Age at interview: 54
Brief Outline: Philippa experienced controlling behaviour and physical, emotional and verbal abuse during her 13 year relationship. She left her husband for the final time in 2005 after he threatened to restrict her access to their children. For nine months she and her daughters stayed in a refuge, where she received counselling and support, and was able to feel safe again.
Background: Philippa is a white British woman who lives with her two daughters (16 and 21 years) in their privately rented home. She is single and works full-time in finance.

More about me...

For Philippa, the emotional abuse and controlling behaviour began during the first 12 months of her 13 year marriage. Philippa’s partner made her feel guilty about socialising with friends and he didn’t want her to own a mobile phone. After eight years together the verbal abuse began, and her partner would make derogatory and insulting comments about her appearance, behaviour and family. Soon after, the physical abuse started. During the ‘beatings’ she was punched, kicked, suffocated and strangled. On one occasion the whole of the side of her face swelled up. The physical and verbal abuse usually occurred after her partner had been drinking. The on-going abuse had a detrimental impact on Philippa’s physical health: she stopped eating properly and lived on sweets, wine, cigarettes and coffee. 

Over the years Philippa left her partner on several occasions, each time staying overnight in a women’s refuge or at her parents’ house. However she would always return home, wanting to believe her husband’s promises that he would change and not wanting to ‘disrupt’ the family. She was motivated to finally leave him in 2005 after he threatened to limit her access to her children, telling her that she was to have nothing to do with them and would have to spend all of her time at work. Later that day she picked up the children from school and drove to the police station. With the bruises still on her body from the last assault, she reported what had happened. With nothing but the clothes that they were wearing, they were found a place to stay in a hotel for a week, before they moved into a women’s refuge where they then stayed for nine months.

While in the refuge Philippa received one – to - one and group counselling sessions which she found to be beneficial and therapeutic. In particular the group sessions enabled her to hear others’ stories and to realise that she was not alone. The ‘secret’ location of the refuge also helped her to feel ‘safe’ and ‘relaxed again’. 

Philippa reflects how the abuse has had a ‘huge impact’ on her eldest daughter. Ten years on, age 21, she suffers from depression and is still badly affected ‘by the memories of what happened’. For Philippa, her abusive marriage means that she no longer trusts men and has no desire to begin a new relationship. She also feels that she is always looking over her shoulder, fearful that her ex may fulfil his previous threat to kill her if she took the children away from him. 

Philippa suggests that it is important for women to keep a written record of the abuse they experience. During her relationship, Philippa documented over 140 incidents of abuse on scraps of paper. She passed these to her solicitor after leaving the relationship. This important diary of events meant that her ex-partner realised that there was no point trying to get access to their children, because her evidence outweighed his. 

When in the relationship, Philippa did not talk to her GP about the abuse she was experiencing, not seeing what they could do for her. However, she now feels that health professionals may be the right people to help women experiencing domestic abuse as women could disclose to them in a confidential environment, away from their abusive partner.

Philippa lived on an unhealthy diet of sweets, wine, cigarettes and coffee to avoid being abused in the kitchen.

Well I didn't eat properly so I probably wasn’t healthy, so I couldn’t cook because he would drink in the kitchen and verbally abuse me so I didn't want to be there if I could get out of it. But also there were occasions when I tried to cook and he threw things at me so that, that wasn’t possible either. He insulted my cooking so I obviously didn't want to cook because I was going to be insulted but it was difficult because I couldn’t make things for the children so I was more concerned about making their dinner than making my own. You know, so I would try and do something really quick, beans on toast was very popular because I could do that for them quite quickly and then get out of the way but it meant I wasn’t eating. I'd lived on sweets, we sold sweets in the shop so I lived on sweets, I drank a lot of wine, smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank a lot of coffee and I didn't have very much else. So I wasn’t living a healthy life 


But there wasn’t anything I could do about it. 

Over thirteen years, controlling behaviour led to verbal abuse and then physical abuse. Philippa’s partner tried to strangle her and suffocate her under her duvet.

So first of all then if you're able to begin, by describing to me, telling me a little bit about your kind of abusive relationship. 

Okay it started off controlling. So my partner wasn’t happy about me going out with friends and made me feel guilty about that and I didn't realise it was controlling behaviour, I just felt sorry for him, I thought I won't go out I'll stay in. And then within a couple of years it became verbally abusive and then very soon after physically abusive. So that it would manifest itself in different ways. I had things thrown at me, I was suffocated, strangled, almost thrown downstairs, punched, kicked. Beaten and all sorts of different things like that. 

And how long were you together with this man for?

13 years. 

Okay, and that initial controlling behaviour of him not wanting you to go out and things when did that start into the relationship?

Probably about within a year of meeting. The physical and verbal abuse probably about eight years later. So there was quite a big gap between just controlling behaviour and becoming physically and verbally abusive. 

So just, just reflecting back when did you realise, just thinking about the controlling behaviour, when did you realise that was abusive behaviour?

After I left him. I didn't know that just being controlling was abusive behaviour. And I couldn’t step outside the relationship and see what was happening. I just thought he's the sort of person that needs me around, I’ll stop doing what I want to do and be with him. 

On the advice of a solicitor, Philippa kept a diary, to record what was happening at home and build up evidence for a prosecution.

He did try and get access, but when my solicitor presented his solicitor with a list of everything that I'd documented he dropped his request, he said I won’t try and get access anymore. So I kept a diary of sorts about things that had happened. 

So when it was on, all ongoing, keeping a record of that. 

Yes, yeah. 

Was that ... was it that you kept a record because it kind of ... the reason at the time was it, kind of did you have a thought that you know it may be useful in the future to have that record?

A solicitor had recommended it to me. I phoned a solicitor for advice once, and I said I'm in this situation, I am going back because I've got two children ... 


... but what can you suggest and she suggested I keep a record, a diary as much as I could, you know what happens, what's said, what time etc. So it wasn’t a diary as in a book it was scraps of paper which I hid...


... and then when I left I took them with me and I gave them to the solicitor. 

Philippa wonders if her daughter suffered from becoming her Mum’s ‘ally’ from the age of eleven.

So I had to, mostly I had to ignore it as much as I could and I think my daughter and I became allies, you know, in that I had to rely on her and talk to her about things because I didn't have anybody else to talk to which was obviously not good for her but .

And how old was she at the time?

She was 11 when we left so she was obviously younger when it started. 

And when she was younger than that did you talk to her, talk to her as well as your ally.

Not so much no. I think, she was obviously aware of things going on because there was shouting and generally she didn't see much of the physical violence but she would hear a lot of shouting. She obviously heard the music because it would prevent her from sleeping, she knew things were going on. and sometimes it would happen at the end of the school day so she'd see some of the verbal abuse as well. So yeah that, that was really difficult for her. 

And what sort of impact do you think that abuse has had on, had on your two daughters?

On her a huge impact because she's now got depression so she's on antidepressants, and she gets triggers where memories come back. She was in a nightclub the other night she said and somebody started yelling at her and her friends and it brought back the memories of her father and so she was in tears. So even now, 10 years later, she's still really badly affected by, you know, the memories of what happened. 

What about your younger, younger daughter?

She doesn't remember so much because she was five when we left so she knows that there were problems, but we just simply don't talk about him. I think she's okay, I don't know I just think she is because she doesn't remember enough about what was going on. 

Philippa described life in a women’s refuge. She is glad a national network of refuges exists and that the locations are kept secret.

And how were you ... how long were you at that refuge for?

Nine months. 

Nine months and what was your experience of being at the refuge like?

It was really difficult, really hard. People come and go all the time. You, there’s such variety of people's circumstances. The staff are fantastic but the relationship of living with other people was really hard. So I appreciate everything the staff did, you know there was one to one counselling and there was group counselling and there was activities and the children were well looked after. But we lived in a house with three bedrooms, so there was myself and the girls in one, and then there was another family in another, then there was a single room for a single person. And you have to get on as best you can with a mixture of people and some people only stayed a night and some people stayed for months. So that was really hard. 

I'd lived on sweets, we sold sweets in the shop so I lived on sweets, I drank a lot of wine, smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank a lot of coffee and I didn't have very much else. So I wasn’t living a healthy life…


…but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. 

And did that, I mean did you, obviously when you left and went into the refuge were you able to kind of have the opportunity to change the way 

Yes. There's no alcohol allowed in the refuge so I couldn’t drink there, although we could go out to the pub but we couldn’t have it in the house so that was good. So we had a proper kitchen and our own fridge so it meant I could actually start doing proper meals again. 


So that was really helpful. 

And how did that, how did that feel to kind of be able to return to that?

Really strange but very nice. 

So you had contact with Women's Aid, what was helpful or not helpful about, about what they provided?

I think the fact that they have refuges all over the country meant that I knew that that would be somewhere I could actually go. 


So, you know that really helped in terms of the first situation where I had to get out and find somewhere to stay for the night. And then knowing that I could be somewhere that was not known to him, with my children when I did finally leave, in a place that he didn't know, that made me relax. So you know, nobody knew where it was, it was a P O Box, even my parents didn't know where it was. They knew the town but they didn't know where it was because it's supposed to be secret. And when, and when he contacted them and said, I think he got his solicitor to send my dad a letter to say that he had to disclose it, my dad could say I don't know where she is, I don't know where the children are, you know truthfully. 


So I was really grateful for the fact that it was secret, because that really helped, gave me time to make me feel relaxed again, be normal, but feel safe. 

Philippa had support from police to leave an abusive relationship and to find temporary accommodation

Went to the police station and are you able to describe to me what happened there?

Well we went in and I said I want to talk to a female officer and they didn't have any so I had to go out and come back an hour later when the female officer had started. And they took the children away and I sat down and I explained exactly what had happened and I still had bruises on me from the previous fight. So they obviously took details and they contacted the council, they found me somewhere to stay, so we went to stay in a hotel for nearly a week.

So that was from that evening. 

Yeah, yeah. I phoned him the following day, not from the town we were staying but from another town, so I drove and I phoned him. And I think he'd been up all night and he was just in bits, and I said I'm not coming back. And he said, "Well you know can you come back, can you do the books?" Because I was doing the books for the business and I said, "No this is it, I'm not coming back." And we had nothing, we literally had nothing. You know they say when people walk out they've got nothing, I had what I was wearing, my older daughter was in her school uniform and the younger was in her PE kit and they had nothing either because I couldn’t carry anything out I just had to leave. So we went to a charity shop and bought a load of stuff so they could wear something that day. And then, so that was the Saturday and then on the Sunday I went back to the police station, because they wanted a photograph of my bruises for their records just in case I wanted to prosecute him. And I asked for a police officer to come with me to the house so I could get some stuff and he came with me and he went in before me and my husband wasn’t there.

The police. So what was helpful or not helpful about what the police did for you?

Well there was an earlier involvement with the police which I didn't mention which was that I had to call them to our house, because he was being abusive and they came and they kept him in one room while I packed in another so that I could take me and the children away. And as a result of that the local community policeman used to come into the shop occasionally and you know he'd buy something and we'd have a chat. But I found out later that he was checking up on me but I didn't know it at the time. 

So very subtle. 

So that was good. It was nice to find out afterwards, I just assumed that it was part of his beat and he was coming in because he's a community policeman and he goes to meet people. So it's nice to know that actually there was a network, that, you know, people were talking about things that were important. 

For Philippa it was more a case of not ‘if’ but ‘when’ as she knew for several years that she would leave her partner.

Well at the time I was living away from all of my friends and family and so I was alone. But I knew that it couldn’t go on forever, I knew there would come a point when I'd have to leave, I just didn't know when that would be. But when there were times when things weren't so good and he would say later, "Oh I'm sorry, you know, it will be better next time." I believed it and I stayed because I had children and I didn't want to disrupt the family but I knew in my heart that I would go at some point it was just a case of when, not if, when. 

So those thoughts were with you for several, several years.

Yes, yeah and I felt strong enough in myself that I knew I could go, I just didn't know when it would be or what the trigger would be to make me go. But I was, I was strong enough to be able to say this isn't right. 

So when did the time come, this fact that you kind of thought right I'm going to leave, the right time, when was the time for you?

Well, I was told by somebody when I had counselling that there's always a trigger for somebody to go and I'd left him several times and went back. But the trigger, when I said I really couldn’t go back was we'd lived above the bakery business that we had, and I finished work one day, and I went upstairs and he'd finished earlier and he'd taken the children's beds apart and we'd recently had the loft converted and he'd moved the mattresses up to the loft but he hadn’t taken the bed bases. And he said to me, "The children are going to be moving upstairs and you’re going to have nothing to do with them." And I thought to myself so I work hours, like 60/70 hours a week and I earn nothing because we didn't earn very much, and I don't get to see my children, I don't think so. And I had to go and collect the children from school because their school was six miles away and the only way to, was to drive backwards and forwards. 


So I went to get them and I never went back. So I picked up my children, stopped off to get something to eat. Talked to the older one and I said, "Today's the day, I told you there would be a day, today's that day, I can't go back." So we had a little chat about it and I had to get her agreement to do it, I didn't feel that I could do it on my own and I wanted her to agree that this is what we were going to do together and she agreed. So we didn't go back. 

Where did you go?

Went to the police station. 

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

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. 

Fearful that she may not survive the relationship, Philippa gathered evidence of abuse for the sake of her children to stop her partner getting custody.

The solicitor helped by telling me to keep a diary. 

Yeah, was that, was that a solicitor you'd had previous contact with?

No, no it was just a random name that I saw that this particular organisation dealt with women in my situation so they obviously had some experience. I just phoned up and I said, you know what do you suggest and they said keep a diary. 

So is that ... I mean what sort of advice would you offer to kind of women who are currently in an abusive relationship? Is that something you'd, you'd suggest to them?

Definitely because there's nothing to beat evidence, and I think when my husband found out that I'd had something like 140 recorded incidents that I'd given to my solicitor he realised there was no point him trying to get access to the children, because my evidence outweighed his. So I'd definitely say that's something worth doing. 

Whatever advice or kind of, you know, experiences would you like to share with other women? Any other messages?

It's a really tricky one. I'd like to say don't think it's going to get better because it probably won't because if it's happened once it will probably happen again. And the thing to do is just probably get yourself to a safe situation as soon as possible rather than staying. the thing I didn't want for myself was to be carried out in a body bag and leave my two children with him so I knew that that couldn’t happen, I just had to make sure that I took them with me. I didn't want to leave them with him. 

Yeah, so they were with you and that was your priority. 

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