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Irina

Age at interview: 33
Brief Outline: After experiencing ten years of abuse and constant promises from her husband that he would change, Irina ended the relationship in March 2015, after he became aggressive in front of friends. Although Irina sometimes misses the good times that she had with her ‘Prince Charming’, she no longer lives in fear or feels like a prisoner in her own home.
Background: Irina is an Eastern European woman who is separated from her husband. She lives in a privately owned apartment with her two children (four and eight years old). Currently unemployed, she is actively looking for work.

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During her 10 year marriage Irina experienced the aggressive, angry and controlling behaviour of her ‘Prince Charming’. For example, he would throw things and shout at her, control what she wore, and make it difficult for her to see her friends. Irina recalls how her friends could not understand why she behaved like her husband was ‘the king’ and she the ‘slave’, constantly aiming to please him.

Irina felt that she was no longer the ‘bubbly, chatty, happy all the time, full of energy’ woman she had been when they met. Her self-esteem was badly affected by his negative comments about her abilities, she became unhappy with her life and how her husband was treating her and felt that she was living as a prisoner in a cell. Irina looked forward to his business trips away as they allowed her weeks of respite, when she was able to be herself once more. 

Irina often felt that her husband’s behaviour was her fault and believed his promises that he would change. Three years prior to the interview he hit her after he had been drinking, and although she called the police, she decided not to press charges as she wanted to give him one more chance. The turning point for Irina came in March 2015 when her husband became aggressive in front of friends. After searching on the internet, she realised she was experiencing domestic abuse. She gathered together her most important documents and belongings and left them in a backpack with her neighbour. From there she rang Women’s Aid who put her in touch with the local specialist domestic abuse service. She continued to live with him until he went on a business trip the following week. It was at this time Irina decided that she needed to file for divorce: she ‘wanted respect and a healthy relationship’ and did not want to stay with ‘this monster’ anymore. After she told him she wanted a divorce he became angry and abusive, bombarding her with texts and emails. 

Irina is currently attending the Freedom Programme and a support worker from the local domestic abuse organisation has been helping her with the practical side of moving on, for example, how to apply for child tax credit. Her GP has also supported her by providing a letter to assist her in applying for legal aid.
 

A big problem is that domestic abuse is ‘private’ and hidden. Irina only recognised her situation when her partner began to behave badly in front of others.

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And when did you recognise then, when did that realisation come to you, that it was domestic abuse?

Unfortunately, I realised it’s only in March or maybe in, yeah, I, because he used to abuse me at home and no-one could see or hear. Probably our neighbours could hear but they didn’t interfere because it’s private life and it’s like, and because he was abroad for three or four weeks, it was like quiet, sometimes it, a young family probably they have fight, it’s OK. But last time, it, he, what he did, he did it in front of my friends in their house. He shouted at their son, at our son slammed the door and I think he would hit my or, because if, my friend’s husband just hold him because he was so angry and after that I realised that that’s it. If he’s doing it now in front [traffic noise] of friends then,  I can’t tolerate it because it’s just, when it’s at home, yeah, you can under, OK, next day he’s crying asking for forgiveness, you think, “OK, this time he must understand. This time I will give him a chance”. But, no, they will never change and they will use everyone, friends, family, just to get, gain control over you again. It’s just, I don’t know, they’re really clever and but you, I remember, after abusing me at our friends’ house, then he came back home, he was somewhere for 24 hours, just drinking at someone’s place, or a friends, our friends’ house somewhere, and I remember then he came and just in room and ask me, “I feel really bad at the moment, can you give me a cuddle and spend time with me? And your friends, they, they envy you, they don’t like you, only I can give you the best. I know what is best for you.”

That moment I realised that he has problems with his in, inside his head, mental problems, that he’s liar, that he all these years I couldn’t trust him. I believed him but now I question everything. 
 

Irina’s GP was ‘really really helpful’ in providing a letter for her to apply for Legal Aid

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And just thinking, you saw met with, met with the worker from [Women’s support service] in your GP practice, have you ever kind of discussed your situation with your GP or a health visitor or any, any health professional?

Yeah, three years ago I, because he hit me …

Yeah.

… just, this part of the head and, he just, I went to check my eyesight and everything I reported. And also I went to see her because I need, I needed letter from GP to apply for Legal Aid.

Right.

And she was really helpful. She was really, really helpful. 

What sort of support, so what was her reaction to your disclosure? How was she supportive? Or not supportive?

You know how she looked at me, I’m not the first, first woman coming to her asking for this letter. But it, it’s, of course it’s confidential information. If I, if we, if she could tell me all those stories, probably she would. And it’s just understanding …

Yeah.

… the situation. And she gave me letter straight away.
 

Irina was initially reluctant to talk to her son’s teacher but the teacher questioned her directly after her son frequently appeared to be distressed.

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So when was it you went to the pre-school and your son’s school to sort of tell them what was happening for them?

In pre-school they, teacher just asked me three or four times, looking at me and just, “Is everything OK in the family? Is everything OK in your family?” And I said, “Oh, yes, yes, yes, everything is fine. No, no, no.” And, oh, just a month ago she came to me and said, “You know what? We need to talk”.

Right.

“Let’s go”. 

Yeah.

And she said, “You know, [Child’s] telling that mummy was crying because daddy was drunk”. Nah, nah nah. Or, “What is going on in your life?”

Yeah.

Of course, I started to cry and I told her, “No, I’ve been hiding it for ten years, it’s not easy for me to start telling everyone about what happened and why it’s happened and why I stayed in the relationship”. Because I was isolated, I, even he made me think that it was OK …

Yeah.

… it was, that life was normal, everyone lives life like that. That you have to raise your children and work hard and, yeah, and after that I’ve decided that I have to tell my son’s teacher …

Yeah.

… and she spoke to head teacher. I went to see head teacher because my daughter was starting school, the same school, they have to know what is going on in their life. I don’t want my husband to come, pick them up from school …

Yeah.

… and out of, no, nowhere, because he’s still their father.

Yeah. 

And then …

They would say …

They have to inform me about everything and I don’t want social services to tell me, “Why didn’t you inform anyone what is going on in your…

Yeah.

…life?” 
 

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.
 

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.
 

When her husband was out of the house for 24 hours, Irina and her children escaped in fear with the support of their neighbour and advice from a Domestic Abuse website.

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I did school run up, yeah, for 24 hours what I did, I went to domestic abuse website and finally, because I real, realised that it’s domestic abuse …

Yeah.

… help and support and they recommended gather the most important documents and the most important what is the valuable, valuable things like pass, passports and what, what you need. And because I have really good neighbour, I ran to her, I gave her back, backpack and she said, “What happened?” And I told her, “You, you know what, it’s [clock chiming] yeah, I’ve been in this relationship for 10 years, sorry I have to tell you but its domestic abuse and can you help me?” And she said, “Yes, yes”. Because I didn’t know what, when he’s going to come.

Yes, where he’d gone and when …

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…

… he was going to come back, yeah.

And I thought, “Yeah, I’m ready”, and my son was sitting at home holding phone, any minute if daddy will arrive to call police. It’s just experience for my child, because of his crazy father …your child wants to call police…

Yeah.

… to report the, it’s just heart-breaking but …

So that was his, your son …

Yes.

… your son wanted to do that?

Yes, yes.

Even your son …

Yes. And after that, after school run, yeah, we had night. I had sleepless night, yeah, but I had so many sleepless night. Yeah, just, after I did school run, I sent him, kids to school and pre-school and I run to my when I was at home, he came in, I went out and he texted me, “I love you, I miss you”. And I run to my neighbour’s and I called [Women’s support service], probably I started to call the domestic abuse help line.
 

Irina was revelling in being able to do what she wanted with her children, comparing her former life as a ‘prisoner’ and ‘servant’, always looking after her partner’s needs.

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We’re going, because last time I was in London ten years ago and this Sunday I’m taking my children, and we’re going to London. Yea. And…

A day out. 

… yes, day out and we’re going to Spain on holiday and this year’s just to feel that you are free, that you can do anything you want.

That you can organise everything for yourself and …

And when you didn’t have that freedom in the relationship for so many years, how did that make you feel, not having that freedom? 

Like a prisoner. Prisoner at home. Just be grateful for food on your table, serve him anytime, yeah, sex straight away when he wants it.

Right.

If not it’s just you’re frigid, what kind of woman you are, and after, the new, being abused like day before you want anything, it’s just and, but anyway, it’s doable. Yes, I cried a lot. Yes, it’s difficult but I know that there is future.

Yeah.

And …

Yeah.

… if you want best for yourself they will use everyone. They will use everyone just to gain control over your, just money, just live, they will leave you without money, where to live without just any support, all your friends will tell you just stay with him because he’s such a wonderful person, he’s wonderful father. But, don’t listen. I’m tell, telling, don’t listen. Just if you, make your decision and stick to it. Find a good friend, supporter and talk any time you need. I’m really grateful because in this country I don’t have relatives and just sometimes a girl might, just strangers, now they’re my friends …

Yeah.

… and they supported me and I think because just probably just God send people you need at that moment.
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