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Nessa

Age at interview: 22
Brief Outline: From the age of 17 Nessa was in an emotionally abusive and controlling relationship with her children’s father. She also experienced physical abuse from a subsequent partner. Although the marks on her skin from the violent attacks she endured have faded, the psychological effects of the emotional abuse continue to impact on her sense of self.
Background: Nessa, a full-time mother, lives in a council rented property with her two children aged two and four. She is a single woman of mixed ethnic background (White and Black Caribbean).

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Nessa experienced emotional-psychological abuse and controlling behaviour during her five year relationship to the father of her children. He made her feel unattractive and that no other man would want her because she had ‘stretch marks and two children’. Her partner dictated the clothes she wore, didn’t allow her to wear makeup and made it difficult for her to keep in touch with family and friends. She describes his behaviour as increasingly paranoid. She felt lonely and no longer knew who she was. Nessa ended the relationship after her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and her partner tried to limit the time that she spent with him. 

A few months later Nessa began a new relationship with an old friend. During this nine month relationship her partner subjected her to regular violent attacks. For example, pushing, slapping, head butting and hitting her with the metal buckle of his leather belt. This physical abuse often took place in front of her children. Nessa minimised and excused his behaviour to herself, friends and professionals (such as the police and social workers). It wasn’t until they broke up that she accepted that his behaviour was abusive and that what he had done ‘was really wrong’. This time, the trigger for the end of the relationship was the intervention of Social Services which followed a phone call she made to the police during one physical attack. 

Two months on Nessa flinches all of the time, she doesn’t like men sitting too close to her and feels that she now has ‘trust issues’. Her confidence and self-esteem continue to be dented by her experiences of abuse. Her children, as witnesses to the abuse, are also affected. For example her daughter is wary of men and lacks confidence and her son sometimes displays violent behaviour, such as slapping and throwing things. However, her friends and family have been encouraging her to go out to pubs and clubs with them, which is helping to boost her confidence and both she and the children are feeling happier. Nessa has also found attending the Freedom Programme useful. It has helped her to realise that there are other women in the same situation and that she is not ‘the person to blame’ for everything that has happened to her. 

Initially reluctant to have the involvement of Social Services, Nessa now accepts that her negative ideas about them were wrong. She continues to regularly receive support from her social worker and a support worker from the local domestic abuse service, who have helped her in many ways, such as providing a listening ear, arranging a place for her on the Freedom Programme, and helping her to access bereavement counselling. 

Nessa wants to tell other women currently in an abusive relationship that ‘no matter how hard it is …there is a light at the end of the tunnel and just keep focusing on that light and try to get out of it, because it really, it really is worth it’.
 

When Nessa decided to stand up for herself, her partner retaliated by refusing to take care of the home and the children.

When Nessa decided to stand up for herself, her partner retaliated by refusing to take care of the home and the children.

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At this point, where I started standing up for myself, I had to do everything. I was caring for my dad, I was getting up in the morning with my children, doing them their breakfast, I used to have their dinner done by about 11 o’clock, go down and see my dad, go to the hospital appointments with him, like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and stuff like that. And then by the time I’d finished with my dad, come home and he wouldn’t have done their dinner or anything like that. The house and toys would be a mess and I’d have to come home and sort out all that too.

Yeah. Did you ever broach that with him and ask him to do more?

Yeah, yeah. I used to think yeah, because he used to say to me, “Oh the kids have been playing up, they’ve been moody and they’ve been arguing,” and I looked at him and I said to me, “Well, what have you done today? Have you took them into the garden? Have you sat down and played with them? Have you done them any dinner?” And he’d be like, “Oh no, they’ve been playing.” I’d be like, “Right, right, so while they’re playing, you’ve been sat on your computer.” And he’s like, “That’s not good enough for your children as well.” 

Yeah.

But he wouldn’t never really understand anything, and then it got to the point where all the accusation came with my dad, because obviously, when we found out his chemotherapy and radiotherapy didn’t work, we knew we had to spend more time with him, as much time as we could.

Yeah.

And that’s when he’s accusing me and starting coming out with like, “You’re sleeping with your dad’s friends, you’re doing this, you’re really going to the pub with your dad.”
 

Nessa used to hide the evidence of her partner’s brutal attacks from her mum and professionals.

Nessa used to hide the evidence of her partner’s brutal attacks from her mum and professionals.

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Was the abuse daily or was it weekly or random or …?

Honestly it was every two weeks. It wasn’t, as far as I know, he didn’t plan to do it every two weeks, but it seemed to be as soon as the bruises from one healed, I’d have a bruise from another. So yeah.

At the time, did you cover those bruises up or did you, how did you cope with those effects?

Well I said to you he head-butted me and cracked my nose, when he done that, he like made me not see my family for two weeks. I had to stay in at home because my mum used to take me food shopping and stuff like that, I used to say to her, “Yeah,” like because my mum didn’t want me involved with [Name] either. Because at this point, social services was involved, but I was hiding him from my mum and social services. When it came to like him doing that to my nose, I couldn’t see my family and anything like that. And then I was always quite open when he used to beat me up, I was quite open about some of the violence. Like if it was just a few pushes and he used to slap me, I used to just let it go over my head. But when he actually pinned me down and hit me with belts and stuff like that, I used to ring my mum any chance I could get, whether it was just quickly running into the kitchen and quickly ringing someone to kind of pick me up, he would then leave the house …

Yeah.

… and then I’d get picked up, but because I wouldn’t like, they knew what had happened so I didn’t really need to hide the marks, but I’d still hide them so they couldn’t see it. But I remember it got to when he hit me with the belt, I got to my mum’s house and it, it was really horrible, if I’m honest, like straightaway one of my mum’s friends, [Name], one of mum’s friends, came up to me, lifted up my back of my t-shirt and goes, “Well is that what he done? I’m going to, like I’m going to go crazy.” And even that, just the way he done that, I flinched and I was like, “What are you doing?” like …
 

Witnessing domestic abuse had left Nessa’s daughter with really low confidence and her son copying some of his dad’s violent behaviour.

Witnessing domestic abuse had left Nessa’s daughter with really low confidence and her son copying some of his dad’s violent behaviour.

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First relationship, what impact do you think that had on those around you, like your children, being in that relationship?

My daughter hasn’t got no confidence at all. She has now because we’ve been out of the relationship, well I’ve been out of the relationship a while, but she hasn’t got, well now she has, but she didn’t have much confidence with adults and men especially. She was quite wary only because she used to see me and her dad argue all the time and everything. Like it was in front of her when he threatened me with the knife. Like she’s really quite wary of men and her confidence is really quite low. But that, that would, I’d say that’s it really.

Yeah.

But my son, [Name], his behaviour where he’s seen my ex-partner be violent and stuff too …

Yeah.

… he’s more quite boisterous and quite, if he don’t get his own way, he’ll throw things, he’ll have a paddy, he’ll even like try slapping and stuff like that, and I’ve just got to say to him, “No [Name], like that’s not nice. You don’t do stuff like that,” but it’s quite hard because when you see that, you can’t really use words like, “No, stop being a bully,” and stuff like that, because what he’s seen, and you don’t really want to like make them think about that too much. So it’s, it’s quite, it’s really hard really to bring up your children after the domestics.

Yeah.

It’s really hard.
 

Social services involvement triggered Nessa to end her abusive relationship. She was able to keep her children safe and also get help for herself through a domestic violence Support Worker.

Social services involvement triggered Nessa to end her abusive relationship. She was able to keep her children safe and also get help for herself through a domestic violence Support Worker.

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And the trigger for that relationship to end, what was that?

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.

And how did social services become involved initially?

It was, it was either, well the first time it happened, it was nothing obvious, but the second time, he had me actually pinned down on the floor in front of my children and he was repeatedly hitting me.

Was that with the belt or …

It was with his hand, it was just like slapping me and stuff, and I couldn’t do anything about it or anything like that, and I actually had my phone in my hand because like I’ve always got my phone in my hand but I had my phone in my hand so I managed to dial 999 and I rang the police and they came here because he actually took my phone off me, but I remember, I was just shouting, like, “I need help.”

Right, you … yeah.

Yeah.

Yeah.

And so they came here and obviously like I didn’t really want to write a statement yet. They didn’t really force me to writing a statement but they said to me, “Listen, we can see what he’s done to you and your children. You need to like really write a statement so we can do something about this.”

Yeah.

So I did, I wrote a statement and they asked me if it ever happened before, and I lied about it and I said, “No,” I said, “This is the first time this has like why I rang the police and everything”. I did I totally lied about it, but from there, they got social services involved because obviously he’s known by the police for violence and a lot of other things too, so social services were on to him straight away. Yeah.

And what about since you left last, last couple of months? Have you talked to them…

Yeah. Like with, well to start off with, like social services would want to know how it happened, why it happened, but I wouldn’t tell them either because I didn’t want them to be involved with me, but when he left, like I started opening up and I started talking a lot more, especially to social services and my support worker, and I told them everything, how it happened, what he’s actually done to me. It was in front of the children, and they gave, they gave me the most great like help and support I could ever ask for, literally, I mean I go to them for more help and support and to even talk to them than what I do with my family. And not because I don’t trust them or anything, but just because I feel more comfortable talking to like professionals about it than what I do my own friends and family.

So you’ve been allocated a support, a support worker …

Yeah. Yeah.

… then and how long have you been in contact … 

I’ve been …

… with them, them for?

They got involved in December.

Right. So last six, seven months.

Yeah.

And how often do you get to see them?

I see them, I see my social worker once a week and my support worker once, see her once a week, but separately, not together.

Do they come here or do you go to them?

I go to them [emergency services siren in background] and they come here.

Okay. That’s, and that’s one to one sessions?

Yeah, it’s one to one.

That support, so just thinking, so they became involved after that time that you, you know, you rang …

Yeah, I rang …

… you rang the police and, but there were times after that [pause] so you were reluctant to initially disclose …

Yeah.

Is that about everything?

Yeah, because like, yeah, because I’m, it was also like after my dad passed away as well, because it was all so much, they tried telling me that I’ve got depression and anxiety and everything else too, but it wasn’t, it was the simple fact that I didn’t want them getting involved with me, and my dad just recently passed away. My, well my ex-partner was being really violent and …

Yeah.

Yeah, it was …

So what, what have they done for you? Just thinking about the social worker and the support worker, what have they done for you in terms of, you know, the domestic abuse or the …

They got me onto the Freedom programme, because I didn’t want to go there, yeah.

Yeah, okay.

I really didn’t want to go, but they got me onto it and to start off with, like I said, I was in a relationship, I didn’t want to go, but from when I realised he was abusive and I voluntarily wanted to go there for myself.

Yeah.

It changed and, yeah, do you know what I mean and the social workers, well my support worker, she helps me out with everything. Where I haven’t got much confidence even to do telephone like phone calls and stuff, my support worker will help me out with all that. My social worker has got me bereavement like counselling and stuff for my dad.
 

When social services became involved, Nessa realised ‘my kids are worth a million more of him’, which triggered her to leave.

When social services became involved, Nessa realised ‘my kids are worth a million more of him’, which triggered her to leave.

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And the trigger for that relationship to end, what was that?

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.
 

Nessa wished she had left sooner. Although leaving was difficult she said it was really worth it, as she ‘got [her] life back’.

Nessa wished she had left sooner. Although leaving was difficult she said it was really worth it, as she ‘got [her] life back’.

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What’s the one piece of advice then that you want to give to women who are currently in an abusive relationship?

I’d say like no matter how hard it is and I know it’s really, really hard, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and just keep focusing on that light and try to get out of it, because it really, it really is worth it, and when you’re out of the relationship and you’ve got your life back and you start going out with your friends and socialising again, you’ll honestly ask yourself why you never done it so much sooner. So…

Is there, are there any other messages you want to kind of pass on from what you’ve learnt from your experiences?

Yeah, just like social services as well, don’t ever, because we have, both of them, they did try and say to me I think on a couple of occasions, like social services, and all that, but they really aren’t that bad, and once you work with social services instead of working against social services, that really helps you a lot. It helps you with like everything, literally getting into like the right programmes. Getting yourself somewhere, getting to where you actually want to be with your life, rather than what someone else wanted you to, and yeah.

Yeah.

Like even together as a family with me and my children, it’s helped a lot because even like, they do random check-ups and everything and it’s like, even that has helped because it’s helped me keep on top of the house, we’ve got into our own routines now, we go out and do more as a family, and we’ve got a lot more time and like we’re a lot more happier.

Yeah, already.

Yeah, yeah, just already. We’ve only been broke up since May, so just within the last three or four months, there’s been a massive change.
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