The Signs of Controlling Behaviour – Red Flags and How to Spot Them

If we were able to teach young people to recognise the signs of controlling behaviour, the ‘red flags’, would we be able to protect them from abusive relationships?

If we were to teach children in schools how to spot a controlling person, would be help save them from misery and self-doubt?

If we talk openly with friends about the ‘red flags’ would they recognise their own relationships and find the strength to walk away? I hope so.

For this reason, I am writing two blog posts today. One for adults, here on this blog, and one for tweens and teens on Jump! Mag When writing for kids, I am very concious of the fact that not all parents will have had The Talk with their kids, and some of our readers are just seven or eight years old. For this reason, sex is a taboo topic on Jump! Mag, but I believe that the foundation for healthy relationship building is laid before children hit puberty. Continue reading

Who Will Believe Me, If I Don’t Believe Myself – Kelly’s Story

Kelly contacted me to ask if I would tell her story. She has never told anyone before.

I believe you, Kelly.

 

 

(TRIGGER WARNING)

 

 

As a completely naive and rather lonely 16 year old I was invited to a boys house for dinner. I was spotty, had zero self confidence and was really rather delighted to be asked to such a grown up affair – the boy was in my year. I did not really know him. The week before I had kissed him at the only party I had ever been to and I was so shy I had got drunk to share my first kiss with him. After the party I remember he had been rough with me and had been feeling my chest roughly but I was very drunk (to combat shyness) …I made allowances…… I should have made a mental note there to avoid him but I felt so unlovable/ugly I didnt.

 

Instead I went for dinner, believing all would be well.  His parents were out which I didnt realise at the time would be the case.  Someone LIKED ME, I was so happy.

Instead he drugged my dinner, and I came in and out of consciousness to see him trying to penetrate me as I lay naked on his living room floor. He also was trying to get me to masturbate him.  I was 16, had never touched a boy, had no body confidence and was mortified. I was also drugged to the hilt and somehow stumbled home. Whether I lost my virginity that night I do not know – I also do not know if what he did was (attempted) date rape – though I suspect from the emotional after effects that it was.

 

So little was my confidence that when he bragged at school that he had shagged me, to his mates – I thought he has seen me now, I have to stay with him. He then ‘took’ me on my parents living room floor the next time, soon after, when they were home. That was my second (or was it first time depending if he did in fact penetrate me on that drugged night). I did not say yes that night either and it is only years later I realise how abused I allowed myself to be be.

I had no confidence and being a child survivor of sexual tampering, I think I subconsciously did not realise I could say no.

Thats my story anyway and I dont know, if what happened to me was rape or not, but not a day goes by when I dont think of the guy that did this to me and wonder if he realises what he took from me.

 

 

Who Will Believe Me, If I Don’t Even Believe Myself – Part 2 – Gwen’s Story

The last post seemed to have touched a nerve. Already, within a few hours of posting it, I have had two emails from readers with similar stories. Their tales are heart rending, and rage inducing. And very thought provoking.

How many women have a “sexual encounter” in their past that they have put chalked up to naivety and inexperience, or to a bad decision? How many of us look back and think, “Actually, that was not  a consensual encounter. He *knew* I did not want sex”, but at the time were pressured into it. How many were made to feel guilty, that they had led him on? How many were taken advantage of by more experienced men? It might not fit the traditional idea of what rape is, but we have learned that women don’t always fight back.

The journalist Bidisha busted that myth on Mumsnet this week. We have learned that rapists do not all lurk in dark alleys, as LittleMeFrance explained. We know that if a woman has drunk alcohol or taken drugs, she has not given consent for her body to be violated, as InsideTheWendyHouse knows all too well.

These stories make it clear that as important as #WeBelieveYou, we also need to help women say #IbelieveMe

 

Gwen’s Story

 

Before I start. I’m not a writer, it’s not something that comes naturally to me. I’ve tried a blog before and failed miserably, but I just feel I need to share this.

I was 18, half way across the world and living the proper gap year student life. I was working in a school by day and partying hard in the evenings and weekends. One night the girl who I had been paired with for the project was out when one of her new local friends arrived to take her to a party. I was bored, they invited me along instead so I went. What was not to like – free booze and mbanje (cannabis) something that featured at every single party I attended.

I’d drunk a fair bit before arriving out there, but the cigarette and mbanje smoking were new activities of mine. Nevertheless it would be available at the party.

I got into the car and drove to a suburb quite some drive from where I was staying near the city centre. I have no idea where it was, and even in broad daylight later on I was never able to figure out where. It was a typical party, lots of cane spirit – a drink I had become accustomed too.

I’m not really entirely sure of the evenings events, I do know that I seemed to lose track of what was going on much much earlier than I would usually have done, and ever did again despite some equally heavy drinking sessions since. There were of course other drugs around as well as the commonplace mbanje – and I never once collected my own drink from the improvised bar. Whether something was put into my drink, or whether for some reason my body reacted very differently from what is has even done to the drinks it was accustomed I will never know.

What I do know is that at some point in the evening I went back and sat in the car, still drinking, and smoking, and that some time later the “friend” came back to the car and asked me something about what I wanted to do next. This is where I have often wondered, was I, did it count, maybe it wasn’t. I told him I wanted to sleep with him, at that time still a virgin, despite “nearly” having had intercourse before I had backed off with two boyfriends years before and they had both respected that decision. He asked if I was sure, drink, drugs, I don’t know – I said yes.

We then drove, a long long drive, back into the city centre to a late night/24hr (I don’t know which) chemist where he bought condoms. By this time I was thinking much more clearly, a good 45 minutes must have passed by this stage, and I was having second thoughts. “Who was this man”. “I’m a virgin, I don’t want to sleep with him”. I said nothing, until he’d taken me back to where I was staying. I suppose at some point I had to weight up the risks of him being “led on” ,with the risk of me walking back at some unknown hour of the night through a city centre where a lone white woman would have been an easy target….

Once back at the place I was staying at he started to come onto me, and at that point I spoke out and told him I wasn’t sure anymore, it wasn’t a “no” I suppose, but I know, as I’d sobered up enormously, that I did make it clear I no longer wanted sex. At this point we were both still clothed, but he managed to convince, talk, guilt trip me into agreeing to going through with it. “I’d told him I was going to sleep with him, led him on now I had to follow through or it wasn’t fair” (or words to that effect) – he was convincing anyhow.

And so, reluctantly, and hating every single minute of it I lost my virginity to a man who I had known for only a few hours. It hurt, but I didn’t fight him, how could I – I’d told him an hour or so earlier that it was what I wanted. The fact that I’d changed my mind made little odds to him.

He fell asleep in my bed with me, I slept too, exhaustion, alcohol. He woke me in the middle of the night demanding more sex, well more forcing himself onto me. Again – I didn’t fight, how could I? He was a big man, I am short and at that time was extremely slight too.

The following morning he left with barely a word. I got up and carried on my day as normal. Well almost as normal, I was sore, hurting, I had been a virgin the previous night, and the man who took that away from me wasn’t particularly gentle. My friends and colleagues laughed a little at my slightly odd walk, I couldn’t totally hide how painful it was. “Good night was it”, “you scored a big ‘un then” among the comments. I just smiled and carried on.

And then I put it behind me. For years, probably a decade I thought of it as nothing more than a foolish decision on an alcohol and drug fuelled night. After all – I HAD told the man he could get what he eventually took. I mentioned the incident on an online forum on a thread about sexual assault and rape and was brushed off. Told it wasn’t really either because I’d invited him.

Then one day I realised, actually no – that man took something I would never get back. He DID know that I no longer wanted sex, even before any clothes were removed. He’d had to drop me back home , at the very least as a common courtesy given that he’d picked me up. But there his courtesy ended, he guilted me into sex the first time, and forced himself on me during the night a second time. Two other men previously had respected my changed of heart even though we were totally naked when I said no. But this man didn’t.

It’s strange, I’ve never really been sure how I feel about it. For 10yrs I thought little of it, only coming back to mind with, what I now know are called “triggers”. It was a post with a trigger warning on it tonight that brought it all back again. Even now, with so much more knowledge and understanding of sexual assault and rape I still can’t quite get it into my head that it was either. But it is what it is and I hope that sharing my story helps. I’ve never shared it all before, even in that anonymous online discussion, I’d glossed over some of the details. Maybe that’s why they brushed me off. I don’t know.

Though even as I finish writing I sit and wonder if it really falls under rape or sexual assault, or whether it was just one of those many things that we all have regrets over. Self doubt – it can eat you up, but life carries on and so shall I.

Who Will Believe Me If I Don’t Even Believe Myself – A Guest Post

(Trigger Warning)

 

During the discussions on Mumsnet over the past few weeks, as the #WeBelieveYou campaign got under way, many many women posted their story online. Some of them were telling their story for the very first time, while others had talked to friends and family, or seen a rape counsellor. Some were still scared and wary of starting a new relationship, others were happily married or co-habiting.

Every story is different, and every story deserves to be heard and to be believed.

Many women have returned to say that being told “I believe you” has helped them immensely. Tears have been shed, on both sides of the computer screen, writers and readers virtually holding hands and finding comfort and understanding.

Even today, women are still finding the courage to stand up and tell their story. It may be anonymously on the blog of a stranger, or under a newly assumed username on a parenting website, but even without revealing their names they are showing their strength.

Several men have commented, here and on Twitter, to tell of surviving rape. Note that I do not write “a victim” of rape. That is something I have learned this past month. They are SURVIVORS. Not victims.

 

Today, this message reached me, from a brave woman who writes so eloquently. I cried as I read of her confusion, her fear, her hurt.

And I believed her.

 

 

Okay this has taken a week for me to get my head together to write. Use it if you think it would help. I don’t think my story is that unusual, but it’s very seldom talked about because either it’s nice to pretend it didn’t happen/couldn’t have happened or because sometimes having a big blank in your memory is a good thing…..

<deep breath>

For some rape victims the biggest problem isn’t getting others to beleive you, it’s you believing others. To believe what you’re being told is to accept that you were completely out of control, that someone has used and abused you in the most intimate way possible and that you didn’t even know it was happening.

I sometimes wish it had been a stranger in a dark alley. Or a boyfriend who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Not because it’s any less serious but because at least then I would know what had happened for sure. In my case only one person knows, and it isn’t me.

One balmy summer evening in my nineteenth year I went to the pub with friends. We sat outside and smoked, we drank and laughed, joked and flirted, enjoying each other’s company. I started with a glass of white wine, feeling grown up and sophisticated, but quickly progressed to sugary alcopops which went down quicker. I think I only bought my first drink, the rest were got in by friends arriving and insisting on buying a round or guys who everyone insisted fancied me. Strike one. At some point I was introduced to WKD, which tasted of bubblegum ratger than wickedness, and Apple sours, which were at least identifiably sour. It was a heady mix of sugar, youth and alcohol. And something else.

By 10pm I was feeling distinctly woozy, perhaps a bit too much to drink and not quite enough to eat. As it was still fairly light I planned to walk home, not far, just up the hill from the town centre. A friend insisted he accompany me. It makes me sick now to think I could only see chivalry and a protective instinct at the time. He wasn’t even a particularly close friend, just someone I knew, someone my girlfriends and I giggled over and flirted with knowing full well it wasn’t really going to go anyway. A bit geeky – headed for Oxbridge – and not one of the rowers or rugby players we had our sights set on. Still the company was welcome and I slipped my arm around him as we lef tthe pub to whistles and saucy comments. Strike two.

My memory fades out around here. We went by the park and swang on the swings pretending to be children, he made a pass at me, I brushed him off, we went on, laughing.

I feel dizzy, thirsty, sore. The lights are birght, people are talking, I’m wearing some kind of loose gown and the world is out of focus. A female police officer is asking me questions about who I am and where I’ve been. I  keep asking what happened. She goes to fetch someone eventually.

I notice my best friend is sitting in an uncomfortable looking plastic chair in the corner. She looks tense and worried. The air smells of hospital. A nurse doing something on a trolley. The clock says four o’clock but there are no windows to tell me if it’s night or day outside. The curtains are a greyish-blue. The bed I’m sitting on is plastic and uncomfortable with a paper sheet twisted beneath me. I need the loo so I try to stand and I notice I’ve left a smear of blood on the sheet. I must have started my period and feel embarassed. The nurse wants to know where I’m going so I tell her I need to pee. Where are the toilets? She hands me a bedpan. I try to refuse, saying I’d rather go to a real toilet, that I can walk. She tells me I have to use the bedpan. It’s evidence.

Evidence.

Of what?

I have to ask my friend to leave as I work out how to use the bedpan. The nurse, unsmiling, tells me I’m not allowed to wipe. A doctor flings the door wide open, without knocking. I don’t like him from the start.

“We need to examine you.”

I don’t understand. Or maybe I don’t want to. They’re speaking and I hear them talk but I’m not really listening. They attach what I know to be stirrups to the bed. Too much ER. The female police officer comes back with a bag and a clipboard. The doctor is putting on gloves. The nurse folds up the old sheet carefully which strikes me as odd and puts a clean one over the bed. Outside I can hear my friend talking to a man.

“I was in my way home from babysitting when I saw the light was on in the hall and the kitchen and her room. I assumed she was home so I knocked.”

The man mumbles.

“I suppose it was about 1am”

He mumbles again.

“She seemed tired, maybe a bit drunk. I thought maybe I’d woken her up because she was just wearing a dressing gown…”

The nurse is telling me to sit down, that they need to do this now. I perch on the end of the bed. The doctor tells me to put my legs in the stirrups but I don’t want to. There are too many people in the room. Anyone could walk in because there isn’t a screen between me and the door, although the blinds are shut.

The doctor is talking. The police officer is writing. He’s touching me. I stare at the fluorescent light and swallow hard, trying not to cry. I feel confused and humiliated. It hurts. I feel combing, swabbing, prodding. Apparently I need stitches. The anaesthetic stings.

Once it’s all over they go away except the female police officer. She wants to talk to me. I tell her I’m tired and I’m thirsty. I want to get dressed and go home. She says my clothes are evidence. I have only the hospital gown. I ask her to fetch my friend.

Later my friend’s dad arrives. I Try to pretend he doesn’t know anything about this. He brings me clothes. Jeans. A bright pink top. We all go home to her house. I don’t want to be alone. My parents were visiting my grandfather with my younger siblings. They come back and leave the others behind.

My mother and I go to John Lewis to get some clean sheets. Neither of us say why.

That night I try to sleep in my bed, in the spare room, on the sofa but I can’t. Eventually I fall asleep in my sister’s child sized bed, cuddling my stuffed rabbit.

The next day my parents take me To the police station. They tell me what they know but it all feels topsy turvy. They want to know who took me home. They want to know if I want to press charges even though the evidence is inconclusive.

I tell them there must have been a misunderstanding. They don’t seem to care really.

On Monday I go to work. Afterwards I go home and I stay there. I don’t want to see my friends any more. I don’t want to be in the house either.

A few months later the nightmares start. I reorganise the furniture in my room. I find a pair of knickers down the side of my bedside cabinet. White with turquoise hearts. Cute. Ripped.

My next boyfriend complains that I never do anything. That I’m frigid. We part ways.

Eventually I get an appointment with a counsellor. By now my mind is filling in the gaps but I can’t tell truth from fiction.  Certain smells, certain sensations, certain words make me panic. I beg my GP to help me sleep and give me something to stop the panic attacks. He prescribes temazepam and beta-blockers.

After a while I can acknowledge what has happened enough to be angry but my friends don’t remember that evening and I’ve never pushed it. I don’t think I’ll tell them.

After all, who will believe me if I don’t even believe myself?

A Survivor’s Story – We Believe You

 

This interview with a domestic abuse and rape survivor shows the importance of the Mumsnet We Believe You campaign. Read the posts of other bloggers and rape survivors on our blog hop, follow the discussion on Talk and join in the chat on Twitter, using #WeBelieveYou 

(Trigger Warning)

How did you meet your ex? What attracted you to him?

I met him on a night out.  His friend approached me on his behalf and forced an introduction. I wasn’t at all physically attracted to him but he had a gentle voice and a kind of vulnerability about him. I remember thinking that he seemed gormless ;-).  He told me he would take me out but I said no, I wasn’t interested in dating.  He turned up at the club again the following two weeks running and I was flattered. When on the third week he once again  told me he would take me out I agreed, but only as friends, I wasn’t interested in anything else, I still wasn’t attracted to him. I do distinctly remember thinking that he seemed harmless and that he wouldn’t hurt me. He came across as so gentle and kind but I have no idea what attracted me or how I ended up getting sucked in.

Was there anything that, looking back, you now recognise as a “red flag”?  Did any of your family or friends spot anything and warn you about him?

Looking back now the first red flag came before we had even had our first date. I had given him my telephone number so he could call me to arrange our first night out. Two weeks later he rang just as I was getting ready to go out. He didn’t want to take me out as he was going out with his friend but he wanted me to meet him at the end of the night. I told him I was going out with a group of friends so wouldn’t be able to do that. His tone changed and it was obvious he wasn’t very happy but I didn’t really think much of it.

I didn’t hear from him for about four weeks after that when he rang to ask me if I wanted to go out for a drink. I agreed and he picked me up. He arrived 15 minutes late. He sat in his car and waited for me to go out, he made no apology for being late and after saying “Hi” he drove in absolute silence. He drove to his house and told me he was dropping the car off and we were walking to the local pub. Once in the pub he told me he wasn’t happy that I hadn’t been available to meet him at the end of the night, that he expected his girlfriend to want to see him. I laughed thinking he was joking but no, he was deadly serious, as far as he was concerned by agreeing to go out with him I was now his girlfriend and so his possession.

He wasn’t interested in meeting my friends, he told me never to ask him to attend my work parties or nights out because he wouldn’t be going.  He put on such a good act in front of those friends and colleagues that he did meet that they didn’t spot anything but strangely few of them liked him, they thought he was ‘odd’.  I have no family other than my children and I didn’t allow him to meet them for quite some time so I had no one to warn or advise me or see the things that I was missing.

He also decided on the days we would see each other and he rang me on the days in between. I realised later the phone calls were his way of checking up on me. I also later discovered that he would drive past my house to make sure I was home. He could tell whether I was home or out by the lighting as I would leave certain lamps on if I went out. He got to know my behaviour pattern by quietly stalking me.

I experienced all of the red flags in the blog apart from the apologising. In the 11 years I knew him he never once apologised to me, not once.

 

What was the first incident, when you realised that something really was not right? Was it physical or emotional?

The first real incident, the one that had me thinking that something was badly wrong came when I was 7 weeks pregnant with our daughter. I used to work late on a Wednesday and he would cook tea for me at his house. I arrived to find him looking agitated and upset.  Something was obviously wrong but when I asked if he was ok he snapped at me that he was fine. I was worried as I hadn’t seen him like this before so I asked him what the matter was. He turned on me, shouting loudly right in my face, his nose almost touching mine, his face contorted in anger, shoulders back, chest out, towering over me, he spat at me that the only thing that was wrong with him was me.  He pushed me away from him with his forearm across my chest and he left the house. I was left crying and wondering what the hell I had done wrong. I was panicking because I was newly pregnant and I felt trapped, I didn’t know what to do. I was scared and confused. It did go through my mind that I should leave but I was already a divorced, single mum to three older children and I was (stupidly) worried about what people would think of me. I waited three hours for him to come home. He walked in the house, got undressed and got into bed without speaking a single word to me. I tried talking to him but he totally blanked me so I left and went home to my own house. He ignored me for a couple of days and then rang me as though nothing had ever happened. I was just so relieved that everything was back to normal. I didn’t try discussing what had happened because I was scared, I had seen a side to him I didn’t like and I didn’t want to risk seeing it again.

A couple of weeks later he said “Your face was a picture the other night, when I shouted at you. You were really scared of me weren’t you?”  He had a sick grin on his face, he was proud of the fact that he had frightened me. He showed no remorse or shame whatsoever. The shouting in my face became a regular thing, he seemed to like to see me frightened and in tears and wouldn’t stop until that happened.

He had been up and down with his moods prior to that, speaking, not speaking but that was the first time I felt scared, worried and out of my depth. That was the beginning of me walking on eggshells.

Was there an escalation of violence?

Oh yes. It started with pushing. He thought pushing was ok as he wasn’t hitting me. The pushing got harder, he wouldn’t be happy until he had pushed me to the floor. He would use his forearm and all of his force across my chest/neck. He didn’t believe me that it hurt because he was ‘only pushing’ me. That progressed into deliberately pushing me into door handles, my head into door frames, shaped end of the banister. I would be covered in bruises but in his eyes it was ok because he hadn’t hit me and he hadn’t given me the bruises.

When we shared a bed he would order me to sleep on the sofa if he was unhappy with me. I once refused and was elbowed so hard in the back until I actually fell out of bed. After that I simply slept on the sofa when his mood was bad.

 

There was also the tickling. He would start tickling me, pretending he was having fun but it wasn’t fun, it was painful, he would deliberately hurt me and protesting would then give him licence to shout and rage at me. I felt I was being set up for abuse.

The very last time he attacked me was February 4th 2007. He had his hands around my neck and was squeezing hard. His face was emotionless and his eyes were cold. I honestly thought I was going to die, he was killing me. He had me pressed against the wall and I was trapped. With all of my strength I drew back my hand and I punched him in the side of the head. He was shocked so let go but came at me again so I kicked him. He looked stunned but he didn’t stop so neither did I. Each time he came towards me I kicked him. I screamed at him never to touch me again, never to lay a finger on me or shout in my face ever again. (He never simply shouted, he never shouted from a distance, he would have to have his nose pressing against mine, spitting in my face, his chest pinned against me).

He went crazy! He was ranting and raving, stomping around the house shouting and swearing. He left the house and I followed him outside. He pushed me up against the wall and threatened me, shouting and swearing in my face. Our neighbour was stood outside and watched on in disgust. He got in his car and drove off, stopping at the end of the drive to open his car door and hurl more vile abuse at me. I just stood in silence watching him.

A few minutes later he came back. I was shaking like a leaf, petrified, feeling sick. This had all happened in front of my children. I was so scared of what was going to happen, it was his house and he wanted me out (every few weeks he would want me out of his house, for no reason, he would switch into this other person). He came back in the house, went upstairs and started packing a bag. I panicked, I was scared and I asked him not to do this, to please not go. As he left the house I told him I loved him. He didn’t speak one single word to me throughout, he just drove off. As I closed the door behind him I turned to see my son looking at me, shaking his head in disgust because I had just told the monster who had done all that that I loved him. I felt totally ashamed of myself and embarrassed. I felt I had failed my children. Telling his I loved him was a survival thing, I had no idea what he was going to do, I had enraged him and to feel safe I had to get him back onside. I felt ashamed and disgusted with myself for hitting him, I felt I had lowered myself to his level and that I was now as bad as him, even though at the time I felt I had no choice.

He came back 3 days later like a meek little lamb. Of course everything was my fault, he was the victim. I told him I had been in touch with Women’s Aid and the police and that I had been given a code to quote so if ever he hit me again he would be arrested. It was a lie, a survival tac tic but it worked, he didn’t touch me again, he found other ways to hurt me.

By this time I had my own room. On a number of occasions I woke from sleep to find him having sex with me. Regardless of how much I protested he would carry on, saying nothing, just abusing my body. I was his possession, he felt entitled to do what he wanted when he wanted. I had no privacy. If he wanted sex he didn’t stop until he got sex. He wasn’t interested in me or my needs, it was a completely selfish act, no kissing, no affection and it would be painful. It was rape. He would finish and then immediately leave my room without a backward glance. I felt cheap and worthless, I hated myself.

When did you know that you had to leave? What gave you that courage?

 I had been dreaming of leaving for years before I actually did. I was in regular contact with Women’s Aid via email.  They were supporting me but they couldn’t really help me until I was actually ready to leave but it was comforting to know they were there.

The final straw came at Christmas 2009, December 28th.  I had cooked a meal for him and his father after their day at the races. He had arrived home in a sullen mood so I just kept myself to myself. I was loading the dishwasher after they had finished eating when he accused me of doing it wrong. He told me I never stacked it correctly and that was why the pots came out dirty. (The pots never came out dirty) I very quietly pointed out to him that I always stacked the dishwasher just as he had told me to stack it. He went on and on, talking down to me, getting more irate, all in front of his father too. In the end I asked him to please allow me to just stack the dishwasher and leave me in peace. I knew it wasn’t going to end well so I left the kitchen and took myself into the living room where I sat watching TV with Lauren on my knee.

After his father left he came storming into the lounge and started shouting and swearing at me, he told me I made him look a fool in front of his father (because I answered him back I suspect, because I stood up for myself) and he told me to never speak to him like that again.

As soon as he started I asked him not to, “please, not in front of Lauren”, but he ignored me and carried on. It was vile! Once again he wanted me out of his house, as soon as possible. I told him I had no money to leave, that I would gladly leave if he would loan me the money. I was crying, trying to reason with him, trying to get him to calm down and shut up. Lauren (7 at the time) climbed down off my knee and disappeared. She came back into the room after a while and pressed a £2 coin firmly into my hand. I was too caught up in everything to give it any thought at the time but when I gave it back to her the next day I asked her why she had given it to me. She explained that she had heard me say to daddy that I had no money to leave so she had taken it from her money box and given it to me so that I could leave. That broke my heart.

That was the very moment I knew I had to leave, I had to leave for her sake, he didn’t care enough about her not to abuse me in front of her so I had to ensure he didn’t get the opportunity. From that day I started making plans to leave. The seed was planted, my mind was made up and no matter how much he turned on the charm something had changed, I didn’t fall for it, I quietly stuck to my plan.

A year after leaving I discovered photo’s on her DSi that Lauren had taken of that argument. There was photo’s of me crying and her father raging. She must have been so scared at the time.

Did your family and friends know about the abuse? Did they try to persuade you to leave?

By this time I had no friends. I was isolated. I was living in a depression and I didn’t want to see anyone. I kept away from my elder daughters because I didn’t want them suspecting anything and I was sure if they looked at me they would know because I was finding it so hard to hide it. I could plant a smile on my face but that smile never reached my eyes.

We lived in a beautiful house, had two cars, a garage bigger than the house I live in now, all the mod cons, he has a good job, goes to work in a suit, smiles at the neighbours, put’s on such a good act to everyone outside. I was confused as to what was happening, if it was me who was misunderstanding him, if it was me who was the problem, no one else seemed to have a problem with him, people seemed to like him so it must be me. I thought I may be expecting too much. I tried to be happy. When it came time to do the school run I would plant a smile on my face and step out of the door, it would be my turn to act. I didn’t think anyone would believe that this seemingly sweet, kind and helpful man was treating me so badly.

Since I have left a few people have come forward and told me they didn’t like him and they thought something was wrong. They avoided me because I was with him, they kept away from me because of him.  It was like the elephant in the room.

The truth is that I was crying out for someone to tell me they could see what was happening. I was crying out for someone to rescue me, to tell me what was happening was wrong, talk to me about it. I needed someone to tell me I was being abused, I was lost in it, I was drowning, I didn’t know if what was happening was right or wrong, if it was my own fault or a fault with him. But people avoided me as much as I avoided them so there was no one to validate my feelings or to talk things through with.

Did you plan it or did you walk out?

Since the incident at Christmas my plan was to leave but I didn’t plan to leave the way I did.

I was totally isolated, he had made sure of that. No friends, no money, no job. The only money I had was the ‘housekeeping’ he gave me. He gave me £300 a month to feed a family of four (one of which was my teenage son who ate loads!) Out of that he also expected me to buy his personal items such as razors, shaving foam, deodorant. I was also expected to pay the phone bill because he said he didn’t use the phone or the internet and my son did. He wouldn’t eat ‘cheap food’ and expected a cooked meal, meat and veg, every single day. This meant I was constantly overdrawn and in debt so had no spare money to save.

I was desperate to leave and started to feel helpless. I just couldn’t see a way out, not without money. On Saturday the 20th of February 2010 I had a panic attack. He had turned on me 16 days previously and hadn’t spoken one single word to me since. I sat in the lounge feeling so desperate, I felt I was dying, literally dying. With tears streaming down my face I emailed my local women’s refuge begging them to help me, to please help me to leave. The relief at reaching out for help was immense, all I had done was send an email but I felt elated.

First thing Monday morning my refuge had replied. They had given me the number of the floating support worker so before I could talk myself out of it I rang her. She was absolutely amazing. I sobbed heartbroken as she told me it wasn’t me, that he was an abuser and she would help me all that she could. We ended the phone call having arranged to meet the next day to discuss my options but a few minutes later she called me back to tell me she had found me a room in a refuge if I wanted to take it. My heart was beating in my mouth, I was scared but also excited at the prospect of getting out of there. I had spent years talking myself out of going into refuge because of my son and daughter but in that moment I could only see that I would be doing my children a service by removing them from that house.

I accepted the room in refuge. It was arranged that I would be picked up the next day at 2pm and taken in.

That night I cooked his tea with a smile on my face knowing it would be the last meal I ever cooked him, the last time he would have the opportunity to ignore me, to treat me with contempt and disrespect. The following morning I heard him leave for work and I shouted “goodbye”. It gave me so much pleasure to know he had left for work, expecting to come home to continue his abuse but I wouldn’t be there to receive it.  Instead he came home to the keys to his house on the doormat and a note from me on the side.

What organisations were helpful to you? Were your family and friends supportive?

My local Women’s Aid were amazing. Truly amazing. They took over my care and dealt with everything while I collapsed with exhaustion from years of abuse. I didn’t have to think for myself at all. Everything I had worried so much about over the years, well, I needn’t have worried at all. Everything was so easily dealt with, thanks to them.

When it came time to apply for housing the council were helpful too although I found having to talk about the abuse in order to prove my entitlement to housing difficult. They need to be sure each case is genuine so they ask some very personal questions. The only organisation I found to be unsympathetic was the job centre when I had to apply for benefit. There I was, a wreck, just moved into refuge the day before and I had to have a back to work interview where I was asked what my short term and long term goals were, before my claim for benefit would be processed. I barely knew what day it was so I was hardly in a position to think of my work goals.  I was so fortunate to have my support worker with me every step of the way, fighting my corner and speaking for me when I was unable.

My elder daughters were overjoyed that I had left him and were ultra supportive. My son has disowned me. He was just about to turn 18 when I went into refuge and so wasn’t allowed to go with me due to him being male. He was devastated and disgusted that I was taking Lauren to refuge. He was also disgusted with me for abandoning him but the truth is that at the point of leaving I was also leaving my son as he was abusive towards me too. He was mimicking the behaviour of my ex and my ex was rewarding him for it. I was getting it from all angles.

The mother of my ex had previously begged me to leave him, she had seen the bruises, she knew what he was like but she hasn’t spoken a single word to me since the day I left. She has however stepped into my shoes and is taking care of her son.

The few people I had in my life at the time were all supportive of me but there are a few people who have stuck by him. He is an excellent actor and a really good liar.

 

Did you doubt your decision? What helped to keep you strong?

Not once have I doubted my decision. It hasn’t been easy, far from it.  Once you leave refuge you are on your own and not as equipped to deal with it as you think you are so you do take a few steps backwards, but despite the struggle not once have I regretted leaving.

My daughter has kept me strong. She has been absolutely amazing. She has embraced everything, taken it all in her stride, never once complained or cried. The thought of a happy and abuse free future has also kept me strong.

Was there a moment when you knew you had made the right decision?

The moment I stepped through the door of the refuge I knew I had made the right decision. I literally felt the weight lifting from my shoulders. It was like stepping out of hell and right into Heaven.

What would you advise any woman who is going through what you went through?

Please speak out. Please talk to someone about everything you are going through, open up to anyone who will listen, you never know who has been where you are now, the valuable advice they have to share, the support. I kept it to myself for far too long, once I started talking was when my life started changing. There is the help out there but you do have to reach out for it.

Women’s Aid are wonderful. Allow them to help you to help yourself. You won’t regret it.  

Also, don’t ‘stay for the children’. I have seen the difference in my daughter since we left. To say she has blossomed is an understatement. I thought I was protecting her, I thought she wasn’t being affected by the abuse but she was. I wasn’t protecting her at all.

Are you still in touch with the father of your daughter? How does he behave towards you now?

Unfortunately yes. He has court ordered contact with Lauren. He took me to court for a number of things after I left him as a way of continuing the abuse, contact was one of them so he sees her every Wednesday evening and every other weekend.

I stay out of the way as much as is possible but he goes through phases of ‘needing to speak to me’. It’s obvious he hasn’t changed, he still has no respect for me, he tries to lord it over me, he talks down to me, he leers at my body and makes sexual comments but things are much improved to how they were in the early days after I left. He is still an abuser but I am no longer his victim.

Over time his interest in Lauren has waned. Contact with her doesn’t appear to be important to him anymore.

How did your daughter deal with the separation from her father? Were they close?

Lauren was absolutely amazing! The day we left I collected her from school at lunchtime. I had no idea how I was going to tell her we were leaving her daddy. I opened the door and we walked into the kitchen which was full of our belongings all packed and ready to go.  She had a look of puzzlement on her little face and so I explained that we were moving out, that we were moving into a little flat of our own, (that’s how I described our room in the refuge and to this day that’s what she calls it, our flat) that mummy and daddy couldn’t live together anymore because it was making everyone sad. She sat and listened then went up to her room and packed a bag of her own, filling it with dolls and her favourite toys.

I will never forget the look on her face as we sat in that mini bus, surrounded by our belongings. I had no idea where we were going and so couldn’t tell her. She sat facing me, clutching her teddy, looking a little worried and frightened but she trusted me, she was placing all of her faith in me.  She made leaving him so much easier, if she hadn’t dealt with it as well as she did then I don’t think I would have either.

No, they weren’t close. Lauren spent all of her time with me, he wasn’t a family man and made no effort with her. He never bathed her or put her to bed, never read to her, never spent time with her so she was close to me. Lauren was a trophy to him, she was all a part of the appearance, the appearance of his perfect life. He would buy her things as a way of showing her love, she had everything a child could want and more.

Only once did Lauren cry and that was when he discovered we had gone and he rang. He spoke to Lauren and he asked her if she loved him, if she missed him, he told her he was upset that she wasn’t there. This made her cry, she felt guilty because we had left while he was at work, that we hadn’t waited until he got home so she could say goodbye to him. I gave her a cuddle and I reassured her, we talked and she never shed another tear.

He tried to get me back a few times, he turned on the charm but Lauren was so wise, she knew exactly what he was doing and she would whisper in my ear “Mummy, you aren’t going to love daddy again are you” and “We aren’t moving back are we?” she would watch me like a hawk and if I smiled or laughed when around him she would want reassurance that we weren’t going back to him. That spoke volumes to me.

Are you in a relationship at present? If yes, did it take a long time to trust your new partner. If no, do you worry about trusting a new partner?

No, I’m not in a relationship. I have had two dates but on both occasions I have breathed a huge sigh of relief when the dates have come to an end, not wanting to see either of them again.  I can’t imagine that there is a man out there who isn’t controlling or abusive. I can’t imagine ever trusting a man again. I’m not sure I trust myself not to end up in the same situation again. Even though I am wiser and I am well aware of the red flags I don’t trust that I wouldn’t be conned again. What if he didn’t show his true colours until years later? These men do know what they are doing. They are in control of their actions, they are well aware of how they are behaving. I know this because my ex could switch it on and off depending who’s company he was in. I have watched him in company of strangers and recognise the voice and the innocent look on his face that he used to reel me in. It was only once he had me trapped that he dropped his act and showed his true colours.

I always remember the boiling frog anecdote. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. That describes a woman in an abusive relationship perfectly.

Are you happy?

Oh God yes! At the grand old age of 47 I am happier than I have ever been in my whole life. Going into Refuge was a life changing experience for me. I loved every single moment of it. I embraced everything they had to offer me and in turn I learned so much about myself. I had counselling which helped me to realise that my low self esteem stemmed from my abusive childhood. It helped me to realise how I ended up in the situation that I did. I am a changed person these days and I’m not ashamed to say I love myself, I love the new me.

Being a mother to my daughter brings me so much joy and pleasure every single day. I missed that when I lived with him, I loved her but only now I am free and genuinely happy do I realise that due to the depression the abuse forced upon me I was going through the motions of being a mum. I didn’t get the genuine pleasure from it as I do today.

These days I breathe properly, relaxed, even breathing that doesn’t cause me pain. When living with him my breathing was shallow and came in short bursts from my upper chest, like an animal being chased. I sleep well, my eating disorder has disappeared and I look 10 years younger! There isn’t a pill on the market that could give me the daily high that I have these days.

I love my life so much, I am so happy with the little I have that I refuse to buy a lottery ticket because there is nothing I would change if I won. I won the lottery the day Women’s Aid gave me a room.