Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse
Leaving a violent or abusive partner
Leaving an abusive home or relationship is not the same thing as the abuse ending. For many survivors, there will be on-going contact with ex-partners in relation to children or joint finances. Some women experience on-going abuse. Leaving can be a particularly dangerous time for women because the abusive partner starts to lose his sense of control. For this reason it is very important that women who are considering leaving do so with support. See ‘Life after domestic violence and abuse: ongoing harassment’, ‘Domestic violence and abuse: why women couldn’t just leave’, ‘Life after domestic violence and abuse: taking back control’).
All of the women we interviewed had left their abusive relationship. A few women were in new healthy relationships and the majority were living independently, but many of them were still experiencing ongoing harassment from their ex-partner. Ending an abusive relationship usually involved the woman leaving her home but in some cases it was the male partner who left. It was not always their first separation. Almost half the women we interviewed had previously separated from their partner and returned, before the relationship finally ended. Women stressed how important it was to get support from professionals, family members or friends, to leave when the time was right. Support after leaving was crucial too. For Khalida, leaving her 33 year marriage was like ‘coming out of jail’. Her brain felt like ‘mush’ after a lifetime of abuse. She felt her needs as an older woman with health problems were not adequately assessed by anyone. She is still struggling to find suitable housing.
Planning and being ‘ready’ to leave
Women said how important it was to leave at the ‘right’ time, when they felt ‘ready’ and safe to do so. Jane reported her social worker’s words: ‘“Actually when women leave, that is the most dangerous time, is when they leave.”’ A particular event may have triggered the actual day of leaving, but most women had made detailed plans in advance to ensure that they and their children would be as safe as possible. This planning often began once they realised that their partner’s behaviour was domestic violence or abuse (see ‘Recognising domestic violence and abuse’). After ten years in an abusive relationship, Irina realised the truth from a domestic violence and abuse website, and followed the advice given on how to leave.
Jane described how important it was to wait for the right time to leave, with all the necessary support in place to keep her and her children safe.
When Jane’s daughter talked to the school counsellor, the school contacted a range of professional services, so Jane felt safe, supported and ready to leave her husband.
“This is, this is the opportunity I can use to leave.”
And I got support from the Social Services. I got a good deal of support from the police, because I was given like a domestic abuse worker to liaise with that would keep the police informed. They put a “treat as urgent” marker, a TIA marker on my friend’s house and on my mum’s house. Which that means that as soon as anything happens, even turns up or, you know, comes there, you ring 999 and straight away they treat that as urgent, they’re there.
You know, they’re there within, within seconds. So that was very helpful. They’d also put that on my mobile phone as well, so that if I rung 999 then it’d go straight through as an emergency.
How did that feel having that in place?
It made me feel very safe, made me feel very safe, knowing that all those people was looking out for me. Because that was my main concern, was safety for myself and safety for my children. So, you know, to actually come out of the relationship and stay with a friend for a while and, you know, actually have those s- that support in place
Made me feel better. But the social worker did say to me, “Actually when women leave, that is the most dangerous time, is when they leave.” And that is the reason why they put all these things in place, is because they know that automatically the abusive partner is going to try everything in his power or her power to try and get you back into that relationship. So I got a tremendous amount of support, as I say, from the police. Social Services were good. They then gave me [Local specialist domestic abuse service], which I then stayed in a hostel for a while. They were fantastic.
It was difficult for Alonya to pack her things as her partner was ‘always watching [her]’. He caught her in the act of leaving so Alonya had to call the police for support.
Even when he was working, he?
He wasn’t working….
He was home.
….oh no, it was just in the beginning he work, well, then he was always off.
He had appointment in GP at ten o’clock in the morning and I said that would be the time when I will try to leave from the house. At that point I didn’t realise how much he was watching me.
Because when people came, I was moving my things and I was packing my things. When they came to move there was a telephone call to my house, to the house phone. I picked it up and it was him. He was checking and I don’t know how, he wouldn’t know anything at all that I was planning to move. It was a normal morning, I went to work. But I didn’t go to work…
…I was just sitting and waiting until he comes out from the house. Up until now I can’t believe that he did that, so maybe he was checking…
…that he, could that be happening that I’m in the house…
…because why would he call empty house?
I was supposed to be at work. So, and he said, “What are you doing there?”, and I said, “I’m leaving you”. I was probably, but I almost wanted to, I felt badly when about doing that in way that time. Within fifteen minutes he was there. And he called, got into the house and the first day he was furious. He called me names, then he saw other people working there. There were two big Polish guys who were helping us with moving out, and he kept quiet. He couldn’t say anything. And the police told me before that if he will be around just call us. So I called the police and I said, “That’s he’s around”. So that what happened. I also got some help from solicitors,
In the meantime, and they issued with non-molestation order straight away.
For Philippa it was more a case of not ‘if’ but ‘when’ as she knew for several years that she would leave her partner.
So those thoughts were with you for several, several years.
Yes, yeah and I felt strong enough in myself that I knew I could go, I just didn't know when it would be or what the trigger would be to make me go. But I was, I was strong enough to be able to say this isn't right.
So when did the time come, this fact that you kind of thought right I'm going to leave, the right time, when was the time for you?
Well, I was told by somebody when I had counselling that there's always a trigger for somebody to go and I'd left him several times and went back. But the trigger, when I said I really couldn’t go back was we'd lived above the bakery business that we had, and I finished work one day, and I went upstairs and he'd finished earlier and he'd taken the children's beds apart and we'd recently had the loft converted and he'd moved the mattresses up to the loft but he hadn’t taken the bed bases. And he said to me, "The children are going to be moving upstairs and you’re going to have nothing to do with them." And I thought to myself so I work hours, like 60/70 hours a week and I earn nothing because we didn't earn very much, and I don't get to see my children, I don't think so. And I had to go and collect the children from school because their school was six miles away and the only way to, was to drive backwards and forwards.
So I went to get them and I never went back. So I picked up my children, stopped off to get something to eat. Talked to the older one and I said, "Today's the day, I told you there would be a day, today's that day, I can't go back." So we had a little chat about it and I had to get her agreement to do it, I didn't feel that I could do it on my own and I wanted her to agree that this is what we were going to do together and she agreed. So we didn't go back.
Where did you go?
Went to the police station.
Jessica described the roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs when she left her marriage of 27 years.
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”.
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 …
… 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.
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.
After enduring eight years of abuse Ana described the moment of getting her ‘Golden Ticket’, a visa that enabled her to access services (played by an actor).
Oh goodness. Yes.
So I only had the spouse visa.
I didn’t have my indefinite leave to remain.
So I actually did, yeah, I, oh yes. He did hit me when I was pregnant with my son. I rang the police and then why did I, oh I left the house, I left the house with my daughter in the buggy and I sat nearby on the common, on the green and I rang the helpline [sniffs] and I just been told then of, you know, they obviously have to ask, “What’s your immigration status? Have you got indefinite leave to remain? Have you got …”
“… access to public funds,” which I didn’t.
So she just, she just kind of … it was a bit, it’s a bit tricky, can I just say this?
It’s a bit tricky with this, the helpline. I know obviously refuges can’t work, you know, the ladies can’t work 24/7 but it’s, after a certain time, it’s very, it’s like office is shut kind of thing.
Which I found, you know, so …
So is that with the helpline as well? Are they …
They actually, it isn’t 24 hours?
It is 24 hours but it’s like oh, you know if it’s like urgent-urgent …
… which I was, I got hit and I was pregnant and I had the baby in the buggy.
Put aside my immigration status, it was, “Oh well, you know, you’re going to have to wait.” …
And what did you want to do at that point?
Oh, leave, leave.
You wanted to leave, yeah.
I wanted to leave, but then the lady said, “Unfortunately we can’t, you know, we can’t house you because …”
“… of the …”
The funding, yeah.
“… of the funding,” so I just went back and then I did call the police.
I can’t remember exactly how it happened but the police attended so I was telling them what happened and again, and the way, sorry, because things are coming to me.
So perhaps you can just tell me about when you did actually go, how you got away.
Okay. So after like five years of being married I kind of, I’ve learnt to, I’ve learnt how to cope.
You know, I just kind of thought this is it for now but I used to like promise myself …
… you know, I will get away.
And I, as I said to you, it was a waiting game for me.
And then, when was it, 2011 I think. Trying, yeah 2011 I sent off for my permanent residency, but I needed his passport, his payslips. There was a lot of things that need to be sent for this.
And he used to say, “Oh, you’re going to leave me when you get this,” and I used to go, “No,” you know, “Don’t be silly, no. No, no, no. Well I need this because it’s just easier.” So sent off for that and the, my passport after, I don’t know, a few months it come, it came back when he was at work, and it was like his passport, his passport got returned and then there was my passport with permanent, with the residency card…
So he did eventually let you have the details?
Yeah, yes, he did, he did because I’m not sure what I said, because I said, “Well, it’s just a bit easier because I don’t need to renew my visa and you know, I won’t be …”
Yes, okay. So you got your residency?
Yeah, so I got my golden ticket and I just kept that. I didn’t tell him for two weeks. Yeah, I had that, I was like yep, excellent.
Yasmin, who was rarely able to leave the house, began to plan her escape using the internet and social media.
Or have that freedom. So …I started to go online chat rooms. And the people were so happy, talk about their relationships, and they …their husband and their wives, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this because my wife asked me.’, and ‘I’m going to do this.’ And I …I do nothing, I just read their chat and nothing, in public rooms. And that’s …
What, like libraries or …?
It’s just a place there; old people go there and …
… they have different language rooms and you can enter with a …
Oh I see.
… an ID.
You can either use … you know, this part … have your ID there or you start chatting ‘Oh I’m from here’.
‘I speak this language’.
You make friends.
Whatever. Pretty much Facebook or …
… Instagram whatever. But you add people if you have like …you like. But it was voice conversation as well.
So if somebody talking other sixty, seventy people can hear.
So they always talk about their perfect relationship, and I thought what kind of …world I am living in? And then they, sometimes they have the different rooms which they talk about law, this is forbidden, this is as religious, this is as a country. I start developing my knowledge you can say.
And then start … and trying to understood the thing and …polishing my English, but I never learned English from anywhere at all. A few words, then Google it, and then look something on You Tube.
Despite planning, some women had to leave suddenly with virtually no possessions or money when an opportunity arose, such as their partner being out of the house. Philippa could not carry anything and just had what she was wearing, with her daughters in their school uniforms. Jane lost her business and her house but her children were happy to leave. She said: ‘You don’t really have a lot of choice about it .... when you go out the door with just a few possessions and your children, that’s when you realise what the important things are’.
Women described a number of triggers to finally leaving an abusive relationship. For many it was a particularly violent physical assault from their partner, especially if it involved their children.
Violent assaults triggered leaving
Many women said how scared they were after an assault that led to serious injury, as they felt that their partner could end up killing them. After receiving a serious back injury Jacqui decided it was ‘now or never’ and left, after her health visitor asked her: “In a year’s time …do you think you’ll be alive still?” Lindsay fled after her partner ‘put a hot iron on my back, put a hot iron on my daughter’s back’, and Penny left after her partner raped her.
Linda went to a work conference for two days, and returned to find all her clothes had been cut up and her University teaching files shredded. Later, when they split up, he smashed up the family home and stole all her personal information, her financial details and her computer.
Towards the end of their relationship, Linda’s partner responded with increasing acts of violence toward her property and belongings.
Were you able to go?
I did, I went.
It’s extraordinary how you managed to hold together, this really powerful, you know demanding job, that is an extraordinary accomplishment.
I went for 2 days and then I phoned one of his friends up and said you need to go and make sure he’s not there because I’m too scared to go in and another friend went and checked my daughter was alright, and he’d cut all my clothes up, all my clothes were cut up all over, all over the room and his friend, a male friend and he just went I can’t’ believe he’s done all this.
And was that during that time that you were away, or was that, yeah that weekend you were away.
Yeah and we had a basement in the house and that’s where I did all my lectures and everything, and everything, all my files had been shredded and.
Yeah everything. And I was teaching again, on the Monday.
So how did you manage?
I just re-did it.
Extraordinary resilience that you’ve obviously got.
Oh the days, after a weekend I used to go in at 6 o’clock and I had been crying right until 6 o’clock, go in, put on my brave face.
That’s amazing to be able to do that.
Yeah, I don’t know how I did it now.
So after that event.
And then didn’t speak to me.
Had one of those silent periods.
So after that, so I went to my mum’s 80th birthday, still hadn’t told the police and I came back and the house was empty.
Of everything, except things he didn’t want, which he’d, we had two settees, chairs, leather, he’d left the three seater but he’d cut it up, well chopped it up, taken the beds, all the beautiful garden furniture we had, he’d smashed, and we had, one of the bedrooms was for the children so we used to have a rota and one stayed over at night, they used to call it Nanny Night. All their books, their toys he’d smashed up, we had chandeliers, taken them down, I’ve got photos I could show you, he’d stood on them all. In my office, in the basement, I hadn’t been able to get down there for a long time because of the stairs, he’d taken my computer with all my academic work, with the books I’d written, you know they were all on there, the research, he’d taken it all, all my files, my bank details, my savings things, he’d taken everything. And in the toilet, I can’t even tell you what was in there, you can imagine? In the bathroom. In the downstairs toilet, he’d taken the sink away because he was a plumber, he’d taken that away, put it in the, we had a big basement and part of that was his workshop, he’d put the sink, the basin, work benches off, smashed them up the only thing he hadn’t touched was the loft and that’s what I came back to and then I called the police and then I told them everything.
After Mandy asked him to leave, her partner launched a violent attack on her. Afterwards he left and Mandy never took him back.
Are you able to describe what happened in that situation?
The actual attack?
Yeah, if that’s OK.
Yeah, it was, it was the morning of Halloween. We’d just had breakfast, and we’d had a big fight the day before to the point where I’d asked him to leave and he’d actually packed the car up with all his stuff and I’d actually got the key back from him. He’d wormed his way back in that night and ended up staying over. And I can’t even remember what started it off, but we were fighting about the firefighters’ strike. Of course, I was wrong because I’m always wrong. I’ve actually got three firefighters in my family. And he was just shouting and I asked him to leave and he got up and started washing the dishes, in his pyjamas. And I asked him to leave again and he ignored me. I actually raised my voice for the first time and told him to leave and he came up to me in the kitchen doorway, got right in my face and was screaming. His face just went purple, he was just screaming in my face. And he went back and picked up the bowl of dishes and slammed it in the sink. There’s bits of glass and ceramic everywhere and my first thought was, “Oh my God, the dogs are going to cut their paws”.
I said, “That’s it, I’m calling the police”. I turned around, the minute I put my hand on the phone he came after me. He grabbed my around the throat and had me over the back of the sofa. I don’t remember anything after that other than thinking, “This is how it ends.” I don’t know what he was saying to me, screaming at me. I don’t know whether I got him off me, or whether he’d let go of me, I just remember running upstairs to the bathroom in hindsight, probably a stupid place to go because I’ve literally cornered myself, but it’s the only room in the house with a lock on the door. Until I remembered he could unlock it from the outside. It’s just like a slot…
…if you put a coin or even a nail in. So I sat with my back against the door, waiting for him to start kicking it, and he didn’t. After about twenty minutes I suddenly got it into my head that he was going to hurt the dogs and I opened the door and found him lying on the bedroom floor crying with his arms around [Dog], apologising. Again, I calmly asked him to leave. This time he got dressed and he did. The first thing I did when he left, I made sure all the doors were locked and I phoned my mum. And I told her exactly what had happened because I knew if I did that, that he wouldn’t be welcome by the family anymore. There’s no way I could take him back after that. And I didn’t see him after that.
The trigger to leave described by many women was either their children witnessing violence in the household or the violence being turned directly on to them (see ‘Impact of domestic violence and abuse on children’).
Her son being hit was Kate’s ‘deciding moment’ to seek help, but the reaction of her therapist delayed her help-seeking.
..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.
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.
Anna knew she could not let her children grow up witnessing violence and believing it was OK.
This is the one thing he’s admitted to the police as well. He, I started to not want to be in our bed. So I was sleeping on the floor in [Name of daughter]’s room. And at that time my mobile phone, if a text come through, it made the sound of a duck. And I’d turned the phone off because sometimes my oldest son would send me jokes very late at night and I didn’t want to wake [Name of daughter].
Well, [Name of son] had got up to use the toilet and he’d saw me. So I, I just, “Oh, mummy’s playing camping”. So he wanted to play. So I said, “OK, you can sleep with mummy tonight”. So he was next to me on the floor.
He, [Name of perpetrator] had sent me a text to say goodnight and his text would, his phone would answer back if a text had been received.
So, all of a sudden he just flew through the door, reached over and grabbed my throat. Now I didn’t respond, I didn’t scream, I didn’t shout because my child was next to me. I just looked. Because I knew that I was going. I knew that very moment that we were leaving.
And he just retreated back, he didn’t get any response, I didn’t scream, didn’t kick, nothing. I just looked. And he left. And apparently he did that because I turned my phone off. Because he thought I’d turned my phone off deliberately for him not to be able to send that text. It, had nothing to do with him. But beside me was [Name of son] and I just said, “Daddy’s just playing silly games”. And the other side of [Name of son] was [Name of daughter] in her bed. And bless her, she was just three. And I didn’t want that little girl, I didn’t want to visit her in a hospital bed at 16, 18 with tubes being tube fed or whatever because some man had beat her up because that’s what I taught her was OK. And I didn’t want [Name of son] to be someone who did that. And I also knew he’d done that once, the safety line, right, wouldn’t involve the children was now gone.
And if I let that little thing go it would get more. And more. So for their sake we had to go and that’s what made me go.
So the next day you …
The next day I rang [Local Specialist Domestic Violence and Abuse service]. And they arranged it from there. But I knew, I knew exactly what I was doing. And it was for my children, because that’s where I draw the line. I wouldn’t protect me, I wouldn’t look after me…
But I will look, look after my children.
When social services became involved, Nessa realised ‘my kids are worth a million more of him’, which triggered her to leave.
Social services and legal action. I mean now, me and social services are working together great and everything’s perfectly fine, we’ve actually gone down the scale, but whereas before, because I was minimising the risks of him hitting me in front of my children and the stuff that he was doing to me in front of the children and everything, because I was minimising the risks, it went up to legal action and they threatened to either take me to court or I’ve got to leave my ex-partner. So it wasn’t until I actually had a letter come through from the solicitor saying about meeting up for, like just to hear my side of the story and stuff like that, it wasn’t until then I actually thought no, my kids are worth a million more of him, and it’s got to change so yeah.
Several women said they discovered their partner was having an affair. When they tried to question him, his angry, violent reaction triggered her to leave. Stephanie ‘kicked [her partner] out’ when he lied yet again about an affair and Liz left her marriage when she discovered her husband’s secret phone that he used for contacting his lover.
After confronting her partner, Stephanie fell into a pattern of self-blame but got support to leave him by joining an internet forum.
Oh, right. Right.
And I thought, right well I’ll wait and see what he does when he gets back and when he got back I got a text message saying, “I’m back home”. That was it. No apology. Nothing. For the way that he’d been. And that was it. I just thought right you’ve just told me everything I need to know.
And I never spoke to him again. He did try and contact me a few more times, but I wouldn’t speak to him.
After Liz confronted her husband about his affair he became ‘filled with hate and cold anger’ towards her.
But I wasn’t facing it. I was suppressing it all. And so I went to bed early. He came up to see me about 9 o’clock. And I now know he was getting this secret mobile phone, he wasn’t really, he was checking on what I was doing and getting his phone. So he went downstairs. And I woke up about 1.00 and I went downstairs. And he’d drunk, he’d had a bottle of wine, because I remember seeing the bottle of wine on the floor empty. And I saw something by his, because he was sitting at that end of the sofa, and I saw something here and I saw him quickly slip it into his pocket. But I didn’t know what it was. I thought it might have been a letter or something like that. I didn’t know what it was. So I said, “What’s in your pocket?” And he said, “Nothing. You’re paranoid,” and he started calling me names again. And by this time it was after midnight, so it was actually his son’s birthday. So he said, “Let’s go into the other - oh, because I’m going to text him.” So he ran into the other room because he was going to try to hide it. I followed him and I challenged him. And I always remember he was by his desk and he turned around, and the person I’d seen the previous August that was just filled with hate and cold anger was in front of me.
And I reached out to his pocket and it was a phone. I said, “It’s a phone.” And his voice changed. It was like just it was like if you were doing some sort of Hollywood movie and doing like an evil voice.
But it was like, “Sit down, you stupid cow. You’re not going to like what I’m going to tell you. And I haven’t loved you. I’ve never loved you [deep breath].” and so I went into the kitchen and he followed me in. And I asked about his relationship. I asked if it was with a man, because there was always something different, there was something about him that I thought it could have been a man.
And he sat there just in silence, looking at me. And my heart’s breaking. And he’s looking at me as though he’s got absolutely no feeling whatsoever. And then I said I’d go to Relate, but only if he gave up whoever he was having a relationship with. And he said he’d go to Relate but he wouldn’t give it up.
So I then said, “Then I’m not staying in the marriage. I’m leaving.”
The role of friends and family members in supporting women during or after an abusive relationship is explored more fully in ‘Getting help from family and friends for domestic violence and abuse’.
Family members and friends often provided practical support on the day of leaving or immediately afterwards. Alonya’s friend offered her a temporary place to stay and ‘two big Polish guys’ helped her to move her belongings.
Ella got up one morning after her partner had been out all night and thought 'This is it. This is going to be it' and she left to go and live at her dad's (played by an actor).
Following a violent assault, Liz was helped by her partner’s family to leave him and move back into her own house.
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.
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.
Not particularly, no. My family aren’t particularly emotionally supportive.
My parents help me out in very practical ways.
So, if I need things do around the house, again, I don’t live near to them.
They live a few hours away.
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.
Chloe was only able to leave her dangerous, threatening partner with the help of friends in a therapy training group (played by an actor).
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.
So of course these, these people saw me in the group and they took one look and went [facial expression of shock].
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.”
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.
… 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…
… to report the, it’s just heart-breaking but …
So that was his, your son …
… your son wanted to do that?
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.
Women said how important the support of professionals was in leaving, particularly domestic violence and abuse support workers, the police, social workers and health professionals (see ‘Getting help from Domestic Violence and Abuse Agencies’, ‘The role of the police in domestic violence and abuse’, ‘Getting help from doctors and other health professionals’). Women who made contact with a domestic violence and abuse support worker. Some women were referred on to the Freedom Programme (a course for women experiencing abuse), which helped them find the courage to leave.
Jacqui felt she was ‘jumping off a cliff’ when she left her partner but she built a close relationship with her support worker, who helped her get a range of services.
And disclosed to her. And she was the one that actually put me onto our domestic abuse organisation.
A local based organisation?
Yeah, local, yes, yes.
OK, so she referred you to them?
She referred me. Yes, yes.
OK, and how did she react then when you disclosed to her the abuse you’d experienced?
She was very supportive actually. She wasn’t at all dismissive, very supportive and very kind really, very kind. She didn’t act shocked. But she didn’t make me feel uncomfortable with disclosing to her.
And did they, the organisation, contact you then or did you have to contact them?
I had to contact them. And they were very quick to respond, very quick.
So what support did they then provide to you?
Basically when they, when I first met my community support worker, she put into practice, into place things, practical things like making sure with the police it would be a rapid response if I had to phone up. practical ideas, like always having a bag ready in case I had to flee very quickly with all my documentation and, you know, basic stuff in. She was also very good at, she wasn’t judgemental, she was very supportive, she gave me options. I had the option that I could have gone into a refuge if I’d chosen to. But that’s not the way I wanted to actually do it. And she, you know, it was my decision completely. And when I did oh, she also helped me get a different banding with the council.
And she just let me talk and she didn’t ever tell me what I should do or what I shouldn’t do but was just, whatever I was saying, she would support me in whatever decisions I wanted to make, she supported me. And when I finally decided to go and I managed to get a flat she was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Because I did leave without anything and it was like jumping off a cliff, it really was. And the flat I moved to, I had absolutely nothing, and she was able to access through various charities and organisations practical things for me, like beds, carpets, cooker, fridge freezer.
When I first moved into the flat I just had a little canvas fold up chair, I had no curtains, I had no carpets first of all but I had a front door key that was mine and I was safe.
And how did that feel?
Oh it’s [laughs] absolutely, absolutely fantastic. It really is, it’s such a difference, such a difference. It’s my flat.
And your home.
So the community support worker, so that was through the local organisation, the women you saw, and how often did you meet with her?
Usually it was about once a week.
And we had this special code to make sure he wasn’t there.
That he’d gone to work and then she’d come round.
She’d come and see you at home?
She’d come to me, yeah, she’d come to me, yes.
And the time period from the back incident to actually having the flat, was that days, weeks, months?
Ooh goodness, let me think. It was probably, I think that was about probably about four or five months between first being in contact with her and actually getting my flat, yes.
And that was the same support worker then who sorted it all out?
And do you think it was important to have that consistent?
Oh absolutely, yes, because you do build up quite, you know, quite a close relationship. In fact I still see her now and I actually consider her a friend now, so yes, we have stayed in contact, and that’s three years.
And once you were in your own flat, so did she continue to see you quite a lot during the initial weeks and months you were in there?
Initially, yes, initially just as and when I needed it, support or just to drop in. You know, she’d ring me and say, “I’m in the area, do you want me to pop in for a cup of tea?” and that, and she would, yeah.
Jessica realised, after attending the Freedom Project (a group course for women experiencing abuse) that her partner ‘was domineering’ and had ‘taken over her whole life’.
Extremely controlling. Yes.
I mean, did you realise at the time that it was domestic abuse? Or not really?
I knew that there was something wrong in the marriage, that but I didn’t know it was domestic abuse. No. No. I didn’t find out about that until much, much later.
When abouts did that realisation come to you? Or …
After many years of marriage and friends said to me about going to the Freedom programme, and I just, the second session, the person that ran it just looked at me and said to me, “Do you want to make some phone calls?” And I just looked at her and went, “Mmm, yeah”.
And she took me aside and I made those phone calls. It was very, very difficult.
Who were the phone calls to?
I think one was, might have been to social services. The other one, I think, to [specialist domestic abuse services for women and children], I’m not sure.
At what stage, how far into your marriage was that event that you just described to me?
That was incredibly about 26 years.
Yeah. And how’d you’d coped with all that going on for 26 years?
I kept thinking maybe it was me, maybe I should keep trying and I kept trying in the marriage, you know, you just kept as you do, you keep trying and then after going, doing a couple of session at the Freedom programme I suddenly realised, you know, that it wasn’t me, that he’d been controlling and he’d been abusive and at that point even my son recognised that I’d changed. I suddenly decided to stop trying because I’d always tried in the marriage.
What does trying mean to you?
Just carrying on with the marriage, trying to keep it, pull ….
Trying to keep them happy, that kind of thing, do you mean? Or, or not particularly?
Not particularly, no. Just I don’t know, putting spice back into the marriage.
You know, anything really to hold it together.
And when I actually stopped, for the first time I realised he hadn’t been trying for an awful long time. Probably hadn’t been trying for years and years.
He hadn’t been trying?
So, what happened then? When you stopped trying.
Yeah, big wake-up call for me. I started seeing the flaws in our marriage then. And also having, and the knowledge the Freedom programme, we were learning about just, you know, how abusive he had been and lots of other women all in the same situation. And at that point I decided I was going to leave. And I started making preparations to leave.
Kate’s health visitor was ‘absolutely crucial’ in supporting her.
Charlotte described how an unknown woman at a party ‘saw through my life, my marriage’ in a way that no family or friends had done, so that Charlotte decided she had to leave her husband.
Charlotte hid in the kitchen when a party-goer antagonised her husband, forcing Charlotte to face up to his behavior (read by a professional).
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).
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.
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.
Because it was just like wow, and I was like, “Oh wow, you know a lady that works in a refuge.”
You know, because it was very, it’s quite, it’s unknown to, you know, it’s a bit scary, “the refuge”.
Even the word refuge is like …
… 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].
Telling her what to write to me, to like …
… “You don’t need to put up with that,” and you know.
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.
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.
… 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.
‘Let’s go out, have cup of tea. Let’s go library, there is a reading challenge, there’s this challenge.’
Or your … my son have very wonky hair, teeth …
… and she always, ‘Oh you should go to dentist.’
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.
She hugged me.
Because my husband, he was on the road in that car slowly …
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.
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.
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.
Last reviewed February 2020.