Age at interview: 42
Brief Outline: Victoria met her ex-partner in 2011, and during the 15 month relationship, she experienced on-going and subtle emotional - psychological abuse which affected her self-esteem and confidence. Since leaving in 2012, Victoria is trying to move on and to once again find her ‘inner peace’. (Video clips read by a professional.)
Background: Victoria is a white British woman who lives in a privately rented home with her son, aged three. She works part-time as a support worker and at the time of interview had recently started a new relationship.

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The subtle, ‘psychological and ‘mental’ abuse, that Victoria experienced during her 15-month relationship began shortly after she met her ex-partner. After ten weeks together Victoria became pregnant, and the abuse only escalated when she moved into his house soon after. She then endured his ‘cutting ... cruel … hurtful’ remarks on a daily basis, remarks about her intelligence, figure and domestic efforts around the home. Victoria describes her ex-partner as being ‘very controlling’, monitoring what she ate and her weight and not allowing her to open the windows in the house in summer.

Victoria felt like she was living in a prison. Her sister and mum were reluctant to visit her because her ex-partner would be unwelcoming and rude. Experiencing low self-esteem and confidence, she hit ‘rock bottom’ and began taking anti-depressants. A friend tried to encourage Victoria to leave the relationship, telling her that her ‘light’ was ‘going out’. 

One night, when her son was eight months old, her partner attempted to ‘kick’ Victoria out of the house. The next day, desperate to leave, she ‘begged’ the local council to rehouse her. She was shocked that they were unable to help because her life was not deemed to be at immediate risk. Instead she and her son moved into her brother’s empty home, and even though she had to sleep on a roll mat on the floor, she felt relief that she was now free. 

After leaving, Victoria experienced financial abuse from her ex as he refused to pay child maintenance. She also endured what she describes as the worst form of abuse, when he withheld their two year old son from her for six days and six nights, subjecting her to a ‘living hell’ and leaving her son suffering from anxiety.

Since this incident, Victoria has received the ‘amazing’ support of Women’s Aid and the local specialist domestic abuse service. The help that they have provided has been important in helping her to navigate a stressful and expensive court battle that has resulted in her now legally being the primary carer to her son. 

However, Victoria feels like she is starting to live another life now. She is in a new relationship with a ‘good’ man, who she has known as a friend for several years. Although there are still wounds and scars, for Victoria, the support and love of family and friends are helping to heal the damage. 

Victoria feels strongly that the local council need to take action to re-house women in abusive situations, not just at the point when their life is in danger. She also suggests that GPs need to ensure that they have one – to – one appointments with women if domestic abuse is suspected. If their partner is present women will not be able to talk about abuse, for fear of his retaliation. Because her doctors at the time of abuse didn't signpost her to appropriate support, or offer support in any way, Victoria has had to make a formal complaint about them. She has since transferred to another GP practice where they are informed about supporting women in abusive relationships. 

In contrast, Victoria’s health visitor was extremely helpful and wrote a letter of support which was submitted as evidence in court. She understood that Victoria’s son needed legal stability as soon as possible.

Victoria feels that laws around child contact need to be amended in cases of abuse because as the law stands if anything happened to her, her son would live with her ex-partner full time, cut him off from her family and friends. (Video clips read by a professional.)

Victoria’s confidence ebbed away as her partner kept a close eye on her food and weight and belittled her attempts to complete a college course (read by a professional).

Because he was very controlling about what I ate and…

How would he control that? What would he do?

I mean he would cook big meals. And like I did but he wouldn’t like me eating chocolate so I would hide a stash of chocolate, because I, you know, I was pregnant. And he would, he would and we, and we would go on lots of lovely country walks. But I felt at one stage after I’d had [Son] it was kind of like he cannot stand obesity. It just repulses him, because he has a sister who can just sort of about barely walk, that she’s, she’s that big.


So I felt like in the end I was although it kind of saved my sanity going out on country walks, in a way, but I felt like also he was keeping an eye on my weight.

Did he make comments or did he?

Yeah, and I think when he did make little, little digs sometimes, but I mean most of the time it was just very, very subtle, just little digs, and especially about my intelligence. So I was trying to do this qualification in sustainability. And I remember sitting at, at the desk in the kitchen and he was just like, “Who are you kidding?” kind of thing, “You think you’re going to do that?” Like and I just, I loved this course. It was just – it just got me thinking down different paths that I’d never thought of and it was a really inspiring course. And I just, I just couldn’t focus, just could not focus. And, yeah, my confidence just started dipping and dipping and dipping. And then I got to a stage where I just felt absolutely awful about myself. 

Victoria feared she would lose access to her son as an ‘unfit mother’ when her partner took him, as her self-esteem was so low (read by a professional).

What was the biggest impact that the abuse had on you, just thinking over your year and a bit?

The biggest impact phew, I guess, well, I mean I guess it’s affected [Son]. It’s affected me, so it’s like he’s part of me, he’s my son so but the thing that really affected me was [Name] withholding [Son] for six days and six nights.

And when did he do that?

Last May, yeah.

Right, so how did that come about? How did he?

I finished work, we’d arranged that I would have [Son] on the Thursday night before he took [Son] down to his parents for a weekend, so I went, I finished work, drove down, knocked on the door and he wouldn’t let me in. So I was in a state in the car. My brother said, “I’ll call the police.” So the police were called. But because [Son] – [Name] is on the birth certificate, he is also a legal guardian of [Son]. So the police, the only intervention the police can have is they can go and check that [Son] is OK. So I had a very understanding and lovely police officer who I was going mental on the phone, and he said, “You need,” the police, the first police officer said, “Go home.” I just thought, “But I haven’t got [Son] with me. I can’t not see him for that period of time.” So came back. I remember just being in a total state, wondering how long [Name] was going to have [Son], would, would I ever see him again, would? Because the thing is, he made my self-esteem was so low that he made me question everything about me, even my sanity. So it was like, “Is he going to persuade professionals that I’m, you know, I’m in the wrong somehow? Is he going to – how is?” And it was all about, he wasn’t thinking about [Son], because [Son] was severely affected after that, really.

Victoria said her CAFCASS worker ‘didn’t have a clue’ and was taken in by her manipulative ex (read by a professional).

[Name] is a liar and he will go to any lengths. He was willing to go to any lengths to put me down.

Yeah, yeah.

And I and that kind of – I didn’t sleep for, for quite a long time before the case. Because I just thought what he – he’s a tracing agent, so not only, not only is he a tracing agent, he can get free legal advice. He knows how the system works.


He is a dirty player. He would come up with anything, like I wouldn’t have been surprised whatever he would come up in court.

Yeah, thrown up in, yeah, yeah.

He’s a very manipulative man. So I kind of was panicking a bit because I just thought, “What is he going to come up,” you know. I found the whole process of court, I found CAFCASS absolutely useless. I had an irritating woman from CAFCASS who I’ve had to complain. Because I explained that [Son] was really affected by being withheld for six days and six nights and she just poo-pooed it. She was just like, she just dismissed it. She said, “That’s a load of rubbish, from the research that psychologists have done.” And I thought – I said to her, “Have you ever met my son? Have you ever met me? No, you haven’t. So how dare you?” And so I’m still putting in a complaint about her because she had not a clue…

Yeah, yeah.

…about our, our individual case. And I felt like she’d just done her studying and she wasn’t looking at us as an individual case and it just inflamed the situation. So I found my experience, and I’d heard awful things about CAFCASS beforehand, you know, about, oh, just awful things, because I’ve got friends that are social workers.


And they’ll say it all depends on the CAFCASS advisor that you have, it all depends on the individual. so – but I will continue with the complaint because I found her just useless, absolutely useless.

Such a bad experience then.

And it actually worsened the situation between [Name] and I. And I didn’t want to be in a room with him and try to mediate the situation, because this man had hurt my son deeply.

And do you think they had understanding of the abuse that you had endured?

No, no I don’t, I don’t think she – she didn’t have a clue, absolute clue. So, yeah, CAFCASS I will endure with a complaint, because I feel very strongly that this woman did not have a clue.

Despite her being socially isolated, Victoria’s friends helped her prepare to leave her partner, contacting her via social media and texting (read by a professional).

I mean one of the most – my friend, [Name], was amazing. She spent hours. She couldn’t sleep. And she saw [Son] being handed over to [Name], and this was a week before [Name] withheld him, and [Son] really didn’t want to go to him. And it was just [Name] had to physically put him in the chair, in the car, the car seat. And it was just so distressing. And I think that really resonated with [Friend].


And she just – and then that happened, then he withheld him. So she was amazing. She sent me links via Facebook, she texted me.

Is she your friend who is also in?

No, she’s not. She’s in a very happy, happy marriage. She’s got a lovely, a lovely partner.

So she sent you, sorry, she sent you links and?

She sent me Women’s Aid, she sent me loads of links. She’s done loads of advocacy work.

So that was really helpful then to have her support?

Very, very helpful, she was so helpful. So I’d say really she was the most helpful person. I mean I had so much support. I’ve got a friend who’s a counsel in the Green Party. He wrote me a reference saying what a good parent I am. I mean I just felt like I was up against a monster… 


…for court, so I had to be prepared from every single angle. I was just – it was like – it was constantly going through my mind, “How can I?” You know, it was like a battle.

But you had your social network there to…


…help you navigate that.

Yeah absolutely.

Victoria was too low to see what was happening until her friend, also in an abusive relationship, helped her to recognise domestic abuse (read by a professional).

So when did you realise that it was domestic abuse that you were experiencing?

I think I just started thinking about family patterns and I just thought, “I’m co-creating my parents,” not physical, but mental. And my self-esteem had never been so low as it had been then. I mean I’ve, I’ve struggled. But, yeah, that was, I’d kind of hit rock bottom.

So was it when you were still with him that you…


…recognised it was abuse?

Yeah, I definitely recognised it was abuse and…

Was there a certain moment that kind of?

…I had friends, one friend said, “Please leave him because it’s kind of,” she said, “your light is going out. And you’re such a bright person and you’re a funny person and he’s just sapping that all from you.” And you know, and I just, I came away thinking, “Oh yeah, actually yeah, kind of I don’t feel I am the person any – I’m not [Name] anymore.”

Had you told her what was going on, what he was doing?

Yeah, and she was also in a, she still is in an abusive relationship, not physical, mental.


Not, not a happy setting. But her family pattern is that you, you don’t leave, you stick, you stay by your partner, so that’s her programming.

Victoria urges women to look for information, see their GP, apply for legal aid, and try to gather ‘proof’ of psychological abuse (read by a professional).

I mean what advice would you give other women who are currently in an abusive relationship?

Get out. Look for all the information. Go to your GP. Go to your GP and I guess they can, they can contact other services.

Did you do that?

Hmm no, I didn’t, I didn’t do that. I didn’t feel, I felt like they could only help me so much, that it was down to me. That’s the impression that I got, that there was only so much help.


And physical - mental abuse has only just kind of been recognised, hasn’t it, as part of domestic abuse?

Recognition, yeah, yeah, definitely changed.

So I applied for Legal Aid and they wanted more and more proof. And then a lot of a health visitor I talked to the other day said Legal Aid is still not quite acknowledging, it’s like you need more and more proof when it’s mental, when it’s psychological. If it’s physical abuse then you’ll be granted. But because mine wasn’t physical abuse, mine was mental and psychological abuse, I had to pay myself for the legal.

So it wasn’t even now recognised as?

Legal Aid, I just thought, “I haven’t got the time. [Name]’s withheld [Son]. I haven’t got time for Legal Aid to go on and keep sending me letters saying more and more proof.” We, we could have been like five years down the line until Legal Aid could have said, “Actually, you’ve given us enough proof now. You can go to court,” and by which time, oh my God, five, another five years in that desperate, horrible situation. I, there’s no way I could have – you know, it wouldn’t have been good for me or [Son].


Now it’s done and dusted. We can, we, we’re moving on. we’re so much happier. There’s still wounds, there’s still scars but we’re on our way.

Victoria believes doctors should insist on appointments with women alone, understand the danger for women and to have links with local councils for provision of emergency housing (read by a professional).

What do you think health professionals need to know?

Firstly make sure that they have appointments, just them and the person that they think is being abused. Because if the partner goes along they’re not going to say anything, because they’re going to be abused even more when they get home. And it needs to be linked up. Like there seems – it seems short-circuited, like these professionals contact those but they don’t contact the other ones. And so it kind of needs to be in a loop. But [local] Council seriously need to look at their – the way that they house people. You can’t just say to people, “Oh well unless you’re being murdered then, no, you’re going to have to stay in your situation.” that was the most shocking.

And when they said that on the phone, how did you, how did you feel?

They might not have worded it like that.

But that kind of thing, yeah.

That’s right, they have to cover their tracks. And I know that they’re all recorded, the calls. But it was to that effect like, you know, unless – “Are you in an emergency situation?” “Well I’m not being murdered right now, but I am in a domestic abusive relationship and I really need to get out right now.” And that wasn’t heard, yeah.

And when it wasn’t heard, how did you feel?

Totally isolated. Angry at myself that I wasn’t financially independent to just go.
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