Gender-based violence can happen to anyone. This is one woman's shocking account of what happened to her aged 19
Domestic abuse has a devastating and vast impact on the lives of so many women and children across the UK, and it’s vital we create a future without male violence against females.
Last month Women’s Aid launched a campaign called ‘What I Lost’, to tell the stories of women whose lives have been severely affected by domestic abuse and raise awareness ahead of the upcoming general election. A report by the charity revealed £393 million a year is needed to fund domestic abuse services in England.
Meanwhile, just days ago senior police officer John Sutherland told BBC Newsnight domestic abuse is ‘terrorism on an epic scale’, as figures reveal more than 93,000 suspected violent criminals and sex offenders – including people accused of rape and murder – have been released by police without any restrictions in the last two years.
Tomorrow – Tuesday December 10 – is the final day of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. In a bid to increase awareness of this epidemic, we spoke to Sarah*, who at 19 found herself in an abusive relationship with an older man. As well as sharing her shocking story, she reveals how Women’s Aid – a charity that aims to end domestic violence against women and children – supported and helped her to recognise abusive behaviour.
‘You’re fat, ugly and no one will ever love you except me’
That’s what my ex-boyfriend told me during our relationship. And I didn’t think anything of it. In-fact, saying this made me adore him even more, because I felt grateful for his love.
I met him through mutual friends. We were both at a house party, swapped numbers and weeks later we were dating.
In the beginning he was absolutely lovely. He took me out for meals and treated me to day trips to nearby cities. I felt so lucky. I’d recently come out of a two-year relationship and he came along at the right time.
It didn’t take long to notice he had a jealous streak, but it wasn’t until three months in, once we were official, that he physically hurt me. We’d gone out for a few drinks and then headed back to his flat. He accused me of messaging other boys and asked to see my phone. I gave it to him and he immediately threw it at me, splitting my head open.
As soon as it happened and he saw all the blood, he said he was so sorry and had meant to throw the phone at the wall. He convinced me it was an accident and he would never, ever deliberately hurt me. He also said his ex-girlfriend had cheated on him and he apologised for needing reassurance from me. It was a one-off mistake.
I had to go to A&E that night to get the cut stitched up, and he asked me not to tell the hospital staff what had happened because he didn’t want my friends and family to find out and not like him. He told me to say I’d had a few drinks, tripped over and cut my forehead on the edge of a table. That is the story I went with because I didn’t want him to get in trouble. I didn’t want to lose him.
Next came Pandora jewellery and dinners in fancy restaurants. Being 19 at that time, it really did impress me and made me feel appreciated and valued. He was 26, and I didn’t think I would get this royal treatment if I dated a guy my own age.
But the violence got worse. A few weeks on, we’d been out for drinks again and come back to his flat, where he lived alone. He accused me of cheating, saying I’d never find anyone who would love me like he did, especially when I was so fat and ugly. He snatched my phone off me and threw it in my face, this time cutting open my lip. After a round of apologies we went to sleep, and as I lay in the darkness I thought that it probably wasn’t an accident this time.
The next morning I got the bus home and my mum saw my bruised face. She simply asked, ‘did he do it?’ I broke down crying and admitted everything. That moment was the first time I’d told anyone what he was really like. It wasn’t that I couldn’t trust my mum or my friends, but I didn’t want to admit to myself what was happening.
Of course, they wanted me to end it, but I loved him too much. Even after he pushed, strangled and physically punched me in the face we stayed together. One time, his neighbours called the police and he was arrested and spent the night in prison. The next morning I got a phone call asking if I wanted to press charges and I said no.
A week before I was due to move to university in Liverpool I ended the year-long relationship. As my September start date got closer, he got more horrible. He didn’t want me to go and I knew this was my one chance to escape his control. He was devastated when I told him it wouldn’t work because of the distance, and was desperate to make it work. But I knew if I came home for a weekend I would probably never leave because I would be sucked back into our world.
At this point, I was also very aware I was in an abusive relationship, and I couldn’t let it put my degree in jeopardy. When I moved he rang me a couple of times and left abusive voice mails, so I blocked him and removed him from all social media. Then, he told my friends who were living at home that he had explicit photos of me, and he was going to post them on social media. I told them to tell him if he did anything I would tell the police. That was the last I heard of him.
For a long time I didn’t process what had happened with my ex. It was only when I moved back home after graduating four years later that it all came back to me.
My mum started sending me links to Women’s Aid forums where women spoke about their partners and abusive experiences. Reading survivor stories has made me realise it’s okay to grieve and still get upset by what happened six years ago.
Thankfully, I have never seen my ex since. I recently got a part-time communications role at a local domestic violence charity in Preston, so I can help girls who are in a similar situation to what I was.
My current boyfriend, who I’ve been with for five years, has been really understanding about my situation.
If I’d stayed with my ex I fear I would have ended up pregnant and stuck with him, or he would have killed me. I always thought domestic violence happened to women who are middle-aged and married. But it can happen to anyone. I urge any girls or women who are reading this and noticing warning signs to speak to someone about it. The more you do talk about it the more you understand what is happening in your life is wrong, and that there is help.
If you are worried that your partner, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling and abusive, you can contact the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or visit womensaid.org.uk
* Survivor’s name has been changed to protect her identity