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Kate

Age at interview: 44
Brief Outline: Kate experienced financial, physical, verbal, sexual and emotional-psychological abuse during her eight year relationship, which ended two years ago. She is now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is engaged in on-going child contact issues and is yet to feel free from the abusive relationship.
Background: Kate is a single, well-educated, white British woman who lives with her two young children in their privately owned home. She is currently unable to work due to anxiety and depression.

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Kate experienced years of financial, physical, verbal, sexual and emotional-psychological abuse during her long-term relationship. She describes having felt ‘constantly on edge’ and ‘scared’ of how her partner may react towards her. Kate felt disempowered, depressed and her self-confidence was badly affected. Her relationships with her mother, and other close family members, suffered as her partner’s behaviour made it increasingly difficult to spend time with them. 

Kate first recognised that she may be in an abusive relationship after reading about domestic abuse on an internet forum. However it was an incident when her partner hit their son that marked the beginning of the end of the relationship. During this period Kate’s health visitor became a ‘crucial’ source of support, and she was the person who Kate turned to when she accepted that she was in an abusive relationship. The good relationship that she had with her health visitor also meant that Social Services were not formally involved in the family unit after Kate told her GP about her partner’s behaviour. Nearly a year after her son was physically abused by his father Kate knew that she had to end the relationship and asked her partner to leave. In the weeks that followed Kate’s ex bombarded her with ‘angry, irrational and frightening’ emails, Facebook posts, phone calls and text messages. She reported this harassment to the police and was subsequently granted an emergency non-molestation order.

Two years after the relationship ended Kate is still dealing with on-going child contact issues, and is struggling to move on. A result of living in a state of fear for so many years is that Kate now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She also thinks that her children are still suffering as a result of the abusive relationship, which makes her feel like she has ‘failed’ them. Her relationship with her mother is however back on track and the on-going emotional and practical support of friends has helped her cope with life since leaving the relationship.
 

Kate described the shock of realising she was reading about her own situation online.

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No, I realised it was an abusive relationship around about the time that my daughter was 2 and my son was 4. I started reading on the internet and I was on Mumsnet and I clicked on a link that said, “Are you being abused?” And in sort of total innocence I clicked on that link because I was thinking, “Oh I wonder what that’s about? And you know, I don’t know anything about that.” And I opened up this page and it said, you know, “Does your partner do this? Does your partner do that?” And [laughs] I just had this really big shock, because I read through this page and it was this awful realisation that actually, what I was reading, that was me. And basically I closed the page down, kind of ran away, buried it in the back of my mind, forgot about it. It was really unnerving. But then I found myself going back and having another look, and then running away, and then coming back and reading it again, and then running away. And that went on for a little while and I was sort of slowly waking up, I think. And I think, as I became more aware, I think how I reacted to my partner must have shifted. Because he became more abusive. And the sort of deciding moment was when he hit our son over a cleaning his teeth one evening. 
 

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

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

Having left her husband, Kate was only just beginning to realise how bad the abuse had been, as she had tried so hard to ‘normalise’ his behaviour and ‘fix’ their relationship.

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It was very hard because I was, I was trying to fix the relationship and trying to make sense of what was happening, and I think my subconscious was screaming at me that I wasn’t safe. So I couldn’t sleep at all and when I did sleep I was curled up very tightly and very tense. I didn’t want him, I was scared of what he was going to do. I was scared of his reactions to things I was doing and saying. I was very conscious of things that were going to set him off and trying to avoid them. I was trying to protect the children but trying to mend the relationship with the children. I felt like I was turning myself inside out trying to fix it and not being able to and not understanding why he wouldn’t engage and try to fix it. And it was just no kind of life to live at all. It was horrible.

And how are you feeling now?

Still pretty traumatised, I think, by it all. Find it hard to believe it really happened, that it really was that bad. It took a long time for it to sink in that it was that bad. It was bad enough that a MARAC was held, a multiagency risk assessment, because he came out as high risk for future problems. And even so it still seemed because I’d normalised it, and normalised it, and normalised it and tried to make it go away and tried to make sense of it and tried to cope with it and tried to fix it for so long, I hadn’t realised how bad it has got, it had got. And now the realisation of how bad it was seems to just grow with time. It’s not subsiding. It’s like I’m only now, you know, I appreciate more and more and more how unhealthy and distorted and unpleasant and bullying and damaging it’s been to me, to the children. And I think we’re going to be going, getting over it for a long time to come. It’s just unbelievable the harm he’s caused. And he still, if he was sat here today, he would say it’s a load of rubbish and he didn’t do anything.
 

Kate described the strain of dealing with child contact issues and being diagnosed with PTSD because of having lived in fear.

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And I think the last most difficult bit is that I can’t seem to get past it. I’m two, two years on from leaving and I don’t feel like I have at all got to grips with my own life or who I am or that I’ve moved on. We have been going through court for nearly two years to sort out access and contact, which is supervised. I don’t feel free of what has happened. Still dealing with the emotional fallout from my children and from myself and there’s not really an end in sight yet. 

And I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from, simply from having been living in a state of fear for so long. It’s not, it’s not classic post-traumatic stress from like a major incident like a car crash or something or a mugging or but I don’t function well. I, when I’m out in public I worry I’m going to see him. I worry that, well, I’ll bump into him with the children. I worry about what I would say, what I would do, that he would judge what I was doing. And there’s part of me that knows that it is fully, fully that it’s irrational but it doesn’t stop.

So those thoughts when you’re out and about, are they continuous?

Yes, it’s because I know what he’s, I still know what he would be thinking about what I’m doing. And I don’t know how you turn that off. You know, I lived my whole life worrying about what he was doing, what he would think about the choices I was making. And even now, two years out, if I go to Sainsbury’s, if I go out in public, if I go to a coffee shop, if I go shopping, it’s like in the back of my mind always, it’s, “Well he would think this about this. He would judge it this way. He would say this. He would think that.” And I don’t know how you turn that off.

So it’s an ongoing voice in the back of your mind?

Yeah.
 

Kate did not want to make things with her husband worse by confiding in her family. She felt safer keeping quiet and trying to ‘fix’ their marriage.

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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.
 

Her son being hit was Kate’s ‘deciding moment’ to seek help, but the reaction of her therapist delayed her help-seeking.

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And the sort of deciding moment was when he hit our son over a, over cleaning his teeth one evening. I wasn’t very well and his father was supervising him to clean his teeth. Both of the children always wanted me to be there, whatever was happening. They were already quite unhappy to be alone with maybe not clear cut to be alone with their father, just always wanted to be with me, always wanted their mummy to do everything, which didn’t help the dynamic at home, because that made him angry. So his father was supervising the teeth cleaning, my son was 4 and not cooperating particularly well, and very abruptly, without warning he was hit on the head so hard that he flew across the room off the floor. And I think that, that was the, that was the turning point. And from that moment forward I wasn’t in a, you know, “Is this a you know, what’s going on here?” It was a “Right, we’ve got to fix this”…

Right.

..approach. It didn’t occur to me to leave. And I look back now and I don’t know why. It did occur to me to report it to the police or to Social Services, but I was seeing a therapist at the time who advised me not to.

Right OK.

Which I now understand, having described [laughs] described the incident to him, he had a duty of care to us which I think he failed, in that it absolutely should have been, his advice should have been to report it, and in fact he probably should have reported it himself. And I think the fact that he didn’t react like, “Oh my goodness, you know, this is not OK and we really ought to do something about this,” it kept me there.
 

Initially Kate felt that talking to her GP and a counsellor about abuse made the situation worse as she had to go home and face her husband’s frightening explosions of anger.

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Did the GP give you any support before you left the surgery, in terms of what you may return to at home?

No I believe she said that, you know, “If you felt in any danger to call the police.” I think she said that. But, no, the reality of it was I just had to go home and, and deal with whatever the fallout was going to be, and I had to do it by myself. And I think that’s quite dangerous. I mean both the [marriage guidance] chap and the GP inadvertently made the situation much more dangerous for me and the children, because what was happening was making him so angry and out of control. That I feel actually quite fortunate that there wasn’t more violence as a result.

How do you think they could have managed the situation differently?

I don’t know how the situation should or could be handled. But I think there needs to be a recognition that if you’re going to tell a person that they are abusive or report them to Social Services or report them to the police and that you’re likely to trigger an angry attack, then you have to bear in mind that there might well be reprisals for the partner. 
 

Kate’s partner blamed her for giving him the label of ‘an abuser’ which she might as well ‘tattoo on his forehead’.

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He was angry at what I had done to him, “Look what you’ve done to me now. You’ve given me this label. Now I’m going to be labelled an abuser. I might as well tattoo it on my forehead. This is all your fault. Why would you want to do this? Why are you doing this to me? Why are you doing this to us?” It was, it was like it was nothing to do with his behaviour and his choices. The whole thing was, you know, because I’d told to somebody, that I was doing this. He raged for over the whole weekend. It was a dreadful weekend. I was very frightened. I didn’t sleep. The children were on edge. He was just livid. And by the Monday I hadn’t had any sleep and I was stressed and I was shaking and I was scared. And I went to the GP and said, “Please could you give me something to help me sleep? Because I can’t calm down enough to sleep.” And so she asked me why. And I thought, “Well I’ve already told [marriage guidance] so I will tell her and, you know, maybe there will be some support.” But what I didn’t anticipate was that, once I told her it, she did what probably should have been done all along, which was say, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to report this situation to Social Services.” And having gone through what had just happened with [marriage guidance], I argued with the doctor for about 45 minutes saying, “Please don’t do this. You’ll make the situation worse. I don’t know how to handle it. I’ll have to go home and tell him.” I was just terrified. She compromised only so far as to say she would report it using, report it anonymously, and would only give our names if they said they felt it warranted it and it was serious enough. So I agreed to that. And I went home and I had to tell him that now Social Services were going to be involved with the family. And he just went ballistic. And again it was, “Why have you done this to me? What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are? How dare you do this to me? How dare you do this to us?” And it didn’t make any difference me saying, “Look, I argued with the doctor. I said it wouldn’t be helpful.” I said that, you know, “You were, you were wanting to fix things.” He couldn’t hear any of that. It was just, “You’ve done this terrible thing. How could you?” And again, no recognition that actually if you don’t want to get reported to Social Services, probably better not to behave the way you do. 
 

After the marriage guidance counsellor confronted Kate’s husband about his violence, Kate felt very unsafe and unsupported going home and having to survive his rage.

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After one particularly bad verbal abuse sort of explosion where he stormed around the house for about 45 minutes punching things, smashing, slamming doors, kicking toys, hurling loud angry abuse at me in front of the children, including threatening to kill himself and threatening to leave and - telling me that I’m, shouting at me angrily that I must be sleeping with somebody else because I wasn’t sleeping with him and although he used worse language. And you know, and the children are listening to all of this. It was terribly wrong. And after that I said, “Right, we need to go to [marriage guidance] or we need to break up, because this is intolerable. We can’t live with this happening.” [Marriage guidance] gave us a session very fast when I explained the situation. We were there within four days. And he, the therapist questioned us very closely, asked me for my version of events about why we were there, crosschecked with my partner repeatedly that he agreed with what I was saying, which he did. And then about half way through the session stopped and said, turned to my partner and said, “This is categorically domestic abuse. This is domestic violence. It absolutely has to stop. You’re breaking the law. There’s utterly no question about this.” And he then talked about safety going forward, how my partner needed to manage his anger before we came back to see them again, and explained that if there was any further incidents of abuse reported that he would have to report us himself and then we left. It was a very shocking session. Although I’d suspected that was what was going on, to have it put into black and white like that and have it said to my partner with absolute finality and certainty was quite frightening and shocking. And then of course the problem was I had to go home with him and he was angry. He was angry at what I had done to him, “Look what you’ve done to me now. You’ve given me this label. Now I’m going to be labelled an abuser. I might as well tattoo it on my forehead. This is all your fault. Why would you want to do this? Why are you doing this to me? Why are you doing this to us?” It was like it was nothing to do with his behaviour and his choices. The whole thing was, you know, because I’d told to somebody, that I was doing this. He raged for over the whole weekend. It was a dreadful weekend. I was very frightened. I didn’t sleep. The children were on edge. He was just livid.
 

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 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’s health visitor was ‘marvellous’ in supporting her when family counselling went badly wrong and Kate realised she had to end the marriage.

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My health visitor was an absolutely crucial form of support. She worked out what was going on and around about my daughter’s two year check. And she just kept checking in with me and she kept saying, you know, we were talking about things, getting me to talk about things, not in a, “Does he do this?” or, “Does he do that?” but, you know, “How are things going? Tell me a little bit about home. Tell me a little bit about the children. Tell me what your worries are.” And, you know, I started to open up a bit. And then she’d say, “Oh I think we’ve got more to talk about. Maybe we could meet again in a couple of weeks. What do you think? Would you like to meet for coffee?” And, and so we just kept meeting and kept meeting and there was this ongoing conversation that kept going and kept going and kept going. And then it got more and more clear what was going on. And she was the person I turned to when I accepted that this was an abusive relationship. 

It was the worst, one of the worst hours of my life, that session. And we came out and I walked down the road and he was going, “What? What? What’s your problem?” And I just said, “Right, well that’s it, isn’t it? It’s over.” And he was, he just didn’t believe me. He got angry and said, you know, “What’s the problem? You know, you’re just making problems up, you know, and you can’t do that,” kind of thing. And I said, “Well I’ll see you at home later. I need to think and I need to be by myself. I need to have a think.” So I walked up the road, sat by my car and I thought he had left. And I phoned my health visitor and I said what had just happened and I said that I thought that I had to end the relationship and ask him to leave. And she very diplomatically said, “Well I think you’ve tried everything you can to mend this relationship, haven’t you?” And I was like, “Yes, I don’t think it’s going to be mended.” And she went, “No, I don’t think so.” She was just marvellous. 
 

Kate’s health visitor was ‘absolutely crucial’ in supporting her.

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My health visitor was an absolutely crucial form of support. She worked out what was going on and around about my daughter’s two year check. And she just kept checking in with me and she kept saying, you know, we were talking about things, getting me to talk about things, not in a, “Does he do this?” or, “Does he do that?” but, you know, “How are things going? Tell me a little bit about home. Tell me a little bit about the children. Tell me what your worries are.” And, you know, I started to open up a bit. And then she’d say, “Oh I think we’ve got more to talk about. Maybe we could meet again in a couple of weeks. What do you think? Would you like to meet for coffee?” And, and so we just kept meeting and kept meeting and there was this ongoing conversation that kept going and kept going and kept going. And then it got more and more clear what was going on. And she was the person I turned to when I accepted that this was an abusive relationship. 
 

Kate stayed in an abusive marriage for years, trying everything she could think of to ‘fix’ the relationship for the sake of her children.

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The thing that had kept me there so long was not wanting to break the family, not wanting to give my children a broken home, not wanting to have that future for them with what we have now, which is parents living separately and having to cope with that. I didn’t want that for them. and it didn’t help, of course, that he turned around and said, said very angrily, you know, how it was all my fault, that I’d broken the family, you know, how could I do this to the children? So he was laying on the guilt and it was very hard to hold to the fact that I knew I had tried absolutely everything I could to try to fix the relationship and get him to hear me and to understand what the issues were and why he couldn’t behave like he did and the damage that he was doing. And I’d almost, I felt like I’d almost destroyed myself in the process. And he hadn’t changed one tiny bit. He couldn’t accept anything of what I was saying. And so in the end he was the one that broke the family and caused all this. It is his fault.
 

After they separated, Kate’s ex made lots of phone calls, and sent numerous text messages, emails and videos, as well as turning up unexpectedly demanding to see the children.

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So he started sending lots of phone calls, text messages and, “I have to see my children.” Now this is a man that worked away regularly for up to six days at a time without seeing his children.

But suddenly they weren’t, they couldn’t go 24 hours without seeing him because that would harm them. And I’m saying, you know, “You go away all the time. They’re going to be fine. I’m just saying you’re at work.” Then he turned up at my daughter’s nursery school at pick up time and phoned me as I was getting in the car and said, “I’ve just watched you get into the car. I want to see my child now,” which was very, very frightening.

And I drove off to my friend’s house and was very shaky and explained what had happened. And they said to change the locks just to feel secure. I was starting to get a lot of advice now. I spoke to a family friend who is a barrister and also got advised to change the locks. I, so I went home and did that. I also went up to my son’s school and took him out early so that I didn’t have a repeat at the end of my son’s school day. And the headmaster took it very seriously and he, when I explained the situation, and he walked me, us to the car to ensure that we were safe and we got away safely. The locks were changed and it got scary very fast. And within three days I phoned the police and reported the situation to the police, because the phone calls and the emails and the messages that were coming through were angry and irrational and frightening. And the police came round, told me I’d done the right thing, took an enormous amount of detail from me and checked that the children were fine and then left. I then had about four weeks of constant harassment. despite asking him to leave me alone, it was the one thing he couldn’t do. So this man who never used to call me, never used to text me, never used to email me managed to send, I think it was something like 45 phone calls, 170 text messages, 45 emails, Facebook posts, video posts with romantic music about, you know, walking on the beach and growing old together, Facebooked and emailed all my family to get them to tell me to be sensible and get back with him. It was just this huge campaign of harassment. I reported everything to the police. And after four weeks the situation got so bad that I was able to go to court and get an emergency non-molestation order so that he would have to leave me alone. 
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