In September 2014, Amelia Womack was elected deputy leader of the Green Party – simultaneously becoming the youngest deputy leader of any political party in the UK at the age of 29.
Like so many politicians, Womack exudes confidence and self-belief on the campaign trail. Behind closed doors, however, things haven't always been so straightforward: just like 4.6 million other women in the UK, Womack has seen her life affected by domestic violence.
Now, in an exclusive interview with Stylist, Womack has opened up about the impact that the toxic relationship that ended in 2011 had upon her life – and how, through the Green Party’s women’s manifesto, she plans to use her own experiences of abuse to help other women in the UK.
How did you meet your partner?
We met through a friend who had studied at Cambridge University with him. I feel that when people talk about men who abuse women, they have a real stereotype of what that man is like. Even the concept of the string vest and the can of Stella is reinforced in jokes. I think it means that a lot of abuse goes unchecked and people are shocked that [there are other kinds of] people [who] are capable of doing that. But it was quite traditional in the way that abusive relationships start off. It began really nicely — he was a very supportive person — and then gradually, over time, it changed into something dark.
At what point did you notice that something wasn't quite right?
We were together for just over two years and, during that time, I lived abroad for a bit. We'd email a lot, and after a while, his messages started to get a bit aggressive. There was a point where he came to visit me and we were in a club. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, and he was dancing with another girl and getting really close to her. I got annoyed and left. Later he said, “But that's not what you saw.” When I look back, that was the first instance of gas-lighting that I could identify. It was that manipulation, that suggestion that I was just imagining it, and obviously I wasn't.
Were there other markers that said his behaviour had changed?
When he got drunk, he would get quite arrogant and controlling. He’d ask why I was wasting time on people who “weren't really” my friends. It all really took its toll when he messaged my mum and told her I had a drug problem. I didn't have a drug problem.
There was an element of hypocrisy, too. If you do something, it's your problem, and if they do it, it's your problem as well.
When did he physically attack you?
We had been together for just over two years, and he hit me. It was already emotionally abusive… he used to take money from my wallet so I couldn’t go out with my friends. One night, he hit me over the head for talking to a friend and left me unconscious in my bedroom, and just left the house.
I was concussed for three days, and I threw up for a while before I realised what had happened. Eventually, I got to hospital, and was scanned to make sure that my skull hadn't fractured by the impact.
But I still didn't leave him, because that's not how abusive relationships work. At the time his dad had cancer, so he would blame a lot of the things he did on that.
What convinced you to end the relationship?
I was with a friend and he got annoyed that I was talking to her rather than talking to him, so he strangled me, in public. I had to go into work with bruising around my neck, and after that, I never saw him again. There were no excuses any more.
Did you report the attacks to the police?
I went with a friend to the police station, and, to be honest, I didn’t get the support I needed. The government’s austerity cuts were just starting which left a lot of local stations with voluntary staff. In my case, the volunteer who dealt with me told me that "God will save you". They were implying that I was sleeping with my male friend who had come with me to the station, and said that my partner deserved to be suspicious. That was my first ever experience of going to the police, and it left me with no confidence in what was going to happen next.
Did you speak to anyone else about what happened?
When I spoke to my university about legal action, I was told not to carry it on because no-one would believe me. That's why I’m so proud in our women's manifesto that we’ve pledged to train universities and colleges not to say ignorant things that mean people don’t get the support they need.
Although the five-year limit to take domestic violence cases to court is now over, for me, my time was up. I'm still ashamed and worried, because I do genuinely think he could kill someone, but every time I tried, there was another barrier.
How has the abuse affected you?
It was hard running as an election candidate knowing that my address would be made public. I lived in fear for a long time, and didn't even want to put my workplace on LinkedIn because I thought he'd find me. I even moved house. But once I took on those challenges, one by one, and nothing happened, it really felt like I was getting my life back.
I've seen women being emotionally abused in public. There was one woman on a bus who had a man shouting at her, telling her she was worthless, and she moved away. I sat on the seat behind her, and said "I know what he is doing to you, I have been there, and it’s not okay. It took time, but I remembered who I was, and now I’m doing so much better”. The man was shouting at the pair of us, and I thought he was going to hit me. I just felt that he couldn’t touch me, because I was finally out of that the cycle. The bus stopped, and the woman ran away.
Why have you decided to come forward?
One in 4 women experience domestic violence, so I am sure that more women in politics must have experienced it too.
Government policy is so important because it is so hard to break out of domestic violence. In my experience I saw the impact of cuts made to domestic violence centres. All the steps you have to take to come forward can be such a tough struggle, and we need support that works for the people who need it most.
Abuse affects everyone. We are still teaching girls that if boys pull their hair, they must like them. Education helps and institutions need to be trained to provide easy access to support. There’s a myth that women cannot be abused if they are well-educated. Any barrier to women reporting domestic violence, whether it’s baseless myths like this or the institutional hurdles I faced, is a barrier too many. We must work together on every level – in Government and on the ground – to stamp out abuse and ensure no one suffers.
What would you like to say to anyone who is suffering, or has suffered in an abusive relationship?
It is not your fault. Women are taught to take the blame their entire lives. It's your life, and you can do what you need to do to give yourself the happiest life you can.
Images: Amelia Womack and Rex Features