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Julia

Age at interview: 57
Brief Outline: Julia spent twenty-two years in a controlling relationship with emotional, sexual and financial abuse, having previously experienced sexual abuse at the age of five from a family friend, and one episodes of date-rape as a teenager, and one rape at knifepoint in the street while walking home one night. Her partner left ten years ago but Julia feels her ongoing health problems are a consequence of the abuse she suffered. One of four sisters, Julia was devastated that her abusive relationship caused a ‘wedge’ between her and her family, still ongoing after ten years – because they were unable to accept what had happened to her.
Background: Julia is a 57 year old single, white, freelance artist living in her own home. Her son, aged 27, lives separately. She suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that includes depression, anxiety and digestive problems and limits her ability to work. She uses her artwork to promote many women's issues including voluntary work with charities for street sex workers and ‘End Violence Against Women’ activism.

More about me...

Julia feels her early experiences of sexual violence made her vulnerable to an abusive relationship as an adult. She met her partner in her early 20s, when she was like ‘sort of putty’, susceptible to his rapidly developing view of her as inadequate, especially as a sexual partner. Sex for Julia was physically and emotionally painful, and although she received medical help for gynaecological problems, no-one addressed the psychological trauma she had experienced.

She describes ‘a building momentum’ of emotional abuse rather than any specific events. It took the form of ‘constant belittling, being ignored ...criticising me all the time ... it felt like a campaign’. He would keep me awake at night arguing about sex, Julia felt responsible for her partner’s mood swings and he had no respect for her opinions on anything. She experienced deep loneliness, exacerbated by her perception that ‘nobody’, including health professionals, her family and friends understands her. Julia reflects that, at times, she wished her partner would hit her to give some visible evidence of the abuse.

Julia only realised that she was experiencing domestic abuse when, a few years before the relationship ended, she saw a TV programme and rang the domestic abuse helpline given at the end. That was the beginning of several years of moving towards separation, aided by psychotherapy, counselling, and self-care with e.g. acupuncture and yoga. After Julia told him to leave, her partner kept visiting her in tears, complimenting her and bringing gifts (love bombing), so that they re-united for a further year until he eventually ended their relationship.

Julia describes herself as ‘broken’ but has recently completed a course of intensive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for historic trauma and a series of solo sessions at Relate with an empathic counsellor. She is finding support through involvement with a local feminist organisation. Julia feels there is a need for more education for health and social care professionals about domestic abuse and the impact it has on women’s lives, in terms of their mental and physical health. Others, like herself, may be left with unexpressed anger and a widespread lack of trust in men. She comments that the men who abused her seemed, initially, like ‘nice guys’. She feels that emotional abuse, in particular, is overlooked and not picked up by doctors who need to ask about what is happening ‘below the surface’. Meanwhile many women’s lives, like hers, are lived in a ‘straitjacket’.
 

Julia had never actually been hit by her partner. She talked for ages to someone on the helpline who helped her see what was happening and she realised she had to leave.

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And it just took the form of a sort of constant belittling, being ignored, being in bad moods with me, criticising me all the time. It was just a sort of constant, low level campaign. It felt like a campaign, yeah.

It felt like a campaign, right, a campaign yes. So how many years had you been in that relationship?

Oh we were together 22 years.

22 years, OK. And was it something that you were aware of quite early on or was it more that it developed over time?

Well, it becomes-. The thing about it was that we started going out together when we were both in our early 20s and it was almost like I was sort of putty, if you like, and he convinced me from the word go that I was all wrong. I mean I had bad experiences of sexual violence and I had physical problems caused by taking the pill, which made, which had an effect on our sex life.

Right.

And it was just from almost just months after we started going out together I was just being told I was inadequate, I was an inadequate sexual partner. Constant arguments right from, like I say, almost the very beginning. And I, for most of the time we were together, I thought he was right. I thought he was. I thought I was damaged goods. 

And it was only a few years before we broke up that I saw a programme about domestic violence on TV, and phoned the number they gave at the end. And I said, “Oh I don’t know what I’m supposed to, what I’m going to be, I don’t know what I’m phoning you for, because my partner doesn’t hit me or anything, but he’s just so horrible to me all the time.” And the, the man on the helpline, he talked to me for ages and was really helpful. And he said, “You are suffering domestic violence.” And it was only then that I realised really.

Yeah.

By that time I was a wreck.

A wreck?

Well, it had been 20 years of just constant battles. So I had chronic fatigue syndrome.

Right.

Lots of digestive problems, what I now recognise as being PTSD and things like that.
 

Julia describes a ‘campaign … of constant belittling’ so she began to believe she was inadequate….’damaged goods’.

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Well, we weren’t married but he was my long-term partner and my son’s father.

Right.

And it was, I mean it was quite a few years ago now. It was, it wasn’t a single event, as such, as much as a sort of building momentum of emotional abuse, which I didn’t really understand at the time was that. So it would have been back in 2004, I think, that we split up eventually.

Right.

And it just took the form of a sort of constant belittling, being ignored, being in bad moods with me, criticising me all the time. It was just a sort of constant, low level campaign. It felt like a campaign, yeah.

It felt like a campaign, right, a campaign yes. So how many years had you been in that relationship?

Oh we were together 22 years.

22 years, OK. And was it something that you were aware of quite early on or was it more that it developed over time?

Well, it, it becomes, the thing about it was that we started going out together when we were both in our early 20s and it was almost like I was sort of putty, if you like, and he convinced me from the word go that I was all wrong. I mean I had had bad experiences of sexual violence and I had physical problems caused by taking the pill, which made which had an effect on our sex life.

Right.

And it was just from almost just months after we started going out together I was just being told I was inadequate, I was an inadequate sexual partner. constant arguments right from, like I say, almost the very beginning. And I, for most of the time we were together, I thought he was right. I thought he was. I thought I was damaged goods. 
 

Julia stressed the importance of supporting women through this process, as leaving suddenly may ‘get them killed’.

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What might be one piece of advice that you would give to another woman who is currently in an abusive relationship?

Hmm, that’s a difficult one. Because you can’t I don’t think you can give advice really.

No.

I think all you can do is listen.

Listen yeah.

Because you can’t say “you should leave”. Because I, it’s like I say, it took me years, you know, from thinking, “I really should leave,” to actually doing it. And for some women that, that’s likely to get them killed anyway.

Yes.

So you can offer to help, offer to listen and be there when they split up, be there when they get back together again, be there when they split up, be there when they get – because it will happen like that. And just understand really, I think that’s all you can do is understand what a difficult situation they’re in and support whatever they decide.
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