of things to come.

After we married, I felt totally controlled and desperately unhappy. Mick brought me flowers every Friday, 52 weeks a year.

It should have made me feel special, but it was so at odds with the way he made me feel for the other six days a week that it seemed creepy.

After our sons Tim and Sam arrived, things only got worse.

I never once regretted my decision to leave (Credit: Jeff Camden)

Convinced I was cheating, Mick started putting sticky tape across the front and back door each night, then checking in the morning to see if it was broken. He’d shake me out of my sleep, demanding the ‘truth’.

It would go on for hours until I felt like vomiting from the exhaustion and fear. The thing that cut me the deepest was when he called me a bad mother. I stopped working and no longer saw my friends. And I didn’t have a cent to my name.

No-one knew what was happening – Mick was a street angel and house devil. The boys deserve better, I thought, but I had no money and nowhere to go.

Usually the abuse would start once our sons had gone to bed, but then Mick started to do it in front of them.

One evening, I was sitting on the sofa cuddling Tim, then three, and Sam, one, as Mick relentlessly hurled insults at me.

Pacing the room, he suddenly grabbed a camera. He said he was going to take a photo, as it would be the last night I was to be alive so the boys would have a memory of being with me. As he snapped the picture, I stared down the lens, too worn out to react. 

photo before near death
Exhausted and afraid, I stared down the lens

When Mick grabbed me, I screamed so loudly he stopped. It was enough to deter him for another day.

After he’d left for work the next morning, I knew we had to escape.

Frantically, I searched for a house we could rent. Tim has severe autism and a shelter wouldn’t take us in, so this was our only option.

In desperation, I withdrew some money from our endowment account, which was enough to pay for a bond and a week’s rent.

As soon as Mick left the house the next day, the removal van arrived and we quickly packed up. With no cash or job, how on earth am I going to look after my boys? I panicked.

Weeping on the porch, one of the removal men touched me on the shoulder. ‘Our mum was a single parent and we turned out fine. You’ll be right,’ he said.

It was the encouragement I needed. And as we stepped inside our new home, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I even started to smile again. 

after escape
Tim, Sam and me after we escaped

Despite not telling anyone where we’d moved to, Mick somehow tracked us down.

Every weekend, he’d turn up at the house and for my sons’ sake, I let him in. It was draining, but I’d developed the photo he’d taken that dreadful night and put it on my wall as a reminder of my survival.

Seeing the distraught look on our faces was too painful though and eventually I put it away. But I never once regretted my decision.

My boys grew into amazing, happy gentlemen. Tim, 30, is a successful artist. Sam, 28, is a swim coach who trialled for the Olympics. I have a wonderful full life with a job I love and a home with a garden. I wanted to reach others who are in an abusive relationship to remind them they aren’t alone, and to show them they can get out.

So every year, on the anniversary of our escape, I posted some of our story on Facebook.

Last February, on the 25th anniversary, I found the haunting photo.

The gaunt, terrified woman in it was unrecognisable to the person I am today. Posting it on Tim’s Facebook page, I wrote a message.

On February 1, 1992, I escaped a very abusive marriage. This photo was taken the night before I escaped. I do not know how I survived that night.

I really didn’t believe there was any hope or future for us and I didn’t believe I could do it. But I had to try for the boys. I had to do everything I could for them to be safe and away from such evil.

Tim, me and Sam today (Credit: Mark Lutz for Arthouse Productions)

Take a step. Tell someone. Ask for help. Domestic violence/abuse is never acceptable. I also posted tips for escaping abusive situations.

Finding the courage to leave Mick was difficult and the aftermath was even harder. But we did it. I want others suffering to know there is a light on the other side. Don’t wait for it to stop, because it never will.

If you’re affected by domestic abuse, call 1800 737 732 (Aus) or 0800 456 450 (NZ). 

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!, on sale now.

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