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Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Women’s coping strategies for domestic violence and abuse

Introduction
On average, women in the UK stay in an abusive relationship for 2.6 years before they leave (2015 figures from the UK charity Safe Lives). Both remaining in an abusive relationship and leaving it can bring risks of harm and benefits to the women themselves, their children, family members and friends (see ‘Why women couldn’t ‘just leave’’, ‘Leaving a violent or abusive partner’). Leaving can be a particularly dangerous time for women and children, as partners begin to lose some of the control they previously had and may retaliate. Similarly, staying can be dangerous as the risk of further abuse is likely to escalate as partners increasingly feel they can get away with it. 

The women we interviewed talked about relationships that lasted between one and 33 years. They described the strategies they used to cope with everyday life and to keep themselves and their children as safe as possible, until they felt ready and able to leave. Although most women recognised that they were having difficulties in their relationship, the majority did not realise that they were experiencing domestic violence or abuse. Early in the relationship, women used a variety of strategies to justify or deal with their partner’s behaviour, such as ‘normalising’, ‘acceptance’, ‘denial’, 'keeping the peace’ or ‘blaming themselves’.
 

Having left her husband, Kate was only just beginning to realise how bad the abuse had been, as she had tried so hard to ‘normalise’ his behaviour and ‘fix’ their relationship.

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Age at interview: 44
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It was very hard because I was, I was trying to fix the relationship and trying to make sense of what was happening, and I think my subconscious was screaming at me that I wasn’t safe. So I couldn’t sleep at all and when I did sleep I was curled up very tightly and very tense. I didn’t want him, I was scared of what he was going to do. I was scared of his reactions to things I was doing and saying. I was very conscious of things that were going to set him off and trying to avoid them. I was trying to protect the children but trying to mend the relationship with the children. I felt like I was turning myself inside out trying to fix it and not being able to and not understanding why he wouldn’t engage and try to fix it. And it was just no kind of life to live at all. It was horrible.

And how are you feeling now?

Still pretty traumatised, I think, by it all. Find it hard to believe it really happened, that it really was that bad. It took a long time for it to sink in that it was that bad. It was bad enough that a MARAC was held, a multiagency risk assessment, because he came out as high risk for future problems. And even so it still seemed because I’d normalised it, and normalised it, and normalised it and tried to make it go away and tried to make sense of it and tried to cope with it and tried to fix it for so long, I hadn’t realised how bad it has got, it had got. And now the realisation of how bad it was seems to just grow with time. It’s not subsiding. It’s like I’m only now, you know, I appreciate more and more and more how unhealthy and distorted and unpleasant and bullying and damaging it’s been to me, to the children. And I think we’re going to be going, getting over it for a long time to come. It’s just unbelievable the harm he’s caused. And he still, if he was sat here today, he would say it’s a load of rubbish and he didn’t do anything.
When women tried to stand up for themselves or challenge their abusive partner, this usually led to further abuse, so, to play safe, women tended to take on a more submissive role. Tina’s partner often made threats to kill or harm her or the children if she displeased him. Tina decided the only way to keep herself and her children safe was to ‘be nice’.
 

During a family meal out, Tina ‘had a go’ back at her partner who was being verbally abusive, which led to him driving home dangerously with Tina in fear for her life.

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Age at interview: 50
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Just had to keep going. And then in the end we went out, it was his birthday on the 12th of February and we went out one night, on, on his birthday, me, him, one of our daughters and her boyfriend and we went to an Indian restaurant and he knows I can’t stand Indian and he insisted that we had to go there. So I had to sit there and watch him eat because I wouldn’t eat it and he said, “You’ve f-ing wrecked my birthday, I’ve had enough of this. I ain’t taking no more crap and all this lot”. Started really showing me up in front of them and that and all. 

So I went, I had a go back and he said, “Shut your mouth”, he said, “because you know” he said, “I can have you killed for five hundred grand”. And I thought, and he used to say to me “I’m driving mind” and I used to think is he going to try to kill me or something because we used to have fast cars and that. 

Hm. Right.

And I used think God, he’s going to try to kill me sort of thing and it was late on the night and it was just me and him and I’d be, none of the kids were there and I thought oh I’ll just be nice to him and so I used to just be nice. 
When the abuse became harder to cope with, women often continued with these strategies, in order to keep them and their children as safe as possible whilst secretly planning to leave. A few women used alcohol or drugs to find temporary relief from fear and anxiety. Strategies for coping at a later stage included seeking help, attending couple counselling, monitoring abusive behaviour in a diary, working towards financial independence through getting a job, and finding secret ways to communicate with others, such as keeping a hidden mobile phone. Women also tried to keep their children away from the abusive partner, to protect them.

‘Normalising’ and ‘Acceptance’

‘Normalising’ was a way for women to believe that what was happening to them was a ‘normal’ part of life and relationships. Most women assumed, at least initially, that their relationship was ‘normal’. They wanted the relationship to work out and felt it was up to them to accept what was going on and make the best of it, hoping that things might change in the future. Women said they tried to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible for them, like Jane who also ran a business with her partner and wanted to make a success of it.
 

Jane was reluctant to recognise her partner’s behaviour as ‘abuse’ and decided to accept her situation rather than disrupt her own life and that of her children.

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Age at interview: 46
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And so when you were in that relationship was there any point did you recognise that what you were experiencing was abuse?

That’s a difficult one, because it starts off very slowly when you think, “This isn’t right. That isn’t right. Something else isn’t right,” but you don’t put it down necessarily to being abuse. You don’t recognise it as abuse. It’s, “He doesn’t treat me very nice, but it’s not abuse.” You know, because to actually, to actually say the word “abuse” and to actually recognise it is a very painful thing to do, to think that somebody that’s supposed to love you could abuse you. So, in a sense, it’s you rationalising things to yourself so that you kid yourself that it’s not, although you clearly know in your heart that it is, and it’s not right, you still rationalise it. So then you think, you know, “I can put up with this. This is obviously the way my life has to be for a while till the children get older or until our circumstances change that I could, you know, perhaps get out, move away or whatever.” The shop was supposed to do a lot, lot better than what it did, yeah, and it was supposed to be that we’d both have our own money being taken out of it, not that it was going to be put together in joint finances.

Right.

So, you know, it was it was sold as an idea that, you know, I’d work really hard and that from that work we would get you know, OK, well off and be able to afford to do things that we couldn’t do.

Yes.

Yeah, you know, and then we’d be able to have holidays and, you know just what everybody else wants, work hard and get, you know, some rewards of, of that hard work. But the, the rewards never ever came.
Women who had grown up with abuse in their household or were young and inexperienced said they had no idea what to expect in an adult relationship, and thought their partner’s behaviour was ‘normal’. Ella met her first abusive partner at the age of 15, and felt that, had she had help to understand abuse at that point, she would not have gone on to have two more abusive relationships. She explained how multiple abuse experiences distorted her view of what a ‘normal’ relationship was.
 

Ella did not know what a normal guy and a normal relationship were like, until she contacted Women's Aid who 'opened her eyes' to the abuse she had suffered for years (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 27
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But relationship-wise, there was the three. But I believe, had I got help after the first, it was almost like patterns, because I believed I wasn’t even though all the things I knew were wrong-ish, I just guessed it was normal as well, like there was nothing better, this was what, this was how it was.

Right.

So I feel that, had I got help from somebody sooner, I could have seen that this was wrong. Because when I got in touch with Women’s Aid and realised just how much I’d actually been through, that was such a shock to me. Because I didn’t know that there was financial abuse, I just thought that was normal, that you had to give your money and things like that because you were living with somebody. There were just so many things I opened my eyes to more that I just thought was normal.

Yeah, so throughout those three relationships you’ve told me about, you felt that what was going on was normal?

Yeah, apart from obviously, like I said, a few things that made me feel like this wasn’t right. But, but no, other than that, that was it.

So you didn’t think about abuse. Had you heard of domestic abuse at that time?

Yeah, but like I said to you, when I got in touch, when the lady said to me, “I think you need to speak to Women’s Aid,” I thought, “But I haven’t been beaten up.”

Right yeah.

“I’m not a battered woman. I’m not black, I’m not blue. Why would I need to go to Women’s Aid for?”

Right OK.

And then when I went there and actually started learning and listening to things, I thought, “I can’t believe I’ve been living all these years like this.”
Melanie described how she grew up in an abusive household and was ‘moulded to be this person who accepts these things’.
 

Melanie talked about experiences of sexual abuse that her partner convinced her were ‘normal’.

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Age at interview: 42
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I was going out with somebody, yeah, as well, and they were, I thought he was really nice but when it came to us being physical he would spit at me.

Oh.

Spit on me. And I thought that was normal. I thought, this is what normal, whatever nor, I keep doing this normal because I don’t know what normal sex life is. I thought this is what he wants, he wants to do this … urinating on me and things like that and I thought this was normal. So I allowed these people to break me down. So I was nothing. Nothing. Eventually. So whatever relationship came after that, it was very easy because I was nothing.
‘Denial’

Some women tried to hide their partner’s abusive behaviour both from themselves and from the outside world, sometimes out of shame or an unwillingness to face the painful reality of their situation. Jane described how, early on in the relationship, she tried to rationalise her partner’s abusive behaviour by saying it was ‘just a one-off’ but then, over time, she began to believe her own denial.
 

When Jane’s partner began to hit her and put it down to stress, she convinced herself she was being ‘silly’ and ‘paranoid’ when she began to feel their relationship wasn’t ‘right’.

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Age at interview: 46
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What path did it take after that? Before she was born there was physical abuse, there was physical abuse. Because, you know, he used to get cross a lot in the shop when things wound him up and he would take it out on me and then say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, you know, it was just you know how I don’t react well in stressful situations.” And we’d just pass it off like that. But even at that time you have feelings for someone and then all of a sudden they turn round and hurt you and you think, “Well, this isn’t right. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” But then he gives you an excuse or a reason or, you know, just passes it off and then you think about it and you think, “Well maybe he is right. Maybe I am being silly. Maybe I am being just paranoid and it could be, you know, just a one-off.” You put an excuse down to it. And as soon as you put an excuse down to it you seem to have rationalised it to yourself, so then you move on.
Women frequently kept the abuse a secret, as they were in fear of things getting worse if their partner found out they had been talking about him. The women we interviewed talked about covering up bruises or ‘putting on a show’ to the outside world. Jessica and Melanie both described how their up-bringing in an abusive household led them to ‘put on a mask’ and ‘hide behind an imaginary wall’ rather than reveal their true feelings to anyone.
 

Melanie presented a positive image of herself by ‘putting on a mask’ whilst in an abusive relationship, which may have confused professionals.

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Age at interview: 42
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I found that I’ve, that, when I did go to the doctor when I was beaten up by my first partner when I came back to England, I went to the doctor’s then, because obviously a had a, my hand got bitten then and I don’t think the doctor knew how to help me. Because I do come across as a woman that’s very well-together, if that makes sense.

Out, if you’re looking at outer appearance it’s hard to explain what going on internally and if I didn’t know how to explain that I don’t think I would be able to get any help.

So despite all the terrible things that you’ve described to me that happened, you always felt able to present in a positive way like you say, you look up - together?

Yeah. Yeah, that’s one thing my mum’s taught me. You, no matter what’s going on behind closed doors, you put your clothes on and you put that mask on and you walk with your head held high. And that’s what I’ve done for most of my life, even when I’m in turmoil internally. I walk with my head held high, even if I’m screaming in, inside. Yeah.

And has that strategy been a good one for you?

I think it’s kept me here. Somehow. It’s kept me here somehow because I know that there’s a fight inside, I know there’s a fight, that I do have this fight [fire alarm]. 

I’m hoping that’s just a test.

OK.

I think if it’s real it’ll go on.

OK.

So we’ll assume it’s just a test [laughs]

OK. But I think if I’d looked a certain way, I think they would have understood it a bit more.

They, being?

Professionals. If I’d came in to the doctor as, while I didn’t feel like combing my hair and I didn’t comb my hair and I didn’t want to change my clothes and I didn’t change my clothes, I think they would understand it. But because I would do these things. Even if I didn’t have a shower I would still present myself in a way that probably was a bit confusing to professionals.
Some women, like Tasha, still believed in their partner’s better nature. Despite her partner’s controlling behaviour, Tasha clung to the belief that he could be trusted and really was acting in her best interest.
 

Tasha’s partner manipulated her to make it appear that he was being helpful, as he took increasing control of Tasha’s life and behaviour.

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Age at interview: 40
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No he didn’t actually hit me when we were together, it was more emotional but I think I used to appease I used to know what sort of mood he was in so I would just try not to upset him really. He was quite physical towards the children He used to over-chastise them. Even when I used to say to him not, you know, not to he would always undermine me with the children and stuff, but he did mark one of the boys once and I recorded it, well I took a photo of it when he wasn’t looking … but I didn’t realise that he was stood behind me and he told me to delete that now So, yeah, I think I tried not to upset him on purpose, you know, but it was mainly, as I had nobody to talk, talk to because well he basically stopped me from talking to my family by causing problems within the family, so we’d all sort of fallen out. He made out that it was in my best interest because they were no good for me and stuff. But like I said I had nobody to turn to so …

Yeah.

… I was basically, we were in our own little bubble and I thought that was how it should be. 

And the, the emotional abuse that occurred throughout the relationship, are you able to give me any specific examples of things that he would do or say?

He would, he would make it feel as though everything was for me He would sort of manipulate me into making me feel as though he was, he was doing the right thing. I [sighs] it’s hard to explain I had no self-confidence at all I got my disability and I was actually made to be worse because he said, he would tell me that I couldn’t do it so he would take charge of things and stuff. He used to, you know, take the children to school in the mornings and tell me to stay in bed because I couldn’t get up In, yeah, I mean, at the time I didn’t, didn’t see it, I thought he was helping me. But he wasn’t, he was actually, you know, I, he’d made out that I couldn’t live without him.

Yeah.

Or had children, with children nobody would want me with children and you know, and a disability. So, yeah, I had to sort of rely on him.
Women who had jobs outside the home described ‘throwing themselves into work’ as a distraction from the violence at home.

‘Keeping the peace’

Living with abuse became a ‘way of life’ for the women we interviewed. They described the tactics they used to try and ‘keep the peace’, so that their partner would not get angry or blame them if things were not how he wanted them to be, which led to him becoming abusive. Jane explained: 

‘It was always, wasn’t his fault .... so that was, but it becomes a way of life. You start to think like that and you start to think that he’s right in everything he’s saying, and it’s easier to change your habits to change the person that you are, rather than admit that this relationship isn’t what you expected, what you wanted, and how do you even begin to get out?’ 

Irina and her partner lived in an isolated house. She tried to play the abuse down, preferring to give him ‘chances’. Irina described how she tried to ‘appease’ her partner, anticipate his moods and ‘just tried not to upset him’ to prevent him getting angry. Several women said they agreed to sex when they didn’t really want to, as a way of appeasing their partner. Others agreed to wearing clothes they disliked but their partner insisted on, just to ‘keep the peace’

Melanie tried to keep the peace by keeping to her partner’s ‘rules’ but as the rules were constantly changing, she became confused and felt she could 'never get things right’.
 

Melanie’s partner was very controlling and but his ‘rules’ were always changing and she didn’t know if she was ‘going or coming’.

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Age at interview: 42
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Could you give me an example of the sort of rules that he used to set for you?

There was never a specific rule. It was changing all the time. If I cooked something that he loved today, next week he didn’t like it. 

If I bought something in the shopping because we would go shopping, it wasn’t just me that’d go shopping, he would come with me. I’d buy it this week and then next week he wouldn’t like it. Or if he was going to the supermarket for example to buy maybe crisps for the kids and he knew the crisps that the kids liked because he’s in the house all the time, he would see the crisps. He would buy the total opposite. So the kids wouldn’t want to eat them then. He would buy things that would sit in the cupboards for ages what I’d never seen him eat before. So it was confusing. I was constantly confused because I didn’t know, I thought I knew this person but then they were changing before me constantly. So there was no rule. I think his rule was whatever he felt like on the day that would be his rule. 

And what would happen if you tried to go against a rule?

His was more sulking, slamming things, not speaking to me for days on end. But then would get in bed and cuddle me, would get in bed and hold my wrist. It almost felt like he was keeping me captive because he would squeeze my wrists and hold me like that while I slept. If I got up out of the bed he would jump up out of the bed. So it was constantly, I didn’t know whether I was going or coming because like he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. If I’d constantly say to him, “What’s the matter, what, have I done something, what the matter?” “Oh nothing”. “But you haven’t spoke to me for days”. 
Based on violent and controlling behaviour already experienced, women had reason to take these threats seriously and they lived in fear, ‘treading on eggshells’ to avoid triggering abusive behaviour, while secretly planning to leave. Philippa described how she secretly acquired a mobile phone as a means of accessing others outside the home. Charlotte talked about the violent repercussions if she or her daughters displeased her partner.
 

Charlotte described the ‘insidious drip, drip dripping’ of her partner’s control, which he was careful to balance with enough ‘niceness’ to keep everyone thinking he was alright (read by a professional).

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Age at interview: 38
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And everything just kind of fell apart from there really. He kind of went into this spiral of just vileness. He just was nasty and angry all the time. And it started coming out more towards the girls as well as me. I was kind of slowly shutting down and, and disappearing really. And he was just getting angrier and angrier with everyone around him, desperately trying to control everything. I didn’t go out anymore. The girls weren’t really ever allowed friends back. They weren’t allowed to go to birthday parties at the weekends. And it just became this desperate, desperate clinging for him to kind of control us all more and more and more and more. 

He was looking through our phones. He made me go through my Facebook account and he wanted to count how many pictures of him were on my Facebook page. And then we had to sit down and compare that with all of my friends, how many pictures of my friends’ husbands were on their Facebook pages compared with how many were on mine. Yeah, taking the girls’ phones. He smashed my eldest daughter’s. I can’t even remember what he said that she had done wrong. She hadn’t texted him, or something, to say when she was coming back. Something like that. I can’t remember. And he grabbed her by the neck, he had her by the kind of scruff of the neck in one hand and he had her phone in the other hand and he forced her head down while she had to watch him smash her phone against the banisters. And then he told her to go and get her laptop because he was going to break that too. and then when she brought that back up - and I was just standing by watching this awful thing happening, knowing if I tried to step in and do anything it would make it worse, so I just had to stand by and watch it – then she had to thank him for not smashing her laptop. And he said that he had, he had chosen not to do that, so she had to thank him for that. And there were just lots and lots of incidents like that. He just was going crazy. 

Was it a daily kind of occurrence or?

No, no not daily. Always enough niceness to keep everyone thinking that he was alright and he was OK. So it was always a very careful balancing act between nice things and fun things and spontaneous things,

Right.

With the outbursts and the that kind of subtle insidious drip, drip, dripping of not being good enough 
Blaming themselves

Women tended to blame themselves for their partner’s behaviour, often because their partner had manipulated them into believing the abuse was all their fault. Jessica for example, believed she must ‘work harder’ at her marriage to make it happier. This feeling was echoed by many other women who believed the best way to cope was to change their own behaviour so that their partner would treat them better. As Jacqui said you ‘try and become the person they want you to be’. Jane decided her own behaviour was to blame for her partner’s abuse.
 

Jane was manipulated by her partner to believe that she ‘deserved’ to be hit.

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Age at interview: 46
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Well it started really mainly as sort of like a punch, you know, like a punch in the chest or, you know, a smack round the face. I got a really huge smack round the face one day just because I forgot that the milk was in the fridge in the shop and he had to reopen the doors and reopen the shutter just to get the milk out. So, you know, because there was so much to think about, you know, that was just a silly thing and it got a slap round the face. It was totally, totally uncalled for and unwarranted. But even then, I thought I deserved it [laughs]. He made me feel as though everything he was doing I asked for or it was deserved of me, because I’d done something bad or I’d done something that was not acceptable, you know. Or the main phrase would be, “You know I’ve got a temper. You know would you put your head in a lion’s cage, you know, knowing that you’ve got your head, your chance of your head bitten off?” You know, he was then just like that saying, “Well, you know, don’t wind me up and then you won’t get it.”
After her partner violently assaulted her and walked out of the house, rather than call the police, Liz tried to find him and apologise as she had pushed him during the incident. She was so ‘brainwashed’ she felt she 'deserved to be hit', and believed she couldn’t cope without him.
 

Liz, a senior manager at work, believed she had caused her partner’s abuse because she was too directive and needed to be weaker and more subservient towards him.

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Age at interview: 46
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And he then walked out. And then I didn’t call the police. I said I was going to call the police to my daughter.

Right.

And she said, I think she said something like, “Oh mummy, mummy,” you know. And but instead I called his parents, I don’t know why. I didn’t see that what they are, at that point. And yeah, and to my shame, I then went out and I looked for him, because he’d left the house.

And rather than, I wanted to apologise because I’d made him angry and called his parents.

Right.

And, you know, because I thought I deserved it.

Right.

And I’d pushed him.

Yeah.

Not that he pushed me first, not that what he’d done to me, hurting me, but I pushed him so I deserved what I got.

Yeah, yeah.

And I didn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t cope without him, couldn’t cope.

I sat next to a director of a bank, of one of the big High Street banks, and she told me about the abuse that she had suffered. And it was only because I shared first that she shared with me.

Right.

I think it’s certain personality types that are very often – you know, and it’s, it’s a said – it’s an unsaid thing that, in a way, domestic violence is something that’s done to weak people. I, when I walk into the workplace, I don’t think anybody would think I was weak. I can out-man most of them and their, but, in a relationship, people are different, in a personal relationship. And it’s, I think it’s where women are not policing boundaries. I think that’s where I went wrong. I should have set up in my mind what was acceptable in a relationship. And when those boundaries were breached, I should have realised that what was happening to me was not good and not acceptable and not my fault.

Right.

I just personalised it all and thought, “I can do better. I will clean more. I will do more. I will do all these things and everything will be fine if I’m a better person, if I’m a better wife, if I’m a better mother. If I can earn more and maybe then he could go more part-time, because maybe he’s not coping with his job. He’s got work stresses, that’s why he’s angry. He’s angry with his parents, he’s angry with his son, he’s angry with his general family. He hasn’t got the career that he should have.” Oh, the excuses that women make. And I think it’s a woman thing more than men.
Using drugs or alcohol

Some women found temporary relief from their painful experiences of abuse through the use of alcohol and drugs.
 

Jane said she had needed a ‘crutch, just to get [her] through the day’ that led her to drink alcohol and take prescribed medication in excess.

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Age at interview: 46
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Because, you know, they [health professionals] could never quite understand as to why I suffered so badly from the, the pain I was suffering and how I was getting through so, so many tablets and everything suddenly sort of like started to make sense. But like the impact of that health-wise is I still now have to take a pill sometimes when I feel stressed.

Right.

It’s, it’s something that doesn’t go away. It’s now a lot, lot, lot better than what it was, because I was doing that all the time. But I still get that moment, I suppose it’s like a, a smoker having to give up cigarettes or an alcoholic having to give up alcohol, you still get those moments when you feel that you need that, that crutch, just to get you through the day.

Yeah, so that again was control. So, you know, we was out cutting the grass, was going to have a, roast dinner, the neighbour was out down the bottom and she offered me a glass of wine, had a glass of wine, then had another glass of wine. I offered to go and help to cut their grass, which he wasn’t very happy with, but I still did. And of course then whilst I was round there I helped myself to another glass and another glass, because it was freedom for those, those few, you know, minutes, it was actually that I, I had something that I could control rather than him control it. And I could have that alcohol because that would blot, you know, you know, blot out everything that was going on, would blot out his nagging and his getting upset and all this, that and the other because, you know, I didn’t care. At that point I was I was drunk. I didn’t care. So then later on of course this led to a massive argument. My daughter was born at the time, she was quite young, she was clinging onto me. Massive argument, I shut the door and he broke it down with his foot rather than use the key. He had a key in his hand, he could have opened the door but, no, he didn’t. He was so cross that he actually kicked the door and he kicked the front door in, you know. all the time saying, “I just want to talk to you, I just want to talk to you,” but at the same time I knew that he wanted to have a moan at me and a nag at me for what I’d done and, you know, to make me think that I was the bad person that, you know, just having a bit of fun or just having, you know, just having a few drinks was wrong.
 

Kanya drank alcohol to deal with her feelings of hate towards her partner. It also helped her to sleep but eventually she decided it was better to get help and talk about her difficulties.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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But I have so much problem stopping my hate. I can’t really tell people. When I start to say and reaction I have it’s kind of opposite, and people start to think like, “She’s crazy.” And I just come back tell myself, “Am I going crazy?” And I start to like I can’t sleep. I have so many problems, you know. And I start to drink alcohol for drink. And then, and then I went to talk with these people and she said like, “How do you sleep?” I said, “I can’t sleep.” So, “What do you do if you can’t sleep?” I said, “I just have some wine.” First I start, it’s very good, one glass of wine make me sleep. And then after this didn’t help, so I got two glasses.

Yeah.

And then after I go for whole bottle. And then after even bottle it didn’t really do anything. And then they said to me like, “Don’t use the alcohol otherwise you will come to addicted.” And then, yeah, I’ve been to talk with people and then I just like, “OK.” And I have to, I think it’s all, everything, you have to remind yourself and try to work out by yourself is the best way. But it’s not easy for anyone, you know, when you’re stuck in that. For me, I lost everything. I lost every moment, every situation I feel lost about everything. I don’t know what I’m doing, what my life’s about, what I’m going to do. And after I’ve been through everything, because I am so ill and then I go back home, I talk with lots of, you know, my family and everything, and after that I just feel like I’ve got my kids, so it doesn’t matter what happened, just I have to be there for my kids. And I start to feel strong because of, thinking like alcohol is not going to help. Whatever you’re doing, things like that is make things worse. It’s not going to make thing work. So I start to thinking like be more sensible to do things and then get some help, talk more with people whoever can.
Keeping a diary

On the recommendation of the police or a solicitor, several women began to monitor and record their partner’s behaviour, by keeping a secret diary.
 

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

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Age at interview: 54
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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 ... 

Yeah. 

... 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...

Yeah. 

... and then when I left I took them with me and I gave them to the solicitor. 
Tina’s partner forced her to have sex before giving her money to feed their children. The abuse continued after she moved out and the police advised her to keep a record of all her dealings with her ex, to make a case for prosecution. At the time of interview there was a warrant out for his arrest.
 

Tina described gathering evidence for the police but she was ‘terrified’ of the repercussions of her partner finding out.

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Age at interview: 50
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Because I want to get out of [city] because when he finds out he’s going to absolutely go schizo. 

When he finds out?

About the police and that lot and when they go to arrest him that’s it he’s going to go crazy.

So he’s going to be arrested?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re going to arrest him. Yeah, they’ve hoping to take him to court over it. Yeah. So because he’s what is it they’re saying it is, it’s sexual, oh god, sexual assault. Even though I was with him he’s still making me have sex with him for money.

Right.

And because he didn’t seem to realise I used to write it in my diary when he used to come and how much he used to give me. 

Ahhh.

See I wasn’t stupid I wrote everything in the diary…

Yeah, yeah.

…how much he used to give me to get food and how much… 

Yeah.

…and then when he stopped and he wanted sex and that.

Yeah.

I could even tell you what he used to wear everything. I d’ye know what I mean.

Right, yeah.

Yeah, I was very quick.

Yeah. 

And there’s no way he could do me over.
Secretly getting help

Women had to be very careful getting help, especially if they were planning to leave, as they knew their partner’s abusive behaviour would get worse if he found out. Charlotte secretly went to her doctor who prescribed anti-depressants and referred her for counselling. These treatments helped her to realise that she couldn’t put up with the abuse any longer.
 

Charlotte secretly got treatment and counselling for depression and her eyes started ‘to become open to actually what he [her partner] was doing’ (read by a professional).

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Age at interview: 38
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[I] phoned the doctor and said, “I need an appointment today.” Went to the doctor, explained the situation, I don’t think I mentioned anything about home stuff at the time, I think I just I can’t remember. She described, prescribed antidepressants. I was too – so I started taking them – I was too scared to tell him that I was taking them because he would have just had a go, “You’re not bloody depressed. You’re just moaning.” and I didn’t want him to know. I kind of instinctively felt like I needed to just do this on my own. So then I was on the antidepressants and having the counselling and I think that all happened then before that was all happening before the day that he read the text message that wasn’t for me.

Right OK, yeah, the suggestive message.

Yeah.

Yeah.

So by the, by the time he had read that message I had already been on the antidepressants, I’d already had all the counselling and my eyes were starting to become open to actually what he was doing. I was starting to witness it from a different perspective and see it for what it was. So I think that’s what then enabled me to say, “It’s inevitable that we’re going to get divorced.” Because I think I finally realised then, “I can’t put up with this anymore. I don’t want my children growing up with this anymore. I don’t want to live with this anymore.” And I think the antidepressants and the counselling together kind of enabled me to do that. You know, I was the antidepressants suppressed the craziness in my brain enough to give me a sense of perspective, and the questions from the counsellor as well started kind of making me realise what was actually going on. 
Chloe was hardly ever allowed out of the house but she made an excuse and slipped out to see a friend, to ask for her help to leave.
 

Chloe was only able to leave her dangerous, threatening partner with the help of friends in a therapy training group (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 32
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I went to the bank up the road and I did not go into the bank, that was never the point. My friend lived round the corner from the bank, so I, I knew I had like 20 minutes, the usual 20 minutes if that’s the area I was going to. I ran to her house and knocked on the door and I was just, “Please, please, please be home.” No answer. So I sat on the wall and just let it all out and thought, “Don’t know what to do. No one’s home.” And I just thought, “Try again, try again.” So I rang her phone and knocked at the same time, and luckily she was home, she was just in the shower. So she let me in. And I didn’t want to alarm her too much of the situation, so I just said, “Please contact my teacher,” my teacher being the one who has taught me all my therapies and a lot of that stuff. Because I know she is a very strong person. She has a wonderful network, she can reach a net, basically, to be caught in from every angle, and it can be done very quickly. So [crying] she did that for me. And then I had to pull it all back together and go back. Why [laughs, crying] would you go back? But at the time it’s almost like I was so beaten down I didn’t realise I could just run, you know.

So she was someone you’d seen through that?

She was in the group, the group I was learning with. He hated me going to that. He wanted to, you know, as soon as I went he was like, “Hmm [deep breath] no, she has other people in her life for support. She might talk to them or…”

Was this like a weekly training or something like that?

Once a month.

Right hmm.

So of course these, these people saw me in the group and they took one look and went [facial expression of shock]. 

Right yeah.

Because of the physical change and the state I was in, walking around like a zombie basically.

And did anyone say anything to you?

They did, they tried to, very gently, you know. They tried to help as well when I opened up with little things. But they were being very, very cautious because obviously they could see a much bigger scale than what I could at that point. So together they were already waiting to jump in, which I didn’t even know [laughs]. So landing up on this lady’s doorstep, as soon as she opened the door she was like [whispers], “Oh finally.”
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