Feminism

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.

 

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