A-Z

Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Coercive Controlling Behaviour

Coercive control is a wide reaching form of abuse and, as control is at the heart of all domestic abuse, it overlaps with many other categories, especially sexual abuse and financial abuse. In early research with survivors they talked about how difficult it was to describe the ways they felt abuse affected them. Evan Stark’s 2007 book* outlined the ways in which men can ‘entrap’ women using controlling and threatening behaviour. Controlling behaviour often creeps unnoticed into a relationship, as initially it can appear to be caring and romantic but gradually changes into patterns of increasing control and an unhealthy loss of the woman’s freedom. Control is established using threats to harm the woman if she does not comply, or making the atmosphere at home unbearable.

Coercive Control became a criminal offence in the UK in 2015, which enables the police and courts to look for patterns of controlling and coercive behaviours rather than specific incidents of abuse or violence. The examples below include a wide range of ways that coercive control operates in relationships. 

Techniques of coercive control

Women described being controlled by verbal abuse, threats of physical and sexual violence or harm to them or their children if they did not comply with their partner’s wishes. Their experience of outbursts or verbal, physical, sexual or other forms of violence meant they took these threats seriously. Women talked about partners constantly monitored their behaviour, checking on their activities and accusing them of having affairs if they ever went out of the house unaccompanied. Men checked their partner’s mobile phones, emails and Facebook contacts, sent constant angry threatening texts, or turned up at their workplace, in order to humiliate them. 

Some partners used mind games, humiliation and ‘gaslighting’, a technique of psychological manipulation that makes the person doubt their own sanity. As a result, women were manipulated into believing they could not manage life on their own and became increasingly dependent on their abusive partner. Yasmin said her husband ‘controlled everything’ and said she would end up ‘begging on the streets’ if she left him.

 

When she finally got away from her husband, Yasmin discovered that she officially ‘did not exist’ as everything, including child benefit, was in his name.

View full profile
Age at interview: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So now I am learning more about my religion.

Right.

More about the England law, and more about the … until I left my partner I never knew I can get a child benefit or I am register with my children as a Mother, yes or no. So when I called the first time [unclear] people, they … the first thing they said is ‘You don’t exist in our papers.’

Yes. Mm. You don’t exist. Wow.

And he make sure he give me that reminder, ‘Oh if you leave me you will end up begging on the streets. And when you’re on the street you have to sell your body for either…’

Right. I guess you thought he was right?

Yes.

You did, yeah. Yeah.

I thought then I might have to sell my body too many peoples…

Yes.

… now it’s only one.

Yes, yes. Yes.

So he controlled me … my mind … my body, my finance …

Yes.

… my social life, everything. My emotions, everything.
Some women described how their partners tried to get them addicted to alcohol, drugs or online gambling, to stop them noticing the abusive behaviour. Tina’s partner forced her to gamble online while he saw other women.

Coercive control developed gradually

The majority of women said that at the beginning, they loved their partner. Many referred to him as their ‘Prince Charming’. Initially their partner’s behaviour could be seen as loving, for example wanting to spend all their time together, but gradually their partner became more controlling. Women said they found it difficult to put their finger on exactly what was wrong, as the individual actions themselves could be part of any ‘normal’ relationship, or even trivial. For example, Jessica was criticised for ‘not cutting the cheese straight’. Sara’s partner kept telling her a dishwasher would not fit in the kitchen even though she presented the measurements that showed it would. Over time, however, these comments formed a pattern of increasing control. Women described their behaviour, activities and access to friends and family being increasingly controlled so that their life revolved more and more around their partner. 

Women described how their partner would ‘punish’ them and threaten more serious harm to her or the children if they did not do as they wanted. Charlotte and Nessa both described how their partners became more and more controlling, cutting off their access to friends by withholding money for phone credit. Charlotte felt herself ‘slowly shutting down… disappearing’.
 

Charlotte described the ‘insidious drip, drip dripping’ of her partner’s control, which he was careful to balance with enough ‘niceness’ to keep everyone thinking he was alright (read by a professional).

View full profile
Age at interview: 38
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And everything just kind of fell apart from there really. He kind of went into this spiral of just vileness. He just was nasty and angry all the time. And it started coming out more towards the girls as well as me. I was kind of slowly shutting down and, and disappearing really. And he was just getting angrier and angrier with everyone around him, desperately trying to control everything. I didn’t go out anymore. The girls weren’t really ever allowed friends back. They weren’t allowed to go to birthday parties at the weekends. And it just became this desperate, desperate clinging for him to kind of control us all more and more and more and more. 

He was looking through our phones. He made me go through my Facebook account and he wanted to count how many pictures of him were on my Facebook page. And then we had to sit down and compare that with all of my friends, how many pictures of my friends’ husbands were on their Facebook pages compared with how many were on mine. Yeah, taking the girls’ phones. He smashed my eldest daughter’s. I can’t even remember what he said that she had done wrong. She hadn’t texted him, or something, to say when she was coming back. Something like that. I can’t remember. And he grabbed her by the neck, he had her by the kind of scruff of the neck in one hand and he had her phone in the other hand and he forced her head down while she had to watch him smash her phone against the banisters. And then he told her to go and get her laptop because he was going to break that too. and then when she brought that back up - and I was just standing by watching this awful thing happening, knowing if I tried to step in and do anything it would make it worse, so I just had to stand by and watch it – then she had to thank him for not smashing her laptop. And he said that he had, he had chosen not to do that, so she had to thank him for that. And there were just lots and lots of incidents like that. He just was going crazy. 

Was it a daily kind of occurrence or?

No, no not daily. Always enough niceness to keep everyone thinking that he was alright and he was OK. So it was always a very careful balancing act between nice things and fun things and spontaneous things,

Right.

With the outbursts and the that kind of subtle insidious drip, drip, dripping of not being good enough 
Nessa’s partner threatened her with a knife against her throat when she tried to visit her terminally ill father.
 

When Nessa decided to stand up for herself, her partner retaliated by refusing to take care of the home and the children.

View full profile
Age at interview: 22
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
At this point, where I started standing up for myself, I had to do everything. I was caring for my dad, I was getting up in the morning with my children, doing them their breakfast, I used to have their dinner done by about 11 o’clock, go down and see my dad, go to the hospital appointments with him, like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and stuff like that. And then by the time I’d finished with my dad, come home and he wouldn’t have done their dinner or anything like that. The house and toys would be a mess and I’d have to come home and sort out all that too.

Yeah. Did you ever broach that with him and ask him to do more?

Yeah, yeah. I used to think yeah, because he used to say to me, “Oh the kids have been playing up, they’ve been moody and they’ve been arguing,” and I looked at him and I said to me, “Well, what have you done today? Have you took them into the garden? Have you sat down and played with them? Have you done them any dinner?” And he’d be like, “Oh no, they’ve been playing.” I’d be like, “Right, right, so while they’re playing, you’ve been sat on your computer.” And he’s like, “That’s not good enough for your children as well.” 

Yeah.

But he wouldn’t never really understand anything, and then it got to the point where all the accusation came with my dad, because obviously, when we found out his chemotherapy and radiotherapy didn’t work, we knew we had to spend more time with him, as much time as we could.

Yeah.

And that’s when he’s accusing me and starting coming out with like, “You’re sleeping with your dad’s friends, you’re doing this, you’re really going to the pub with your dad.”
Often partners expected women to conform to ever-changing rules of behaviour. As Irina said, ‘One day I’m his princess… the next day I’m a fucking bitch’. Jacqui described how ‘You start being afraid just to be who you are, you try and become the person that you know they want you to be’. Women described how they constantly tried to stop their partner becoming angry by always being careful of their behaviour. 

Charlotte described never really able to ‘breathe out …You’re just walking on eggshells the whole time … at any point you could do something that was unacceptable but you didn’t know what that might be … the day before it might have been fine but today it’s not fine’.
 

Melanie described her experience of psychological abuse and controlling behaviour which led to her having a breakdown.

View full profile
Age at interview: 42
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Could you tell me just a little bit about what happened to you?

Well this relationship [clears throat] I didn’t even realise it was abusive because I didn’t understand that this form of abuse is possible. 

Right.

And it wasn’t physical abuse, it was more psychological abuse. And obviously now I look back, it was a lot of raping as well.

But in this relationship it was more like moving things, breaking things, always with me, very controlling with their wording. 

Silently controlling. Yeah, it’s just more or less all of that really. And I didn’t even think I was in an abusive situation for a long time. I knew something was wrong because I felt on edge and I felt scared a lot of the time.

Hmm. Felt scared?

But I didn’t know, yeah, I didn’t realise that this was a form of abuse. That he had control of my finances and things like that. 

How long were you together?

Since 2005 until 2012. 

Right. 

Yeah. 

And when did it dawn on you, when did you realise this is abuse?

When his father died, I think in 2000… and I think it was 2011 or the beginning of 2012, and I knew that I was scared all the time. I knew I was walking on eggshells. I knew that when he was downstairs he would, I was scared to come downstairs. I knew that at that point I kind of woke up to catch him doing things to me. And felt like I couldn’t question him because if I questioned him he would always shout me down.

Right.

And made me feel like a child. So, yeah, I think that’s when I realised when something was wrong, definitely wrong. 

It had been going on for quite a number of years from …

Oh, it been going on for a number of years. I think toward when his dad died, I think that’s where I was just so tired, so beaten down, so worn out that I, something in me clicked and something made me start thinking about what was going on, what is actually happening here.

And I thought that was it and I couldn’t take it anymore because I was having a breakdown at the stage. I was… 

Oh. 

... having a breakdown and he would understand other people’s point of views but never mine. If I had a, if I had a feeling about anything it was almost like, ‘you’re being silly’. I wasn’t allowed to have any emotion, no feeling, no nothing, but everybody else around me could. 

Could you give me an example of the sort of rules that he used to set for you?

There was never a specific rule. It was changing all the time. If I cooked something that he loved today, next week he didn’t like it. 

If I bought something in the shopping because we would go shopping, it wasn’t just me that’d go shopping, he would come with me. I’d buy it this week and then next week he wouldn’t like it. Or if he was going to the supermarket for example to buy maybe crisps for the kids and he knew the crisps that the kids liked because he’s in the house all the time, he would see the crisps. He would buy the total opposite. So the kids wouldn’t want to eat them then. He would buy things that would sit in the cupboards for ages what I’d never seen him eat before. So it was confusing. I was constantly confused because I didn’t know, I thought I knew this person but then they were changing before me constantly. So there was no rule. I think his rule was whatever he felt like on the day that would be his rule. 

And what would happen if you tried to go against a rule?

His was more sulking, slamming things, not speaking to me for days on end. But then would get in bed and cuddle me, would get in bed and hold my wrist. It almost felt like he was keeping me captive because he would squeeze my wrists and hold me like that while I slept. If I got up out of the bed he would jump up out of the bed. So it was constantly, I didn’t know whether I was going or coming because like he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. If I’d constantly say to him, “What’s the matter, what, have I done something, what the matter?” “Oh nothing”. “But you haven’t spoke to me for days”. 
Most women described living in fear and trying to do as their partner wished in order to avoid further abuse. They felt ‘brainwashed’, and many became severely depressed, anxious and confused as their partner would not take any responsibility for his behaviour, saying it was ‘all in their mind’. Sara’s friend said she could see her ‘slowly dying inside’. Kate described how her husband’s controlling behaviour left her ‘feeling trapped... you’ve got no autonomy, you can’t make decisions, you can’t organise anything … you just can’t act without their permission’.
 

Kate described a ‘daily barrage of negativity’ where she and her children lived ‘on edge’ wondering what would happen next.

View full profile
Age at interview: 44
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
There was there was a sort of daily barrage of negativity, sort of emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse. He just expected my life, the children’s lives to revolve around him and his needs and his wants and his emotions. And it just steadily became more and more obvious that he didn’t really care about us. It was what he wanted that was what mattered. So things made him angry all the time. The children remember him as being very, very angry, very shout-y, having a lot of sort of temper tantrums over not getting what he wanted. Not understanding that, not understanding that I was a person in my own right and just constantly trying to override that to tell me that I was selfish, telling me that I didn’t care about him, that I didn’t prioritise his work, that I didn’t listen to him, that I didn’t “give a shit” was how he used to put it about him. That it was sort of, you know, he kind of reversed it so it was all about me, me, me when I felt what I was doing was asking him to prioritise the family appropriately, rather than his work. And he would go to work, he would accuse me of being the one that made him late. He would say he’d come home at a certain time and not come home. And if I phoned to find out where he was he’d tell me I’d embarrassed him by phoning. He’d tell me that I didn’t understand about the pressures and responsibilities of his job. I’d got no right to be chasing him to come home. It just made a really unpleasant home life. I was just constantly on edge, unhappy, wondering what was going to happen next. The children were anxious about his temper. The children, by the end, wouldn’t didn’t want to go anywhere with him alone. 
Surveillance and monitoring women’s activities 

Women described how their partners controlled them by not letting them have any money, cutting them off from family and friends, controlling what they wore or how they cooked, checking their mobile phones, having jealous rages if they wanted to see their friends and monitoring their movements. Many partners also controlled the sexual side of the relationship, insisting on sex whenever they wanted it, regardless of the woman’s feelings. Control was often covered up to make it look caring, as with Tasha’s partner (for more see ‘Sexual Violence and Abuse’ and ‘Financial Abuse’).
 

Tasha’s partner manipulated her to make it appear that he was being helpful, as he took increasing control of Tasha’s life and behaviour.

View full profile
Age at interview: 40
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
No he didn’t actually hit me when we were together, it was more emotional but I think I used to appease I used to know what sort of mood he was in so I would just try not to upset him really. He was quite physical towards the children He used to over-chastise them. Even when I used to say to him not, you know, not to he would always undermine me with the children and stuff, but he did mark one of the boys once and I recorded it, well I took a photo of it when he wasn’t looking … but I didn’t realise that he was stood behind me and he told me to delete that now So, yeah, I think I tried not to upset him on purpose, you know, but it was mainly, as I had nobody to talk, talk to because well he basically stopped me from talking to my family by causing problems within the family, so we’d all sort of fallen out. He made out that it was in my best interest because they were no good for me and stuff. But like I said I had nobody to turn to so …

Yeah.

… I was basically, we were in our own little bubble and I thought that was how it should be. 

And the, the emotional abuse that occurred throughout the relationship, are you able to give me any specific examples of things that he would do or say?

He would, he would make it feel as though everything was for me He would sort of manipulate me into making me feel as though he was, he was doing the right thing. I [sighs] it’s hard to explain I had no self-confidence at all I got my disability and I was actually made to be worse because he said, he would tell me that I couldn’t do it so he would take charge of things and stuff. He used to, you know, take the children to school in the mornings and tell me to stay in bed because I couldn’t get up In, yeah, I mean, at the time I didn’t, didn’t see it, I thought he was helping me. But he wasn’t, he was actually, you know, I, he’d made out that I couldn’t live without him.

Yeah.

Or had children, with children nobody would want me with children and you know, and a disability. So, yeah, I had to sort of rely on him.
Women described not being ‘allowed’ to leave the house other than to take their children to play-group or school and all outings were timed and reinforced with threats. Ana was always fearful of outbursts of anger that would last for days if she took too long collecting the children from school of she wore clothes that her partner didn’t like.
 

Ana felt her husband wanted a ‘trophy wife’ whose appearance, behaviour and friendships he could control (played by an actor).

View full profile
Age at interview: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So did you find, were you able to go out and about much or …

No, no. I could with like, collect the children. Not as in, you’re not allowed, but he’d be, if I did go out, I would pay for it. Or if I did go out to the park, “Where are you?” If, “I need, I need a letter, I need you to look something up on …”

Oh, on the phone? Yeah.

Yeah, he would be on the phone.

Yeah.

Or if, I never had friends around because he would come in, start slamming doors, start shouting on the phone. He would just make it really uncomfortable for me to have friends so I didn’t have friends.

Right.

Couple of times where I did go out couple of times, like I meant two, three times. One time I went to a salsa class. It was a Thursday, with, with one of the mums from school.

Yes.

And I’ve been told, he had, he had a dream that I’d cheated on him with the salsa teacher, and so for the rest of that week, he, it was just, it was just I was in the wrong and I was being punished for it. I was being shouted at and called names and just him being horrible.

Yes.

And then other times, he just made me feel like absolute shit of why am I wearing that, and he wasn’t, well you’d think he’d be, “Oh, you can’t wear this, it’s too short.” He’d be the opposite. He wanted me to dress that way because I think he [sniffs], it was all about appearance to him.

Right.

So I don’t know, I guess he wanted me to be like a trophy wife, a good little wife that looks like a …

Glamorous.

Yeah, glamorous. And then doesn’t say, doesn’t argue with him and doesn’t argue back and …

Right.

… keeps her mouth shut, but that wasn’t me. …

So he made you wear certain clothes.

Yeah. Well he, he made me feel shit, he’d say, “Oh, why do you need to wear that? That looks, that looks old.” And I’d say, “But I feel comfortable. This is my style, this is how I wear …”

Yes.

“… this is what I wear.” And he just made me feel just crap, so obviously, it would spoil my night …

Yes.

… because I was worried that he’s angry and he’s going to be angry tomorrow and the next day …

Yes.

… and the next day.

Yes.

So I wouldn’t be having fun, so I just, I just didn’t go out.
Tina’s partner put trackers and cameras on her car, to monitor her movements.
 

When she took her car into the garage, Tina discovered it had trackers and cameras.

View full profile
Age at interview: 50
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Yeah, but he left me £180,000 worth of debt. All together I’m in a £180,000 of debt. Where he was taking things out in my name, mobile phones, catalogues, everything. And I’m in so much debt now, yeah, so.

And when he was still living with you and he used to make you do gambling online? 

Yeah, online...

But he would just sort of stand over you and tell you what to do?

No, no, no. He’d put money on there.

Right. 

And he’d go off…

Right.

…for hours on end. So say working, he’d go and see his girlfriend, whatever who he was going out with.

Right.

And he was running the business. He told me it was going downhill. Yet, all the same it was boosting back up. He had cameras in my car. He had trackers in my car. 

He had cameras in your car?

Cameras in my car. Yeah. So that he could watch me when I was out, who I had in the car, who I didn’t have in the car. Trackers. He could track me wherever I was in the car.

Did you find out about these things at the time or later?

I didn’t know until one day I was messing around in the car and it sort of like to know when you got like the navigation thing built in. It sort of like clicked and I thought, that shouldn’t have clicked. 

And then I thought, no, that ain’t right, so I took it into Volkswagen. And he said, “I ain’t meant to tell you this,” he said, “but there’s cameras in the car, he’s watching you”, he said, “and trackers”. 
Home became a ‘prison’ 

Women described how their lives were so controlled that their home became ‘a prison’, and their role was to ‘service’ their partner’s needs. Victoria described how:

‘In the summer I was heavily pregnant and he wouldn’t let me open the windows in the house. And I remember banging on the front door. I felt like I was in a prison, just, “I’ve just got to get out of here.” and I think somewhere he kind of liked that. He must have liked that power’.

Many women ended up with little freedom of movement, living in a ‘bubble’ with their partner, isolated from the outside world. Outings to the shops or the bank were timed to the precise minute, their partner ‘going ballistic’ when they got back. Even if they were ‘on time’, women were accused of having an affair. Jane’s partner controlled the finances of their ‘joint’ business, and also controlled Jane’s time: 

‘You know, like going to the bank, if I was longer than 30 minutes, you know, because that would be the time that was taken to get up there, get parked, wait in the queue and come back, if I was longer than 30 minutes I had an affair with the bank manager, you know, stupid, something stupid like that.’

Women described becoming increasingly isolated from family and friends. Yasmin and Ana’s husbands both moved them away from areas near their families. Chloe and Charlotte's partners manipulated their feeling towards their family and friends so they no longer saw them.
 

Charlotte said she ‘nearly lost’ her mum and only realised after she left her partner that he had manipulated her feelings against her (read by a professional).

View full profile
Age at interview: 38
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I mean I almost lost my mum because of him worming his way in-between me and her.

What did he do?

Oh he was telling me all sorts of things about her, how, how much she mollycoddled me, how controlling she was of me, how manipulative she was of me, how it was her fault that we couldn’t go and live anywhere else. And why couldn’t I see that she was just trying to control my life and she would never really let me grow up and never really let me be free? And you know, and my mum’s, she’s a very Mumsie mum – don’t mean that, that sounds awful. She’s a very loving, quite protective mum. She does do the whole, “Oh come to me, sweetheart, you know, it’s been really rough.” Which can be irritating. But equally, she’s my mum.

Yeah.

You know, she loves me. She’s – she wasn’t being all of those things, but he managed to twist it in such a way that I believed him. You know, “My God, he’s right. You know, I’m a mother now, I’m the grown-up. I shouldn’t be going to her for advice. I shouldn’t be talking to her about things.” I wasn’t allowed to talk to anybody about anything. I only should only need him; he was enough. And I shouldn’t need to talk to my mum. And we did, you know, she thought she had lost me. She thought that we were this cosy little clan of two and she wasn’t allowed in.

And did that continue for years or?

That was probably yeah, probably about four or five years.

Yeah.

I can’t even remember, we had a long conversation, I have a vague memory of walking round a big lake in [Country] with her, having it all out and telling her that I was cross. And there were things I was cross with her for. But actually, when we talked about it, I think I realised, “Actually I’m not as cross as I thought I was. Actually you haven’t really done anything wrong and I’m not quite sure why I’m this cross.”
Some of the women we talked to described how their partner’s ‘façade’ of being a ’nice guy’ and giving ‘reasonable explanations for their behaviour’, would slip over time and the abuse would become more blatant in the home. Chloe was in love with her partner but as soon as they moved in together, his ‘masks came off’ and he controlled every aspect of her life. There were locks and bolts on every door and she felt increasingly trapped as her partner timed her if she went to the toilet, had a bath or left the house. Sophie’s partner said she had a ‘duty’ to look after him and bullied her into being his ‘service provider’. All her movements were monitored and timed.
 

Chloe’s partner timed her if she left the house and his behaviour put her therapy clients off so that her business folded (played by an actor).

View full profile
Age at interview: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I’d want to go to the bank and he would say, “OK, where are you going?” He’d check with me, he’d be really checking, you know, like staring me in the eye and just checking that that’s where I’m going. And I’d have 20 minutes to do it in.

And what would happen if you were longer?

It would just be, well, he would grill me anyway when I got in, whether I was longer or not. If it was longer then it would just be that more thorough grilling and, you know, like real intimidation.

Were you able to keep your therapy work going in this new house?

I was supporting all of us in the new house. And no, he hated me seeing other people, giving other people attention. Looking after anyone other than him, including myself, was not allowed. So my clients would arrive, he would be sitting behind a curtain behind a door basically, and vet everyone who came in, and stare them down basically as, you know, as they’d walk in through the living room and I’m taking them to the therapy room. The atmosphere, people just dropped like flies.
 

Sophie’s partner made sure she was ‘chaperoned’ by him or the children at all times, and he listened to all her phone calls.

View full profile
Age at interview: 49
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Well he wouldn’t – I wasn’t – it got to the point where I basically wasn’t allowed out the house, apart from to take [Daughter] to playgroup. I wasn’t allowed out the house. I wasn’t allowed to travel on my own. I wasn’t allowed phone calls. I was being monitored all the time. That was the other thing he did: I was being monitored all the time. So even when he wasn’t in the house, he’d ring me about every 20 minutes and check what I was doing. And if he rang and he couldn’t get through, then he’d question, you know, question me about who I was talking to, why I was on the phone to them for so long, what was I talking about, why was I talking to them? 


So I was constantly being monitored all the time, what I did, where I went. I didn’t go anywhere. I wasn’t allowed anywhere, apart from just to playgroup.

Yeah.

I even had the shopping delivered. So you can’t have – it’s like you’re completely shut down and you’re just focused on them all the time. And the impact is just horrendous.

I mean were there times when you were like, “Oh, I just want to pop to so and so by myself,” and how would he react, would he say no, would he?

He’d make sure it didn’t happen.

So he’d actually

Or he’d make sure that I had children with him or I was chaperoned some way. I was never anywhere on my own. If was having – if I had a – you know, if I was on the phone to anybody, he’d come and stand in the room.

And how did that feel for him to be – you know, you said you’d try to make a phone call and?

Oh it was horrible.

Yeah.

It was horrible. It was like being in prison.
Controlling food and drink

Another form of control was through food and drink. Many women ended up on a very poor diet.
 

Victoria’s confidence ebbed away as her partner kept a close eye on her food and weight and belittled her attempts to complete a college course (read by a professional).

View full profile
Age at interview: 42
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Because he was very controlling about what I ate and…

How would he control that? What would he do?

I mean he would cook big meals. And like I did but he wouldn’t like me eating chocolate so I would hide a stash of chocolate, because I, you know, I was pregnant. And he would, he would and we, and we would go on lots of lovely country walks. But I felt at one stage after I’d had [Son] it was kind of like he cannot stand obesity. It just repulses him, because he has a sister who can just sort of about barely walk, that she’s, she’s that big.

Hmm.

So I felt like in the end I was although it kind of saved my sanity going out on country walks, in a way, but I felt like also he was keeping an eye on my weight.

Did he make comments or did he?

Yeah, and I think when he did make little, little digs sometimes, but I mean most of the time it was just very, very subtle, just little digs, and especially about my intelligence. So I was trying to do this qualification in sustainability. And I remember sitting at, at the desk in the kitchen and he was just like, “Who are you kidding?” kind of thing, “You think you’re going to do that?” Like and I just, I loved this course. It was just – it just got me thinking down different paths that I’d never thought of and it was a really inspiring course. And I just, I just couldn’t focus, just could not focus. And, yeah, my confidence just started dipping and dipping and dipping. And then I got to a stage where I just felt absolutely awful about myself. 
 

Chloe’s partner wouldn’t allow her in the kitchen and fed her foods that he knew she was allergic to, so she became weak and unwell (played by an actor).

View full profile
Age at interview: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And something else he did early on was, “I’ll cook for you.”

I was like, “Oh how sweet, a man who cooks for me, hmm.” And then it became, I would try and make something and he’d say, “My woman doesn’t go in the kitchen.” I thought, “That’s a bit strong. But if you still want to cook, that’s fine [laughs].” But that came to the point where he because I used to eat very well, because I knew from my own body what I was allergic to and what I wasn’t, and what I functioned well on. He noticed that early on, did this whole, “My woman doesn’t cook,” and then he said, “I notice you have allergies,” and then there was a whole presentation of how [laughs] if you cut everything out that you’re allergic to your allergy gets worse, which is true. You can become intolerant entirely of things. So he said, “Let’s introduce them, you know, so you don’t become entirely intolerant.” And I thought, “Yeah, that’s good grounds, you know. You know, maybe my way was a bit too extreme,” so I allowed that.

By the time we got into the other house it was, “My woman doesn’t cook,” and everything I was fed was everything I was allergic to. So my physical health deteriorated, like I couldn’t think straight because my body was full of stuff that it can’t handle.

What sorts of things was he feeding you?

So wheat-y things, gluten things, starchy things, processed things, grains basically, they’re all things that my body didn’t respond well to, caused like breathing problems and things like that. He was so clever in what he did. So everything, all your supports, he went after each one, one by one until, and he did it so cleverly, until I was collapsing. I couldn’t see what he’d done. But when I did it was, “I’ve got to get out of here.”
Philippa’s partner used the kitchen for drinking alcohol. Philippa avoided going in there as he would verbally abuse her and ‘throw things’ at her.
 

Philippa lived on an unhealthy diet of sweets, wine, cigarettes and coffee to avoid being abused in the kitchen.

View full profile
Age at interview: 54
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Well I didn't eat properly so I probably wasn’t healthy, so I couldn’t cook because he would drink in the kitchen and verbally abuse me so I didn't want to be there if I could get out of it. But also there were occasions when I tried to cook and he threw things at me so that, that wasn’t possible either. He insulted my cooking so I obviously didn't want to cook because I was going to be insulted but it was difficult because I couldn’t make things for the children so I was more concerned about making their dinner than making my own. You know, so I would try and do something really quick, beans on toast was very popular because I could do that for them quite quickly and then get out of the way but it meant I wasn’t eating. I'd lived on sweets, we sold sweets in the shop so I lived on sweets, I drank a lot of wine, smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank a lot of coffee and I didn't have very much else. So I wasn’t living a healthy life 

Yeah. 

But there wasn’t anything I could do about it. 
Some women said their partners put pressure on them to drink alcohol or take drugs. Ella was pressurised into ‘sniffing coke’ along with her partner. Melanie was plied with drugs, ‘weed’ and alcohol to keep her ‘in her place’.
 

Melanie finally kicked the alcohol habit after leaving her partner, and described how ill she had become when with her partner.

View full profile
Age at interview: 42
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I’ve been drinking for many years. I’m now not drinking. Because I’m dealing with it now. Psychologically, my head is just a mush a lot of times. One day I’m fine a few days ago I was just a complete mess. I didn’t know whether I was going or coming. I mean, I can do the mum role because that, I do that with my eyes closed. And they are my world.

So I can do the mum role. Sometimes not being able to shower, to eat, to sleep. Feeling numb. Knots in my stomach. Being hypervigilant. Listening to doors going. I’m hearing it and I’m already thinking, “Is there somebody coming in?” There’s just so many things. I had agoraphobia, wasn’t able to leave the house at some stages. I was taking medication, as in medication, I was taking co-codamol tablets but I was given those by my ex- at that point, he was supplying me with them and keeping me numb as well as the drink. I smoked weed as well. But that was him as well. The, you know, these are the things that kind of kept me in my place, kept me quite reserved. Repressed. I financially didn’t know how to pay my bills, so I’m learning how to do that.

I didn’t know what pain was. I’m still understanding what pain is. 
Controlling women’s appearance

Women described being frequently ‘put down’ and humiliated by their partners for their appearance, leaving them feeling unattractive and bad about themselves. They were called ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’, which made them more dependent on their partners and more likely to blame themselves when the relationship got difficult. This led them to feel they must stay with their partner as no-one else would want them. In order to please their partner some women tried to dress in a way that he preferred and they lost the ability to make their own choices. Lolita and Anna’s partners both belittled them constantly, ‘breaking them down’ to make them more compliant.
 

Lolita began to feel unhappy about her appearance, which led to comfort eating and weight gain. She became depressed, living her life ‘on autopilot’.

View full profile
Age at interview: 20
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And then it progressed like that throughout the relationship. Things, if I didn’t do things when he said, it was a massive argument and he was literally just belittling me and just trying to break me down to the point where I felt like I had to do it. And he was very horrible, telling me nobody else would want me, he’s lucky that – I’m lucky that I have him and nobody else would give me a chance because I’m ugly and I’m fat, and just basically making out like I’m horrible and I am unlovable, which I don’t think that I am.

Did you begin to believe those things about yourself?

I could never believe that, because if I was nice enough to find him I could be nice enough to find somebody else. So I never believed that. I just kind of lost the love for myself because I was giving someone all of me and I wasn’t getting anything in return. So I kind of felt like I had nothing left to give myself. So I wasn’t really happy with my appearance anymore. I put on weight because I was eating a lot to try and comfort myself. And I just felt like I’d lost the spark in me, because I couldn’t have a spark, every time I was happy I was put down. So it’s like I just felt like it wasn’t worth being happy anymore because it was never going to last. So I decided to just not do anything, and to just live life on autopilot.
 

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

View full profile
Age at interview: 47
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
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. 
Controlling sexual activity - Sex for favours

Sex was used as a form of control. Women were told that sex was their ‘duty’ and were forced to comply whenever their partner wanted, often against their will (see ‘Sexual violence and abuse’). Controlling behaviour using sex became the norm for some of these women. Several described how they were regularly forced to have sex before being allowed money to feed their children or pay for clothes.
 

Yasmin had to adopt a pattern of paying for anything she needed with sex or, as she put it, ‘sleeping with’ her husband.

View full profile
Age at interview: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I didn’t have money at all.

Nothing at all?

Nothing.

So he … controlled everything?

Yes. So my son was breastfeeding so he didn’t have to like do lots of … the, on nappies, on milk, or on every other thing I was relying on him, like calling him if you can …

If you can get these things?

These things.

Yeah. Yeah.

And he will get it. But if I say again and again, like if I have like three nappies left …

Uh-huh.

… and I just keep giving him reminder he will get quite annoyed.

Right.

And then if he is annoyed he is not going to buy anything.

So what would happen?

So I was like … more in that pressure. I want that nappies, I want that milk.

Yes.

And, okay, he … he might buy me the take away, but what I will do … like a few baby foods you have to make with the milk.

Yes of course.

This and that.

Yes of course.

But if … then there was a situation I didn’t have any option, not even nappies or milk. Because he will come home when we are sleeping, early morning, and he will not leave home by four o’clock without talking. Anything. But in order to get things, ask him to do … I have to sleep with him.

Right. Yeah. Okay. Mm.

So that’s the thing I adopted, if I need something I have to sleep with him.

Yeah, yeah.

If I want to see my son to have toys, have food, have clothes …

You had to pay for it with sex?

Yeah.

Yes. So that was what your life was like at that time?

Yes.
Some women described how a lack of interest in sex was interpreted as them being unfaithful and women were verbally abused, called ‘a whore’ or ‘a slag’ by their partners. Julia’s partner would argue with her for hours because she did not want sex as often as he did, especially after childbirth. He made lists to show her, that read ‘you’re a bad friend, a bad mother, …a bad partner … you do this, you do that.’ 

In addition to disagreements about sex, some women talked about partners also controlling their fertility by hiding contraceptive pills or forcing a woman to remove her implant. 

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse was a common response to a woman trying to question her partner or going out of the house on her own. Women described how they would often be blamed for the outburst. Much of the verbal abuse consisted of accusing women of sleeping with other men, but it also included insults about a woman’s ethnic origin, her appearance, or her family members. Sara remembered feeling horrified when her new husband said to her, before she left the house ‘remember you’re married’, implying she was not to be trusted. Nessa said her partner would make insulting comments about the children and ‘put her down’ about her looks and her ethnicity. Ella’s and Liz’s partners would call them insulting names if they went out alone or challenged their partners' decisions.
 

Despite returning home at the time her partner had asked, Ella was accused of being a ‘slut’ who was ‘shagging other men’ (played by an actor).

View full profile
Age at interview: 27
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
He was very controlling. I had to be in at half past ten. I was allowed friends to the house but if they were going out or we went out before that, had to be in. I was very emotionally abused by him for a long time. I was fat, I was a slag, a slut. I wasn’t allowed to look at anybody. And looking back now, when I started college, I can remember saying to people I believed he was going to kill me.

Really?

And I can remember saying to the girls who I’d become close to, “If anything ever happened to me it would be because of him.”

Gosh.

Yeah.

So you started college while you were with this man?

Yeah, I started college. Because, when I met him, I was in my last year of school, so then I started college and I was with him… yeah, so I started college.

Yeah.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to say what I was [laughs] doing.

No that’s fine, yeah, that’s fine.

Alright hairdressing and beauty. It was a two year course. So, yeah, I enjoyed that. But I also had, “Oh, who have you been looking at? You’d better not be going with any boys,” things like that. So…

Yeah. When you say you had to be in by a certain time in the evening, what would have happened if you hadn’t got back by the time he said, what do you think would have happened?

Angry, “Slag, slut, where have you been, shagging other men, you’re filthy,” things like that. So I thought by being back at that time I was proving I’m good, I haven’t, I haven’t done anything. “You’ve asked me to be in at this time and I have.” Even though sometimes I’d get back and he would be the one that was out.

Right.

I’d still been home.

So what effect did all this have on you and how you felt about yourself?

He controlled my life. I didn’t know who I was. I got lost in him.
 

Liz was terrified of her partner’s anger when he called her a ‘fucking witch’ and she feared that he might kill her.

View full profile
Age at interview: 46
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
The way he looked at me, he called me evil bitch, fucking witch, all names, and it was because I’d said that my daughter, middle one was at boarding school, and the plan was for her to come up after she’d done her GCSEs to come and live in [county] and go to the day school that the youngest was at.

Had your move not happened yet at this point?

Well, we moved last August. Four days before this happened, I wrote to him because I was really frightened, and I wrote to him and said, “I’m really frightened. All the time you’re speaking to me with gritted teeth. I’m really frightened you’re going to hit me.” And then that weekend it was the – I think what really shocked me more was when he was shouting at me with such anger. And it’s hard to explain to anybody who has never had that anger. Because I’d been shouted at a lot in my life, you know, but I’d never felt like that before.

How did you feel?

I felt as though he was going to kill me.

Right yeah.

But my daughter was there.

She had arrived?

My youngest.

The other one, yeah.

And I’d sent her into another room. But he was – but it was his face, it was, it was just like evil. You know kind of just the eyes, just the hate for me that I saw in his face, I just thought, “But I haven’t done anything.” I’d said to him, “My daughter is frightened of you. She’s not going to move up here unless you build on your relationship.” 
Ana and Alonya, both migrant women on spousal visas, endured regular verbal abuse from their husbands, so that they both started to believe they were ‘horrible’, ‘bad’ people. Ana had a baby with her partner and they returned to her home town in Europe to get married. On the eve of the wedding, her partner shouted abuse at her for chatting to her local friends, so she went into her wedding day ‘feeling like a zombie’.
 

Verbal abuse on the eve of her wedding became a feature of Ana’s marriage if she had social contact with anyone apart from her husband (played by an actor).

View full profile
Age at interview: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I was with my friend, just chatting in the, like kind of local area, in the centre of the town really, and she was chatting to these friends of hers, boys. They were like young boys that she knew. She was chatting to them. I was standing near her and, at that point, my ex-husband has already collected his friends and my brother has sent them to go, told him, “Oh go to that bar, go for a drink,” …

Yeah, yes.

And they walked past us and I said, “Oh my God, you’re here.”

Yes.

And he just ignored me, and I thought, I kind of thought mm, like my husband to be?

Yes.

Like my darling husband just ignored me? And then I went home, I went to my mum’s, I tried ringing him, ringing him, ringing him, and he didn’t pick up, and then … and that was the night before our wedding, and [pause] finally in the morning, [pause] oh no my mum’s friend took me to the hotel they were staying to knock on the door, and he opened the door and he just went, “What?” and I said, “Well what, what do you mean what? I didn’t know where you are. Like we’re getting married today.” And, “Not getting married. The wedding’s off, you fucking slag, you fucking whore. Go and, go and fuck the guy that you were talking …” I said, “What guy?” Those, those, those guys that you were …” and he just started going … I don’t know what exactly was said, but as a gist, I would be …

Well yeah sure.

… called fucking slag and fucking whore.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And things like that, and then he just wanted to, he said, “I’ve rang the airline, I’m cancelling the wedding. Now it’s not happening. Just, you can fuck yourself.” That’s what I would be told. I said, “Okay.” I just went, “Okay, cool.” So I went back to my mum’s, and I just sat there and cried and my mum said, I know why she said it, because I think she was stuck of things to say or to help me …

Yes

So she said she was stuck, she didn’t know how to help me …

Yes. 

… so she said, “You, well what you, what are you going to do? You’ve got a baby together. You, you [pause], you’re going to have to go through with it.”
Although men generally abused their partners in private, sometimes a friend or family member would see it.
 

Depressed, anxious and scared, Alonya felt it was safer to keep the peace with her husband until she could work out a plan to leave, but friends witnessed his abusive behaviour.

View full profile
Age at interview: 31
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
One time he said, I had some few friends and he one time it was my friend came in and I was going to go out with her. And we had some these kind of difficult moments. He was shouting the whole day and he would come very close to me and just shout into my face and tell me names and who I am, “You’re this”, and “You’re that”, and almost like a spitting into my face. And pointing, his finger was always going to, into my eyes blameful. Blaming in everything, in so many things. And telling how horrible person I was. This was, he was always, he would always tell me I’m the most horrible person and obviously was adding names. And so she came, I remember, and she just waited outside and I came out and he followed me. He had a cigarette in his hand and he tried to put his cigarette into my hand, like….

To burn you?

… to burn me.

Yes, yes.

And I remember she was saying, “Oh my God, what, what, what is he doing?” And we walked and he would keep shouting very loudly and he was not just shouting, it was like letting everyone know that I’m a horrible person I’m the most horrible person in this world. I’m hurting him, and you, it’s just it’s just always, always happen, I mean like he’s just like, it was very embarrassing. 

And how did that make you feel in yourself, when you heard him telling these things?

I just wanted to die.

Right.

I just, I couldn’t believe it’s happening again to me. It was different, but it, it’s just, I was trying my best to be a good person because I want to be a good person. And I had lots of questions to him because I started to see lots of things, he was just lying and I don’t know, it’s, it was so confusing….

Yeah.

So much, sometimes he just starts from nothing and sometimes he wouldn’t talk all of a sudden and slam the doors, and then it just starts. He would just need to get all that very, very strong energy on me into my face and it’s just, he wanted to tell me everything about me; who I am, what I am, how bad I am. And it’s just continuously would be rolling and rolling and rolling around, that I’m the horrible, that I’m the bad person.

Started with his friends, my friends, he a, he started to tell them that I was a bad person. 

And how did your friends react? I mean were you able to really talk to them about what was happening in the relationship….

[sigh]

…or not really?

A few of my friends were saying that there’s something wrong with him. 

 “He’s not right. There’s something mental about him”. And I wanted to leave, but there was another subject already. I didn’t want to lose this country and I didn’t want to go back to [Eastern Europe]. 
Threats to harm women and their children

Abusive partners used threats as a means of exercising control, making women respond to their demands out of fear of an escalation of abuse. These threats carried a very real fear and danger for the women, since they were based on abuse and harm to which they had already been subjected. (See ‘Physical violence and impact on women’s health’.)
 

Lolita’s partner played into her fears around security by destroying her front door to show it was no protection from him.

View full profile
Age at interview: 20
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
What do you think was the worst thing he did to you?

I would say the worst thing he did was, I struggle with security and I always have struggled with security, and in my home I’ve never felt secure, and he knows that I was literally, I was terrified of living on my own, and he knew that, and after an argument he’d left my house. And the argument was because I wouldn’t lend him money, and I don’t believe that I should have lent him money for what he wanted the money for. He left the house, so I locked the door behind him. And he turned around and said, “Do you think that door is going to protect you from me?” and just kicked it completely off. So I was left feeling exposed and I just felt like everything, like all my fears had come true. You know what I mean. I, I’m not safe anymore. And I was just so upset because he knew how much I struggled with feeling safe and he just left me vulnerable and didn’t even care. And like that hurt me more than anything he could have done to me, because I, if I couldn’t have had the door fixed that night, I don’t know what I would have done.

Is there anywhere you could have gone?

Possibly to my parents’ house, but it’s not really a place that I feel safe either.
Linda’s partner had previously destroyed important papers from her work, cut up all her clothes and physically assaulted her, threatening further damage if she sought help. The seriousness of his threats was revealed when Linda returned home after staying with family for a few days. Her partner had left, smashing up the family home behind him.
 

Towards the end of their relationship, Linda’s partner responded with increasing acts of violence toward her property and belongings.

View full profile
Age at interview: 59
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And then work ethics came over me and I thought I’ve got get there, because this university is waiting for me and. 

Were you able to go? 

I did, I went. 

You did? 

Yeah. 

It’s extraordinary how you managed to hold together, this really powerful, you know demanding job, that is an extraordinary accomplishment. 

I went for 2 days and then I phoned one of his friends up and said you need to go and make sure he’s not there because I’m too scared to go in and another friend went and checked my daughter was alright, and he’d cut all my clothes up, all my clothes were cut up all over, all over the room and his friend, a male friend and he just went I can’t’ believe he’s done all this. 

And was that during that time that you were away, or was that, yeah that weekend you were away. 

Yeah and we had a basement in the house and that’s where I did all my lectures and everything, and everything, all my files had been shredded and. 

Really? 

Yeah everything. And I was teaching again, on the Monday. 

So how did you manage? 

I just re-did it. 

Extraordinary resilience that you’ve obviously got.

Oh the days, after a weekend I used to go in at 6 o’clock and I had been crying right until 6 o’clock, go in, put on my brave face. 

That’s amazing to be able to do that. 

Yeah, I don’t know how I did it now. 

So after that event. 

And then didn’t speak to me. 

Had one of those silent periods. 

So after that, so I went to my mum’s 80th birthday, still hadn’t told the police and I came back and the house was empty. 

Of everything? 

Of everything, except things he didn’t want, which he’d, we had two settees, chairs, leather, he’d left the three seater but he’d cut it up, well chopped it up, taken the beds, all the beautiful garden furniture we had, he’d smashed, and we had, one of the bedrooms was for the children so we used to have a rota and one stayed over at night, they used to call it Nanny Night. All their books, their toys he’d smashed up, we had chandeliers, taken them down, I’ve got photos I could show you, he’d stood on them all. In my office, in the basement, I hadn’t been able to get down there for a long time because of the stairs, he’d taken my computer with all my academic work, with the books I’d written, you know they were all on there, the research, he’d taken it all, all my files, my bank details, my savings things, he’d taken everything. And in the toilet, I can’t even tell you what was in there, you can imagine? In the bathroom. In the downstairs toilet, he’d taken the sink away because he was a plumber, he’d taken that away, put it in the, we had a big basement and part of that was his workshop, he’d put the sink, the basin, work benches off, smashed them up the only thing he hadn’t touched was the loft and that’s what I came back to and then I called the police and then I told them everything. 
Tanya’s and Tina’s partners kept them in the relationship with threats of serious harm if they tried to leave, threats which were reinforced with frightening behaviour.
 

Tanya’s husband threatened to smash up the house if she did not go out at night and buy him a bottle of whisky. Tanya returned home with the whisky to find that her husband had dug her a grave.

View full profile
Age at interview: 45
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Because he just, he just, he’d threatened, he’d threatened to smash, one night he threatened to smash all the windows in the house if I didn’t go and buy him a bottle of whisky. And this was 11 o’clock at night. So I went, and came home went to look for whisky for him, came home and he’d dug me a grave. I mean - where do you go from there? How would you want to sleep with a man who’s done that, who’s just disgusting, disgusting? Hmm.

And then he’s excusing his behaviour with other women, blaming you for it?

Yeah, but I put up with it. Yeah, I put up with it because, I don’t know, because we had a house to live in. And he used to say I’d end up in a, if I left him, when we lived in [Town], before we moved to [Country], if I left him I could, I’d end up at did I want to live on a council estate? Because that’s where I’d end up. And that’s where I’m living now, on a council estate. And it’s pretty, it’s pretty good. We’re safe. There’s no psychopaths trying to kill us now, you know, and it’s fine. I pay my rent and he’s living in our house for nothing, mortgage-free. I need to sell it [laughs]. Hmm yeah acceptance, accept what’s happened to you. Accept what’s happened to you and move on and do as much self-healing that you can. And you’ll get, you can get there, you can get there. Because I was, I was just crying all the time a couple of years ago, crying all the time. And now I’m not. It’s great!
 

Swearing and telling Tina she would regret having challenged him, he threatened her with a gun.

View full profile
Age at interview: 50
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And then he come in one night and went, had a cup of coffee, went to bed. And I went up to watch TV and he turned around and, I turned the TV on and he said, he started swearing and …or don’t you want me to … 

Do you want me to say what he said? 

You can that’s fine.

All right. Turn the f-ing tele off. And I turned round and said, “No. I want to watch TV”. And he said, “You’ll f-ing regret this”. And he pulled out a gun from underneath the bed and put it on the side there and I sort of like crapped myself…

[Gasps]

…and turned the TV of, rolled over and went to sleep and that’s when he…

With a gun?

…started, yeah he had a gun under the bed. He had two. I found two under there. 

Were they loaded? 

I don’t know [laughs]. I didn’t hang around to find out. I didn’t know woo woo woo. Yeah, so. 

Gosh.

And but the police knows all about that and then I woke up in the morning and he was gone, gone to work and then he just used to ring me, make sure this is done, make sure that’s done as though I was a piece of shit do you know what I mean? And all that lot. There and I used to just take it from him and I used to think ah, well, I’m with him because of the kids and that’s that. 
Several women said their partners had threatened them with a knife, holding it to their neck and sometimes drawing blood, particularly if women had tried to challenge them, had threatened to call the police or to leave.

Mind games, gaslighting and exploiting illness

Many women who experienced abuse became physically ill or suffered from depression and anxiety. They described their partners being un-sympathetic or using their vulnerability against them (see ‘Emotional-psychological abuse and impact on self-esteem’, ‘Physical violence and impact on women’s health’). Jessica, who suffers from fibromyalgia, felt that her partner made the most of her vulnerability to exercise further control.
 

Jessica’s husband was unsympathetic and uncaring towards her when she became unwell, mocking her disability and even causing injuries.

View full profile
Age at interview: 46
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And I think somewhere in this history you’ve been telling me about your marriage you were diagnosed with fibromyalgia, is that correct? 

That’s correct, yeah.

Yeah, when, when did that happen?

About 2002, something like that.

Right.

And the impact was that I was unable to work, I’d always had two jobs. And suddenly I couldn’t work. And, so I was not bringing any money in. And also he didn’t help at all. He didn’t understand the illness, and he didn’t want to understand the illness.

And did that make things even more difficult, would you say, in the marriage?

Extremely so, yes. And also he would make fun of me in front of the children. Because I would forget things, or come out with some, something strange and he would, you know, point it out and make fun.

And that’s part of the condition? 

Yes. Yeah. And like I’d get lost. On holiday we’d try and always stay in the same accommodation block and we’d be on the beach and he’d sit and he would watch with the kids while I got lost going back to the room. And he would think it was funny and amusing. And he would have the air conditioning on in the room, knowing that I couldn’t sleep with the noise of the air conditioning. And there’s lots of things like that.
 

When Sara became seriously ill one night her husband, after making himself a cup of tea, reluctantly rang for an ambulance. Her check-up was Sara’s first chance to see a doctor alone (read by a professional).

View full profile
Age at interview: 40
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
He said, "I can't believe this is happening again" and I was just like, sat there bewildered like "I'm not trying to, like I don't want to be like this." And he's like, "I'm fed up with it, I've had enough." 

And he went down and made himself a cup of tea, he come up with his cup of tea. Then he rang the doctor and said they're sending an ambulance, they sent the ambulance, and he stayed at home with the kids because they were in bed, and I went to hospital on my own. But yeah when I came out of hospital I had to have check-ups with the doctor and he came with me for a few of them and I was really hoping and praying I could get to one without him being there and I did. And I think when the doctor said, ‘How are you?’ I just broke down in tears. 

Really, gosh. So was that the first time you'd really said anything to anybody?

Yeah I think it was actually. Because I think she gave me the number to the domestic abuse people and I spoke to them for two weeks solid, crying and everything, saying but I'm breaking up the family. 

Really. 

I had this real sense of guilt because I thought oh my goodness and they're like but you're making it better and then that was the thing and I had real peace about going.
Some partners played into women’s fears of becoming mentally ill and considered by professionals to be unfit to care for their children.

Min had a deep-rooted fear, following her sister’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, that she, too might one day become mentally ill. Her partner played on this, as she describes here:

‘It’s when people say things that are quite innocuous, that make you doubt yourself. And it starts off as a small seed, but once you start doubting yourself they’ve got something, they’ve got a foothold to feed off’.
 

Min spent a night in a mental health ward without her baby and was ‘sectioned’, following a false allegation of child abuse made by her husband (played by an actor).

View full profile
Age at interview: 47
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Two hours later I had a knock on the door and it was the police. I actually thought he was dead. The first thing I said was, “Oh my God, is my husband dead?” And they said, “No, we’d like you to come in for questioning [sniffs].” And I’m like, “What?” I said, “OK, OK what about?” And they said, “Well we can’t tell you here. We’ll tell you at the police station. But could you come now please?” So my baby was in a [blows nose] child seat because he was all ready to go to the landlord’s to pay the debt, he was all good to go to sleep. So I said, “I just need to get the baby.” They took me down to the police station. I was in a room with my baby for seven hours. They kept saying all they would say to me was, “We’re taking a statement from your husband. When we’ve finished taking the statement we’ll take a statement from you.” They kept me there for seven hours.

Then at about – in the evening, I think five or six – I was panicking, my older child needed picking up from school. They said that that was being taken care of. At the time I didn’t realise what that was. I thought a friend or the father was picking him up. I had no idea what was going on [sniffs]. And then what happened was at about, I think, between 5.00 and 7.00 pm I heard voices outside the interview room, the room I was in. I the door opened, there was a woman there and there was a police officer. The woman looked at me, she looked me up and down and they closed the door and they talked. I didn’t hear what they were saying. And then the door opened again and the police officer said, “We’re going to take your baby to the hospital and to be examined.” And I thought, “I’m going with them.”

Of course, I was breastfeeding, he was seven weeks old. So I stood up. They, they took the baby in the little car seat and I stood up to go with them and the policeman had his hand there and went ‘woomph’ and pushed me in the chair and said, “You’re staying here [sniffs].” And [voice falters] they took my baby [sobs]. And I went crazy. I was hysterical. I was screaming, “Where’s my baby? I need to be with my baby. I need to be with my baby [sniffs]. Why can’t I go with my baby?” I had no idea what was going on because they still hadn’t told me. All they’d told me was, “We’re taking a statement.” Then [blows nose] that woman was there, and the police. So my baby had gone. I was absolutely hysterical.

And then they sectioned me.
Many women felt they were losing their sanity, because their partner would tell them something and then deny it or say one thing and do the opposite (see ‘Impact on women’s mental health’). Two women described how their partners invented a cancer diagnosis make sure their partner stayed to look after them. Frequently, men denied having an affair despite evidence to the contrary or blamed the woman for not trusting him, saying it was ‘all in her mind’. They would also twist women’s words to make them appear stupid.
 

Stephanie’s partner blamed their break-up on her need for psychological help, ignoring his own behaviour such as continuing to see his previous girlfriend.

View full profile
Age at interview: 39
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I think I reacted fairly normally to some very unpleasant situations but because I told him about this previous relationship that I’d had perhaps I’ve reacted a little bit worse than somebody else would have done. And then in the end when he decided he wanted to go back to his ex-girlfriend he blamed the breakdown of the relationship on the fact that I well, he said I needed psychological help. 

Which and I’d only reacted badly because he’d done things like ignored me with, with the silent treatment. So after building me up and saying he wanted all these things and then just completely switched off and then said, “No, it’s because you need psychological help and that’s why the relationship’s not worked out and I’m going back to my ex-girlfriend”. Who eventually, who wouldn’t have him back actually, but yeah, so. 

So how did that all leave you feeling?

Suicidal. Really. 
 

Chloe’s partner isolated, manipulated and controlled her so she felt she could never leave the house for fear of punishment (played by an actor).

View full profile
Age at interview: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
We were only in that house for nine months.

Right.

Or maybe a little bit less than nine months. The pace that he worked at was just insane. It felt like years and years of, you know.

But it ended up to give you a sense of the manipulations he did when I addressed saying, you know, “I can’t even leave the house,” he was like, “What are you talking about? The doors are not locked. I haven’t locked you in, have I?” It was like he would turn everything around. So he hadn’t locked me in but he had me in such a mental state that I knew I wasn’t allowed to leave and I knew the punishment that would happen if I stepped over certain lines.

But logically he had everything set up that he could say, “What are you talking about? It’s all in your mind. There’s nothing going on here. The door’s right there. I’m not stopping you. I’m not holding you. I haven’t tied you.”
How women reacted to controlling behaviour

Women described feeling unworthy, stupid, sometimes desperate to change their partner’s behaviour by changing their own. Some women described their mind being ‘broken’, their thought patterns so altered that they could no longer believe in themselves. They tried hard to please their partner in order to stop the abuse, like Philippa who would cry desperately ‘what have I done wrong?’ and Charlotte who said ‘yes I’m sorry, you’re right, I’ve done something wrong, I’ll try and change and be better’. Kate wanted to ‘mend’ the relationship. She tried to rationalise and reason with her husband but he could never accept that he had done anything wrong. Women described at times standing up to their partner and challenging him but this invariably led to an escalation of abuse.
 

Khalida’s husband strangled her into submission when she ‘dared’ to ask him where he was all night (read by a professional).

View full profile
Age at interview: 58
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Anyway, where we got married, just up the road from there he bought a house near his parents’ house. And so I was, so I was all alone. But he, she (mother-in-law) was coming and going, she was coming and going a bit too much. All my in-laws were there in my house all the time just to, just to keep an eye on me. Now he, now he decided that he wants me to be kept an eye on. But this is after, after I questioned him. At four o’clock in the morning I questioned him and he said he suddenly got, became angry and grabbed my neck and started squeezing my neck and said, “If you ever ask me again where I’ve been, where I’m going, where I’m coming, when I coming, where I’m coming from, I will kill you.” I said, “Oh my God, what is going on here?” I quickly made him let go of my neck. And then he said, “If you have no right to ask me where I’m coming, where I’m coming from, but I have every right to ask you where you’re going, where you’re going with our children, whatever. You cannot go anywhere without my permission. That’s, those are the rules. Don’t ever ask me again where I’ve come from or where I’m going.”

And what did you think about that when he?

I was scared to death. I was scared to death that he was going to kill me or something. I was nearly choking when he was trying to strangle me.

Yes, yeah.

Then shortly afterwards I just got, oh slowly he just started looking at me in a stern way all the time. He was being very stern with me all the time and nasty, nasty, nasty, nasty all the time. 
Yasmin refused sex and then fled for help to her sister’s house, when her partner put knives to her throat. Although her family persuaded her to return, for Yasmin this was a prelude to leaving permanently.
 

Yasmin said she would rather die than continue to sleep with her partner.

View full profile
Age at interview: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And he said that he want to sleep, he’s really tired. He slept. I didn’t have any other option to sleep somewhere else.

Uh-huh.

I waited the whole night. Then my son was sleeping on his same bed, so I didn’t kind of not … he start asking me again… ‘Let’s …’, you know, ‘… make up everything back’, and this and that, ‘I’ll surely change.’ That’s promised to happen so many times but I was not … I said ‘No.’ He ran to kitchen, grabbed two knives… came back, and I was standing. He put, pointed both knives on my neck, and I said … ‘I prefer to die. But I’m not going to sleep with you. I prefer death.’

Yes.

He said, ‘Well think about these children’, my son was sleeping in the same room. My two year old … two and … nearly three year old son was sleeping in the same room … which he was pointing knives at my neck. I say ‘I prefer death …’ ‘… I won’t be sleeping with you.’ And he said ‘Well think about the children.’ I said, ‘There are lots of children that don’t have parent where they’ve survived. They’ll still survive.’

‘They will, I don’t want to sleep with you anymore.’ 


*Stark, E. (2007) Coercive Control. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Last reviewed February 2020.

donate
Previous Page
Next Page