Photo of woman sitting with head in her hands

‘It’s like you go to abuse school’: how domestic violence always follows the same script

In this extract from her book, See What You Made Me Do, Jess Hill traces the psychology of abusers and how they use the same techniques of oppression

Originally published at

It’s a sparkling Saturday afternoon in Bella Vista, in Sydney’s Bible belt. The people who live here have faith and money: the streets are immaculate and the houses are huge. Outside one house, a pile of household items is all that blights the row of manicured lawns. As is typical in suburbs like this, there are signs of life, but nobody on the street.

Nobody except for a slight man in an oversized white singlet, leaning into a car. As I approach, he waves. “My son’s selling his car, so I’m taking off the most valuable part of it,” laughs Rob Sanasi, triumphantly waving an eTag above his head.

We walk into the house at the bottom of the drive to find a tall, elegant blonde woman and two twenty-somethings milling around the kitchen, joking and making plans for the weekend. This is the house Rob shares with his wife, Deb, and their two adult children.

Deb puts on the kettle and Rob brings out the biscuits, one of which has already been partially enjoyed. “Oh, nice,” he says apologetically. “Someone graciously put that one back there.”

Deb guffaws from behind the kitchen counter. “You don’t want to feel the guilt of taking a whole one!”

Rob shrugs, smiling. “Yeah, it’s the quirk in this family.”

As the kids wave their goodbyes, new biscuits are found and tea is poured. Then we sit down together at the kitchen table to talk about Rob and Deb’s history of domestic abuse.

Rob begins his story in 2006. It was a bad time: his business was failing, his family life was falling apart. “Deb and I were … well, when I say Deb and I were fighting, I was fighting more, but it looked like we were fighting. I remember driving along on the M2 and I was in a bad way. Actually, that day, I thought: this is probably going to be my last day.”

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