A-Z

Liz

Age at interview: 46
Brief Outline: Liz is now divorced from her second husband who subjected her to physical abuse, controlling behaviour and harassment, as well as abusing their daughter aged seven. Liz did not recognise his behaviour as domestic abuse, since she grew up in a household where physical violence was prevalent. Liz is keen to increase awareness of domestic violence and abuse by speaking out in her workplace and through other networks and is keen to see better support services in place.
Background: Liz is a 46 year old, white British woman who is divorced and lives in her own home with her three children and stepson. She works full-time as a Tax Director for a large professional services company.

More about me...

Liz ‘escaped’ her childhood home where she was frequently hit by family members, by gaining a degree and accountancy training and getting married at the age of 21. She was married for 17 years to a man who was not abusive but had difficulty in communicating and showing empathy or emotion. They had two children and then Liz met a man with whom she had an affair and became pregnant with her third child. She stayed with her husband and they attended Relate couple counselling. However when her child was 18 months the marriage split up and Liz moved in with and subsequently married the father of her third child (a barrister).

Liz was highly motivated to make the marriage work but soon experienced controlling behaviour and emotional abuse from her husband who would frequently become extremely angry, damage property and call her names. Liz worked full-time in a demanding professional role but her husband expected her to carry out all the domestic tasks such as shopping, cooking and cleaning, but nothing she did was ever ‘good enough’. If she or the children challenged him he behaved in an angry threatening way. He often ‘went ballistic’, shouting, frightening the children and eventually resorting to physical abuse, hitting Liz and throwing her against the wall.

Despite calling the police on several occasions, Liz did not get the help she needed. She blamed herself, believing that it was up to her to be a ‘better wife’ so that her husband’s behaviour would change. His family re-inforced this view. 

Liz eventually discovered that her husband was having an affair but her attempts to talk about this and to work on improving their marriage led to increased violence and threatening behaviour so that Liz became frightened for her safety and that of her children. She ended the relationship after a particularly violent episode, and re-settled in her home from her first marriage. 

Liz then found out about the regular sexual abuse her husband had inflicted on their daughter. She took steps to safeguard herself and her children but felt completely un-supported by Social Services who took no action despite the evidence and vulnerability of the youngest. Liz was pro-active in gaining support from the NSPCC instead, and also had a referral via her GP to the local Domestic Violence and Abuse Agency. She is also engaged in long-term psychotherapy to gain a better understanding of what happened.

Liz feels strongly that services are not advertised or available for women when they most need them. She is fighting a legal battle with her husband who continues to harass her, and she has concerns for women who do not have the financial resources to fight for justice.
 

Liz described being ‘in shock’ as the awful reality of her partner’s behaviour dawns on her.

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So when you just said to me, “I think that was the biggest thing that ever happened to me,” what were you referring to?

That realisation that, that – because abuse is something that happens that, that, before all of this, it’s somebody knocking somebody about.

Right.

I didn’t see how, I had no knowledge at all, I didn’t know anybody else that had been abused.

But when did that realisation come?

It came on about day three-

Of?

-of after I split up.

This is your second husband now?

Yeah, that, that I felt I didn’t – I could see that, because at that point I’d found out that – well, he’d hit me, I’d found out about an affair, I find – found out that he’d been lying to me for years, financially he’d been stripping money out of bank accounts. And then I found out that he’d punched my daughter when I wasn’t there and he’d hurt her with a horse riding helmet. My au pair had witnessed him doing that. And I, I could almost, it was like an out of body experience, I could feel that, that why was I feeling so needy, so desperate and scared?

Because I’m in a house, I’ve got a job, I can look after my family, you know, I can downsize house, I, you know, I can, I can cope. Why was I feeling so frightened and in shock, numb? I wasn’t able to drink, I wasn’t able to eat, I wasn’t able to function – what was wrong with me? And then I started talking, and I started talking to my sister-in-law, who’s a vicar’s wife, who has dealt with women who have been abused, and telling her some of the things that had happened to me, and the way my marriage was. And, shockingly, she said that wasn’t normal.

Right, that was a real shock to you?

It was a shock to me. And so much of a shock that when I got back to work I took two weeks off, I was given two weeks’ leave, because I had to leave the family home because he was trying to break in. And the house was in his name and so he was going – he was threatening to cut off utilities unless I did certain things. So and then trying to break in. So I was frightened. And so I moved back here, which is, this is my house in my name where I’ve always paid the bills.
 

Liz was terrified of her partner’s anger when he called her a ‘fucking witch’ and she feared that he might kill her.

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The way he looked at me, he called me evil bitch, fucking witch, all names, and it was because I’d said that my daughter, middle one was at boarding school, and the plan was for her to come up after she’d done her GCSEs to come and live in [county] and go to the day school that the youngest was at.

Had your move not happened yet at this point?

Well, we moved last August. Four days before this happened, I wrote to him because I was really frightened, and I wrote to him and said, “I’m really frightened. All the time you’re speaking to me with gritted teeth. I’m really frightened you’re going to hit me.” And then that weekend it was the – I think what really shocked me more was when he was shouting at me with such anger. And it’s hard to explain to anybody who has never had that anger. Because I’d been shouted at a lot in my life, you know, but I’d never felt like that before.

How did you feel?

I felt as though he was going to kill me.

Right yeah.

But my daughter was there.

She had arrived?

My youngest.

The other one, yeah.

And I’d sent her into another room. But he was – but it was his face, it was, it was just like evil. You know kind of just the eyes, just the hate for me that I saw in his face, I just thought, “But I haven’t done anything.” I’d said to him, “My daughter is frightened of you. She’s not going to move up here unless you build on your relationship.” 
 

Liz described her shock at discovering that the behaviours she had been experiencing from her husband were not ‘normal’ in a relationship.

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I’d found out that – well, he’d hit me, I’d found out about an affair, I find – found out that he’d been lying to me for years, financially he’d been stripping money out of bank accounts. And then I found out that he’d punched my daughter when I wasn’t there and he’d hurt her with a horse riding helmet. My au pair had witnessed him doing that. And I could almost, it was like an out of body experience, I could feel that why was I feeling so needy, so desperate and scared?

Because I’m in a house, I’ve got a job, I can look after my family, you know, I can downsize house, I, you know, I can cope. Why was I feeling so frightened and in shock, numb? I wasn’t able to drink, I wasn’t able to eat, I wasn’t able to function – what was wrong with me? And then I started talking, and I started talking to my sister-in-law, who’s a vicar’s wife, who has dealt with women who have been abused, and telling her some of the things that had happened to me, and the way my marriage was. And, shockingly, she said that wasn’t normal.

Right, that was a real shock to you?

It was a shock to me. And so much of a shock that when I got back to work I took two weeks off, I was given two weeks’ leave, because I had to leave the family home because he was trying to break in. 
 

Liz, a senior manager at work, believed she had caused her partner’s abuse because she was too directive and needed to be weaker and more subservient towards him.

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And he then walked out. And then I didn’t call the police. I said I was going to call the police to my daughter.

Right.

And she said, I think she said something like, “Oh mummy, mummy,” you know. And but instead I called his parents, I don’t know why. I didn’t see that what they are, at that point. And yeah, and to my shame, I then went out and I looked for him, because he’d left the house.

And rather than, I wanted to apologise because I’d made him angry and called his parents.

Right.

And, you know, because I thought I deserved it.

Right.

And I’d pushed him.

Yeah.

Not that he pushed me first, not that what he’d done to me, hurting me, but I pushed him so I deserved what I got.

Yeah, yeah.

And I didn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t cope without him, couldn’t cope.

I sat next to a director of a bank, of one of the big High Street banks, and she told me about the abuse that she had suffered. And it was only because I shared first that she shared with me.

Right.

I think it’s certain personality types that are very often – you know, and it’s, it’s a said – it’s an unsaid thing that, in a way, domestic violence is something that’s done to weak people. I, when I walk into the workplace, I don’t think anybody would think I was weak. I can out-man most of them and their, but, in a relationship, people are different, in a personal relationship. And it’s, I think it’s where women are not policing boundaries. I think that’s where I went wrong. I should have set up in my mind what was acceptable in a relationship. And when those boundaries were breached, I should have realised that what was happening to me was not good and not acceptable and not my fault.

Right.

I just personalised it all and thought, “I can do better. I will clean more. I will do more. I will do all these things and everything will be fine if I’m a better person, if I’m a better wife, if I’m a better mother. If I can earn more and maybe then he could go more part-time, because maybe he’s not coping with his job. He’s got work stresses, that’s why he’s angry. He’s angry with his parents, he’s angry with his son, he’s angry with his general family. He hasn’t got the career that he should have.” Oh, the excuses that women make. And I think it’s a woman thing more than men.
 

Liz discovered that , while she stayed overnight in town for work, her seven-year old daughter regularly slept in her father’s bed at home and he made her watch him masturbating.

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And she kept trying to explain to us why she was angry. We just couldn’t get it. So in the end she said, “I’ll show you.” So we went upstairs into my bedroom, and my au pair sat, lay on the bed, and she showed us what he’d do. And what he was doing was that he was physically waking her up when he went to bed, or sometime in the night, I don’t know when, but some, she was being woken up quite violently, she said, and then she was, because she doesn’t sleep with clothes on, being pulled over to his side of the bed and he would wrap her round him, into him, his arm around her. And then she would be, he would hold her chin or her face and he would, she said he would put his hands underneath the covers and he would be masturbating and force her to watch the covers going up and down. And that’s what we couldn’t understand, because she kept saying, “Up and down and look.” And she said, “He kept making me look.” We were like, “What were you looking at? What were you looking at?” And it was like, “Look, look, look at me, look.” And it was like [deep breath].

And, and I said, “Well, what was going up and down?” and she said, “I think he was wiggling.” And I went, “OK.” And she knows, because she would sometimes wiggle in her bed and I’d had to say to her about doing it in her bed. And so it turned out he’d been masturbating in front of her three nights a week whenever I was away. And but you see she didn’t understand.

How old was she?

She was 7 at the time. She just was angry with him for waking her up. Because it was, she said because sometimes she’d fall asleep on him and he’d physically wake her up again or bang her on the head to wake her up, and holding her chin.

Oh.

That’s what made her angry. She didn’t really, she still doesn’t understand what he was doing [deep breath]. So again, the police became involved in another ABE. And at this point we’re hoping to get the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], it’s now with the CPS for a decision. But the abuse continued. He denied it all. And then he’s taken me to family court because he wants her back in that house with him and it’s really frightening.
 

Liz felt that police lacked training and did not recognise controlling and threatening behaviour or even sexual abuse of her daughter.

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So looking back at the help that you’ve got from different places, would you say the police, by and large, have been quite helpful for you?

Phew no. Perhaps some of them. I had one team come, and I ended up calling the police, calling the NSPCC. After I’d told them about the hands down inside the leggings the police officers that came round, they said how it’s really rare for a father to ever abuse a child, their child, it’s almost unheard of. And so therefore that it was highly unlikely, and more likely that she was – it – that whatever he was doing was entirely innocent. So I called up the NSPCC the next day and said, “Is this the case?” And they just said, “Absolutely not.”

No.

“You’ve obviously had just officers that are just not trained.” So they got me in touch with the child abuse team and they made a referral to the police. And then those police officers apologised for their colleagues. But other times, the police up in [county] who are dealing with the child abuse thing, they’ve been brilliant, supportive in a very objective, you know, impartial way.

And women don’t realise that unless you can get – you can’t get legal aid unless you’ve called the police. So call the police.

Yeah.

You know, and like, and then also the police need to be educated. I had them out here the other day because he sent me harassing emails, and this time he sent one to work and I told him in writing he was never to write to work. The police came out, said that, “Yeah, but you wrote to him to tell him about this,” which I was told to do by my barrister. He then kept emailing back. And the last one was like, “You, you know, unless you forward these papers by return,” and these are papers the court is supposed to send him, “unless you send them by return I am going to tell the tell the judge that you’ve done this, this and this,” and I fall back into the abuse, and think, “I’m a bad person. I’m not good enough. Maybe I should be doing everything he says I should be doing.” But [local DVA agency], I phoned up [local DVA agency]. They said, “No, no, he’s abusing, he’s abusing this. Call the police.” And I called 101 and they came. It’s like this, the word, “It’s a domestic. This is domestic. The police can’t get involved.” And it’s like, “Unless he threatens to hit you then that’s – it’s – that, that’s nothing.” I said, “But I’m a few days away from a court case. I’ve been told that he’s trying to unsettle me before a court case and frighten me. And he’s got no reason, because he just has to phone up the court for the stuff. It’s not my job to pass court papers to him.” But I was just told, “Well, there’s nothing we can do. It’s just like nothing. You know, unless he threatens to hit you, then that’s it.” And I’m like, “Well, actually there, there are other types of abuse rather than just being hit. He is abusing me through fear and that’s wrong.”

You’re probably aware that coercive control has become a criminal offence?

But the police don’t recognise it.
 

Liz gave up trying to get help from professional agencies, until finally she contacted a charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

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I think, I think the system is broken, frankly. I had the social worker, so the social worker then got involved with … from the court, you know, the CAFCASS and stuff. and I had, the report came back on Section 7, but in that report it actually said how I’d contacted lots of agencies and professionals and there was a concern, you know, was I doing this in front of my daughter, and why was I needing to talk to all these people about what I’d been through and what she’d been through? I would have loved to have a single point of contact that would have said, you know, right from the beginning, “You need to safeguard your daughter. You need to do the right thing. And we will back you.”

Yes.

You’ll not – because they were like, “Oh, you’ve, OK, you’ve said you’re going to safeguard her and do all the right things, case closed.”

Really?

Yes. Oh, this was Child Services in [county]. It was like, “Well, but I need support. What am I supposed to do?” Because he’s then threatening me, unless I give him access he’s going to do this, he’s going to not pay anything, he’s going to stop paying school. He’s doing all of these financial threats unless I – and if I do everything he says he, that I won’t believe how generous he will be. And this, I’ve got emails from him saying that.

Yeah.

I would have loved somebody to see me and to be somebody who could have got help for me from Social Services. The GP referred it to Child Services, but because I was protecting her I wasn’t seen as an emergency. And not as an emergency: nobody even bothered contacting me. They decided in their heads that I didn’t need support, so nobody contacted me. It was the NSPCC who forced the Child Services to get involved in [city]. The system’s broken.

Yeah.

I am somebody who will ring up the NSPCC. I’m relatively articulate, I can fight for help. I shouldn’t have to fight. What about all those women out there that don’t get help, who don’t have a house like I have, who can’t go into work and – I was given support through work as well.
 

The NSPCC were really supportive and got Liz’s daughter on to a Letting the Future In course for victims of child sexual abuse.

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So, but I contacted, I’ve been also supported by the NSPCC, because my sister-in-law suggested the NSPCC. And they were brilliant. Because Social Services were awful.

Were they?

I really wanted help. I really wanted somebody to come in and tell me that they weren’t going to allow this man to have unsupervised contact with my daughter, given what he had done. But nobody.

Really?

There was nobody there. It was appalling, appalling. But the NSPCC were brilliant. And then I called them up about masturbation and said, you know, “Is this normal? What, what, what’s normal?” So the person on the line wasn’t able to tell me, but they then put me in touch with a programme called ‘Letting the Future In’. And one thing I’m good at doing is, is persuading people. So I used all my persuasive skills to try to get her on this course, because she so needed the help. And I had to really fight over weeks, because they just didn’t come back, you know. So I kept phoning them and chasing them up, and then the person was sick. But I kept on the case until they, until, and so she’s had four weeks of assessment now and then I find out, they sent away all her paintings and stuff and then they see whether the kind of help they can give can really help her, and if it can then they’ll give her a year, more or less, of [deep breath]

This is a course run by NSPCC?

Yeah, it’s for child abuse victims. And so, and so she’s had four sessions with a counsellor, that she has on her own.

And she’s happy to go, your daughter?

Yeah, because it’s play therapy. And because my fear is that she doesn’t understand the abuse that she’s had. She’s frightened of him. She understands the physical and she understands the fear, because he would shake her, shout in her face. He used to clap, and he used to do that to me as well, clap millimetres from her nose really hard in order to frighten her, because he thought that was a good way of stopping her crying. Didn’t work, funnily enough.
 

Following a violent assault, Liz was helped by her partner’s family to leave him and move back into her own house.

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Was this house available for you to move back into?

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.

Yeah.

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.
 

After Liz confronted her husband about his affair he became ‘filled with hate and cold anger’ towards her.

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Again I had a panic attack on the train coming home. It’s obviously clear to me now that I knew there was something really badly wrong.

Right.

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.

Right.

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.

Right yeah.

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.

Right.

So I then said, “Then I’m not staying in the marriage. I’m leaving.” 
 

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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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]…
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