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Min

Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: Min survived an early relationship with a physically abusive boyfriend. She went on to marry twice and experienced coercive control, financial and sexual abuse, and a form of psychological abuse known as ‘gas-lighting’ where her partner twisted information leading her to doubt her own sanity. (Video clips played by an actor.)
Background: Min is a 47 year old mixed race single woman living with her four children in a privately rented home in a rural area. She works as a Pilates teacher, alongside her training to become a lawyer and is engaged in consciousness raising about domestic violence and abuse.

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Min’s first boyfriend of seven years was possessive and physically abusive. Despite family and friends telling her to leave she stayed in the relationship because he threatened to kill himself if she tried to leave. She eventually left following a pregnancy termination.

Following a number of happy but short-lived relationships, Min got married to a man 20 years her senior who she described as ‘very charming’. They split up temporarily when Min found she was pregnant and she refused to go ahead with the termination that he had arranged for her. They re-united when the baby was born and lived happily in France for some time. On their return, her husband was out of work and began to bully and gas-light Min. This played into her biggest fear of being diagnosed with a mental illness, which had happened to a close family member. The abusive behaviour came to a head after the birth of their second child when her husband made a false allegation of child abuse against Min. Min was sectioned and assessed by a team of psychiatrists who pronounced her sane. This led to extended Child Protection procedures and assessments before Min was reunited with her children, and the marriage ended.

Following another interlude of a happy relationship Min eventually met her second husband, who relapsed into drug use when she became pregnant. The relationship was often violent and controlling, including sexual coercion and rape. After they separated he continued to control her by attempting to get her diagnosed as mentally ill, breaking into her house and smashing up her property. During one incident, Min accidently severed her carotid artery on a piece of broken glass but he did not help her. Instead her teenage son dialled 999 and helped the paramedics to keep Min alive by holding a clamp to her wound.

Min was referred to a Domestic Violence and Abuse Agency by the police and now she volunteers, to support other women living through domestic violence and abuse. She reports that she can talk to her GP about domestic abuse but feels that she is ‘absolutely lovely and totally and completely clueless’. She urges medical professionals to identify over-emotional, anxious stressed women and recognise that they are not mentally ill but are traumatised and often sleep-deprived. She feels that ‘immediate availability’ of help from support services was lacking when she needed it.

Min reports being on friendly terms now with her first husband, the father of three of her children, but she is engaged in an ongoing legal battle over her second husband’s contact with their daughter. She reflects on the difficulty of talking to others about domestic abuse which she used to describe as her ‘dirty secret’.

Following the portrayal of coercive control in a marriage on a popular radio series which generated a huge response via Twitter and Facebook, Min, using her personal experience as a survivor and as a Litigant in Person is now supporting women in similar situations worldwide using telephone and email. (Video clips played by an actor.)
 

Min spent a night in a mental health ward without her baby and was ‘sectioned’, following a false allegation of child abuse made by her husband (played by an actor).

Min spent a night in a mental health ward without her baby and was ‘sectioned’, following a false allegation of child abuse made by her husband (played by an actor).

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Two hours later I had a knock on the door and it was the police. I actually thought he was dead. The first thing I said was, “Oh my God, is my husband dead?” And they said, “No, we’d like you to come in for questioning [sniffs].” And I’m like, “What?” I said, “OK, OK what about?” And they said, “Well we can’t tell you here. We’ll tell you at the police station. But could you come now please?” So my baby was in a [blows nose] child seat because he was all ready to go to the landlord’s to pay the debt, he was all good to go to sleep. So I said, “I just need to get the baby.” They took me down to the police station. I was in a room with my baby for seven hours. They kept saying all they would say to me was, “We’re taking a statement from your husband. When we’ve finished taking the statement we’ll take a statement from you.” They kept me there for seven hours.

Then at about – in the evening, I think five or six – I was panicking, my older child needed picking up from school. They said that that was being taken care of. At the time I didn’t realise what that was. I thought a friend or the father was picking him up. I had no idea what was going on [sniffs]. And then what happened was at about, I think, between 5.00 and 7.00 pm I heard voices outside the interview room, the room I was in. I the door opened, there was a woman there and there was a police officer. The woman looked at me, she looked me up and down and they closed the door and they talked. I didn’t hear what they were saying. And then the door opened again and the police officer said, “We’re going to take your baby to the hospital and to be examined.” And I thought, “I’m going with them.”

Of course, I was breastfeeding, he was seven weeks old. So I stood up. They, they took the baby in the little car seat and I stood up to go with them and the policeman had his hand there and went ‘woomph’ and pushed me in the chair and said, “You’re staying here [sniffs].” And [voice falters] they took my baby [sobs]. And I went crazy. I was hysterical. I was screaming, “Where’s my baby? I need to be with my baby. I need to be with my baby [sniffs]. Why can’t I go with my baby?” I had no idea what was going on because they still hadn’t told me. All they’d told me was, “We’re taking a statement.” Then [blows nose] that woman was there, and the police. So my baby had gone. I was absolutely hysterical.

And then they sectioned me.
 

During an attack involving her ex, Min unknowingly cut an artery in her neck. Her fifteen year old son witnessed the scene, called 999 and had to hold a clamp in place to save his mother’s life (played by an actor).

During an attack involving her ex, Min unknowingly cut an artery in her neck. Her fifteen year old son witnessed the scene, called 999 and had to hold a clamp in place to save his mother’s life (played by an actor).

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I remember thinking this [crying]. I remember going up the stairs [sniffs] and he was – he went to the bathroom or I don’t know [sniffs]. And then I heard some gurgling and I thought, “Shit, what’s that? What’s, what’s that? I’ve never heard that noise before. What’s that?” And then I thought, “There’s blood.” And then I screamed [sniffs]. I’d cut myself. I wasn’t even aware I’d cut myself. My son, who was 15, came out of the room, shouted, “What is going on?” He was in the bathroom. Didn’t say anything. My son looked at me and he said, “I’m calling the, I’m calling for an ambulance.” He rang 999.

Your son?

My 15 year old son. Apparently he had 999 in the bathroom too. I passed out. When I came to, I heard the paramedic, he was over me and the paramedic said to him,

Yes.

 “I’m on my own here. I need your help until the ambulance gets here. Can you please hold the clamp?” He [my husband] stood over me, he stepped over me and he said, “No, I can’t. I have to go and see my baby.” He stepped over me and walked up the stairs. And the paramedic said to my 15 year old son, “I’m sorry, son, but I have to ask you to help me.” My son held the clamp. The ambulance came, took me to the hospital.

The clamp was on you for a cut from the glass? Right. 

I didn’t even know I’d done it. I thought it was in my hand. I thought I was doing this [demonstrates squeezing].

Yes.

So in what way would you say the abuse in your relationships has impacted on your children specifically?

They’ve seen it. My 15 year old son saved my life. He actually saved…

On that occasion when he rang 999?

When he held the clamp.

When he held the clamp.

The paramedic was terrified. He was terrified, he couldn’t cope with the blood loss. And my husband refused to help. And he had to ask my son. And there was blood everywhere.

Had you cut an artery?

I was very close to cutting the I can’t remember, I’d have to look at the notes, but I think I cut the carotid, and I was very close to cutting the jugular. There was a lot of blood.

Right. So your son saved your life and

He hates that.

He hates that?

Yeah, he hates, he, he hates that. He hates talking about it. And it has affected him. He my other children were affected directly by abuse, by their stepfather. He’s called them liars, he’s called them cheats, he’s called them all kinds of things. His children from his first marriage have surprisingly escaped unscathed.

Because he never really spent much time with them. So they’re lucky. He, my ex, my first ex-husband has been affected by all of this. Because after he, that one, broke in with a crowbar and, you know, the police were called and everything he accused, he made an allegation that my first ex-husband was a paedophile who had fiddled with our daughter, who is now 13. And social workers had to investigate that.

So your…

And he was he put my children through that because he is a thoroughly horrid human being.
 

Min explained how her partner would ‘gas-light’ her – making her think she was mentally ill – by moving things around (played by an actor).

Min explained how her partner would ‘gas-light’ her – making her think she was mentally ill – by moving things around (played by an actor).

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Perhaps you could tell me a little bit about, you said there was abuse in that relationship, perhaps you could tell me a little bit about the nature of the abuse in that relationship?

He used to, my mother’s Thai, and he used to accuse, say things like my mother must have been a prostitute, I probably don’t know who my father was, she probably doesn’t know, she must have slept around.

I used to get really angry. I used to throw things at him. He used – my sister is schizophrenic and she’s been in and out of mental institutions since she was 14 and – excuse me [blows nose] – she – he used to sort of say schizophrenia was catching, he probably thought I, he thought I had it. And he used to, you know, he used to really gas-light me. I was terrified of being diagnosed with a mental illness. I was absolutely terrified, because I’ve seen what happened to my sister. She’d had electric shock therapy, you know, and we’d visited her in hospital. And I was absolutely terrified it would have happened to me. And he used to do things, like leave things in a certain place and then they wouldn’t be there, to make me think I was going crazy. And at the time I didn’t really understand how he worked.
 

Min felt she was ‘screwed’ by the system as she could not afford to pay for a place in a refuge but felt her life was in danger (played by an actor).

Min felt she was ‘screwed’ by the system as she could not afford to pay for a place in a refuge but felt her life was in danger (played by an actor).

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You didn’t go to a refuge at any point?

It was full.

Yes, you mentioned that. When abouts in the trajectory that you’ve told me, the story, when abouts did you try and go to a refuge?

When he broke in with the crowbar.

That day?

That day he had, there was a [unclear speech], you know, this, I was absolutely terrified he was going to break in again. Because, at the time, I didn’t know the guy he brought was a mental health nurse. I thought he was a thug for hire, because that’s what he looked like. I know this, I know this sounds really judgemental, but he was like a heavy, big, thickset, bouncer looking guy.

Well and also carrying a crowbar.

And he had a crowbar. I thought he was a – the 999 call is, “There’s a heavy outside my door, there’s a heavy.” It’s actually in the transcript. Because I didn’t, you wouldn’t think he was a mental health nurse, huh. But sorry, what was the question?

The question was when you tried to go to a refuge and it was full.

Next day, next day. It was full. And I’ll be completely honest with you, they weren’t particularly helpful [laughs].

Well that’s fair enough.

They weren’t particularly helpful, but hey, you know, maybe they were having a bad day or something.

In what way were they not particularly helpful?

They weren’t particularly helpful because, I may be wrong in this, but my understanding is, if you’re self-employed, and if you have your own house, they sort of seem to think you can sort yourself out. You know, it’s, but I may be wrong in this.

Hmm, hmm. And that’s how you think they saw you?

I don’t know if that’s how they saw me. But certainly my understanding is that, to get into a refuge - and I’ve been told this on more than one occasion, but it could be a myth - my understanding is, to get into a refuge you literally have to give up your house and sort of like, you know, go on welfare. And if you’re not prepared to do that, then you have to pay for the refuge. But if you don’t have any money, you’re a bit screwed. I was obviously in the bit screwed [laughs] category [sniffs].

So the refuge said that it was full and they didn’t offer an alternative or anything?

They should have done, but they didn’t. But and then a year later when I sort of had a conversation with them, they sort of said, “Oh, you know, we offer” - “No you didn’t. You know, there’s no point in telling me now you offer alternatives. It didn’t happen at the time.”
 

Min was not allowed to feed her baby and she was left overnight without access to a breast pump to relieve the painful swelling (played by an actor).

Min was not allowed to feed her baby and she was left overnight without access to a breast pump to relieve the painful swelling (played by an actor).

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So they took me to the hospital, the mental health unit. This was like 7.00 pm or something so of course all the psychiatrists were off duty. And [blows nose] they put me in this room with a little window. They told me not to close the window. And they put a chair outside and there was a person sitting outside the whole night. Nobody talked to me. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I had no idea what was going on. My breasts were going to explode and so I said, “I need a breast pump. Please will you get me a breast pump.” The nurse in the maternity wing actually said, “You won’t be needing one of those for much longer.” Then I got angry. So I phoned up again and demanded to speak to somebody and demanded a breast pump. So one got sent up by a really, really nice nurse, completely different to the other one [sniffs]. The next morning I got up and I made sure, as soon as it got to nine o’clock, I made sure I was dressed, I was ready. And I got out of the room. I told the psychiatric, psychiatric nurse or the body guard or whoever was there outside my room, I said, “I need to make a formal complaint about this. This isn’t right. Please take me to someone.” So they took me to an office. And I said, “I want to make a complaint about this. I’m being falsely imprisoned. This isn’t right.” Within two, within two hours I had a mental health lawyer, I had a family lawyer, I’d been visited by Social Services. 
 

Min described her GP as ‘absolutely lovely and totally clueless’. She told Min not to ‘rock the boat’ by talking about abuse (played by an actor).

Min described her GP as ‘absolutely lovely and totally clueless’. She told Min not to ‘rock the boat’ by talking about abuse (played by an actor).

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In terms of other professionals, have you ever been able to talk to say a GP about what’s been going on and had any help from them at all?

My GP is absolutely lovely, absolutely lovely and totally and completely clueless. Totally clueless.

Really?

Yeah.

At what stage did you ever try and talk about the abuse?

The whole time.

So you were able to talk, you felt able to talk about it?

Hmm, she said, “Don’t say anything. Don’t rock the boat. You don’t want Social” – because she knew about my history, she said, “You don’t want Social Services involved because they might take your children away,” that was her view. She put me on antidepressants. She put me on Beta Blockers for anxiety. She arranged for counselling. But she told me I had post-traumatic stress disorder and arranged for CBT, but of course it was not appropriate. She did what she could, but she had a complete lack of understanding of coercive control.

Right.

And her view was definitely, “Put up with it, because it’s better than having your children removed,” which, as somebody in that situation, was very much my belief system, if you like. But I think a professional should have steered me in a different direction, to be honest with you.
 

Min was not allowed to go with her baby and she was left alone overnight and ‘sectioned’ before losing access to her children (played by an actor).

Min was not allowed to go with her baby and she was left alone overnight and ‘sectioned’ before losing access to her children (played by an actor).

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And then what happened was at about, I think, between 5.00 and 7.00 pm I heard voices outside the interview room, the room I was in. I the door opened, there was a woman there and there was a police officer. The woman looked at me, she looked me up and down and they closed the door and they talked. I didn’t hear what they were saying. And then the door opened again and the police officer said, “We’re going to take your baby to the hospital and to be examined.” And I thought, “I’m going with them.”

Of course, I was breastfeeding, he was seven weeks old. So I stood up. They, they took the baby in the little car seat and I stood up to go with them and the policeman had his hand there and went ‘woomph’ and pushed me in the chair and said, “You’re staying here [sniffs].” And [voice falters] they took my baby [sobs]. And I went crazy. I was hysterical. I was screaming, “Where’s my baby? I need to be with my baby. I need to be with my baby [sniffs]. Why can’t I go with my baby?” I had no idea what was going on because they still hadn’t told me. All they’d told me was, “We’re taking a statement.” Then [blows nose] that woman was there, and the police. So my baby had gone. I was absolutely hysterical.

And then they sectioned me.
 

Min had to endure a year of Child Protection proceedings following a false allegation made by her husband, despite immediately winning her appeal against the ‘section’ (played by an actor).

Min had to endure a year of Child Protection proceedings following a false allegation made by her husband, despite immediately winning her appeal against the ‘section’ (played by an actor).

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Within two hours I had a mental health lawyer, I had a family lawyer, I’d been visited by Social Services. And then I found out what was going on, only then. My husband had alleged, when I’d been breastfeeding and I’d taken off the baby because I was going to be sick, and I was rough because I was going to throw up, he said I’d thrown the baby across the room [sniffs]. And I said, “He’s twice my size. No matter how threatening he may or may not have thought I was, if I actually did throw the baby, why did he leave the baby with me as he bombed off to talk to the police? I would never have done that. I would have risked life and limb to take my baby. But he left the baby with me, the person who had apparently thrown the baby across the room [sniffs].” Social Services asked all kinds of things. At the time I didn’t realise that they were leading questions and they were trying to trick me [sniffs]. As it happens I, funnily enough, I picked one of the top mental health lawyers in the country, just by accident. I had the best family lawyer. My boys were put in care because Social Services – it was all child protection – Social Services said that, exactly my point, for the father to leave a baby who had been thrown across the room with, the throwing the baby across the room mother, that made him negligent.

Yes.

So he couldn’t have the babies. So they were in foster care for six weeks. I was in that hospital for two weeks because the appeals process was two weeks. Obviously I won the appeal. Apparently, according to my lawyer, it was the shortest appeal at that hospital that he had ever known. I think it was over in seven minutes, you know. So I won the appeal, but I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital. I had to stay an extra night. The hospital staff wouldn’t let me leave, even though I’d won the appeal.

And had you seen your children at all?

No, wasn’t allowed, child protection, wasn’t allowed. Then I was allowed to see my children. I wasn’t allowed, for their own safety, I wasn’t allowed to know where they were because I was deemed so [voice falters] dangerous. I found out – do you know how I found out? My client’s best friend was neighbours with the foster carer.

Really?

Yeah.

Oh goodness.

I was teaching a lot of classes around by there. I knew quite a lot of people.

Yes, yes.

But I found out by accident. Social Services wouldn’t [coughs]. So this started a process that would last, a child protection process that would last nearly over a year.
 

Min felt she was ‘on a train’, on a lifetime mission to raise awareness of domestic violence and abuse (played by an actor).

Min felt she was ‘on a train’, on a lifetime mission to raise awareness of domestic violence and abuse (played by an actor).

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Did you make contact with a specific domestic violence agency at any point?

Yes.

How did that come about?

The police sexual assault team, they, after the police thing was no further actioned, they said I needed extra support, because they knew I’d be upset.

Yes.

And they wanted to make sure that I was OK.

Right.

So they referred me. And I’m going to be working for them as a volunteer. They’re amazing. They were so [voice falters] amazing. I had a lot of counselling last year; some weeks four to five hours a week.

Who was the counselling from?

Various, do I have to specify the name or?

Well not if it’s a local name.

It is local.

But is it a local charity or?

Yes, it’s basically charities. It’s basically, I had an amazing IDVA [Independent Domestic Violence Advocate]. She hung around for way longer than she should have done, you know, she was absolutely amazing. And she helped me keep my head above water when I actually thought I was going insane. And yeah.

And you were saying, the sexual abuse team that you’re going to be working with as a volunteer, is that as part of the police or is it a separate charity?

It’s a separate charity.

Right, dealing with?

No, no dealing in sexual abuse, yeah.

And do you receive counselling from them as well?

I did, I received counselling for six months. And, as a result of that, they approached me and said that they thought that I could help other people with my experiences and I’d be, I can’t remember how they put it but, you know what, this is my life now, working in raising awareness.

Yes.

Because you’re on that train and you’re not going to get off until they chuck you off.
 

Min feels that ‘queuing’ to access services might force women to stay with abusive partners (played by an actor).

Min feels that ‘queuing’ to access services might force women to stay with abusive partners (played by an actor).

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What was the main thing that was missing, do you think, for you?

Availability, immediate availability.

Of?

Any kind of support service. Do you know what the worst thing is?

What?

It’s the queuing system. When you need support, you need it now. You don’t want to wait six months, you don’t want to be in a queuing system, you don’t want to have like a telephone interview, you don’t want to wait for a letter. You need it now. There has to be a way of funding, there has to be a way of sorting out immediate access to have when it is needed, at the root of the problem. Not somewhere in the future when you’ve actually glossed over it or you’ve decided you can actually live with the devil you know. It needs to be accessed and accessible at the point where you ask for help. That’s quite short.
 

Min said doctors should ‘look beyond what is presented’ in order to recognise trauma caused by domestic abuse, and to keep proper notes (played by an actor).

Min said doctors should ‘look beyond what is presented’ in order to recognise trauma caused by domestic abuse, and to keep proper notes (played by an actor).

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If you had a message to give to doctors or people in healthcare, what would that be?

OK, the message is this. A woman comes to you because she is stressed, because she is anxious, but she doesn’t say anything else: you need to consider that she’s scared of you. You need to consider that she’s scared that you might pick up the phone and telephone Social Services or the police, because there are child protection issues, so she will lie, she’ll minimise, she will deflect. But you need to understand that there could be abuse there that she can’t qualify and quantify, but it is there. And I believe that you have a duty of care to look beyond what is presented to you. You have a duty of care to see that the person who could be over-emotional, anxious, stressed, is not necessarily mentally ill, but could be traumatised, could be severely sleep deprived because they’re being sleep raped three or four times a night. You need to consider things like that. You need to consider that what you see is the tip of the iceberg. You need to be open to that. And you need to ask questions properly. You can’t just go in there and just say ‘have you been abused?’ because people will clam up, especially if they’re scared of their children being removed.

Yes.

Yeah, I’ve got quite a lot to say on that [laughs] subject.

That’s good.

Funnily enough. And you need to be sympathetic. And you need to make proper notes, because it’s no good [sniffs] having someone come to you, a patient say de, de, de, de, whatever, and you write some crappy little note that a year later you are asked to retrieve, that says nothing.

Do a shorthand course, but you need to write proper notes. Because it’s a way of evidencing, it’s a way of gathering information to look for a pattern of behaviour that would otherwise fall beneath the radar. And they need your help. So proper notes are good.
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