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“I am a survivor of domestic violence and gaslighting. This is my story”

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Domestic violence killings have reached a five-year high in the UK, while the number of female homicide victims is now at its highest since 2006. Here, a survivor of long-term domestic abuse and violence shares her story.

I met my partner when I was 23. I was out at a bar and we just got chatting.

He wasn’t abusive until about two and a half years into our relationship. He’d gone away for the weekend and come back later than expected, and I was screaming and shouting at him to ask where he’d been. Suddenly, he punched me.

We were both in shock – I don’t think either of us expected it to happen. He had never shown any side like that before so it was completely out of the blue, and I felt like it was the action of my actions – I put it down to my nagging. He was apologetic and assured me it would never happen again, and that it was a one off. I was really upset and in disbelief so I went to my room to try and make sense of it all, but eventually decided to leave it as it was.

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However, not long after that, he abused me again. He was starting to go out quite a bit and because we were living together and becoming more comfortable with each other, the abuse would happen a lot. There wasn’t much reasoning behind it and a lot of it was going on in front of my son, who was three years old at the time.

Domestic violence: "He abused me at every opportunity, every day when we were together."

Eventually, the abuse became constant. Every little thing triggered him: if I saw another man that I knew, he would abuse me for looking at him, saying I was giving him come-to-bed eyes, or that if he wasn’t around I would sleep with him. A lot of it was insecurity. The phone would ring at a certain hour, or a text would come through, and he would think it was another man. I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells. It got to the point that if we were out on the street, I would just look at the floor: I wouldn’t even look up, in case I did see someone and had eye contact with them. He abused me at every opportunity, every day when we were together. A couple of times a day, even.

He would push me, punch me, rip out my hair. Then, one day, he stabbed me.

It was back in 2004 – I can remember the day like it was yesterday. He had been away for a couple of days and I’d gotten to the point where I was just sick of the abuse. I became weak and didn’t have any fight left in me. I was going out to a birthday party with my daughter but he didn’t believe that’s where I was going, and we ended up having a huge disagreement about it.

I had my daughter in my arms and we had this big tug of war over her. He went and got a machete knife. I had my arm over my head to try and protect myself, and I was able to release myself from his grip. While all this was happening, my daughter was in his arms. I ran downstairs to get help and realised I couldn’t open the back door. My arm wasn’t letting me twist the door handle, and I suddenly realised it was just swinging by my elbow. That’s when I knew I’d been cut really deeply. My neighbours had heard everything so they’d already called the police, and I called an ambulance.

My daughter was only one-and-a-half at the time. When you’re in an abusive relationship, a lot of people say, why didn’t you escape with the kids? Obviously their safety is paramount, but when you’re in it, it is so hard to get away from the perpetrator. You do everything in your power to try and stop them being exposed to it, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

There were a number of times that I went to the police but I didn’t feel strong enough to pursue the case, and I was scared to. I was in love with him, and I was brainwashed into believing he was going to change: that it was a moment of madness every time. I wanted to believe him.

My friends knew about the situation and being on the outside looking in, they could be quite judgmental – they were always asking, why don’t you leave him, what’s the attraction? I tried to make it a discussion for support and help, but it always became a judgmental situation. My family obviously knew, too – there were times I’d be at family functions with make-up caked on my face to try and hide the black eyes. There’s only so many times you can say you fell down the stairs, or walked into the door. But my family aren’t confrontational, and he was intimidating, so they were wary of doing anything. They didn’t discuss it with me – it’s such a taboo subject that talking about it would have opened a whole can of worms. As someone from a West Indian background, it seemed safer to turn a blind eye sometimes, and to sweep it under the carpet.

I felt ashamed, like it was my fault, and I didn’t want to stress my family out. Anyway, what could they do, besides calling the police, which I didn’t want to happen? My parents are quite elderly, so my dad could hardly go and start punching him. There weren’t many options for me.

Then the relationship finally ended when he was put in prison for another crime. That was my way of escape, and he was put away for many years because of what he did. 

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My second partner was completely different: he was from a different end of the spectrum. I’ve always been attracted to men who are a bit rough around the edges, but this man was from a white, middle class, affluent, private school educated background. I met him through my sister, who works as a customer service manager for a top airline, where he also worked. Everyone thought he was the most charming and wonderful man who had ever walked the earth, and how wrong were we? He was 40 at the time and I was in my late 30s, and you think at that stage of your life people will just be what they say on the tin. I’m a genuine person and don’t see the point in lies. But his abuse would turn out to psychological, emotional and financial.

When I met him my daughter was 10, and he had no kids, so he became like an uncle to her. There was never going to be a ‘stepdad’ label involved – he was always going to be a big buddy. After I’d been dating him for a couple of months we felt it was appropriate to introduce her to him, and we made it a child focused introduction. We did a colouring competition and board games – stuff she liked to do, to make her feel she was the main focus of the situation. For me, when you show an interest in my child, I believe you must be a very nice and kind person.

I told him about the abuse in my past relationship and he responded with all the right buzzwords: ‘he’s a bastard, what kind of man puts his hands on a woman?’ He had a good job and a solid family background – his mum and dad had been married for 40 years. He seemed to have the right morals and values in place. But maybe I told him too much about my previous relationship, because he started to use it against me, and began adopting some of the same behavior patterns because he knew I’d put up with them.

The abuse started when he decided to move house. He was given the option to sell his property and we were faced with the decision of moving out of London to try and better our wellbeing, our lives and my daughter’s future.

But he went ahead and purchased a flat outside of London without my knowledge. I didn’t know where it was, or how big it was, but he told us that we had to go with him. I had two months to up and leave, and find a school for my daughter. He threw all the stereotypes of being a young black woman that he could think of in my face – would I really want my daughter to be brought up in London, where she would probably get pregnant before she was 16?

He would also put me down for being not employed, and made snide remarks constantly, slowly chipping away at my self-esteem, my self-worth. He even questioned my parenting skills with my daughter.

He hoped moving out of London would give him a new life and a less stressful job, but that didn’t happen. However, I became a different person – I got a new job as a teaching assistant and turned my life around. He was jealous because he was going for so many job interviews but kept getting knocked back, and he started drinking. That’s when he became really abusive. He was prejudiced about my colour and started being really nasty towards my daughter, picking on her constantly. The psychological abuse was getting worse and worse and then, one day, he threatened me with a knife. He’d drunk loads of cans of beer in the day and we were just watching TV when something suddenly triggered him and he ran at me with a knife. For me, it was a case of once bitten, twice shy: I melted like an ice lolly and called the police. I just wasn’t going to go through something like that again.

Now, I don’t have any feelings for either of those men. I’m in a situation where I feel stronger about myself and can actually feel sorry for them. They had anger issues that were from way before they met me, and they never dealt with them. But at the time I felt like it was all my fault.

When it comes to domestic abuse, I want people to know that it comes in all shapes and colours. I want to tell other victims that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and sharing your story can help both yourself and others. Know that it’s not a taboo subject, it’s not OK and it’s not alright. And no matter what, it’s not your fault.

My advice would be to get out as soon as possible. Do not stay, but seek help.

This sounds cheesy but going to Hestia, a London-based charity, was the best thing that could have happened to me. I used to work with children and families as a residential social worker so going to a refuge was something I thought would never happen to me. Being on the other side of it, and especially at my age, was a shock. But I had to accept the situation for what it was, and know that there were better days ahead.

Hestia has helped me build up my confidence by getting involved as a volunteer, and I’ve even done some public speaking about my experience as a survivor of domestic abuse. I’ve come through the other end, so hopefully I’m a good advocate for that.

Now, I’m now realising my own self-worth: I’ve always believed it was there! I look forward to getting up and having a purpose. I want to make a change and make a difference. If my little story can do that, then it’s helped.

Remember that there are all different walks of life in this country, and domestic abuse is happening all over the place. We need recognition for that, and to let survivors know they’re not alone. After all, it’s everybody’s responsibility to help stamp out domestic abuse once and for all.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence offers a free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic violence regardless of their financial circumstances, race, gender or sexual orientation. Text NCDV to 60777, call 0800 9702070, or visit https://www.ncdv.org.uk/

If you, or someone you know, is affected by domestic abuse, there are a number of charities you can contact: Refuge, National Domestic Violence Helpline, Women’s Aid and Hestia

This piece was originally published in March 2018

As told to Sarah Biddlecombe

Images: iStock, Unsplash