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Sara

Age at interview: 40
Brief Outline: Sara was married for almost seven years to a man who became increasingly controlling towards her, withholding money, making constant sexual demands and criticising her. Sara finally ended the relationship when he became physically abusive towards their young son. Her Christian faith has been very important in helping her deal with troubled times. She recently returned to live in her home area, nearer family and friends, due to medical reasons. (Video clips read by a professional.)
Background: Sara is a 40 year old Christian woman who cares for her two children aged four and six years. She lives in a privately rented home, is divorced and is engaged in voluntary work.

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Sara’s relationship with her husband had a difficult start as he insisted she had repeat screening for sexually transmitted diseases as she had been sexually abused in an earlier relationship, a fact which he confided in his parents without her consent. Sara had been traumatised by the sexual abuse, had been screened at the time and also received trauma counselling.

Her partner also dictated the plans for their wedding which Sara went along with, believing it to be a sign of his love for her. Sexual difficulties emerged early in their marriage which led to stress during her two pregnancies. Following the birth of each of her children, Sara’s parenting was constantly criticised by her husband and her self-esteem became very low. Help from her husband around the house was contingent on her rewarding him with sex. She was given barely enough money to manage the household, restricting her ability to engage in any activity outside the home. In seven years of marriage, Sara went out alone twice.

Life was difficult for Sara whilst parenting her two children with little support from her husband who made continuous sexual demands and joked with his friends about their poor sex life. Sara, however, regarded her marriage as ‘normal’ and saw any deficiencies as her fault. A friend tried to help her recognise the extreme degree of control she was living under, for example being criticised for spending £1 and not being ‘allowed’ any time out of the house. Alarm bells only rang for Sara when her husband began to bully and hit their son and she knew that she must take steps to protect her children.

Sara felt low and exhausted most of the time and began to experience ill health such as allergies, pelvic infections, pneumonia, sepsis and atopic asthma which led to at least two periods of hospitalisation. Following one such episode Sara managed a rare visit to the GP on her own, for a check-up. She ‘broke down in tears’ when the GP asked her how she was, Sara confided in her GP who gave her contact details for the national domestic abuse helpline. Sara was not happy with the emphasis on ‘getting out’ of the relationship, and experienced guilt at the idea of ‘breaking up the family’. She had previously booked herself and her husband on a marriage course through their church, but after only one session her husband was verbally abusive to her.

Sara eventually left after her husband tried to gain custody of the children on the grounds that Sara was mentally ill and not fit to continue parenting. Sara and her children stayed with a friend for five days then entered a refuge for three months, an experience she describes as ‘like prison’, although her keyworker was ‘awesome’.

Sara’s children live with her, and their father has access to them. Sara cannot be alone with her ex as he becomes confrontational, and so hand-overs of the children are supervised by a male family member. Sara now feels supported by her friends who witnessed her ‘slowly dying inside’ during her marriage, but now see her as ‘a totally different person’. (Video clips read by a professional.)
 

When Sara became seriously ill one night her husband, after making himself a cup of tea, reluctantly rang for an ambulance. Her check-up was Sara’s first chance to see a doctor alone (read by a professional).

When Sara became seriously ill one night her husband, after making himself a cup of tea, reluctantly rang for an ambulance. Her check-up was Sara’s first chance to see a doctor alone (read by a professional).

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He said, "I can't believe this is happening again" and I was just like, sat there bewildered like "I'm not trying to, like I don't want to be like this." And he's like, "I'm fed up with it, I've had enough." 

And he went down and made himself a cup of tea, he come up with his cup of tea. Then he rang the doctor and said they're sending an ambulance, they sent the ambulance, and he stayed at home with the kids because they were in bed, and I went to hospital on my own. But yeah when I came out of hospital I had to have check-ups with the doctor and he came with me for a few of them and I was really hoping and praying I could get to one without him being there and I did. And I think when the doctor said, ‘How are you?’ I just broke down in tears. 

Really, gosh. So was that the first time you'd really said anything to anybody?

Yeah I think it was actually. Because I think she gave me the number to the domestic abuse people and I spoke to them for two weeks solid, crying and everything, saying but I'm breaking up the family. 

Really. 

I had this real sense of guilt because I thought oh my goodness and they're like but you're making it better and then that was the thing and I had real peace about going.
 

Sara’s friend tried to point out that it was not right that she was scared to spend £1 on a cup of coffee (read by a professional).

Sara’s friend tried to point out that it was not right that she was scared to spend £1 on a cup of coffee (read by a professional).

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And I wouldn’t have minded if I'd gone off and spent my money in Harrods or even, I don't know any other shop, but when I ... I forgot to mention. When I spent a £1 after I had [son] and, because he'd started using ... checking the card and everything, he went ballistic, like proper and I was just like it's a £1. 

And he went on at me and I was like yeah I'm really sorry and everything and I told my friend about it and she was like, "[Participant’s name removed] really it's a £1, it's £1." I said, "I know but he ..." and she was like ... because she was trying to say, "Oh why don't you do this?" And I was like, "Yeah but I can't because ... " And she's was like, "Why can't you?" And I was like, "Because when I spent £1 before he went off and ..." She was like, "But it's £1." And she couldn’t get that and I was like yeah but. 

And then another time I'd spent £2 because he seemed alright about the £1 after so many months. And then he really went off about that.

So how were you managing to buy food and clothes for your children?

Well clothes would be from the charity shop because he ... I was allowed to buy food. 

Right. 

I don't know whether in his mind, he thought I might spend it on something else but what was really crazy was if he went and bought food he'd give me the receipt, I didn't ask for it but he give it me. But I never gave him mine because I thought well you should trust me because I trusted him, I didn't want him to give me a receipt to say ah exactly how much was that. So I was a bit confused why he did that. 

So you never really had your own money?

No, no that's one of the things last year my friend said, she was like, "Don't you have any money?" And I said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I'm allowed to go for a coffee sometimes and have some time out." But I had to fight for that.
 

Sara couldn’t cope with her husband’s sexual demands. Sex was sometimes physically painful for her but her husband would not listen to her (read by a professional).

Sara couldn’t cope with her husband’s sexual demands. Sex was sometimes physically painful for her but her husband would not listen to her (read by a professional).

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I think he thinks that sex is love, my ex, I think he honestly thinks ... because it's like oh you don't really love me because you, you know, we don't ... we haven't had sex this week. Or he would do the, the other thing of like on the Wednesday, Monday to Wednesday, if we hadn’t had sex, he'd say we haven't had sex this week and that was kind of a bit of an alarm bell. I'm thinking no I won't and that was the pressure and then he was wondering why I felt pressure. He was reminding me like we only had sex once last week or we haven't had sex, normally had sex actually each week. [We actually were having sex three times a week and he was still wanting sex].

But... and there was a thing on this thing on the Saturday [on the marriage course] about questions and answers and there was one about what if your husband, you know, wants to have sex and you don't ... this woman was saying my husband wants sex and I have sex, even though I don't actually want it and this woman was saying that's actually wrong because you've both got to want to. Both have to be consenting. If there's a problem you need to sit down and talk about it and that's the thing, is that whole talking, communication. 
 

Sara finally recognised her husband’s behaviour as abusive when she was in the refuge, but continued to miss married life (read by a professional).

Sara finally recognised her husband’s behaviour as abusive when she was in the refuge, but continued to miss married life (read by a professional).

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And then I rung to go into a refuge and then basically went to the refuge which was like prison. 

Was that locally in this area?

No it’s [name of town], somewhere I didn't know. And I do feel like refuge is like a prison, because I said I had ... it's not like I could see my family all the time and not telling people where you are. And I think even though when you've been with someone who's abusive you still miss that person there which is really strange. And I was really low because I was like I went into marriage thinking that's it for life, you know. I know marriage isn't perfect and there would be trying, testing times, but it was just like the sex thing just started and just continued and then the whole thing with the money just continued. And even my word, like when I come out of hospital he said, because he used to use scripture and say, during the marriage, you submit to your husband. And I said but Christ says to love your wife as you love the church. And he was like but first you submit and I remember him using that one time when he was on about sex and he said, “You're suppose too submit to me." And very much you must do, you know kind of pointing the finger. 

So you went into this ... were your children with you in the refuge?

Yeah. 

How long did you stay there?

Three months which is quite short apparently. 

But it wasn’t where you had local friends or family. 

No, no. but the children both stopped bedwetting after two weeks and for me that was like an amazing sign of like wow.
 

Sara’s friends rallied round when she left her husband, but she did not feel able to respond when her friend questioned her two years earlier (read by a professional).

Sara’s friends rallied round when she left her husband, but she did not feel able to respond when her friend questioned her two years earlier (read by a professional).

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Two years prior my friend came and visited and she made a comment and I just answered, honestly without even thinking and she dragged me into the kitchen and she went, "You what?" And I said, "Well that's what happens" and she was like, "No, no, no that is not how a marriage is supposed to work." And she was the first person... 

She was the first person to, to point that... 

For me to sort of... I wasn’t thinking when I replied, I just replied straight... 

Can you remember what the question was?

It was something, I think she was saying about sex. Something I think... I can't remember exactly but I'm sure it was something about well you can't do it all the time or something like that. And I don't know if I said something like well that don't mean they don't always want to have it all the time and that lot, or something. I can't remember because it was quite a long time ago now. 

Yeah. 

And then she said, "Well you need to talk to him." I was like, "No, no, no can't do that, you can't do that." And I was really worried and her husband's amazing, very kind of understanding and he is patient and he is genuinely patient because you know we're really close friends and she'd say anything if she felt it. But because she knew him as a friend, I didn't really speak to her before and I'd scoot around it. I'd talk about other things with other people and I'd find it really hard to address it.

What stopped you, do you think?

Because I was always wrong, I thought it was my fault.
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