Domestic violence has increased three-fold during the coronavirus isolation with calls to helplines rapidly increasing over the past month. In this exclusive account for Marie Claire, model Frankie Herbert breaks her silence on her own experience with domestic abuse and urges anyone quietly suffering at home to seek help now.
Words by Frankie Herbert
For some of us, home isolation is a break from the mad busy lives we lead, our homes a place of sanctuary. For others, home can be a dangerous, abusive, and life-threatening prison now that workplaces, schools, gyms and friend’s houses are out of bounds. There are thousands of vulnerable women and children living with domestic abuse across the country right now, and speaking about what it feels to experience it is the only way to break the stigma and encourage more people to do the same.
Every domestic abuse story is different, but I do know how it feels to live with intense fear. In November 2019 I was sexually and physically assaulted by my boyfriend. I was 23 and working full time as a model as well as studying to become a counsellor.
I’d met him in Hamburg when I was there for a casting for a couple of hours and we serendipitously began a FaceTime romance. He was tall, handsome and seemingly everything I’d ever wanted. I was nursing a broken heart from an ex and I rushed into it with this gorgeous new German man *Chris because I was desperate to distract my pain with a new man’s attention. We dated for two months and spoke all day every day. He came over from Germany for a weekend which was beautiful albeit fleeting and shortly after I spent a few days with him in Hamburg where I met his parents, grandparents and friends. It was all going wonderfully when he came over for my birthday in mid November. I was over the moon and excited to introduce my new sex bomb German boyfriend to my family and friends.
He woke up on the third day of his visit to London and was a completely different person. Aggressive and rude, he continuously put me down. That day I was accepted onto volunteer training for the charity, Crisis’ text line and I was thrilled. Crisis text line provides online support via a volunteer basis for all those facing crises or needing guidance. *Chris immediately snapped back with, “don’t get big headed it’s unattractive on you.” I couldn’t understand how getting excited over being accepted onto a volunteer charity scheme was big headed but when someone tells you something like that you instantly question yourself. I thought, “maybe I am being big headed, I’ll be quiet about that now.”
The evening of the 2019 assault, Chris and I were out together at a friend’s birthday dinner. Chris spent the entire evening muttering under his breath saying how disgusting I was. He’d say things like, “you are making me feel sick, you’re a nasty person, ugly, you’re spoilt and I really don’t like the person I’m seeing in you.” I was walking on eggshells and was afraid to speak for fear of saying something that would aggravate him. I just smiled through it, wanting to cry but holding it together and I remained as silent as I could be, something that anyone who knows me knows, is very unlike me.
We went home and I was totally deflated, I’d been trying to smile through my friend’s birthday dinner but my confidence had been chipped away, bit by bit. He drank a lot of whiskey and when we got into bed he turned to me and said, “I’m not fucking you tonight, you disgust me.” I got up to turn off the lights and said, “I just want to sleep.”
He jumped up and ran to me. He threw me onto the bed and said that I didn’t get to choose. The next thing I knew I was being pinned down by a 6ft 7 man who laughed in my face and tried to kiss me so hard my lip split. He started trying to pull down my underwear and trying to touch me and remove his clothes simultaneously, whilst keeping me pinned to the bed.
“Get off me now, you’re scaring me, I will scream.”
“You can’t do anything.”
I screamed and he slapped me. Hard. The side of my head started throbbing and I shouted out for my flatmate.
My flatmate and her boyfriend came running into the room and found me shaking on the bed in shock. Chris was smashing his head on my wall and punched himself in the face, realising perhaps what he had done.
He threw himself down the stairs and told me he was going to find knives in the house to kill himself with. I calmed myself down to try to deal with the situation, petrified he would hurt himself badly in front of me. He cried for his mother, so I called her and told her that he needed to go home.
One of the most heartbreaking conversations I’ve ever had was with that lovely woman, telling her that her son had abused me mentally, hit and had tried to sexually assault me. I did this with the hopes that she, his mother, would be able to help him on his return to Germany. I took him back upstairs to try to get the kind and gentle man I knew to win back control of his psyche. He immediately flipped on me again and threw me onto the bed. I smacked my leg on the base of my bed and it caused an immediate bruise. He pinned me down and spat on me and blew his nose onto my leg whilst I was trapped under his weight and I shouted again for my flatmates. Eventually he calmed down, fell asleep, and I lay in bed thinking about how helpless I was, I didn’t know what to do, but I was able to leave the house, so I left.
I am so grateful that my flatmates were home or it could have been another ‘story’. I am grateful I was able to leave the house, but the mental entrapment of an abusive partner doesn’t leave you.
He flew back to Germany the next day and blocked me on everything. I never got an apology, and I saw that his bio on Instagram was changed to, “looking for a deaf-mute woman that can cook, where are you?” I had been falling in love with a monster. Despite never having an apology I forgave him in my head which freed me, but there’s still mental entrapment involved that many abuse victims experience. It’s safe to say I had a break down. I was miserable and life seemed to be falling apart around me. I practised a lot of mindfulness and with the techniques I had learned from training to become a counsellor as well as using my training skills from when I became an Emotional Freedom Technique practitioner, which uses a form of counselling intervention that draws on ancient alternative medicinal therapies such as acupuncture and energy medicine, I had the tools to make myself feel better. This experience ultimately empowered me, it strengthened me and made me who I am today – a survivor, not a victim.
I still get paranoid he will turn up at my house, I get flashbacks of the wicked smile on his face when he was pinning me down on the bed and I am still in disbelief it all happened. I was lucky in that I had the support of my flatmates and I was able to leave the house to escape him. I still contemplate whether or not to report it but I think there is little that can be done with him living in a different country, especially as we are now in isolation.
There are women in abusive relationships who are now being told to stay at home and not leave due to lockdown measures in the country right now. I have been training as a counsellor and I’m focusing my energy on training to work with women who have been through or are enduring similar experiences.
We’re being told to stay indoors to fight the spread of the Coronavirus, and that is what we should all do. What scares me is that had I not been able to leave the house, or had there not been anyone else around, the abuse would have escalated far higher and sadly this is the reality for hundreds of people in abusive partners.
I am a survivor of domestic abuse and at this time I want to reach out to anyone who may be suffering at the hands of an abuser either physically, sexually or mentally and share my story with you. You are not alone, you can escape this and if you need help right now the national domestic abuse charity Refuge is there for you.
They run the Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, 0808 2000 247, which is a confidential service, run by an all-female expert team every hour of the day. Refuge also runs www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk where there is lots of useful information and where you can access their online form to book a safe time to receive a callback from the team that suits you.
You are not alone – please reach out for support.
*certain names have been changed to protect identities.