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Sophie

Age at interview: 49
Brief Outline: Sophie describes her ex-husband as a ‘clever’ and ‘charming’ man. However, since their four year marriage ended nearly five years ago, she has been able to recognise that her relationship to him was abusive from the very beginning; that he is a ‘manipulative’ and ‘parasitic’ individual and that she was just ‘a resource for him’.
Background: Sophie is a well-educated, single white woman who lives with her two children (aged eight and eighteen years at the time of the interview) in their privately owned home. She is a full-time carer to her youngest child, who lives with a neurological condition.

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For four years, Sophie was in an emotionally abusive marriage to a man who told her constant lies, about: who he was, what he did, his finances and relationships. Whilst she was struggling to buy basic necessities, he would be spending thousands of pounds on the latest gadgets and top of the range vehicles. He monitored her whereabouts and was resistant to her leaving the house alone; something which made Sophie feel like she was living in a prison. Having recently relocated to a new area, Sophie was already distanced from her social network. However, his ‘prickly’ and ‘argumentative’ behaviour around her family served to reduce her contact with them, and further increase her social isolation. He also began to monitor her phone calls, check who she had called and would call her repeatedly in the day when he was out to monitor her activity and movements. During the marriage, her husband sexually assaulted her on several occasions. Sophie also became concerned about his behaviour around the children and his use of the children and childcare to manipulate and control her.

Sophie describes how her husband would blame her for his actions. This led her to feel ashamed and vulnerable, and to question whether his behaviour was her fault. Towards the end of the relationship Sophie’s physical health also started to suffer. She was exhausted and so weak that she could barely stand. 

In December 2010, whilst her husband was away from home on holiday, Sophie went online and completed an application for divorce. She had come to realise that he would never change and that the abuse would only get worse. She no longer wanted him in the house and when he returned she asked him to leave. As a result of his aggressive behaviour and reaction to her request (e.g. shouting at her, hitting furniture and walls), Sophie called for the assistance of the police. She praises the support that she received from them, and was reassured by the visiting officer’s calm and pragmatic reaction to her situation. 

The police referred Sophie to a specialist domestic abuse service. She was allocated a keyworker who helped her to realise that she was not to blame for her husband’s behaviour. She was also encouraged to attend the Pattern Changing course (a 14-week course for women who have been affected by domestic abuse). Accessing these specialist services entailed considerable travel for Sophie, as living in a rural location meant that local provision was not available. 

As a result of the abuse that she endured, Sophie’s sense of trust in people has been destroyed. She remains fearful of her ex-husband, describing him as a ‘stalker’. Although a court order now keeps him away from her home she still receives unwanted emails from him every few months. 

Sophie suggests that health professionals need to receive adequate training in domestic violence. She thinks that they should be taught to leave their personal attitudes and prejudices outside of their working practices, and to realise that ‘nobody deserves’ to experience domestic abuse.

Sophie wants to encourage other women living in abusive relationships to find the courage to get out, that although it won’t necessarily be easy, that they ‘can do it’.
 

Sophie’s partner listened to all her phone calls, made sure she was ‘chaperoned’ by him or the children at all times, and made her feel as if she was there to be ‘simply a service’ to him.-

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Well he wouldn’t – I wasn’t – it got to the point where I basically wasn’t allowed out the house, apart from to take [Daughter] to playgroup. I wasn’t allowed out the house. I wasn’t allowed to travel on my own. I wasn’t allowed phone calls. I was being monitored all the time. That was the other thing he did: I was being monitored all the time. So even when he wasn’t in the house, he’d ring me about every 20 minutes and check what I was doing. And if he rang and he couldn’t get through, then he’d question, you know, question me about who I was talking to, why I was on the phone to them for so long, what was I talking about, why was I talking to them? 

So I was constantly being monitored all the time, what I did, where I went. I didn’t go anywhere. I wasn’t allowed anywhere, apart from just to playgroup.

Yeah.

I even had the shopping delivered. So you can’t have – it’s like you’re completely shut down and you’re just focused on them all the time. And the impact is just horrendous.

I mean were there times when you were like, “Oh, I just want to pop to so and so by myself,” and how would he react, would he say no, would he?

He’d make sure it didn’t happen.

So he’d actually?

Or he’d make sure that I had children with him or I was chaperoned some way. I was never anywhere on my own. If was having – if I had a – you know, if I was on the phone to anybody, he’d come and stand in the room.

And how did that feel for him to be – you know, you said you’d try to make a phone call and?

Oh it was horrible.

Yeah.

It was horrible. It was like being in prison.

Are you able to give any specific examples, reflecting back, of?

Well if he wants money, he manoeuvres the whole situation and you and your life around so that he can use you for money. And also sort of sexually as well, and this is one of the really difficult things for me, is that I realise that I was simply a service. And towards the end of the relationship or even sort of most of the way through, that’s exactly, you know, he was almost making it explicit by then, “You are a service provider. You do this.”

Hmm.

“Or I’m going to make your life difficult.” So a lot of bullying.

So would he actually say that or kind of just infer that?

Infer that.

Right.

“It’s your duty to do this. It’s your job to do this for me, otherwise I’m going to be bad tempered because I’m not getting what I want. And you do this, and that’s it.”

Yeah.

And at first when he started slipping, because he has this façade and then it starts slipping, and you start challenging him, and they always have an explanation about why they’re doing something. And then towards the end of the relationship it was just all blatant, you know.
 

Sophie described her partner ‘howling and shouting and screaming... hitting furniture and hitting the walls’ when she asked him to leave.

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And told him I didn’t want him in the house any longer.

And how did he react?

He was quite aggressive. He was really angry.

Verbally or physically aggressive?

Both, both and using the children. He came back and he locked himself in this – in a bedroom and he started howling and shouting and screaming. And he was hitting furniture and hitting the walls, shouting at me, frightening the children. I told him that he had to, you know, that he had to leave, I didn’t want him there anymore. And he did a lot of crying all over the children about what I was doing to them and how awful I was and what a bad mother I was and everything. And he went off and basically he kept on, he would sort of turn up. And in the end I called the police.
 

Sophie’s partner made sure she was ‘chaperoned’ by him or the children at all times, and he listened to all her phone calls.

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Well he wouldn’t – I wasn’t – it got to the point where I basically wasn’t allowed out the house, apart from to take [Daughter] to playgroup. I wasn’t allowed out the house. I wasn’t allowed to travel on my own. I wasn’t allowed phone calls. I was being monitored all the time. That was the other thing he did: I was being monitored all the time. So even when he wasn’t in the house, he’d ring me about every 20 minutes and check what I was doing. And if he rang and he couldn’t get through, then he’d question, you know, question me about who I was talking to, why I was on the phone to them for so long, what was I talking about, why was I talking to them? 


So I was constantly being monitored all the time, what I did, where I went. I didn’t go anywhere. I wasn’t allowed anywhere, apart from just to playgroup.

Yeah.

I even had the shopping delivered. So you can’t have – it’s like you’re completely shut down and you’re just focused on them all the time. And the impact is just horrendous.

I mean were there times when you were like, “Oh, I just want to pop to so and so by myself,” and how would he react, would he say no, would he?

He’d make sure it didn’t happen.

So he’d actually

Or he’d make sure that I had children with him or I was chaperoned some way. I was never anywhere on my own. If was having – if I had a – you know, if I was on the phone to anybody, he’d come and stand in the room.

And how did that feel for him to be – you know, you said you’d try to make a phone call and?

Oh it was horrible.

Yeah.

It was horrible. It was like being in prison.
 

Sophie was thankful she had a good solicitor who was able to use the Human Rights Act to protect her from contact with her abusive ex.

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But it destroys your sense of trust. It has destroyed my sense of trust. And I think in some ways one of the things that I found most shocking is how acceptable this sort of behaviour is, how acceptable domestic violence is in our culture. And we don’t like to say this, but it is actually pretty acceptable.

What’s, what’s making you think that, feel that the most?

Because you realise it’s very common. I don’t think what happened to me is particularly unusual. I think it’s very common, you know, across the board. I think that there is the attitude that you should learn to put up with it, particularly if it’s not, if there’s not a lot of physical violence, that you should be containing it in the home and trying to make as best job of it as you possibly can. There’s a huge, a huge influence in the family courts about, the family courts, because he went for contact of course. And of course he went for contact, and I was being pressurised into going back, basically going back into a relationship with him again. I have to accept him, I was told at one point by CAFCASS, “You have to accept him as being part of your life.” And luckily, because I’m quite bright and quite well educated and I had quite a good solicitor as well, I was able to turn around and say, “Human Rights Act. Fuck off. Can’t do that.” But a lot of women get bullied into that.

And I was being sold this thing that I’ve got to have him in my life, I’ve got to accept him in my life, in my house, in my home. You know, and I was basically, by that stage I sort of basically had got to, you know, “You’re fucking kidding aren’t you? You really are kidding that I’m going to have this man in my house. And you are the state telling me I’ve got to like being treated like that. And what century are we in?” You know, and that, and when this sort of started to hit me, how you’re coerced and bullied and pressurised into liking, sorry, liking [voice falters] these sorts of men XXXX you’ve got to be, you know, this is, sorry, I’m so sorry [crying and angry].
 

Sophie wishes that Domestic Violence and Abuse services had better funding, and described her relief at talking to someone who understood.

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What support have you received or not received?

There’s – we did have some specialist DV services in [Place] at the time, and I did access those. And I was referred to them by the police.

Right, so was that on one of those occasions that you called…

Yeah, yeah.

…called the police out? So they referred you to?

Yeah, yes they did. It was called [Local domestic violence service] at the time, but it’s been changed since then so 

OK, so how did they support you?

Well I had a - first I had a MARAC done. And they were very supportive at the time. And I had a one to one key worker at the time. And that’s how you get onto – that’s – and I was referred to Pattern Changing.

So that key worker, because it’s interesting coming down here and speaking – you know what I mean?

Yeah.

Because like your experiences may be a bit different than a lot of – you know.

Well this was four years ago and it has changed.

So the key worker, did you meet with them here in your home or did you go and see them?

No I had to – at the time, because the house was still in joint names, I had to go and meet them elsewhere.

Right OK, and was that weekly or was it just?

Yeah, it was, I think at the time it was weekly.

OK, so what did they do that was useful?

I think that they sort of made – they – what I liked about them was that they made you realise that it wasn’t you, and that you weren’t on your own. And that was really a great relief that, you know, actually this is quite common.

Yeah.

Not, not that they said that to me like, “Oh yeah, yeah, you know, this is really common.” But they, you know, you had somebody who came along and they knew exactly what you were talking about, without you having to explain yourself. And they could see the whole context. You know, you only had to say three words and it was like, “Yeah, we know exactly what you’re talking about.” And, and that was such a relief to have somebody actually to be able to hear you and, and what you’re talking about.
 

Sophie said it was ‘wonderful’ when the police officer identified domestic abuse using a questionnaire, reassured her that it was not her fault and offered specialist support.

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And what about the police, you mentioned they referred you?

Yeah.

They referred you on. I mean when they actually turned up at the door, instantly what support did they offer you that was helpful or not helpful?

They were hilarious. They were wonderful. I had this great big policeman turned up and he was so lovely I nearly cried [laughs]. And he was actually the first person I’d spoken to, which seems really weird that it would be a bloke. But he was actually just so nice.

Yeah.

And they – and basically what it was, it was actually just like form filling in. Because he said, “Right OK, I’m going to go through this questionnaire with you and I just want you to answer these questions.” Like he didn’t ask me loads of questions or anything, he wasn’t sort of remotely touchy-feely, but he was really nice. And he just went through this questionnaire. And he just looked at me at the end of it and he said, “Right, you know, you’ve really got a problem here. This is the questionnaire that we’re given to do. This is, you know, we have had training in this,” and he like just took me all through it in a very practical way.

Yeah.

And he said, you know, “They – to,” he said like, “To me, this is saying to me that you are definitely in an abusive situation and that you’re not safe, da, de, da, de, da,” you know, “I really feel that it’s in your best interest that you are referred to this, this, this and this sort of thing.” You know, like to say, “We’re going to do this and I’m going to go back and talk to the domestic violence officer for the area,” and all this sort of thing. And he was, it was just totally practical.

Yeah.

And it was just, it was just so matter of fact that like, “I’ve done the questionnaire. You’ve got a problem. It’s not your fault. I’m going to do this,” right, and it was like wonderful. Because all the time, quite often when you talk to people about domestic violence, you feel like you’re actually having to justify it.

Hmm, and he was quite clear, “It’s not your fault”?

Yeah, “This is happening. This is our questionnaire. We’ve been trained in this. This is the results. That’s it, it’s decided [laughs].”

So the specialist officer, did they get in touch with you?

Yeah I spoke to them, yeah, yeah.

It sounds like you had, so, a good experience with the police?

Yeah, I mean I think I was really lucky. I mean you know, I know other people haven’t had good experience with the police.

Yeah.

But yeah, you know, but this, this bloke was just like totally straightforward. 
 

Sophie feels that a ‘cultural shift’ in attitude towards domestic abuse is needed including better support for professionals delivering abuse services.

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But if you are working with clients it’s going to bring stuff up for yourself, maybe. How do you then deal with that? What support is there for you? Maybe you might need to be taken out of this, you know, or whatever, what – you know, you can’t just train people in stuff like that and expect them to be able to deliver it without there being some impact on themselves.

Give them an hour lecture on DV, that kind of thing, “There you go, that’ll cover it.”

Exactly. And there’s no – that seems to have gone. I mean I know that years ago we used to hear about, you know, learning from the client. You don’t seem to hear about that anymore.

So, for you, I mean what’s been missing in terms of the support that’s been available to you?

Well I think obviously some of it’s obvious, like funding, that there’s not really any funding. There’s no ring, ring fenced national funding for DV services. And so consequently I’ve left – lost out.

Yeah.

Because what happened is that the local services were constantly having to rebid all the time, which meant that they were more focused on rebidding than providing a service, which is wrong.

And did you feel that?

Yes, very much so. And the staff are under pressure all the time that they’re not going to have jobs. And that’s not, that’s not acceptable. And I think, and I think also what is missing I mean I think that, in a sense, I wish I could say that we need this or we need that. Like, you know, my daughter, I could say, “We actually need this,” and in some ways it’s actually quite straightforward and it wouldn’t damage anybody to [laughs] supply it, apart from financially. But with DV, I think what I need is my culture to change and to acknowledge that this is going on. That’s what I need. That’s what’s missing.

How does that happen, how does that change?

Well I’m not holding my breath [laughs]. I mean my academic background, I didn’t want to do social work-y type things, I did ancient history and classical archaeology. And I can tell you that [laughs] social change takes a hell of a long time, [laughs] particularly I think when it comes to gender and, and stuff like this. Because you can see it going back, you know.

Forever.

Yeah forever, you know, it’s like the same problems they had in ancient Greece, you know, and we’re still having them now. And you know, we think everything is specific and I, I think we’ve got a long way to go, but I think that probably we need to acknowledge that rather than pretending that we have, we have arrived at some – the sort of the darkness to life. Well they call it the darkness to light narrative, that there was the dark and now we’re in the light. You know, we’re not in the light. We’re still in the darkness. 
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