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The first time Charlotte* heard Angela's* story it made her cry — because it was so similar to her own.
Charlotte and Angela were abused by the same man. A man they loved, a man who manipulated, choked and raped them.
Warning: This article contains details of domestic violence that some readers may find distressing.
Over the course of seven years, Travis James Ray emotionally, physically and sexually abused the women.
He will now spend at least six years behind bars after being sentenced this week in Tasmania's Supreme Court for two counts of persistent family violence against the women.
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The women's names have been changed to protect their identities.
"He was very charming right at the start. A perfect gentleman," Angela said.
Angela was in high school when she met Ray. At first she was put off by the age gap — he was five years older.
"He came up to me [at my work] and said my name. I said 'who are you?'," she said.
They began dating and months later, after her graduation, he asked her to move in.
That was when she said he began to control and isolate her.
"At the time I didn't notice, but he was starting to be controlling in certain ways," Angela said.
"Always calling the home when I was meant to be at home. Making sure I was actually at home."
They were both working, but he said "it was the woman's job to keep the house clean".
"He said … he was working more hours than me, and because he worked more hours I should be spending that time cleaning and having everything perfect," she said.
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"I ended up getting a second job and I was doing more hours than him. Then his excuse was that he worked harder than me."
At first, he was relaxed if something was not to his standard, but as the relationship went on, Angela said he began to yell.
"He'd get home from work and a light switch or something wasn't wiped and that'd set him off … he ended up doing a roster for me so I had jobs every single day and he'd put how much time it'd take me to do."
Eventually it turned physical.
"I feared for my life sometimes. It was really scary. He'd choke me and I'd get to the point where I'd blackout," she said.
"One time he threw me against something and I just fell straight to the ground and I couldn't feel my legs for a good minute.
"I thought he was either going to kill me or I'd end up paralysed from it."
She said he broke her down, taking whatever self-confidence she had.
"It got to the point where he'd punch me in the head so that bruises didn't show up," Angela said.
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When she threatened to leave he would plead with her.
"He'd end up apologising. He'd end up balling his eyes out and telling me how sorry he was and that he didn't want to be that way," she said.
"I wanted for him to get better and I thought he was sorry for it so I thought he might, but he never did."
Eventually she left him. Weeks later he met Charlotte.
'He seemed charming, normal'
Charlotte was on a night out with girlfriends when Ray asked for her number.
"I gave it to him and got a text before I even got home," Charlotte said.
They chatted for the next few days and caught up for dinner that week.
"He seemed charming, normal," she said.
"He had really strong family values. He wanted to spend every night together pretty much."
Within a couple of weeks he told her he loved her.
Charlotte was ready to put the brakes on, but Ray put it back on her, saying she was just "scared" because of past experiences.
"He would always have an answer, to make me think 'oh well, he is right'," he said.
"Now when I look back I can see a lot of things that were red flags and my gut instincts that I had then I should've listened to."
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As the relationship went on, Charlotte said he began to change.
"A lot of things that he used to love about me … they all of a sudden started to become issues for him," she said.
"That I was too close to mum, I had too many friends, they all of a sudden became an argument and a reason that he would get angry."
Like Angela, Charlotte said he had "unrealistic expectations of housework".
"On my days off he would call to check that I was at home and that I'd done the cleaning. The only place he was happy for me to go was the supermarket," she said.
He expected massages and sex every night and would abuse her if he was angry, even raping her.
"It started with the odd sort of grab when he was angry … they then sort of turned into some pushes," she said.
"That turned into kicks, throws, eventually they became punches and headbutts, grabbing me around the throat."
Charlotte found herself torn between "wanting to find a way out and wanting it to stop".
"[You want] to believe that that wasn't the person you loved," she said. "That the person was that [same] person that you first met: the kind, the caring person that you fell in love with."
When she tried to leave he would cry and plead, saying she was the only person that could help him.
Similar stories and a guilty plea
Charlotte knew Angela, though not well, through Ray but it was only after she went to police that Charlotte realised Angela had also been abused.
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When interviewed by police Ray said the two women were best friends who had colluded.
He plead not guilty to two charges of persistent family violence.
After years of preparing for a trial, at the last minute, he changed his plea to guilty.
Sitting in court, listening to the facts of the case, Charlotte realised how eerily similar their stories were.
In sentencing, Justice Michael Brett said Ray's behaviour in each relationship was "coercive and controlling".
"Control was achieved by regular physical, emotional and psychological abuse," he said.
"[There was an] assertion of dominion and authority with regular and repeated acts of physical and sexual violence, often linked to your response of refusal or failure to meet your demands or expectations.
"The physical violence was a further form of coercion with the purpose of achieving the desired level of control."
Justice Brett said it was clear Ray's crimes had had "a profound and long-term impact on both" women.
"It deeply and irreversibly changed them and each relives that trauma constantly and vividly," he said.
Ray was sentenced in Tasmania's Supreme Court to 12 years in prison, with a non-parole period of six years.
Charlotte and Angela have now been free of Ray for the better part of a decade, but they are still healing.
"I'll look in the mirror and some days I'll just see everything that he used to put down about me," said Angela.
"Other times I'll see a beautiful woman and be happy about myself."
Charlotte wants other women who are living through something similar to know that they are strong.
"I know now that I wasn't weak that I was actually strong," she said.
"You do have the strength. If you can be living that, you do have the strength to leave."
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