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Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Life after domestic violence and abuse: ongoing harassment

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 ‘harassment’ is used to cover offences that ‘cause alarm or distress'. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 created two new offences of stalking. The term stalking is not specifically defined but examples include ‘following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media’. Chloe’s relationship began after she had posted some business adverts on community and personal websites. Her partner found out about her via these websites and when he approached her ‘he knew exactly what buttons to press to create a bond’.

For many victims of domestic violence and abuse, harassment and stalking can be a particular problem post-separation, as ex-partners try to maintain their control. This is why leaving can be so dangerous (see ‘Leaving a violent or abusive partner’, ‘Domestic violence and abuse: why women couldn’t just leave’). Women described partners seeking them out after the relationship had ended, continuing to pester and intimidate them with threats, turning up at their workplace or cruising up and down their neighbourhood in a car, watching out for them.

Mandy was harassed very publicly when her ex-partner painted a message on road bridges near her home. Many people who saw the message thought it was a romantic gesture, whereas in fact it was extremely disturbing for Mandy:

‘I was totally freaked. Because those bridges are walking distance from my house and he lives some thirty miles away, so he’s been hanging round the house and we’re now, what, four, five months on.’

Charlotte’s ex-partner decided to return and live at the family home, where he carried on with his controlling behaviour.

 

Charlotte described her ex-partner moving back home and refusing to leave although no-one wanted him there (read by a professional).

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Age at interview: 38
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So I’d finally got to the point where I’d been accepted for teacher training. And on my first day - I did it based at the primary school where I’d been a TA, so I was four days a week in school and one day a week in college – and on my first day in my first proper job he turned up on the doorstep at 6.00 in the morning and said that he’d decided he was moving home and we had to make it work. And I said, “But it’s my first day at work.” “Well, what’s more important, fixing our marriage or going to work?”

Was that coincidence or did he know?

No, he knew, he knew. But I refused to, so I went to work. But then he refused to believe, “You can’t kick me out of my own house. This is my home.” So for the next two or three weeks he was living back at home. It was awful. I didn’t want him there. The girls didn’t want him there. We’d all just started being able to breathe out a bit with him not being there over the summer.

Was it a few weeks or a few months, how long was he staying with his friend for?

So he moved out at the end of June, so it was all of July and all of August, so two months that he was staying there. And he still was coming back and seeing the girls. And I think he had taken them up to [Place] a couple of times to go and stay with him there. But then he decided that actually he wanted to move home, why should he have to leave his home, and we should make a go of it, we should make it work, so he came back. And it was awful. That’s when I had to cut my credit cards up, that’s when he was transferring things to my bank account but there was no money in my bank account to pay these standing orders, but they were all being transferred into my name anyway.
Using children or other family members

Some women such as Kate and Tasha described how their ex-partners used children as a means of continuing to harass and control them (see ‘Impact of domestic violence and abuse on children’). Women reported their ex turning up at their house despite a non-molestation order, or trying to gain access to children by turning up at their school. Kate’s partner subjected her to a ‘campaign’ of harassment after they separated, following her in his car and turning up at the children’s school. She got support from the school and from friends and she got an emergency non-molestation order.
 

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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Age at interview: 44
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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. 
Tasha’s ex-partner was only allowed to contact his children by sending letters. He used these as an opportunity to be abusive to her.
 

Tasha described her ex-partner’s refusal to ‘let go’ and how he would send letters in which he was nasty about her to their children

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Age at interview: 40
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Trying to get him out of my head is, is hard like, you know. Yeah, it is still upsetting. It is still stressful because I just want him to leave me alone. 

Yeah.

You know, that’s all I want. You know, if he wants to carry on speaking to the boys, that’s fine. You know, sending the boys letters, I’ve not got a problem with that, I’ve never had a problem with that. But don’t bring them into it. I, you know, be nasty to me in the letters, because that’s not for the boys to see.

Yeah.

You know, stop using them basically. And you get on with your life and I’ll get on with mine.

Yeah.

But, he just, he just won’t let go. Hm. That is the main, that is the thing, knowing that he’s always going to be there. But then I can’t let him get to me because that’s what he wants to do, so you know, that’s the whole point, he still wants to control me. 
Victoria described how her ex took their child away for the weekend, but didn’t bring him back for six days. Victoria described ‘just being in a total state’ as she wondered how long her child would be kept away from her. 

Lindsay left her husband after a brief abusive marriage but endured years of ‘hell’ as he constantly harassed her and her family until she felt like ‘prisoner of war’ and her spirit was broken.
 

Lindsay was abused for years by her ex-husband who claimed that she was ‘mentally unbalanced’. Eventually, because of his lies and manipulation, she thought she had lost her mind, and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

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Age at interview: 35
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Then I finally got put in touch with someone through the rape, somebody, somebody gave me something to do with the rape thing, like a counsellor. And one of the ladies there was a specialist solicitor that could get you unlawful behaviour, cruel behaviour and, you know, get your marriage dissolved.

Yeah.

So I got in touch with that lady and that’s when me divorce proceedings started, four week after I got married. It took me three years to get rid of him. Wouldn’t sign the divorce papers, no. No one seemed to think that he had done anything, that he had done anything wrong to me, because it was all mental and, you know, well, internal physical. Then I got an injunction out against him where he wasn’t allowed to come within so many feet. He, he ran my and my eldest daughter’s car off the road, he wasn’t allowed to come within so many feet of us. So he’d stand across the other side of the road. Ring the police: “He’s not doing nothing.”

So he was just there watching you?

Wasn’t doing, in their eyes he wasn’t doing nothing wrong. Then he started to say that I was mentally unbalanced, I was sort of like stalking him, I was obsessed with him and if I was to ring the police again they’d have me for, I think it was wasting police time, some form of charge.

Yeah.

So my faith in the police and everything, I’d gone right within myself. He was also having an affair with my sister, my youngest sister.

When did you learn about that?

When I got, I ended up getting sectioned under the Mental Health Act, because I really did think that I’d lost my mind. But it wasn’t, it was they were doing things together, leaving things, just making me question everything and anything in my life, everybody, to the point of I even questioned my daughter, like was she in on it? So I got sectioned under the Mental Health Act. And my sister came, my sister came and she had a big scar down her face. He’d started to do it to her. They were having an affair and he’d started to do it to her.
Some women described how their ex-partners tried to turn children against them. This was the case for Jessica as her ex manipulated her two adult children by giving them money and ‘bad-mouthing’ her. Khalilda also found that her ex-partner was trying to use money to ensure that the children were on his side.
 

After leaving her marriage of twenty-seven years, Jessica realised that she had lost everything, including her children, but she is now working on rebuilding her life ‘as a new me’.

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Age at interview: 46
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I’ve lost everything really. And I’ve got to rebuild my life as, as a new me. As a single person. My children still don’t have contact.

You don’t have contact from either of them?

No. I was making all the, with my son, I was actually making bridges and we sort of like go two steps forward and one back, and then one day he came to where I was living and he’d just had a meal with my husband and he was abusive. He said to me, I read the divorce papers and your assets are blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and the time before he’d been my place he’d been in the rooms and he said also, your assets are and the bailiffs can take the lot. He said, “Dad’s picking me up and I’m going there”. And with that he got up and he left. 

Was that the place where you are currently living, he came, or …?

Yes. And I changed the locks, I was told to change the locks.

So you’re still getting ongoing harassment and contact?

No, because I’ve stopped trying to make bridges. I’ve decided that he’s an adult I’ve done my bit and if he wants to, he knows where I live and if he wants to make contact he can. So I’ve had to literally cut him out of my life.

And why are you experiencing, do, why would you say you’re experiencing difficulty having contact with your children?

He’s manipulating them. My son has to live, I know I’m making excuses, my son has to listen to him all the time going on about me. And with my daughter, he has put money into an account for her, so he’s buying her.
 

Khalida’s husband helped his daughters out financially and through them he tried to access his son (read by a professional).

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Age at interview: 58
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And what contact, if any, do you have with your husband?

I don’t have much contact with him, any contact with him. But he has contact with my daughters. And my daughters have now contact with my son, they are meeting my little, my boy for the past six months now. But they are persuading him to have contact with the brother, with the father. So now he’s trying to get to, get to the boy.

Why are they trying to do that?

Because the dad wants to see his son.

Yeah, so do the

Well they’re kind of trying but my boy doesn’t want to really go back and forth and

No. What’s your relationship like with your daughters?

Well they are taking the father’s side really.

OK.

They’re not taking – they’re not thinking about me. And I think, I’m thinking that they’re quite selfish in that way, while I’ve been lumbered with dad. What they’re doing is, why have we been lumbered with dad, he’s phoning us day and night, he’s alone and phoning us day and night, except when his mother is there. His mother comes and goes, you know.

What about your older sons?

My older sons he was in, well my eldest son was in Vienna, working in Vienna for two or three years, but then he’s come back now and he’s looking for a job. And hopefully next week he’s got interviews and things planned. He’s looking for a job to go back to, back abroad. 

Right.

But then my other eldest son, he’s just, I don’t know what, he’s just editing and he’s just freelance editing and stuff, and he just pays his bills. They don’t really, can’t really help me.

Right.

And my daughters, they’re, the younger one is doing her MBC, so she needs her father to pay for it.

Oh right.

My middle one, she’s doing the other step, the third step to the, the last step to becoming a solicitor, training or something, so she can’t help me. She, she’s got, you know, her own problems and her own stress with her own accommodation to pay for, which is also being paid for by, through my husband and what have you.

Right.

And then my eldest daughter, because she’s found a job, but she’s also quite like my son, the youngest son, so she, she can’t be stressed. And she, and also she’s taking her father’s side. She is saying that, “No, mum, you have to go back home with [participant’s youngest son], because dad is better now. Dad is a lot better. Dad is a lot this and dad is a lot that. And dad is sicker because he’s got really bad diabetes. And he’s worried that his cancer might come back.” I said, “Oh he’s just trying to attract attention, is what he’s trying to do.” 
Being tracked, stalked, and living in fear

After ending an abusive relationship, women tried to find a place of safety for themselves and their children, which was unknown to the ex-partner. However, they remained fearful of being found. Philippa, for example, was concerned that her ex-partner would find her through her parents.
 

Philippa described trying to remain hidden because of her ex-partner’s previous threats to kill her if she ever took the children away.

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Age at interview: 54
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I feel like, I'm not always looking over my shoulder, but I'm aware that he threatened me. He said if I ever took the children away he'd kill me and I took the children away so I think that he might try and fulfil his threat. So I always feel I have to be a little bit careful which is why I, you know, want to be anonymous. I've moved a couple of times since I left him so I hope he doesn't know where I am. I Google my name occasionally to see what comes up just in case he can do that. So I still feel a little bit worried that something might happen in the future. 

And those fears, that worry has that changed over time, over the years since you left him?

Only a little bit because when I left him he thought I'd gone to my parents and he knew where my parents were and I wanted them to move and they always said that they would move because the house was too big for them, but they actually didn't move immediately. They have now since moved so I feel a little bit more at ease in that he probably won't be able to find me quite so easily. So there's still a niggling worry but it's not as bad as it was. 
Alonya described how her husband kept finding her, sending harassing texts and making up stories about her. He had frequently ‘surprised her’ with acts of physical and psychological abuse and even though she had left, with her daughter, she remained fearful, anxious and sleepless in case he turned up.
 

Alonya felt the only solution was to ‘disappear completely’, change her name and start a whole new life to stop her abusive partner tracing her.

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Age at interview: 31
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Recently I started to see because my ex-husband found my details again and he started to harass me again. 

So you’d moved, had you, from the first place?

Yes I did.

And he found out, found you a second time?

He kept, kept finding my his ways. He would come to my work, and he would just tell them, “Oh I need her address because I’m taking her to court” he would make the stories that I owe him enormous amount of money. And so things like that. And recently my friend, she gave him my details. He told her that I owe him money, and he probably made a big story about it. And she gave him my telephone number and my email address and he started to send again harassing messages and intimidating messages. 

Yes.

And anytime I hear from him, it’s a big shock. It affects my mental well-being quite strongly. 

Yes.

I act out of character. My, I start to think about different bad things probably not related exactly to the relationship. 

Yes.

I start to get really scared that, just images, something going to happen. And those images, like what we going to be sent or, put into prison, or sent from this country…which are not - I haven’t done anything wrong…

Yeah, that’s how you felt. 

….Yes. I was [tearful].

Yes.

And I can’t stop thinking…

And is that still going on now?

Well, this is I think recently I found if I started to get into recovery more and I decided that I will change this address again and I decided to change my name. I want to disappear completely….

Right

…because otherwise I will be always be scared of him, by my name, because I have his name….

Right.

…still until now somehow may find me. 

So I will be very careful to just have very small amount of friends or, who doesn’t know him, and it’s time to disappear, it’s time to start living new life. 
Ana found that her ex-partner was so controlling and jealous that even after the relationship was over, he threatened to kill her when he thought she was seeing someone else. As she said: ‘He just kept on harassing me, harassing me, harassing me’. For safety, she moved into a refuge with her children.
 

After threats to kill her, Ana with the support of a Domestic Violence and Abuse agency and the police, moved into a women’s refuge to keep her and the children safe after her ex broke a non-molestation order (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 32
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Anyway, he, my ex-husband , because he was paying the bill, the phone bill, he just went through the messages and he just, obviously he rang, I think he rang everyone I was ringing and rang his friend’s number, and that’s when it gone terribly wrong. He just rang me one Friday and said, “I’m, I’m coming to kill you. You’ve been sleeping with …” the friend.

His friend, yeah.

And I tried to explain. I said, “No, I haven’t.” I said, I swore, I said, “I swear I haven’t.” He just wasn’t having it. He got, he got really, he got really, he drank a lot and he took drugs that night and I tried to go to bed. I was, I was very stressed and very afraid.

Yes.

Knowing, knowing him and his …

Yes.

… jealous ways and, so he, he’s showed up at three o’clock in the morning, woke the children up, and started just shouting and, “Tell me, tell me you slept with him. Tell me.” And then it just continued for like an hour, da-da-da, the shouting and the name-calling. And at that point, like the children were screaming. And then he left. He said he’s going to kill him, and then I didn’t sleep, it was like five o’clock in the morning. I rang [support worker] and then [support worker] said, “Right, enough.” I think it was Saturday, anyway, I went to my friend’s house, and then he rang me and then I heard his brother call me names as well. He called me a cunt and just horrible things on the phone, and he said again, “Where are you? Where are …” I think at that point he took more drugs and he just said, “Oh, I’m going to … you just watch, I’m going to …” Yeah, he’s just said again, “I’m going to come and kill you.” and then like the police were searching for him. Sorry.

It’s alright.

So he got, he had to hand himself in because they couldn’t search, they couldn’t find him, so they … no, he, the policeman come and, and said, “I’ll ring him,” and then he said, “Mr …” blah, blah, blah, “can you come …”

Yes.

“Can you hand yourself in or we’ll put a warrant out.”

Right.

And then I had court and all the, just having injunction done. Oh sorry…

Yeah.

After that, he broke the orders and then just I think it was June, [support worker] said, and I said, and [support worker] said, “Right enough now.”
Sexual harassment and abuse after leaving the relationship

A few women experienced ongoing sexual abuse by their ex-partners. Both Tina and Victoria described how their ex would only give money to support the children if they first had sex with him. Tina said: 

‘He was giving me like 500 quid and saying, “Pay the bills, electric and get food”. And then, another time he come in and he made me have sex with him, he put a fiver on the side and said, “There you go, that’s all you’re worth”. And walked out.’

Likewise, Victoria’s ex attempted to blackmail her into having sex with him in return for child maintenance payments, so that she felt like a prostitute.

Support from the police for harassment

Liz’s husband left the house after a violent argument when Liz discovered he had abused their daughter as well as her. Liz was fearful when her husband, a violent angry man, turned up at the house to collect his belongings.
 

Liz feared for her own and her daughter’s life as she rang the police after her husband turned up at their house.

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Age at interview: 46
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But at that moment that was it for me. And I called the police. And the police - then I told my au pair about what he’d done to me and the police were coming, and could she take [daughter] into another room? And she then told me about what he had done to her.

Your au pair?

No, to my daughter, that she’d witnessed him punching her in the neck while she was strapped into a car seat in the December, how he’d been angry with her when she’d been there - because I was spending three days a week down here in [city], because of my job - and how he’d hurt her with a horse riding helmet on 31st January and basically just scaring her and shouting at her. And so I was interviewed by the police, she was. And then and then and then, a few days later, he wanted his stuff. So we packed all his stuff up and into one of the cars. And unfortunately the battery died so I couldn’t get it into [county]. And I so he wouldn’t allow anybody else to charge the battery or do that, so he said he had to. I didn’t want to see him. I was frightened.

So he came to the house, but I wouldn’t let him in. And then he stood outside after the car started. He came back, he drove off and then he came back and said that he couldn’t find his Blackberry, even though he had another Blackberry, couldn’t find the Blackberry, couldn’t find the Barclay’s banking machine and I was to let him into the house. And I refused and told him to go away, “I’ll look for them.” And then he started saying that unless I let him in he was going to cancel the car insurance so I wouldn’t have a car, and he was going to cancel the telephone so I wouldn’t be able to ever call the police again and I wouldn’t be able to work from home because of Broadband, or anything like that. And, but I told him to go away or I’d call the police. And then he refused so I can’t remember if I called the police. No, I think maybe I called the police after. And he drove off, but he obviously drove off just round the corner. So I heard banging on the door, just a knock on the door, but I couldn’t see anybody, because it looks like plain glass, it was coloured glass. So I went into the living room, which I never did, and looked out, and he was hiding, just about to jump in. So I was petrified.

Yes.

He looked really, really angry and mad, really just insane. His hair was unkempt, he was unshaven, he was just, he was just my au pair said she thought that, had he got in, he could have got a knife to both of us. So I asked him to go. And then I ended up calling the police.

And then he was trying to beg. Then he went away again. And then he tried to break into the back of the house. And then it was then a few days – so the police made him go away. I found the Blackberry, gave it to him. But he thought he was totally justified in what he did; because he needed his Blackberry it didn’t matter. I was you know, I was so frightened.

Yeah, yeah.

And he was laughing. He was in the garden laughing. I just and the more I showed emotion, the more happy, not in a happy, nice happy, but [deep breath]…
Shaina described how ‘traumatic’ it was when her ex turned up at her house, tapping on the window and causing their daughter to have a panic attack. She phoned a friend who advised her to call the police.
 

Shaina described her ex-partner turning up at her door, and the panic this caused her daughter.

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Age at interview: 32
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And do you have any contact with him or?

No. Oh wait, saying that, he’s turned up at my door twice.

Hmm, hmm and how has that been?

Traumatic. My daughter literally had a panic attack, was crying and dribbling all over the place. another time, I knew it was him, I just like happened to be down here in the dark and the curtains were open. And my daughter came down. And you could hear this little tapping on the letterbox, not the doorbell this time. So I looked out and it was him.

Hmm, and what did you do?

And I panicked a little bit. I messaged my friend and I’m like, “[partner]’s at the door.” She’s like, “What are you messaging me for? Call the police.” And I called the police. And then they came and he had already left. And they were like, “If he comes again, call us. We’ll talk to him.” Because by that stage the restraining order runs out, had run out.

Right.

So every time it runs out he thinks he’s free to do what he wants.

How long do they last for each time?

It’s been one year, one year, and now they’re fed up of seeing me every year and they’ve given me two. Because it’s becoming a continuous pattern: when they elapse it starts again. 
Women were, however, frequently disappointed in the police response to harassment. They felt frustrated and fearful when they were told that there had to be clear evidence of a threat of physical harm, and there was little repercussion for men who broke court injunctions such as a non-molestation order.
 

Tasha felt that police are ‘a lot more clued up now about domestic violence’ but she was frustrated by their limited ability to prevent unwanted contact from her ex.

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Age at interview: 40
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How have they been helpful or not helpful? Do want to grab something?

No [laughs]

[Laughs]

No, they, they, they’ve been good. And the one that’s been around recently, he’s been excellent and he has said that they are a lot more clued up now on domestic violence and they obviously have more courses and stuff and they know what to look out for and they …

Right.

… the first time that they had emailed him to say ‘Do not send anything, it is deemed as harassment. If you send anything else you’ll be prosecuted.” He replied, “It’s not harassment, I can do it”. So, so they’ve got the measure of him already, they know that, you know, he is that sort of person a controlling person, and, so they know now what to look out for which, which is good. I think, that’ they’re more, more aware of it. But like I said, at the end of the day I’ve got to wait for him to do something before I can report it.

Yeah.

And then if he’s good for like a few months they take it off and it all starts again. And, you know, you, it’s, instead of sort of saying that this person’s given me x amount of trouble over the years which has, it’s all been logged  you know, can you just sort of put, say, you know, he’s not to contact me, you know, at all…

Yeah.

… unless it’s through a third person. You know …

Yeah.

… why, why can’t they do that? It, it’s my life, I should be able to say who can speak to me and who can’t.
For many women, this form of abuse began or intensified after they had left. Several women found that being prepared for the manipulative tactics used by ex-partners could help to lessen the impact.

Despite ongoing harassment for many women, the impact of leaving their abusive partner was generally accompanied by a sense of relief and the start of a new, independent life. (See ‘Life after domestic violence and abuse: taking back control’.)

Last reviewed February 2020.

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