‘He literally took my voice’: DV survivor speaks out
Peta-Ann Krogh is 15 and standing on the stage, singing her teenage heart out to a crowd in Emerald's packed town hall.
Growing up in Central Queensland, the bubbly singer and cellist was often chosen for lead roles in the school eisteddfods and on this night, in front of her friends and family, she lands every note of Sarah McLachlan's Angel.
This fond childhood memory now comes with a pang of heartache for Peta-Ann, 36, who struggles to hit the soaring soprano highs she once did.
On March 17, 2017 her voice was stolen - quite literally squeezed out of her - when she was strangled by her ex-partner until she blacked out.
"I remember I couldn't see clearly because of the white pulses of light fading in and out on the wall in front of me," Peta-Ann says.
"He literally took my voice that night."
Peta-Ann had just turned 30 and was at the height of her career, managing a high-end jewellery store in Brisbane when she met Steven Luxford, a former special forces soldier, on an online dating site in April 2015.
"He was charming," she recalls.
They had only been dating a week when he asked her to move her things into his home because he didn't like how long it would take her to get to his after work.
Looking back, it was perhaps the first inkling of what lay ahead, two years she now describes as "living hell" as he emotionally and physically abused her.
"Within 12 months of meeting him, he had me getting ready for work in the garage," she says.
"He would pack up all my things and put them in boxes in the garage as a form of punishment if I wasn't giving him what he needed."
Throughout the two-year relationship Peta-Ann would be slammed against walls and bedheads.
Her face would be squeezed and spat on as tears ran down her face.
She would be told that she was going to be killed and buried in a shallow grave if she left.
One night when she tried to flee, Luxford choked her until she blacked out.
When she gathered the strength to go to police and file a domestic violence order, she was contacted by his family, telling her Luxford had pancreatic cancer and only a few months to live.
"He sent emails to me telling me he loved me and needed me to plan his funeral," Peta-Ann recalls.
One moment that still makes the hairs on her arms prickle, is when Luxford called her work impersonating a police officer to find out where she lived.
Fearing he would find her, Peta-Ann once again packed her possessions into boxes and moved thousands of kilometres away from friends and family to rebuild her life.
It's been three years since Peta-Ann lay shaking and convulsing on the living room floor, and she still feels like she is choking when she puts on a turtleneck jumper or lies on her stomach.
She struggles when remembering how she had to contort her body out the car window when ordering fast food at a drive-through because she was always asked to "speak up".
But what tears her apart most is that her voice is not the same and she cannot sing or express herself like she used to.
"I'll never forget months later getting in the car and just crying because I couldn't sing like I used to. I can't get there. It just kills me."
Yesterday for the first time in a long time, Peta-Ann said she felt free.
The man who had tormented her for so many years was sentenced to three and a half years' jail after pleading guilty to 14 domestic violence offences.
He will be eligible for parole after spending 12 months behind bars.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released in January show 3.6 per cent of Queensland women have experienced partner violence in the past two years.
These figures are only known because of the bravery of women like Peta-Ann, who have found their voice.
"DV is one of those things where people are told 'you can't do that', or 'you won't win'," Peta-Ann says.
"It's taken such a long time for victims not to be shushed and to be able to speak up and speak out."
For others on the sidelines, she encouraged them to talk to family members or friends they believed were affected by family violence.
"I'd encourage family and friends, if they see something is off or feel something is off, just to have that conversation and have that chat," Peta-Ann says.
"I know how hard this whole process is. It's exhausting. It's terrifying.
"But I think my story shows that if you do just persevere, it is worth it."
*For 24-hour support phone Queensland's DVConnect on 1800 811 811 or MensLine on 1800 600 636, NSW's Domestic Violence Line on 1800 656 463 or the national hotline 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
Originally published as 'He literally took my voice': Survivor speaks out