Trigger Warning: This blog post contains information about domestic violence and abuse. Look after yourself and remember, we’re here 24-hours, 365 days a year. Call us on 0808 800 0340 or visit our website for information on the available support. https://junowomensaid.org.uk/
“You didn’t break her… You don’t have that kind of power.” – BMM Poetry
He had worked out we had left in less than an hour.
My phone hadn’t stopped, message after message, call after call. I didn’t dare turn it off. I had never defied him before, so I answered… “Where are you? Babe, I love you! You can’t take my son away from me”, “I didn’t do anything!” “You can’t do this to me.” The fake tears, the declarations of love, the false promises.
He knew what to say to make me doubt myself and to feel guilty. He knew me better than I knew myself. Why? Because he had created the person I now was. I had not made a decision independently without his contribution, or approval, in years.
I can’t go back I repeated it over and over in my head. I forced myself to remember all the horrible things he had done, but he wasn’t going to give up. I started thinking of excuses as to why I had done what I had… “You can’t run, I’ll find you”, “I am going to kill you!” “I love you, babe!”
Our safe house
I had arranged a place for us to stay the day before we left. This was our “safe house.”
That first night as I lay in bed with my babies, I watched them sleep and cried. I cried because they didn’t deserve any of this, they deserved so much more. I cried because I had let them down. I cried for what they had seen and heard. I cried for the innocence they had lost. I cried because I missed him, despite the relationship being riddled with domestic abuse. I cried because it all seemed impossible.
Meeting my domestic abuse Support Worker
I first met my Support Worker three weeks after I had left. His mum was facilitating his contact with our son, but he hadn’t given up, he was sending vicious and threatening messages to my family and friends.
Every time a social worker spoke to him, he made out I was crazy or overreacting or he had been joking. One morning a call came into the office phone, “I’m coming down there to slit your throat.” I reported it to the police and work employed extra security to ensure everyone’s safety. But I refused to let the police talk to him as I was more concerned with the repercussions it would cause. He was always getting away with stuff, so why would this be any different?
They referred me to Juno (WAIS at the time) and social services had also referred me in for support.
I called his mum to ask her to ask him to stop sending my friends and family nasty messages. She had no clue. I thought she’d help me but she didn’t, “I’m fed up of this, sort it out yourselves, it’s ridiculous. I’m sending him your number.” After only three weeks of no contact, I was back in contact with him. It had been for nothing.
A few days later, the Juno Support Worker called. I wasn’t in a good place and asked if we could arrange a meeting. We agreed I would book a meeting room and they would come into work. Sat at the table with my support worker and her colleague, I realised they took everything I said so seriously – they genuinely cared. Then panic set in…
Why did they care? Was this a serious situation? Would he know I spoke to them about him? What would he do when he found out? Would the police have to speak to him? Would he get into trouble? Would they take my children if I told them the truth? Could I tell the truth? Would they believe me? What’s going to happen to him?
As we sat they explained how they could and would help, they didn’t bombard me with information, they listened, reassured and gave me insight to his behaviour. I started minimising and defending him instantly – a reaction with no thought. He wasn’t that controlling, He didn’t hurt me that much… I didn’t feel like I needed their help. They didn’t know him like I did.
We were referred to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC), which was the first of three, and they designed a safety plan for us. It was arranged that one of them would call in a couple of days to check in and let me know what had happened at the MARAC. A week later we were classed as High Risk. She explained the process and how they reached that decision and what it meant for us.
Now I was back in contact with him, my perspective had changed… I was in flat out denial.
Emotional, psychological and financial abuse
It took me a while to open up and trust my Support Worker. I really struggled to believe his behaviour was “real”… He would stop, he would change back to how he used to be, I could change him.
She had been working really hard and helping me with housing, writing a supporting letter explaining our situation to the local council for us to be considered for housing in our new area, got the police to provide me with a panic alarm, sat with me and the children numerous times whilst social services spoke to us, spoke to the local council where my old house was and got them put the council tax on hold and made numerous calls to see what could be done about him living in my home.
I had no idea that I was about to undergo a three-year campaign of manipulation, gaslighting, emotional, psychological and financial abuse…
I had to hit rock bottom to fight my way back up.
An indictable offence
My trust in my support worker had grown and she had given me confidence to open up about past incidents. Eventually, I mentioned the previous incident when I was threatened with the knife, this was an indictable offence and he had to be spoken to.
I called my support worker in a panic, “he’s going to go mad!”
She understood my fear completely and the risk it could pose to us, so she met with the police officer and me and helped to explain our situation. He agreed to speak to him only when it was safe to do so and promised he would give me notice of when he was going to. I will always be grateful to that officer for having patience and not judging me for not pursing the charges after all the time and effort he put in.
That officer also told me about something called a Clare’s Law Disclosure and suggested I apply for one.
I thought it would be a waste of time, but after thinking it over I decided I would. Maybe I would hear something that could break the hold he had over me. It was lengthy and concerning yet still not enough to override the fear of not being in contact with him. I was beginning to think nothing could.
Managing our risk
The next few years were living on eggshells, adhering to his wants and needs: transferring money, him stealing money, taking my son to him as and when he wanted, picking him up from work, dinner at his parents nearly every night and weekend. My days were long and the black cloud was getting darker and darker.
In time we were rehoused it was terrifying and liberating at the same time. He didn’t know where the house was, I managed to keep it secret.
I was leading a double life. I would cry myself to sleep most nights feeling useless and powerless then slap a happy face on for the children and work. I was still lonely as there was no room to do anything else between work, the children and him. He had long worn me down, to do anything outside of what he wanted resulted in abusive messages, name-calling, silent treatments, taking money off me or threats. It was exhausting. I’d given up I was never going to be free.
I called my Support Worker and told her I wanted to end my support with her.
I lied and said everything was fine but, I believed there was nothing she could do, the only way I could have any kind of life was to be in contact with him. It was quiet and no one was being threatened.
A pattern had emerged and was cemented into my daily life. If I was in contact with him there were no threats. It was the only way of managing our risk.
Wake up, text him, son’s awake, text him, leaving the house, text him, dropped my son at nursery, text him, got to work, text him, having a morning break, text him, start of lunch, text him, phone call, finish lunch, text him, afternoon break, text him, finished work, text him, leaving work, text him, arrive at son’s nursery, text him, got son, text him, arrive home, text him, having tea, text him, finished tea, text him, bathing son, text him, son going to bed, bedtime story phone call, phone calls received throughout the night, advise him I’m going to bed, get into bed.
Ending an abusive relationship
Three years went by like this. He was stealing my life from the minute he opened his eyes in the morning, till he went to sleep at night. The only respite I got was when he was asleep.
I had normalised his behaviour again, but how could I prove someone was dictating my life? It seemed pointless. I couldn’t do things with my children together as every weekend was taken up by his demands of seeing his son. I always had to be present, I couldn’t just drop my son and leave. My daughter was missing out on time with me and her brother, I wasn’t seeing my parents or friends and I was worn out. I called my Support Worker in tears,
“I can’t do this anymore, nothing has changed. I want my life back!”
She referred me back into the service. It gave me a new determination. I couldn’t have continued without her support.
The final assault
The arm around my neck came quietly and quickly.
I couldn’t breathe, the struggling alerted my son, “get off my mummy!” He let go but he wasn’t finished. His control now lost he was manic.
Storming past me he punched me while I was holding my son in my arms.
He was screaming at us and smashing my phone so we couldn’t call for help. The reason? I had found out he was seeing someone else.
The lock I had been picking for the last 3 years finally opened, this gave me a reason, this was my escape from him.
I needed two surgeries following that assault and had to have time off work. He, on the other hand, was invited into the police station at a time convenient for him to discuss my allegations. He was going to get away with it again… His actions never had repercussions!
Standing up in court
Five months later, a call came from social services. He had assaulted his new girlfriend and was now on remand, a far nastier assault. I knew he hadn’t changed; he’d gotten worse! I knew the fear I felt was validated even though the last police officer had dismissed me.
They were sentencing the two cases together. My Court IDVA and my Support Worker helped me through the process every step of the way including court room walk rounds and arranging special measures.
“I’m not having screens, I’m ending this! He needs to know he doesn’t have power over me anymore.” I was adamant.
However, as I stood in the witness box reading my victim impact statement, I didn’t feel as brave. I glanced up and realised that I still felt the fear, so I hid my hand at my side so he couldn’t see it shaking. My Court IDVA sat behind me with an encouraging look. I took a breath and started to read. As I read, the fear went and was replaced by determination. You will hear me, you will understand I now know what your behaviour was, I will show you, you have no power over me.
I wasn’t just my voice, I was my children’s voice too. Every word was defiance against everything he had ever done to me.
Walking out of the court room, I hugged my best friend and support workers, “it’s over.” We did it. Without Juno and my friends I would never have gotten to that point. I didn’t do it alone, we did it together, and I will be forever grateful.
I always believed he had the power, yet I survived him and not only did I survive him, I overcame him. I own my journey, I own the scars, I have a voice and I am going to use it.
It was finally time to start healing and living!
Below is a list of resources based on topics discussed in this blog post. Further resources are also available here.
Coercive control: https://www.laurarichards.co.uk/what-are-the-signs-of-coercive-control/
Definition of an indictable offence: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1977/45/section/64?view=plain
Economic abuse: https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/economic-abuse/
Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA): https://nottswa.org/support/women/idva/
Is this coercive control? BBC documentary: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08v5pwj/is-this-coercive-control
Making a safety plan: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/the-survivors-handbook/making-a-safety-plan/
Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC): https://nottswa.org/information/domestic-abuse/marac/
Psychological abuse: https://safelives.org.uk/psychological-abuse
Supporting high-risk victims of domestic violence: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-high-risk-victims-of-domestic-violence
Victim personal statement: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/victim-personal-statement
This blog post is Part Two of a three-part series documenting the journeys of two survivors of domestic abuse. Part One, The Look of Love and Fairytale Foe, explores the first incidents and realisation of domestic abuse and routes to support; The Look of Love Part Two and Fairytale Foe Part Two describes support for survivors, the process of leaving and continued domestic abuse; Part Three describes the after-effects of domestic abuse and the support received by survivors and their families.
The survivor in this story wanted to share her experience of domestic abuse to help other women realise abusive behaviours and explore routes to support. “I really want the blog to resonate with women because I genuinely thought I would never get out and I want women to emotionally invest in my journeys so they are able to see the possibilities I didn’t at one time.”
Juno Women’s Aid runs the 24-hour domestic and sexual violence Helpline in Nottingham. We provide specialist domestic abuse services and programmes for women, children and teenagers living in Nottingham City and south of the county. For more information and support, call our freephone Helpline 0808 800 0340 or visit our website https://junowomensaid.org.uk/