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Anna

Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: It wasn’t until she had left her long-term partner in 2014 and attended the Freedom Programme that Anna began to recognise the extent of domestic abuse she had experienced for 10 years. Although she has recovered from the physical bruises she is unsure how long ‘the mental side will take to heal’.
Background: Anna is a single, white British woman. She lives in a council property with two of her six children, one of whom has special needs. She works part-time as a volunteer for two charitable organisations.

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In 2002, Anna’s relationship with a man who subjected her to years of deceitful behaviour and psychological-emotional abuse began. He controlled and manipulated many aspects of her life. He criticised her size 8 frame so she began to loathe her figure and dictated what clothes she wore. He also played ‘mind games’ to trick her into thinking he was having affairs. She experienced daily sexual abuse, physical attacks and became increasingly isolated from family and friends. Anna rationalised much of his behaviour, for example, excusing his excessive texts and phone calls to her as a sign that ‘he cared’. She also reasoned that unwanted sex was ‘…not rape, if you’re in a relationship’. She stayed with him because he was her ‘rock’ and although she recognised that he hurt her he was ‘also the comforter’, something that she needed, particularly after the loss of her mother during their relationship. 

In 2008 Anna’s partner attacked her violently in the same room as their two young sleeping children. Motivated by a desire to protect her children she contacted a local domestic abuse service. With their support she went to stay at a refuge before being rehoused by the council. The following year her relationship with the abusive partner began again. However, Anna soon left after realising that she could not return to a life with him. She was not free from his abuse though, as he began to manipulate the contact he had with their children so that he could continue to see her and subject her to sexual assaults. She is now working with the police to bring a case together against him and has now had no contact with him for one year. 

Anna reflects how during the relationship she was an ‘emotional wreck’ and began to self-harm, pulling out her hair, in an attempt to release some of the pain she was experiencing. At times she would forget to eat as she was no longer interested in doing anything for herself. She experienced unexplained pains and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Although she has not self-harmed since she left him, she reflects that the ‘self-loathing’ is still with her and she experiences distressing flashbacks relating to the trauma that she endured. Anna has recently received some ‘excellent counselling, helping her manage the psychological impact of her abusive relationship and to deal with flashbacks. She wants to move on and has set positive goals for the future that she would like to work towards. 

Anna would like to see more education in schools about relationships – describing what is a healthy relationship and what isn’t. She recommends that GPs, police and other professionals need to be aware that women may hold back from reporting the abuse that they are experiencing because they are fearful of the consequences of doing so, that their children will be taken away, a fear which influenced her own help-seeking patterns. She now feels confident and although she still has ‘mental scars’, she feels that she, not them, control her life.
 

Anna described the impact of having her appearance criticised. She tried to dress to please her partner to avoid him ‘losing his rag’.

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So, yeah, the mental abuse started quite young. When I found out after I had [Name of son] and I said to him, because obviously we was married and stuff, and I found out all that, I asked him why he did that, why he’d treated me the way he had and lying so much. And he told me, he says, I was a size 8 when I met him, he told me after having four children I had no rights to be a size 8 and that gave him the right to treat me how. So that led to me hating my figure from that moment. [Welling up] Hating it, and gaining weight as much as I could because that, that’s had a big effect on me. 

So emotional abuse

Emotional abuse. Yeah. In hindsight. Gone on for years. Years. While we lived together he would control me on what I wore [clears throat] so we were going to skittles, I’d have to dress, I couldn’t go in what I was happy wearing, which are jeans.

Yeah.

I’d have to dress, and if I didn’t put on a dress or a skirt, then he’d sulk and he wouldn’t go. And when he sulked you got, no one was happy when he sulked. 

How long would he sulk for do you think?

The sulking could go on for days. But it would lead to him losing the rag. You knew he was going to, it was just boiling, you knew it was. 

Yeah.

So, the more he’d get in a sulk, the more attentive you had to be to his needs, like he was a child. 
 

Anna was glad to be getting counselling as she was suffering from flashbacks and kept re-living the trauma of the abuse. She needed help to re-build her life.

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Yeah, It reopens the one, those, you get those periods of it all reopening, it’s hard to get through that because it’s, it’s you re, re-live it. You re, re-live the fear, you re-live the anxiety, the nightmares.

Yeah.

It’s a daily whole consumption thing. It’s hard.

So it’s still something you’re having to live with, this …

It’s something I still live with today. I mean, I’m hoping now with the counselling and it’s 20 weeks counselling …

20 weeks.

… so, and I am taking it all on board, everything. So, one of the handouts was about a memory box, and create that, so I’ve done that. And I’ve got an old box of photos and I’ve gone through them and I’ve actually got, because all around my house is photos of my children everywhere. And now I’ve actually got, on top of a chest of drawers that I go past everyday I’ve photos from the past that represent good memories.

OK. 

Because I have to remind myself there are good memories from the past.

Yeah.

They might not involve him but I, there was a life before him …

Yeah.

… and there could be a life after him. 

It’s kind of keeping those, those …

Yeah.

… those up there. And it sounds like the abuse has sort of had a great effect on, on how you think and feel about yourself.

Yeah, that’s still an ongoing…

Ongoing.

…process.
 

Anna felt that health professionals and police did not know how to provide support for domestic abuse, and she never lost the fear of losing her children.

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You have a fear when you’re a mum that they are professionals who could take your child, who are the most precious things to you in the world. I’m not going to risk that. And there’s a, a load of mums out there that feel exactly the same. So, no. And I’ve also had to learn the hard way by being open and honest about the past, the domestic abuse side that it can be a preventive tool for getting your other children recognising that they’ve got conditions, getting that recognised because it’s easy to blame the domestic abuse. So where people paediatricians and CAMHS are all happy to jump on, oh it’s domestic abuse, not one of them have done a session with my children on domestic abuse. No-one’s talked to my children. But it is easy to be blamed. 

So are they knew, are they still involved in, with your son, the CAMHS?

No, CAMHS aren’t involved anymore. No. He’s been through that process and yeah, no. Not with them now.

So they’re not…

But the whole time we were, we were with them for about a year and they didn’t approach that subject once.

So your feeling is actually how professionals aren’t the right people because of perhaps the fear that it, it is ….

It is that fear of …

… a child being taken away. 

… you need to eliminate that fear, yeah.

I think the police could have done more earlier. They never told me about refuges.

They, they didn’t say …

They didn’t ….

… they were, they came out to you …

They didn’t tell me there was routes out. I only got, I had a leaflet when I went to the solicitor for the injunction he gave me a load of handouts and one of those was refuge and that’s how I got to know that they even existed. There wasn’t the Internet at that point, like there was now either, so police didn’t, they made me fearful that they’d take the children.

Yeah.

Which made me not feel that I couldn’t approach them again.

Yeah.

So, yes, it’s blame, that you know, you could say there are children here but explain …

Yeah. 

… it could have an effect, on, you know, …

Yeah, so perhaps they could have had an additional role to play though in the time you were seeing …

Yeah. They could have even said there were ways out, he wouldn’t know where I was…

Yeah.

… to be told that might have been a relief, finding out that years earlier. But, yeah, no, they didn’t say anything. In, in fact they brought him back home but, yeah, no, there was nothing. 

No support offered?

No.

For you.

No.
 

Anna talked about the ‘hell’ of everyday life when living in a refuge, which was ‘almost as bad as living with a perpetrator’.

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What about the refuge? Couple of refuges you were in, I mean, what was, how was that, being in there?

Hard. Really hard. The second refuge was [sighs] it was, it was almost as bad as living with a perpetrator. It was hard. And going by that second refuge if I ever had the choice of doing it again, no I wouldn’t go into a refuge again.

What was it, what was it like?

Hell.

How was it?

Not all the women are from domestic abuse and they would take over the role of being a perpetrator. And I was having to get the young children up and out on the bus stop by ten to seven to get into town to get them back to over the other side of town…

Yeah.

… because I wanted the consistency at the school they has started because to, it would just be too many changes.

Yeah. 

And we would get home about six in the evening from school.

Yeah.

Bearing in mind I’d have to do the tea stuff, if there was space in the kitchen. You have the other children. [Name of son]’s difficulties were becoming a bit more noticeable. But in hindsight now I understand [laughs].

Yeah. You understand why.

Yeah.

So, I mean, in terms of the support that you were provided from specialist services, is there anything that could be improved? That could have helped you?

[Sighs] I don’t think refuges with women and children work [laughs]. I don’t think they do. I think many women in one house do not work [laughs]. Not all women have experienced what you’ve experienced, have got no idea and it just, didn’t work. 

It wasn’t, wasn’t right for you.

It wasn’t right. You know, so, I’d only be able to do the clothes washing in the evening. That’s if the machine was available. So, no, it just didn’t, and then you’ve had other families where the mother didn’t see to the children and they’d, social services then involved…

Yeah.

…and you’d have to give statements to the police. It just, no, I wouldn’t do it again. And I’m glad that wasn’t our first experience because I think if I’d had had that bad experience after I had immediately …

Yeah.

… left him, possibly I could have gave up and gone back. I did leave that refuge early to go and stay with a lady that I’d befriended at my stay there who had …

Right.

… got already rehoused.

Right. OK.

And I did leave early and go and stay with her until the house that I’d been offered was ready because I couldn’t cope with it any more.
 

Anna received no support for herself or her children and felt the police could have provided information about women’s refuges.

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I think the police could have done more earlier. They never told me about refuges.

They, they didn’t say …

They didn’t ….

… they were, they came out to you …

They didn’t tell me there was routes out. I only got, I had a leaflet when I went to the solicitor for the injunction he gave me a load of handouts and one of those was refuge and that’s how I got to know that they even existed. There wasn’t the Internet at that point, like there was now either, so police didn’t, they made me fearful that they’d take the children.

Yeah.

Which made me not feel that I couldn’t approach them again.

Yeah.

So, yes, it’s blame, that you know, you could say there are children here but explain …

Yeah. 

… it could have an effect, on, you know, …

Yeah, so perhaps they could have had an additional role to play though in the time you were seeing …

Yeah. They could have even said there were ways out, he wouldn’t know where I was…

Yeah.

… to be told that might have been a relief, finding out that years earlier. But, yeah, no, they didn’t say anything. In, in fact they brought him back home but, yeah, no, there was nothing. 

No support offered?

No.

For you.

No.
 
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Anna knew she could not let her children grow up witnessing violence and believing it was OK.

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So in 2008 then what was the trigger for you to go, you know, seek help, at the refuge?

This is the one thing he’s admitted to the police as well. He, I started to not want to be in our bed. So I was sleeping on the floor in [Name of daughter]’s room. And at that time my mobile phone, if a text come through, it made the sound of a duck. And I’d turned the phone off because sometimes my oldest son would send me jokes very late at night and I didn’t want to wake [Name of daughter].

Well, [Name of son] had got up to use the toilet and he’d saw me. So I, I just, “Oh, mummy’s playing camping”. So he wanted to play. So I said, “OK, you can sleep with mummy tonight”. So he was next to me on the floor.

Yeah.

He, [Name of perpetrator] had sent me a text to say goodnight and his text would, his phone would answer back if a text had been received. 

Yes. Yeah.

So, all of a sudden he just flew through the door, reached over and grabbed my throat. Now I didn’t respond, I didn’t scream, I didn’t shout because my child was next to me. I just looked. Because I knew that I was going. I knew that very moment that we were leaving.

Yeah.

And he just retreated back, he didn’t get any response, I didn’t scream, didn’t kick, nothing. I just looked. And he left. And apparently he did that because I turned my phone off. Because he thought I’d turned my phone off deliberately for him not to be able to send that text. It, had nothing to do with him. But beside me was [Name of son] and I just said, “Daddy’s just playing silly games”. And the other side of [Name of son] was [Name of daughter] in her bed. And bless her, she was just three. And I didn’t want that little girl, I didn’t want to visit her in a hospital bed at 16, 18 with tubes being tube fed or whatever because some man had beat her up because that’s what I taught her was OK. And I didn’t want [Name of son] to be someone who did that. And I also knew he’d done that once, the safety line, right, wouldn’t involve the children was now gone.

Yeah. 

And if I let that little thing go it would get more. And more. So for their sake we had to go and that’s what made me go.

So the next day you …

The next day I rang [Local Specialist Domestic Violence and Abuse service]. And they arranged it from there. But I knew, I knew exactly what I was doing. And it was for my children, because that’s where I draw the line. I wouldn’t protect me, I wouldn’t look after me…

No.

But I will look, look after my children.
 

Anna suggested that nurses or health visitors could lead discussion groups, as long as women could trust they would not lose their children if they said how things were at home.

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About domestic abuse and violence, so again, based on your experiences, what do you think are the most important things that they need to know, that they need to be made aware of?

That women going through it aren’t aware it’s abuse. I didn’t know. It’s with being educated with the Freedom Project and stuff, because that’s not the way I grew up and I didn’t grow up seeing that. So, yeah, I didn’t know it was abuse. And especially the sexual side, if you’re in a relationship with, then you feel that they have a right. So somebody needs to educate the women and sort of explain that, what’s happening as well. 

How, how can …

Not saying that they are wrong. 

Yeah.

Not pass the blame to them. 

How do you think that can be done then? That education. Putting you on the spot aren’t I? [Laughs]

Yeah. 

[Laughs]

There is, there is the Freedom Project, but maybe just have group meetings in doctors’ surgeries where, you know, women who are just going through a bad time, they don’t have to know it’s domestic abuse or something but maybe, you know, if you’ve got group of some patients maybe just to, group meetings where they can, they can be told they can come and talk about their problems, but actually it’s …

So peer, peer group …

Yeah.

… facilitated by a GP or health professional, do you think? Or…

Health visitor, maybe. Even, but then health visitors only attend families with, with not school aged so maybe like a, like the nurse or something. Someone a bit more trusting that they’re not going to take the children away.
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