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Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Getting help from family and friends for domestic violence and abuse

Abusive partners can, and often do, isolate women from their family and friends, but when talking about help-seeking in previous research many women identified their families and friends as a source of support. Recent research has shown, however, that there are both physical and psychological impacts for family members and friends who support survivors of abuse, and they will also need support for themselves (See ‘Resources & Information’). Friends and family members can offer both emotional and practical help and support, from child-minding, offering a bed to sleep in, money, or simply being there for someone. These supporters can themselves also become direct targets of the abusive partner. 

Women talked to us about their experiences of getting help from family members and friends, the kinds of support they found the most valuable and times when they would have liked more support.

Women frequently said how difficult it was to talk to family members and friends about domestic violence and abuse when they were in the relationship. This was partly because they, themselves, were not clear about exactly what was wrong or whose ‘fault’ it was. Women feared that their partner would find out if they talked about him, leading to further violence. They also thought that family members or friends might not believe them, especially if the abusive partner had manipulated them against her. 

When they were ready to seek help, women described mixed reactions from friends and family members. As Sarah said:

‘My best friend … she realised what was going on but I think the problem is a lot of people don't really understand domestic abuse.’

Jessica, married for 27 years to a man she described as aggressive and controlling, and with two children, had just one friend she could trust, who offered her a spare room. Over many months, Jessica hid a ‘survival pack’ of belongings at her friend’s place, and was ‘gutted’ when the friend refused to take her in on the day she left and instead phoned her husband. Jessica eventually found a place in a refuge.

 

Jessica described the roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs when she left her marriage of 27 years.

Jessica described the roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs when she left her marriage of 27 years.

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That, I started finding someone I could trust and putting together a little survival pack for myself. Some money, my passport, and different things. Gradually gathering things together and hiding them at this persons place.

And was that person a friend, or…

It was a friend, yes. She said that she had a spare room, and would take me in. 

Hm. And did she help you decide what you needed to have in that survival bag? Or was that what you knew you needed?

I think it was what I knew I needed. Yeah. Yeah. And it was just one morning, I woke up one morning, I think it was a Tuesday morning, I just woke up and I thought, “Today’s the day”. 

Wow.

Yeah. And that day, it didn’t matter what happened, I was not going to stay. I was going to leave.

Do you know what it was about that day?

I just woke up and thought, “Today’s the day”. 

Gosh. So you …

Yeah …

… hadn’t thought about it the day before, or planned it in that detail or anything?

No. No. I just woke up and thought, “Right, this is the day”.

So how long had you been collecting your survival kit together and taking it round to your friend’s house?

Quite slowly, so he wouldn’t notice anything. But over quite a few months.

So, she didn’t take you in?

No. No, I rang her up and she said, “No”. I’d come to my next door neighbour’s, who knew nothing about what was going on behind closed doors and she rang her as well and she said no she wouldn’t take me in, she never meant to.

Your neighbour rang her for you? Is that what you’re saying?

Yeah. As well. And she said no she wouldn’t take me in.

But she had your survival bag.

Yeah, and a spare room with a nice bed, and I can still see the duvet over that bed.

Oh my goodness. So what happened next?

I was adamant I wasn’t, I wasn’t going back. I rang up anybody, everybody I knew and it was an acquaintance that I’d met on a course and she said, “Yes”. 

From the Freedom project, someone from Freedom …

No, no, no, no, it was a different course. And she said yes. She was at work to meet her in town and I actually didn’t meet her in town, I met her in a car park and waited for her to finish work. And followed her back to where she lived. She had a one-bed, rented accommodation, and I slept on her sofa for many weeks.

Wow. Goodness.

Yeah. 

And did you get your survival bag?

Yes. Yeah. I called round there one afternoon. I didn’t give her any, I didn’t ring her up or anything. I just called, just called, and I said, “I’ve come to get my stuff”. And I took it.

Did she give you any explanation?

She just said I was never meant to leave. But and she actually rang my husband to see where I was. 
Women said that family members (most often a sister, daughter or mother) tended to provide practical support such as calling the police or providing a temporary place to stay, and friends offered emotional support, such as listening and empathising. On a few occasion either a family member or a friend intervened directly with the partner by talking to him or by restraining him when he was violent. Sometimes a woman at a crisis point, fearing for her safety, decided to confide in a family member or friend, and received help to leave their partner. Chloe managed to send text messages to her sister who she had not seen for a long time.
 

Chloe’s sister helped her to leave and her parents supported her afterwards but Chloe had to limit her social contacts while she recovered from post-traumatic stress disorder (played by an actor).

Chloe’s sister helped her to leave and her parents supported her afterwards but Chloe had to limit her social contacts while she recovered from post-traumatic stress disorder (played by an actor).

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Right, so presumably your family didn’t have any inkling of what was happening to you?

My mother was going insane.

Oh yeah, because you’d had no contact with her for a long time?

She saw him for what he was the first time she met him. So her gut instinct was bang on. Everyone else kind of fell for his charm.

Right sure.

And because we’d had such little contact that they didn’t really have much reason to be thinking how bad that was. However, my sister’s very observant. So they’d been seeing, you know, little warnings, little things that may have been subtle to other people, but to them were massive cues of something’s really badly up, you know. So I managed to spin a web with him saying, you know, I got my sister to ring me in the morning, after deleting the messages, and saying, deleting the plans and, “No more, no messages, that’s it, that’s my window. Ring me in the morning.” So she rang me in the morning and I just, I told him, “My sister needs me.” I knew that was a dodgy thing to say because normally that would not get me out of the house, it wouldn’t. But I was persistent. I said, “She needs me. I’m going now.” And I grabbed my bag and I just chucked what I needed in that bag within five minutes and I didn’t even give him time to talk to me, because that’s how he does what he does.

And I was out the house and gone. And my friend was already up on the hill waiting for me. She was waiting and in the car, go, and off to my sister’s you know, no intention of coming back. It was just, “I’m out, that’s it.”

And it was incredible. I’ve never known something like the support I had it was just friends and family were just [whispers] amazing.

And, yeah, they’d all actually been waiting, even my family had kind of talked to each other and gone, “No, this is not OK.” So where I’d been thinking, “I’m completely alone. I can’t reach anyone. Nobody knows,” [deep breath] they did as well, in a way they did; they didn’t know the extent.

And how are things with family and friends now?

[Laughs] it’s been so good to see them. So at first, when I first got out, before the PTSD hit, I saw everyone as much as I could even though I was so tired, recovering. Now it’s a bit different because the anxiety has kicked in and the fears and mistrust basically. And the triggers, you know, anything can be triggered and I’m gone. So there’s a real game of being a hermit again. 

Very careful who I see, when I see them, as to whether I’ll be able to cope or not. I don’t drive, so going to appointments by bus is scary, you know. I don’t want to run into anyone who will trigger me. And at the moment I’ve just closed all that down and kept to my very core people, maybe like there’s about five people that I have come in and go, because I’m comfortable with them and I can trust them.

Is that a mixture of family and friends?

Yes my parents are amazing. Unfortunately my mother triggers me like nothing and I’m not sure why. Which is very, very painful for both of us because I don’t have control over my fight or flight when that happens. And she can be just helping me with shopping and it’s gone. And my dad has to say, “We leave now,” because I’m…

Very anxious or panic attack or?

…rage.

Rage OK.

Yeah, just blind rage. You know, like when you’re angry you get a space where you can decide how you’re going to respond and you can breathe. This particular trigger is not one where there’s that space and it’s just like animal. And I hate it, because I know she’s done nothing wrong [laughs]. She’s my mum, helping me, and here I am being this little monster [laughs]. So I don’t see very much of them at the moment.

You said you’re not able to work at the moment?

No, I’m not very good round people.
Women wanted understanding and empathy

Women said that what they most wanted was someone to listen and understand, rather than being judgemental. They wanted friends and family to be patient, to listen and let them take action, such as leaving their partner, when they felt ready or safe to do so. 

Lolita confided in both friends and family members during her abusive relationship but did not find their advice to leave helpful. What she wanted was a listening ear and non-judgmental support for her to stay or leave when she felt ready.
 

Lolita reflected on support she received from friends, family and a Domestic Violence support worker. Once she left the relationship, her friends and her sister were ‘there for [her] 24/7’.

Lolita reflected on support she received from friends, family and a Domestic Violence support worker. Once she left the relationship, her friends and her sister were ‘there for [her] 24/7’.

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And during this time all this was happening, did you ever feel you could talk to anybody about it?

I talked to my family, I talked to my friends, but they all had the same thing to say, “You should leave him. You don’t deserve to be treated this way. You deserve better.” And those are all things that I already knew. You know, I knew that I deserved better and I knew that this isn’t the way that somebody should treat someone, especially somebody they love. I’d expect it from an enemy, not from the man who I lie down with, you know, the man who I give my everything, the man who I clean up after. I expected that from somebody else. 

Yes.

So I didn’t really feel like they were giving me the kind of advice that I needed. Because I needed the kind of advice that, if you are going to stay in there, hang in there and know that you do have someone you can turn to, not someone who is going to judge you or tell you what’s best for you, someone who is just going to be an ear, you know, someone you can just talk to and get things off your chest.

Did you find anybody who could be like that for you?

I ended up working with [local Dom agency].

Right.

And I had a [local Domestic Violence and Abuse agency] worker who heard me out, and that made me feel a lot better. And I had a friend in [name of another city], who I haven’t actually met yet, but I’ve known her since the same time that I met him. And she’s actually met him and spent time with him in [name of another city], so she, she thought she knew him really well until she found out the way he was behaving with me. And she was very, very understanding and she offered me the best kind of, kind of advice, because she’s seen him in a relationship and she knew what he was like.

A previous relationship?

Yes, she knew him when he was with his ex-girlfriend, the girl who he was with before me. So she kind of knew what he was like, but she didn’t know he was that bad. So she kind of said to me, you know, “If you want to stay with him then stay with him, but I will always be here for you if you ever need me to be.” And that’s what I needed, because I didn’t want to leave. If I wanted to leave him I would have left him. I had the strength and I had the courage to say, “That’s enough.”

Right.

Yeah, she’s been doing a lot for me.

Is there anybody helping you mentally like with how you feel and emotionally, that kind of thing?

Hmm my friends and my, my sister are there for me 24/7. And I talk to them about everything and, you know, they, they understand. They say to me all the time like, “We understand you still want him and you do miss him and you do still care about him but, you know, think about how you feel now.” Because now I feel like a massive weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Do you? Yeah.

I don’t feel stressed anymore, I don’t feel constantly just drained of everything. You know, I feel like I can be who I want to be now. I’m not being dragged down. So, yeah, my friends are helping me a lot.
 

Kate did not tell her family about the abuse. She wanted to ‘shield the reality of what was happening’ and try and make her marriage work.

Kate did not tell her family about the abuse. She wanted to ‘shield the reality of what was happening’ and try and make her marriage work.

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And when you asked him to leave, you know, you mentioned that you spoke to family and friends and told them what had been happening, is that right?

Yeah.

Had you spoken or revealed to any family and friends before that time about what was happening in your relationship?

Not really, no. I knew they couldn’t help because none of them had a, he didn’t have a positive relationship with any of them. I think I was trying to shield the reality of what was happening. It wasn’t till I gave up that I was willing to let everyone else know.

Yeah.

I was trying so hard to fix it and I didn’t want, I thought, I knew that if they knew, how that would change how they treated him and how they behaved towards him. And I wanted to have, I wanted it to succeed and I didn’t want to make it worse. Because everything made him angry and I didn’t want to make him even more angry by telling them stuff which was going to make him angry, which wasn’t going to help. So yeah I did, I did keep it all in pretty much until I asked him to go. My sister then asked me to write down about his abuse. And that turned out to be a really big ask. I couldn’t work out how to structure it or [laughs] present it. So I broke it down into the four categories of sexual abuse, emotional/physical abuse, oh sorry, emotional/verbal abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse. It was like all these little headings. And then I just started writing, trying to stick at least under the categories. And it ran to over 10,000 words. It just was so much. When I started looking at it, it was unbelievable amounts of stuff, the daily stuff, the big stuff, the big blow ups, the repetitiveness, his beliefs, his attitudes, his… it just amounted to so much. And when I looked at it all when I’d done it, I could not believe that actually I’d had so much to say when I’d sat down and analysed it properly.

How did your sister react when she read your words?

They found, my mother and my sister, my family found it very hard to read. They were very shocked, very shocked. I don’t think they knew how to take it in really. I don’t think they knew how to help particularly. But they did what they did was exactly right, which was just said, you know, “We are there for you. We support you,” and they blocked him.  

And now, your sister and your mother, are they people now who you turn to for support about this?

Yes [nodding], I feel like I’ve got my mother back.

Yeah.

And my stepfather, who I always had a really good relationship with. 
Kate valued friends who were prepared to listen and were not judgmental. They also provided practical support in the form of childcare, meals, and help through the court system.
 

Kate said that telling her friends about the abuse was like ‘ripping off a sticking plaster’. She valued friends who had time to listen rather than dismiss it as ‘that’s what men are like’.

Kate said that telling her friends about the abuse was like ‘ripping off a sticking plaster’. She valued friends who had time to listen rather than dismiss it as ‘that’s what men are like’.

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It was quite interesting how my friends reacted. Some were, some who I thought would be very supportive actually found it quite hard, very hard to handle what was happening, to understand what was happening and I think, found it very hard to accept the truth of it. And others who maybe had been more in the background turned out to be very strong, good friends who have been there consistently now for the last two to three years. And I wouldn’t have got through without their support. It’s been amazing. They say you find out who your friends are, and I feel like I really, really did. It’s been quite a journey and they’ve definitely helped me along the way.

Are you able to give me some specific examples of the ways in which they’ve helped you?

They’ve helped me with practical things such as helping with childcare so I can get to court dates, helping to support contact with their father when it’s supervised, checking that I was eating properly, that I was drinking properly. They provided food for me. Just checking in with me. They came back to the house when I was anxious. When I was having the locks changed they insisted on coming to the house with me. There were just, there’s just been many, many ways. And but most of all were just being endlessly there, happy to just listen and listen again and listen again and follow the journey and listen again. Because I’ve been trying to make sense of it along the way and they’ve never got bored and they’ve never [laughs] got fed up. They’ve never said, “Oh can we talk about something else?” They’ve just been really good friends.

And when in the journey did you reveal to them what was happening in your relationship?

It was the day that I asked him to leave. It was like ripping off a sticking plaster, just that was it, I told everybody straight away everything, how bad it was, how much help I needed and didn’t hold back at that point. So I think it was quite a lot of information and quite a bit of a shock for the family and my friends. But interestingly most of them said that they’d begun to get a clue of what was happening, so it didn’t, it didn’t come completely out of the blue. It wasn’t, it wasn’t like they couldn’t tell that something was wrong; they just hadn’t really grasped the extent of it.   [

Did they ask, or did they say why they hadn’t said anything to you before that point or did that kind of thing come up in any discussions?

Not really. I think the ones that have turned out to be good friends felt that I would tell them when I was ready to tell them. And the ones that were finding it hard to believe had dismissed the things that they’d seen as, you know, just that’s what men are like. Or, “Oh it can easily be sorted out. You know, oh why don’t you get him to just sit down and have dinner with my husband and, you know, they’ll have a chat and we’ll get all this sorted out?” and kind of not grasping the scale of the problem and how serious it was. And there were people that reacted saying how sorry they felt for him because he’d had to leave his home and he had had to leave his children and that’s really hard for him and unfair on him. And that was very hard to hear, because in the early days I did feel guilty. The thing that had kept me there so long was not wanting to break the family.
Kate did not tell her family about the abuse until after her husband left, as she was trying to ‘shield’ them and also herself from the reality of what was happening. She talked in relief about ‘getting her mother and step-father back’ who were ‘there for her’ once she had opened up in full to her sister about what had happened. 

Reaction of family and friends

Women talked about help they had received from family members and friends, sometimes while in the abusive relationship but more commonly at the time of leaving or afterwards. Women were often reluctant to open up as they feared they wouldn’t be believed.

Many women said that if they did try and talk about their relationship difficulties, friends would try to dismiss their partner’s behaviour as ‘normal’. Stephanie, Sarah and Ana all said that their partner’s friends would laugh and joke when their partners treated them roughly or verbally abused them in company.
 

Stephanie was upset when her partner treated her roughly but his friends joked about couples having arguments.

Stephanie was upset when her partner treated her roughly but his friends joked about couples having arguments.

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There was only one occasion where, no, there were two, two occasions, one we were in a night club and he grabbed my arm and pulled me around on the dance floor and I ran over to his friends and said, “Can you get me home please?” I was hysterical. 

And they just said, “Oh, it’s a domestic and ran off”. 

Oh.

“They’ve both had too much to drink”. 

Oh.

Oh, and then one of them told me a story about they’d she and her boyfriend had, had a fight at university and he’d pulled her hair and she’d thrown his papers into next doors’ garden and oh how they laugh about it now and it’s things like that, that normalise abusive behaviour. 

So, and I have a dog and I was, my dog was at his apartment that night, my, I had no money, I had no keys, my car was in his, the carpark, it’s an apartment block. I was worried for my dog. I was worried he was going to go home and do something to my dog and I was hysterical. 

Because all the time while he’d been pulling me around he was screaming obscenities in my ear and telling me I was this and I was that and I can’t even remember what sparked it off. And I don’t know. 

Hmm. OK.

He would just flip like that. And these friends were so unhelpful because of course he was their friend. They were more his friends than mine…

Yes.

…and they didn’t want to believe…

Yes.

…that he would behave like that. 
Victoria said her family and friends stopped coming round as her partner was so hostile and abusive. Friends could see her partner ‘sapping’ her energy and her ‘light’ going out.
 

Despite her being socially isolated, Victoria’s friends helped her prepare to leave her partner, contacting her via social media and texting (read by a professional).

Despite her being socially isolated, Victoria’s friends helped her prepare to leave her partner, contacting her via social media and texting (read by a professional).

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I mean one of the most – my friend, [Name], was amazing. She spent hours. She couldn’t sleep. And she saw [Son] being handed over to [Name], and this was a week before [Name] withheld him, and [Son] really didn’t want to go to him. And it was just [Name] had to physically put him in the chair, in the car, the car seat. And it was just so distressing. And I think that really resonated with [Friend].

Yeah.

And she just – and then that happened, then he withheld him. So she was amazing. She sent me links via Facebook, she texted me.

Is she your friend who is also in?

No, she’s not. She’s in a very happy, happy marriage. She’s got a lovely, a lovely partner.

So she sent you, sorry, she sent you links and?

She sent me Women’s Aid, she sent me loads of links. She’s done loads of advocacy work.

So that was really helpful then to have her support?

Very, very helpful, she was so helpful. So I’d say really she was the most helpful person. I mean I had so much support. I’ve got a friend who’s a counsel in the Green Party. He wrote me a reference saying what a good parent I am. I mean I just felt like I was up against a monster… 

Yeah.

…for court, so I had to be prepared from every single angle. I was just – it was like – it was constantly going through my mind, “How can I?” You know, it was like a battle.

But you had your social network there to…

Yeah.

…help you navigate that.

Yeah absolutely.
When friends or family members found out about the abuse, their initial reaction was often to advise the woman to leave her partner, advice that was unwelcome if the woman did not feel ready or safe to leave. Ella and Mandy said their family members were judgemental, blaming the woman herself for the abuse. Some family members and friends picked up signs of abuse but did not say anything out of fear or reluctance to get involved or frustration that the woman did not leave.
 

Irina’s friends did not understand until years later why she treated him like a ‘king’ while she was his ‘slave’.

Irina’s friends did not understand until years later why she treated him like a ‘king’ while she was his ‘slave’.

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And thinking back over the 10 years you were with him, so there was obviously some, some violence …

Yes.

… violence there. In what other ways did you experience abuse from, from this man?

Because anger just, just came and he needs, it’s for few days I could see that something is just boiling inside him and in, after, for example, in three, four days it just, he needed release and I remember he, he didn’t care. If I was, was pregnant he would say, “Come on get out of my bed and I don’t want you to sleep in this bed”, and that, I remember I spent so many nights with children sleeping in their beds or on the floor in the living room, pregnant or not pregnant, it just, at that moment it’s just so much hatred, it’s just, anger and he would just say words, hurting you. Next day just getting up and saying, “I’m sorry, please forgive me”, crying, just begging forgiveness, just…

Because I was isolated I gave him chances, I felt, probably our children they need to have father and I believed him, I felt that he could change, that he has stress at work and because I didn’t tell anyone, people couldn’t understand why I was looking after him like he’s a king and I’m just, because they ask me, well your look, just how you look, why you behave in front of him like you are a slave. And I said, “No, no, no, no”. I’ve, I’ve tried to explain and they’ve thought that, my friends they thought they behave towards their husbands not really good, not because probably this is the way you should behave but now then they know all, what was going for the last 10 years, they understand that I couldn’t behave.

What sort of things were you doing, and how were you behaving when you were with him?

I want to please him all the time because it’s like he’s, again not happy.
Some family members were reluctant to get involved and preferred to ‘turn a blind eye’. Ana, a recent migrant from Europe, was initially delighted to move in with her partner’s family. However, when her partner started to physically and verbally abuse her, his mother, who heard what was happening, ‘left the house to kind of leave him to it’. Later, when the couple had moved to an isolated flat, Ana’s own mum, visiting from Europe, also witnessed abuse but felt unable to intervene.
 

Lonely and isolated, Ana was pregnant when her partner began to abuse her and neither her mother-in-law nor her mother felt able to help (played by an actor).

Lonely and isolated, Ana was pregnant when her partner began to abuse her and neither her mother-in-law nor her mother felt able to help (played by an actor).

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So we were in the bedroom and he just started dragging me. He dragged me by my hair on the floor and just started punching and kicking me.

This is when you were …

Yeah.

… pregnant? Goodness. And what happened next?

I just… sorry [begins to cry].

No, that’s … there’s some tissues there actually [name of participant], but don’t worry if you feel you’ve said all you want to say about that incident.

No, it’s, sorry, it’s just, it just always… so I just, I just curled up in a ball, just to kind of, I didn’t like to sound. But, just to kind of curl up my …

Sure.

I think …

Yeah, of course, you were pregnant. Yeah.

…and then he just continued doing that. I don’t, it wasn’t a long time but it was, you know, long enough. And I think I felt dizzy and I just was lying on the bed when he calm, he’s calmed himself down and sat on the bed. And I remember his mum, mum being downstairs. It was a Sunday and she had this big bunch of keys, and she heard what was happening [tearful], and she just left the house to kind of leave him to it.

But…

So you think she knew what was happening?

Oh yeah. Definitely.

But how did that leave you feeling, that she walked out of the house?

It was just to - an indication was just what was going to follow and…

Right.

…as in never getting any support from her, never getting recognition of his behaviour or her saying, “Yeah, he is abusive to you.”

Did you try talking about what was really happening to anybody in your family or anybody else?

No, because I’m, something happened when my mum was there, and again, I don’t think my mum knew how to help me, so she kind of froze. He would just be angry, just getting angry, just giving me the looks and the, he wouldn’t shout as much.

Right.

He, he used to come in my face…

Right.

…and like spit would be coming out and then his nostrils will flare up, and bang stuff. And just, just be very, very vocal, but he didn’t do it as much, but just a, just he was very quiet in those times when my mum was there. 

Right.

And then I remember taking my mum to the airport and he sat in the car and I, and I was there with them for a little bit when they, just before they went through the gate and I just said to my mum, she didn’t say nothing but I said it, I just said, “I’ll get through this, I’ll be alright. I’ll come out the other end. I prom …” and I said, “I promise you,” and she’s just hugged me.

Mhm. Mhm. And so you think she understood?

Yeah.

Right.

Yeah, she did. She just, I think she just didn’t know how to cope.

Sure.

I think she felt helpless because I was in another country…

Yes, yes.

…and, with the baby, with no family …

Course.

… and no money of my own, nowhere to go but to be with him so. 
Reactions to witnessing violence

Witnessing violence first-hand was a trigger for friends to take action, as with Shaina.
 

Shaina described her close relationship with her neighbour who she called her ‘saviour’ as she provided support all through her abusive relationship.

Shaina described her close relationship with her neighbour who she called her ‘saviour’ as she provided support all through her abusive relationship.

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Something triggered, something massive, I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I had enough and I told him that I wanted to break up with him, on a message. Then he called me from work. And he left work, apparently, and went to his mum’s house in a rage. He hung up the phone in tears and I just knew something was brewing. So I rang my neighbour. She doesn’t live there anymore. But she has been my saviour through all of my stuff.

Really?

I rang her and I said, “I’ve tried to break up with [name of perpetrator]. He’s hung up the phone crying. I need to leave. I need to, I need to go away where he can’t find me.” Because he knew too much about me. This is where I left myself vulnerable.

Right.

He would have found me somehow. So I said, “I need to go somewhere where he will never know.” So she said, “Go and park in the forest.” She gave me directions of a secluded car park. And she said, “I’m getting dressed, I’m going to take the dog and I’ll meet you there.” So I took – my daughter was at school at the time, my two boys were with me. I just panicked. I just left the house.

Hmm, with the two boys?

With the two boys. And not really expecting what really happened. He was ringing me. He’s like, “Where are you? I want my family,” blah, blah, blah. He knew it was coming to the end of the road. Then he was ringing my neighbour, because he clocked that we would have been together. And none of us were telling him where we were. And she was on the phone with him and she’s like, “[name of participant], he’s smashing up your house.” So her mum and dad were next door. So she rang them and she said, “Can you hear him smashing up the house?” They’re like, “Yeah, we can hear everything.” So she was like, “[name of participant], call the police.” So I called the police. He got arrested in the garden, with a massive fight with the police. He’s got no respect for the police.
Alonya’s friend witnessed her partner shouting in Alonya’s face, spitting, jabbing his finger up close, name – calling and attempting to burn her with a cigarette. Her friends told her to leave him as he was ‘not right …there was something mental about him’, but she was not ready to act on this advice as she would have had to return to Eastern Europe.
 

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.

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.

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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]. 
When Irina and her husband stayed overnight at a friend’s house, the friend and her husband witnessed his abusive behaviour, and they had to intervene to restrain him. With the help of a neighbour she contacted the National Domestic Violence Helpline, her doctor and a solicitor. Her friends continue to support her post-separation.
 

When her friends witnessed her husband’s abusive behaviour it triggered Irina to recognise the reality that she was experiencing domestic abuse and to take action to leave.

When her friends witnessed her husband’s abusive behaviour it triggered Irina to recognise the reality that she was experiencing domestic abuse and to take action to leave.

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Yes, after he abused me in my friends’ house…

Yeah.

…and, you know, I had witnesses…

Yeah.

…who could say 100% that it wasn’t my fault. That I wasn’t drinking that night, he was drinking whole day. From the morning they could feel that something is going on. My friend offered him to stay overnight, because I wanted to go home, I didn’t want them to…

Yeah. 

…witness everything. But we decided to stay and probably it’s, I’m really grateful. At that moment I thought, probably, maybe we would continue to live like that but now I understand, yeah, it wasn’t easy. Then I came back home, what I did. I thought that he told me next morning after terrible night, screaming, fighting, just I was sitting there just crying and my friend’s husband was holding him because he just wanted to hit me, throw stuff at me and just, it was terrible. Next morning I was sitting, I wanted to drive back home because I didn’t drink, he was drinking, and he had told me, “You know we have rules. If I’m in the car, I’m driving. Move”. And I said, “You know what? No”. And he said, “OK, then, I am…” And I said, “Go, call a taxi. I’m driving. I need our children to be safe”.

Yeah.

And I left. He went back in the house, called the taxi and disappeared. Disappeared and came back next day in the morning.

So 24 hours…

Yes.
Reactions in different cultural groups

The reaction of family members and friends was affected by cultural background. Asian women, for example, said their families had traditional expectations of marriage, with a need to maintain family honour. This made it particularly hard for abused women to speak out or to get help. Kanya, from Thailand, said their family and friends did not want to hear about abusive controlling behaviour as long as the partner was providing for her, such as paying the rent. Khalida, a recent immigrant from Pakistan, went against her parents’ wishes for an arranged marriage by choosing her own husband. When her husband became abusive, neither her family nor her in-laws supported her and they expected her to fulfil her commitment to the marriage.
 

Khalida called her family for help after 13 years of no contact, after she was attacked at knife-point by her husband, but later returned to him following family pressure (read by a professional).

Khalida called her family for help after 13 years of no contact, after she was attacked at knife-point by her husband, but later returned to him following family pressure (read by a professional).

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My sons weren’t home that day. I went there and I took my daughters from him. His mother was there and he was there. And I took my brothers and I just said, “Come, I’ve got a court order, I want my daughters right now. And I will get my sons later then if they’re not here.” The sons had coincidentally gone to visit the aunt, his sister.

Right.

Not because of me coming or anything, but he’d just left them there to play in the house. They’d never been before, but never mind. But I couldn’t get my sons. So the court order, then I went to court and then they got an injunction, I got an injunction against him not to even go near, I got the house, the, my, that he lived in, to tell him to get out of the house, he got the letter to get out of the house.

Right.

He knew I was serious.

And also, because the children were in my custody, all of them, they had to be in my custody, the boys had to come. Because I didn’t go back to get my boys. It was a week later when I saw them again when I was supposed to get custody of the house.

Yes.

But that’s, I saw them, I didn’t get custody. But before that my husband started phoning my parents. My parents in their naivety of not wanting me to get divorced and not wanting me to, you know, have this big thing about – they had a big thing about divorce, you shouldn’t get divorced, “You’ve got five children. How can you get divorced?”

Yes.

They said, “Well, when they grow up then you can get divorced.” I said, “What do you mean, when they grow up you will get divorced, when they grow up a bit more?” Because my daughter was now, I think, eldest was 12/13 and my boys were 9/10 and the girls, the last girl was 5 years old, and the other girl was 6 years old. And I said, “This is not, this is not right. I can’t go back to him. He just, he just threw me out at knife point.” “Well he didn’t knife you. He didn’t actually do anything, did he?” Then my husband did the sweet talking, “I’ve never known you, my in-laws, you know, you sound like really nice people. I think I’ve missed out on the 13 years of not knowing you. I think you’re nice people. I think you’re wonderful people. I didn’t mean to do that to her. I was really angry. I was really this, I was really that. I don’t do anything like that. I’m not a violent person, I’m not this.” He was trying to brainwash them and trying to, you know, con them.
Yasmin, a young woman from Pakistan, came to England for an arranged marriage. The couple shared a flat with her married sister who became concerned about the young husband’s sexual demands, drunken-ness and affairs with other women. Trying to improve her sister’s marriage, she asked her own husband to intervene by talking to the younger man, but this led to Yasmin’s husband threatening Yasmin to keep her quiet.
 

Yasmin, under threat from her husband, was forced to lie about his behaviour once her sister had become concerned.

Yasmin, under threat from her husband, was forced to lie about his behaviour once her sister had become concerned.

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So he was working that time in a good restaurant, and was well known and people wished to work there.

Yeah. Yeah.

He was struggling to keep up with the job.

Right.

And… he just quit, and I thought okay, and he was not like coming home on time, and then he was making me to lie to my sister, ‘Oh he was in the work’, and he wasn’t.

So this was in the first year of your marriage?

Yeah.

And were you working at that time or …?

No, no, I was like completely new …

Yes.

… no, I couldn’t even speak, so… because everybody was keep coming to, you know… support my sister, all, you know, family and friends.

Oh, so you were talking your usual language at home?

Yes. So then he started to make me lie to my sister, ‘Oh no, he was in, he was sleeping.’

Yes.

And this … and then obviously I’m not going to lie to my sister.

No.

But then I’m in that situation, what shall I do?

Yes.

So I did tell my sister the truth …

Yes.

…he wasn’t there but he wish me to tell you this, and she got really concerned.

But she talked to her husband, and then he said, ‘Oh, she’s only seventeen and you shouldn’t …’ you know, ‘They are both sister, you can’t do this. This is not how to develop the relationship, you should come on time and give her time, take her outside.’ You know, ‘The time she is here is very depressing for her’.

Right.

‘And she’s only young, she can’t cope with all this. Take her somewhere nice.’

Right.

You know, ‘So you can know each other.’
Social Isolation

Because of their partner’s controlling or violent behaviour, women often became isolated from their friends and family. Several women said their friends stopped seeing them as their partners’ behaviour was so hostile. Yasmin and Tanya became isolated from family and friends when their partners decided they should move to a new area.
 

Tanya lost contact with her friends as her partner very soon began to treat her ‘like a dogsbody’. At that point, Tanya still loved him but she ended up feeling depressed and worthless.

Tanya lost contact with her friends as her partner very soon began to treat her ‘like a dogsbody’. At that point, Tanya still loved him but she ended up feeling depressed and worthless.

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Oh, very early on, very early on, definitely within the first, phew, I don’t know, first few months I reckon, first six months when he slapped me, it at that pub.

Yeah, what about the emotional side?

And he used to put me, he used to really put me down and treat me a bit like a dogsbody in front of my friends. So we ended up with no – I – we had none of my friends around because they couldn’t stand, after a long period of time of seeing it, they couldn’t stand to see me treated like that.

So was it them who broke the ties or was it you?

Yeah.

So socially, so even before you moved to [Country]…

Hmm.

…you became isolated from your friends, would you say, or?

Yeah, oh definitely, definitely. They couldn’t stand to see it. But I loved him.

So when you were together then, just thinking about what effect did the abuse have on you? I mean you’ve already mentioned the anxiety, the fact that you didn’t see your friends as much, but how else did it affect you and impact on your life?

Yeah well low self-esteem, depression, always feeling a bit down, low self-worth is there anything else [laughs]?

So when

[Laughs]

Just thinking, because like…

Worthless, feeling worthless.
Women described how their partners manipulated family and friends, by presenting themselves in a positive light, spreading negative rumours about her and those close to her, or persuading her that family and friends no long cared.
 

Sarah’s partner was ‘darkly’ clever in manipulating her so that she never went out with friends.

Sarah’s partner was ‘darkly’ clever in manipulating her so that she never went out with friends.

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And you said something about he stopped you seeing your friends, how would he actually do that? What tactics would he use to isolate you?

He made it so that it's very darkly clever I guess, he made it so that I didn't want to go out, so it wasn’t worth my while going out because of the consequences of him being so jealous. 

Oh right so, say, after you had been out with your friends how would he then be with you?

Yeah, he'd either be sulky or he'd pick an argument or he’d question me so aggressively about other men as if the assumption was that I'd cheated on him. 

Right. 

So it became difficult to go out because then I always knew that that was coming. 

Yeah, yeah that makes sense. 

And also he'd - he would make it difficult before as well by analysing what I was wearing and things like that. 

[Mm] right.

He just made it very hard for me to go out. 

Right and...

Did everything but physically restrain me. 
During the relationship most women socialised, if at all, only with their partner’s friends, who tended to take the partner’s side, even if they were aware of the abuse.
 

Stephanie felt ‘betrayed’ by mutual friends but eventually found help from her own friends once she had left her abusive partner.

Stephanie felt ‘betrayed’ by mutual friends but eventually found help from her own friends once she had left her abusive partner.

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And I’ve had one friend who’s been just absolutely unbelievable and like if I, yeah, if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what I would have done, she, we e-mail each other every day just to check how we’re doing and we see each other quite a bit and she’s been absolutely brilliant, she’s the only person who’s really understood. I have another friend who works with victims of domestic abuse, she supports them through the court system and she didn’t get it either.

She doesn’t get it?

She didn’t get it.

Right? 

No, she, she just kept saying things like, “I don’t have anything more to say on the matter”. She completely romanticised the recent relationship. I didn’t know her with the first one. I only met her afterwards, but we became very close and with the second one I think she just completely romanticised it and just said, “Well, who knows what happened to make him change his mind”. 

And when I said, “Well I think he’s quite narcissistic”. Well I don’t think it helps to put a label on things. Which felt very invalidating. So I was trying to explain my experiences to her and she just didn’t understand and all. 

The friend who you describe as being empathetic that you e-mail every day and so on…

Yup.

…has she got any knowledge or experience of what you’ve been through or?

She had a relationship with an alcoholic when she was much younger. I think it was a little different. She’s just been very empathetic, sympathetic, and just listens as well.

Because people after, after a while people think oh it was just a break-up, get over it. But when it’s something, when you’ve been abused and you don’t quite understand what’s happened you feel like the carpet’s been pulled out from under your feet. And you’re trying to understand it and I’m one, one of those people who likes to understand why something happened. 

Yes, yes.

Why someone did what they did. Then I can make some sense of it. Then I can move on and I think people just get fed up with you and, and if you’re depressed as well you’re not much of a fun friend and people don’t particularly want to be around someone who’s depressed it’s not much fun. So I think a lot of people just lose patience as well. So this, and this one friend has just been patient and even now if I have a nightmare I’ll e-mail her and say, “I had a horrible nightmare again last night” “triggered off by this”. And she’ll say, “I’m really sorry to hear that”. And just having someone say…

Yes.

…“I’m sorry to hear that”. Is like… 
Type of support offered: practical help

Family members provided practical help, especially at a time of crisis, even if they were unaware of the abusive relationship. Tanya went back to live with her mum when she left her partner for ten months. Jacqui’s son took her to hospital following an assault. Sara’s mum bought clothes for the children when she realised that her daughter’s partner gave her hardly any money. Kanya’s father took care of her when she returned to Thailand as a break from her partner in the UK. Both Liz and Stephanie received practical support to move house.
 

Following a violent assault, Liz was helped by her partner’s family to leave him and move back into her own house.

Following a violent assault, Liz was helped by her partner’s family to leave him and move back into her own house.

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Was this house available for you to move back into?

Yes, yes I’d never rented it out. So I was really lucky, really lucky. It wasn’t furnished like the way it is because all the furniture went up to [county]. But I’m good at doing. So that day and it was at that point his parents and his sister and his two brothers thought that the best idea was for me back, to move back to [city], and him to take the house in [county], given that it was his, and that he wouldn’t be you know, in a way it would keep him out of trouble, because if I wasn’t there then.

Yeah.

So they, his two brothers, one of who is a policeman, came up to [county]. So on the Saturday I decided to move; on the Sunday I moved.

Were they supporting you, helping you?

Yes they helped move all my furniture into a van. And because I, so I hired a locker, a storage locker, you know, a big storage thing. And then so I put the furniture in there, my furniture. Because I’d furnished the other house as well. He’d got me paying for everything in [deep breath] the other house.
 

Stephanie’s family were not emotionally supportive but would ‘do anything’ to help her in a practical way, such as helping her to move house to another city.

Stephanie’s family were not emotionally supportive but would ‘do anything’ to help her in a practical way, such as helping her to move house to another city.

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And how about family? Do you think that you’ve had any support from your family through any of these experiences? 

Not particularly, no. My family aren’t particularly emotionally supportive. 

Right.

My parents help me out in very practical ways.

Yes.

So, if I need things do around the house, again, I don’t live near to them. 

Right.

They live a few hours away. 

Right.

And they would come up they would do anything so when I moved down to [name of city] they helped me move. But in terms of emotional supp, no, I mean right after the first break-up my mum called me every day just to say, “How are you”? But if I was to try and talk about the relationship and how I was feeling she would change the subject. Try and jolly me along. And even now, if I mention anything about either of them she just says, “Well, choose not to be upset about it”. That’s what she said to me last week. “You can choose to be upset about something and you can choose not to be. So choose not to be upset”. And that’s what she says to me. 
Support to leave the relationship

Women found that getting help was easier once they were planning to leave or had left their abusive partner. Jane did not confide in her family until the relationship ended.
 

Jane’s husband listened to her phone calls so she could not be open to her family about her home life.

Jane’s husband listened to her phone calls so she could not be open to her family about her home life.

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You haven’t got the time for your family because you don’t really want to ring up and have a nice conversation as if nothing has happened, “Oh, hi mum, I’ve just been, you know, and gone shopping,” when it’s not like that. So you tend to hide it. You sort of like hide your feelings and you, you hide what’s going on because you don’t want people to worry, you don’t want your family to worry and you don’t want your friends to worry. But, in reality, they know. They know what’s going on, maybe not the extent of what is going on, but they know that the relationship isn’t what it should be, and it’s not an equal relationship, it’s very much an unequal one.

So when you were in the relationship did you find that you could talk to family and friends then about what was happening?

No.

It was hidden?

No, because I always felt like he was listening to the conversation. Or if he wasn’t listening to the conversation it would be, “Oh, what was you talking about then? I heard you say this. I heard you say that.” And you would have to find yourself explaining even the slightest little comment that you might have made because it could be misinterpreted by him, or made to feel three times worse, because he’s terrified, he’s absolutely terrified that you’re going to say something to someone and he’s terrified that you’re going to leave.
Women described family members ‘rallying round’ once they had left the abusive relationship rather than during it. Once they had left, Jane and Lolita described the relief of being able to talk about the abuse, ‘a massive weight lifted’ off their shoulders. Jane ‘couldn’t stop crying’ and Lolita was relieved that her family were no longer being judgmental. Jacqui talked about her delight in being able to do ‘normal’ things with her daughter like going to the theatre since her abusive relationship ended. 
Both Ana and Yasmin were migrant women living in relative isolation with few friends or family members nearby. For both women, meeting other mums at the school gate provided a crucial opportunity to get help to contact a Domestic Violence and Abuse agency and to leave their abusive partners.
 

Ana described living in isolation and fear and how one of the mums at the school helped her contact a friend who worked in a refuge (played by an actor).

Ana described living in isolation and fear and how one of the mums at the school helped her contact a friend who worked in a refuge (played by an actor).

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So what happened next?

Yeah, so I got … at that point, I was [pause] sorry, it’s such a big since, long time since … I’ll try and, I basically, I got talking to one of the mums at the school, and she kind of said, “Oh, where’s your other half?” and we look like a perfect family, and I said, “We’re so not. We’re like appearances deceive.” Anyway, this friend put me into contact with [name], that you know.

Right.

And she said, “Oh I know a lady that works at the refuge,” and I was like and I thought that was like, not overly religious, but I thought that was like oh my God, there’s someone, you know, looking over me.

Right.

Because it was just like wow, and I was like, “Oh wow, you know a lady that works in a refuge.”

Yes.

You know, because it was very, it’s quite, it’s unknown to, you know, it’s a bit scary, “the refuge”.

Yeah. Yes.

Even the word refuge is like …

Yes.

… you know, scary. Anyway, so this friend put me into contact with [name] and I think, as I started talking to this friend, there was an incident with him and then I was texting her, and then my, my friend texted me back, just like a long text of support but now looking back, it was definitely [name], because I know [name].

Oh right.

Telling her what to write to me, to like …

Right.

… “You don’t need to put up with that,” and you know.

Yes.

and [name] put me into contact with the local domestic violence agency again but it was a different team because I lived in a different borough than before. 

Right.

Her name was [name] and she was an angel.
 

Yasmin’s friend at the school gate gave her a card for the local support agency. She had to do this in secret, for fear of putting herself in danger.

Yasmin’s friend at the school gate gave her a card for the local support agency. She had to do this in secret, for fear of putting herself in danger.

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When I was going to that school on everyday basis … I have a neighbour, she’s Irish …

Uh-huh.

… she live few houses away from me … she work in the council. She asked me many times, ‘Let’s go for a pizza’, because her children and my children are in similar classes and similar years.

Uh-huh, uh-huh.

 ‘Let’s go out, have cup of tea. Let’s go library, there is a reading challenge, there’s this challenge.’

Yes, yeah.

Or your … my son have very wonky hair, teeth …

Yes.

… and she always, ‘Oh you should go to dentist.’

Yes.

Oh I … said to her I’m not even registered at a dentist. And she … always says hello and hi. And when I went home and I realised nobody can help me, she asked me, ‘What’s wrong? Surely something is wrong?’

And then she started coming to my house my husband didn’t like it, he … accuses me, oh you want to have life like white people, miniskirts, boyfriends, and this and that. So he didn’t say anything to her, but surely she can sense he is not … happy … meet with it. She gave me one stop shop card.

Oh right.

She hugged me.

Right.

Because my husband, he was on the road in that car slowly …

Right.

… watching.

Yes.

She slipped that card and she asked me, ‘Can you read this card?’, and ‘Please tear the card and flush it.’ Because she knew that that … she never knew when he was living with me or not, because he was under the mosque command not to visit me in home.

Right, yeah. Had she been through something herself, is that why she knew?

Yeah, but she works in … like social services.

Right, yes.

She gave me the card. The card doesn’t say anything, it’s just says ‘One Stop Shop’ and then underneath it says ‘Domestic violence free helpline’ and this and that.

Right.

I start calling them. I explain my situation. They can pretty much … make me like pack up my dresses, pack up your children things, pack up something which you can’t leave.
Chloe was kept a virtual prisoner and was ‘allowed’ twenty minutes to ‘visit the bank’ when she made contact with a friend and asked for her help to leave. Chloe said she had ‘amazing support’ for the process of leaving from friends and family. She was able to ‘couch-surf’ at friends’ houses until she got her own place to live.
 

Chloe was only able to leave her dangerous, threatening partner with the help of friends in a therapy training group (played by an actor).

Chloe was only able to leave her dangerous, threatening partner with the help of friends in a therapy training group (played by an actor).

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I went to the bank up the road and I did not go into the bank, that was never the point. My friend lived round the corner from the bank, so I, I knew I had like 20 minutes, the usual 20 minutes if that’s the area I was going to. I ran to her house and knocked on the door and I was just, “Please, please, please be home.” No answer. So I sat on the wall and just let it all out and thought, “Don’t know what to do. No one’s home.” And I just thought, “Try again, try again.” So I rang her phone and knocked at the same time, and luckily she was home, she was just in the shower. So she let me in. And I didn’t want to alarm her too much of the situation, so I just said, “Please contact my teacher,” my teacher being the one who has taught me all my therapies and a lot of that stuff. Because I know she is a very strong person. She has a wonderful network, she can reach a net, basically, to be caught in from every angle, and it can be done very quickly. So [crying] she did that for me. And then I had to pull it all back together and go back. Why [laughs, crying] would you go back? But at the time it’s almost like I was so beaten down I didn’t realise I could just run, you know.

So she was someone you’d seen through that?

She was in the group, the group I was learning with. He hated me going to that. He wanted to, you know, as soon as I went he was like, “Hmm [deep breath] no, she has other people in her life for support. She might talk to them or…”

Was this like a weekly training or something like that?

Once a month.

Right hmm.

So of course these, these people saw me in the group and they took one look and went [facial expression of shock]. 

Right yeah.

Because of the physical change and the state I was in, walking around like a zombie basically.

And did anyone say anything to you?

They did, they tried to, very gently, you know. They tried to help as well when I opened up with little things. But they were being very, very cautious because obviously they could see a much bigger scale than what I could at that point. So together they were already waiting to jump in, which I didn’t even know [laughs]. So landing up on this lady’s doorstep, as soon as she opened the door she was like [whispers], “Oh finally.”
Should family and friends speak out?

Many women said they would have liked family or friends to speak out sooner if they or their partner were behaving in ways that caused concern. They said it was good to know that others cared, even if they themselves were not yet ready to hear their concerns or to take action. Penny and Sara both wished that friends had spoken out when they saw what their partners were like. Catherine said that one friend wished that Catherine had mentioned more about the abuse she was experiencing. Penny said: ‘No-one suggested he was a bastard and I should get out’, and she only took action eventually when she was warned by her partner’s ex. As she said, however, it is ‘difficult’ for friends because:

‘Nobody wants to interfere with a relationship that’s sort of happening. And friends don’t say, “Actually, get out, he’s treating you rubbish”, on the whole. But it would be, I think it would have been nice if friends had been brave enough to say, “He’s not treating you very well”’

Mandy’s mum openly told her daughter, before they got married, that there was something about her partner that she just did not like, but Mandy did not want to listen because at that point she thought he was ‘lovely’.

Women said that looking back they could see it was difficult for family and friends to mention their concerns when they had seemed happy in their relationship.
 

Friends and family did not mention their suspicions about Chloe’s new partner because she was so ‘besotted’ and ‘in love’ that they decided not to (played by an actor).

Friends and family did not mention their suspicions about Chloe’s new partner because she was so ‘besotted’ and ‘in love’ that they decided not to (played by an actor).

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But at that time you were really happy and?

I was incredibly happy. I’d never known anything like it so yeah.

And how about family and friends, had they met him, and people?

The few people who had met him, very briefly met him, it was not quite a long, you know, over a long few hours, it was sort of over dinner or something like that. And he did his usual sort of, you know, charming, charming thing. Most of them said, “Wow, you seem so happy. That’s, you know, and you both kind of sparkle and bounce off of each other, it’s amazing to watch.” And they loved that atmosphere. Later, speaking to them after we split up, some of them would say, “Ooh but there was a weird feeling, you know, there was something else, a gut feeling or a...”

Another friend who is a mental health nurse, he met him for like ten minutes and he was not OK.

Really?

Hmm, he didn’t say anything at the time. He was polite at the time and basically took himself away from it all. But later he, you know, he said to his wife you know, “I’ve seen enough people to know a personality disorder when I see one.”

Right.

And she was like, “Ooh,” because she was then in a space of, “Do I say something or don’t I say something?”

His wife?

Hmm, hmm.

You’re a friend of hers?

Yeah, good friends with both.

Did she say anything at the time or is it only now, recently?

She dropped some hints. But because I appeared to be so happy, she sort of thought, “No,” and she brushed it off.

Right, and how did you react to those hints? Did you also want to brush them off in that way?

I completely brushed them off because I was…

You were in love.

I was in love, I was besotted, you know [laughs]. I was completely gone, yeah.
Sara was glad her friend had spoken out even though two years went by before she was ready to take action. Sara’s friend could see her ‘dying inside’ during her marriage, and tried to talk to her about her relationship, but Sara was not yet ready to face up to the abuse and take action.
 

Sara’s friends rallied round when she left her husband, but she did not feel able to respond when her friend questioned her two years earlier (read by a professional).

Sara’s friends rallied round when she left her husband, but she did not feel able to respond when her friend questioned her two years earlier (read by a professional).

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Two years prior my friend came and visited and she made a comment and I just answered, honestly without even thinking and she dragged me into the kitchen and she went, "You what?" And I said, "Well that's what happens" and she was like, "No, no, no that is not how a marriage is supposed to work." And she was the first person... 

She was the first person to, to point that... 

For me to sort of... I wasn’t thinking when I replied, I just replied straight... 

Can you remember what the question was?

It was something, I think she was saying about sex. Something I think... I can't remember exactly but I'm sure it was something about well you can't do it all the time or something like that. And I don't know if I said something like well that don't mean they don't always want to have it all the time and that lot, or something. I can't remember because it was quite a long time ago now. 

Yeah. 

And then she said, "Well you need to talk to him." I was like, "No, no, no can't do that, you can't do that." And I was really worried and her husband's amazing, very kind of understanding and he is patient and he is genuinely patient because you know we're really close friends and she'd say anything if she felt it. But because she knew him as a friend, I didn't really speak to her before and I'd scoot around it. I'd talk about other things with other people and I'd find it really hard to address it.

What stopped you, do you think?

Because I was always wrong, I thought it was my fault.

Last reviewed February 2020.

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