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Ella

Age at interview: 27
Brief Outline: Ella experienced emotional, financial, sexual and physical abuse at the hands of three different abusive partners. The first relationship lasted seven years followed by shorter relationships of six months and 18 months. When she eventually became homeless she was referred to Women’s Aid, and with their support she has been free of abuse for three years. Ella said that had she known about Women’s Aid sooner, and realised that domestic abuse was not just about being physically ‘beaten up’, then she might not have continued into further abusive relationships. She now feels she could ‘knock it on the head before it began’. (Video clips played by an actor.)
Background: Ella is a 27 year old single white British woman with no children. She lives on her own in privately rented accommodation and works full-time.

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At the age of 15, Ella fell in love with a man who she describes as a ‘local hero’, a successful sportsman. They eventually moved in together and Ella soon found that he ‘controlled’ her life, dictating her activities, calling her ‘a slag, a slut’ if she went out in the evenings, taking her money to spend on drugs and ‘cheating on her’. She was raped and sexually abused before being allowed to buy essential items and she believed that he would kill her if she challenged him. He also ‘cheated’ on her from early in the relationship.
 
Throughout her relationship, Ella felt unable to disclose the details to anyone because of her partner’s local celebrity status. Ella felt so trapped that she would occasionally self-harm to ‘release’ the pain and stress that she felt. Attempts at disclosing to family and friends ended up in Ella feeling ‘judged’, hearing comments like ‘she likes bad boys, she brings it on herself’. This strengthened her resolve to make the relationship work and she convinced herself that her difficulties were ‘normal’.

With some help from her parents Ella managed to leave her partner but she got back together with him when she discovered she was pregnant. Following the trauma of a subsequent miscarriage, Ella decided to end the relationship, aged 21. When she split up with her partner after seven years of a controlling relationship she describes ‘feeling completely lost, I didn’t know who I was, I had no identity’. She felt suicidal and her GP prescribed anti-depressants.

She became briefly involved with a Pakistani man who was in between prison sentences for drugs offences and assault, but then moved in with a new partner for an 18 month relationship. She suffered further emotional, financial and physical abuse from a man who she discovered was addicted to drugs, and spent his time partying, drinking and taking drugs at their flat and disappearing often for many days at a time. Following a three day drug binge, her partner smashed up their flat and Ella feared he would become violent within their relationship. With the help of a friend, Ella, now penniless and homeless, fled from him.

In the aftermath of her experiences of abuse, she suffered from ‘terrible panic attacks’ and felt unable to go out alone to do basic tasks such as shopping. She received counselling at her GP practice, which she found helpful but too short at only six sessions. She was also referred to a Stress Management course. 

With counselling and with support from Women’s Aid, Ella grew in confidence and the panic attacks faded. She is now happily settled on her own and feels that Women’s Aid literally ‘saved her life’. (Video clips played by an actor.)
 

Ella did not know what a normal guy and a normal relationship were like, until she contacted Women's Aid who 'opened her eyes' to the abuse she had suffered for years (played by an actor).

Ella did not know what a normal guy and a normal relationship were like, until she contacted Women's Aid who 'opened her eyes' to the abuse she had suffered for years (played by an actor).

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But relationship-wise, there was the three. But I believe, had I got help after the first, it was almost like patterns, because I believed I wasn’t even though all the things I knew were wrong-ish, I just guessed it was normal as well, like there was nothing better, this was what, this was how it was.

Right.

So I feel that, had I got help from somebody sooner, I could have seen that this was wrong. Because when I got in touch with Women’s Aid and realised just how much I’d actually been through, that was such a shock to me. Because I didn’t know that there was financial abuse, I just thought that was normal, that you had to give your money and things like that because you were living with somebody. There were just so many things I opened my eyes to more that I just thought was normal.

Yeah, so throughout those three relationships you’ve told me about, you felt that what was going on was normal?

Yeah, apart from obviously, like I said, a few things that made me feel like this wasn’t right. But, but no, other than that, that was it.

So you didn’t think about abuse. Had you heard of domestic abuse at that time?

Yeah, but like I said to you, when I got in touch, when the lady said to me, “I think you need to speak to Women’s Aid,” I thought, “But I haven’t been beaten up.”

Right yeah.

“I’m not a battered woman. I’m not black, I’m not blue. Why would I need to go to Women’s Aid for?”

Right OK.

And then when I went there and actually started learning and listening to things, I thought, “I can’t believe I’ve been living all these years like this.”
 

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).

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).

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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.
 

Ella described feeling ‘lost’ in her ex-partner and how for a while after the relationship ended, she did not know who she was (played by an actor).

Ella described feeling ‘lost’ in her ex-partner and how for a while after the relationship ended, she did not know who she was (played by an actor).

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He controlled my life. I didn’t know who I was. I got lost in him. I don’t know, I just don’t, it’s such a weird – I never thought that I could ever I can’t believe, when I look back, that I had to say to people I believed he would kill me, because looking back now, that seems so [deep breath] surreal. But at the time that’s what I must have thought. I believed that if I didn’t do all these things that, yeah, that he would, he would kill me hmm.
 

Ella had to wait and ask for money to put petrol in her car to get to work and then was only given some cash if she had oral sex first (played by an actor).

Ella had to wait and ask for money to put petrol in her car to get to work and then was only given some cash if she had oral sex first (played by an actor).

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Can you give me any other examples of how he controlled you?

Taking my money, financially. If I’d – because I had a car, I was working, oh, in [name of city], he would – I would be paying for the shopping, I’d pay half the rent, because he was on the dole at the time, so the half of the house was paid by the dole. And then he’d have his dole money. He was like sell weed as well, so all his incomings were fine. But mine, I was having to work to pay half of the rent and things like that, so I was putting a lot of money into it. And he used to do things like make me give him oral sex for money for petrol, if I couldn’t get to work, I’m going to get upset now... sorry ... [tearful].

That’s fine, that’s absolutely understandable. Have you got a tissue or something?

No [laughs]. 

[pause to get tissues] 

Thanks, so because then I was trying to get to work, sometimes I, you know, I didn’t have money for petrol and things like that. He used to come back from him training for this sport that he did. At the time I’d started [unclear] for work, so sometimes if I didn’t have any money, I had to wait for it, and I’d say, “Oh, can you lend me £5, £10 just so I can put petrol in the car to get to work?” And he’d make me obviously give him oral sex and then he’d give me the money then. Mmm.
 

Ella felt ‘weird’ with her partner after he persisted with sex after she said ‘I don’t want to have sex’, but she did not realise it counted as ‘rape’ (played by an actor).

Ella felt ‘weird’ with her partner after he persisted with sex after she said ‘I don’t want to have sex’, but she did not realise it counted as ‘rape’ (played by an actor).

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So, yeah, the one time as well, which I don’t like saying, but I’m just going to tell you, but when we were living in the, in the flat, well I was going over there a lot, it was the first time he’d ever taken drugs and he’d been out all night. Because of his sport he doesn’t do drugs or drink. He used to smoke weed, but he wasn’t really one for, for drinking or taking drugs. So this one time I know he’d been out all night. He was starting to get into this habit of again going out. I was about 21 now at the time. And I know he’d done, he’d done drugs, because he came in, it was early, it was about 5/6 o’clock in the morning. And I said, “Where have you been?” and he said, “Oh, I’ve been over to one of the clubs.” And he said I said, “You look really weird,” and he said, “Oh, I’ve taken drugs.” And I, as far as I’m aware, that was the first time he’d done them.

Right.

And then he got on top of me and he wanted to have sex and I was just it was, it was really weird, I just like froze. And I said like, “I don’t want to have sex,” I said, “you’ve been out all night, I don’t want to.” And he just persisted, he started taking my trousers off. I said, “I don’t, I don’t want to.” I think I had pyjama bottoms on or something. And I just kept saying, “Oh like no.” But he just insisted. So it’s yeah, it’s not I just think back at that, and I always think now, “I wonder if he, I wonder if he ever knew what he did to me that night?” Like, I don’t know, it just plays on my mind sometimes now, I just think [tearful].

What happened to you that night, would you say?

I was raped.

Right.

Yeah hmm.

And what was the impact of that on you after that?

I felt weird. I wouldn’t have said it was rape at the time; I just remember feeling really like, “That was weird. I said no and he still did it.” And I thought it was a bit I thought it was weird. I knew it wasn’t normal but, because he was my boyfriend, I didn’t believe that, rape, you could be raped, your boyfriend couldn’t rape you. You know, rape’s something that happens when you’re walking through a dark alley by someone you don’t know, that’s how I thought.
 

Ella explained that she no longer trusts men and sleeps with windows and doors open because otherwise she feels trapped (played by an actor).

Ella explained that she no longer trusts men and sleeps with windows and doors open because otherwise she feels trapped (played by an actor).

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What effect has it had on you really, as a person, on your life?

Trust, I don’t trust men at all. Even now, after all these years, if I [deep breath] go on a date or things like that, I already feel like I have to be ten steps ahead. Like I just, I lose all, I’ve lost all trust in men.

Right.

I feel, when I go to sleep, I have to sleep with all the doors open. The front door’s got to be locked, but I don’t like being enclosed in a bedroom, have to sleep with the doors open, my living room door, my bedroom door open. I need, I don’t like feeling trapped.

Right.

I was suffering with a lot of panic attacks after this had happened. I couldn’t go out shopping on my own; I used to have to go food shopping with my mum or a friend. Sometimes I’d get to the till and have such a bad panic attack I’d almost have to walk out.

Have you had any medical help with panic attacks or?

Yeah, I was going to the doctor’s a lot, but they, they sent me on a stress course, that was it. And I did have some counselling with the, with the doctor’s surgery, but I think you only have so many. I think I was allowed six sessions, it was something like that, and then that’s when they sent me on a stress, stress course then.

Was the counselling helpful at the time or ?

Yes, yeah it was, but I just wish it lasted longer.

Yeah. What about the stress course, was that helpful or?

It was, it was, but it wasn’t, when I went to the stress course it was how to deal with stress, and it seemed more like in the workplace and stress.

Oh right yeah.

Things like that. It’s not, it wasn’t about the abuse. I feel the most helpful was Women’s Aid.
 

Women's Aid 'opened her eyes' to the abuse she had suffered for years and Ella feels that ‘I owe my life to them’ (played by an actor).

Women's Aid 'opened her eyes' to the abuse she had suffered for years and Ella feels that ‘I owe my life to them’ (played by an actor).

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I feel the most helpful was Women’s Aid.

Right.

Hmm.

Yeah OK. And in what ways do you find that helpful, the contact with Women’s Aid?

I felt like somebody was there for me. Nobody ever judged me. They helped me get things like vacuum, toaster, microwave, things to help me, even though I worked. It wasn’t seen as, “Well you’ve got” – when you try and apply with the council and things like that, you work, so they don’t care. But with Women’s Aid, yes, I did work, but I still couldn’t have afforded these things because I was having to pay my rent and bills and things like that. And it was no questions asked, “We will help you.” So they got me little things like that, which helped. They were non-judgemental. They opened my eyes to abuse, so made me realise. And then changing the pattern, moving forward to pick up on these things before they start in new relationships.

Right, and are you still able to follow that, you know, are you still able to make use of what they told you?

Yes, yeah.

Do you still get support from them or?

No, no the lady who was a support worker, she left. But I think I felt I was OK, yeah.

Great. And during your contact with Women’s Aid, did you have any actual counselling or was it more it was from the support worker?

It was the support worker. And I couldn’t go, I was offered to go to the pattern changing behaviour that they do as a group, but because I was suffering with such bad panic attacks I didn’t want to go. But they were able to do it one to one at home, which was nice.

Right yeah, and that was specifically about domestic abuse, was it?

Yes, yeah.

Yeah, and how many weeks was that over?

It must have been a good few months. I was seeing her probably once a fortnight. Because they first came when I was staying at my friend’s nan’s house, and then they saw me through then to my new flat and she visited me there for a good few months.

Right, and that’s been helpful for you?

Yeah very. No, I feel I owe my life to them.

Really? Oh gosh.

Yeah, and I said that. And that’s why I went and did charity work there, because I felt, if it wasn’t for them, I would have been in this pattern of meeting all these men and then going forward and I would never have got out of that.

Hmm yeah.

Yeah, so I really do owe a lot to Women’s Aid.
 

Ella got up one morning after her partner had been out all night and thought 'This is it. This is going to be it' and she left to go and live at her dad's (played by an actor).

Ella got up one morning after her partner had been out all night and thought 'This is it. This is going to be it' and she left to go and live at her dad's (played by an actor).

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So a couple of times we had physical fights. But, or if I said anything he’d say, “Oh shut up, you fucking slag, slut. Shut up. Shut up.” So you just don’t say anything. So we lived together all that time. The end of that relationship came. I finally feel that I had the strength to get away. And it was a bank holiday, he’d been out all night and he came home and something just came over me. And I didn’t feel angry, I didn’t feel, I just knew that this was going to be it. So he got into bed. I remember just feeling sick, I’d been awake all night. It must have been early hours of the morning, I heard the gate go, in he came. And instead of arguing or fighting or saying anything, I just thought, “This is it. This is going to be it.” So [deep breath] he got into bed and I just got, I think I just got up. And I was going to a car boot sale with my mum. And I got up, I went, we’d gone out for the day. And I ended up moving – where did I move? – I moved out of the house. I just knew I had the strength. I don’t know where it came from. Because I used to always pray and think, “I just want the strength, please somebody just give me the strength to get away from him, please, please.” So this one day I felt like I did have the strength to get away. So I’d been out and, again I can’t remember how, but I ended up moving out of that property and went to go and live with my dad.
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