WHITE RIBBON DAY - DOMESTIC ABUSE AWARENESS

Today (Wednesday 25 November) marks White Ribbon Day - the internationally recognised day where people are asked to wear a white ribbon to signal their opposition to male violence against women.

Domestic abuse is never acceptable. We are supporting the White Ribbon Day campaign and as part of our ongoing work to raise awareness of the issue, we are sharing a story from Warwickshire Police who have spoken to a survivor of domestic abuse.

Sarah* –  a woman in her 20s – was subjected to physical, mental, emotional and psychological abuse by her ex-partner over a four year period during her late teens.

After reporting it to police, she was supported by them and partner agencies.

In 2018 her ex-partner was given a four year custodial sentence for a string of domestic abuse offences against her.

Below she tells her story in her own words:

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“I couldn’t really say when it first started because before he first ever hit me there was so much more – emotional manipulation, gaslighting and constantly making me feel unworthy and not good enough.”

Like many people who experience domestic abuse, Sarah suffered mentally, emotionally and psychologically at the hands of her ex-partner. Sadly for Sarah though, the abuse did turn physical.

She explains how she felt responsible for what was happening.

“The first time he hit me was around five months into the relationship after telling me he had cheated on me. At the time I blamed myself for shouting at him and asking how he could do that when he claimed to love me.

“I would think maybe if I was better he wouldn’t cheat on me, then I wouldn’t question him and he wouldn’t feel pressured to lash out and hurt me. Even now I’m confused.

“I knew he should never have raised his hand to me but I apologised for not being enough and he just hugged me until I stopped crying.”

In her mid-teens at the time, Sarah found herself forced to increasingly lie to her friends and family in a bid to hide the truth. As a result of not attending college, she was eventually thrown off her course.

“Sometimes I would go in with bruises over my body, on my face, a busted lip but then most days I couldn’t pull myself together enough to go in.  

“I found myself making excuses for him, thinking there was a reason for the way he treated me and believing if I was better it would stop.

“One time he pinned me up and strangled me to the point I passed out and only woke up because he let go.

“I cracked my head on the concrete when I dropped and he had a go at me for the way I fell. He dragged me to the bathroom because I couldn’t stand or see properly, I felt drowsy and I just remember him splashing water in my face.”

Despite suffering sustained abuse, Sarah struggled to understand what was happening and how her life was being negatively impacted.

“I never saw it as me being a victim, I just knew it was wrong. I couldn’t understand how he could do anything like that then say he loved me.

“I ignored all the signs because I felt like someone who I loved could never abuse me and I refused to believe it was true.”

But while she wanted to get help, Sarah was emotionally torn by what could happen as a consequence of reporting her ex-partner.

“It’s hard to even consider calling the police because although you want the abuse to end, you don’t want to lose that person.

“You come to think he’s ‘the one’, he just needs help so you spend days and nights explaining what he’s doing to you when it’s you that needs to realise he knows and if he cared enough to stop he already would have.

“When we were good, we were great. I almost felt euphoric but when it wasn’t good, I didn’t even want to be alive.”

Like many victims, Sarah suffered multiple incidents of abuse and contacted police on a number of occasions but never took it any further. So what was the turning point?

She recalls how she hadn’t spoken to her ex-partner for a number of days after he had physically assaulted her. He assured her things would be different this time so she decided to forgive him and the pair agreed to meet up.

“Things just escalated as they did before. I found him cheating again and questioned him, which resulted in me being left in bruises and heartbreak.

“I went to the police because he needed help. I was scared of losing him the whole time but I knew he needed help and I needed help to get away from him.

“I’d take him back every time and he’d be the one I’d cry to even though it was him who was hurting me. He knew I’d stay with him no matter what he did to me.

“There was always the thought in the back of my mind: ‘What if I don’t wake up the next time he hits me too hard? What if we carried on and had children? How would that affect them? I was a mess for a long time.”

And how did she feel after seeking help?

“The police were so understanding and listened to everything I had to say. I’d been through it all before and just felt weak going through it all again but they reassured me my feelings were valid and helped me to see that what was happening wasn’t normal.

“I felt stupid going back to them because I’d reported him before, got a restraining order and gone to a refuge but I loved him and went back. They told me it happens and that they were there for me.”

After reporting the latest incident to them, she bravely decided to take matters further this time and having been charged with multiple offences, her ex-partner was jailed in 2018/19 for four years and given a ten year restraining order.

So what advice would she give to anyone who is going through a similar experience?

“It’s hard to leave someone you see as your world…but there is a bigger world out there and you have to explore that because if you don’t you won’t have a life to live at all.

“Going through this made me grow up fast. I messed up my education and all of my friendships. I ruined my relationship with my family.

“I threw everything away and the relationship was my only focus. I was trying to fix myself for him when he was the one who was making me broken.

“I’ve realised it’s in these moments you need to see the bigger picture and if you could look back at everything, from how it started to now, you’d know how wrong it was. But that’s a part of recovering.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time, or the 50th time, talk to someone – go to the police or speak to a support agency. It will be okay and you don’t have to suffer in silence.”

So what does the future hold for Sarah and how does she feel now?

“There’s no doubt I find it difficult to trust people. I see myself going for men with traits of his but leave because they’re not him. It’s hard to explain.

“I’ve also been diagnosed with a mental health condition, which is usually a result of a traumatic experience and that’s challenging.

“Since he was jailed, I’ve moved to a different area, got a new job and found some incredibly supportive people.

“And after my family found out the truth of what had really been going on, they were so understanding, which has really helped me as well.

“Making the initial step of getting away from him was really scary for me but absolutely crucial and necessary.

“The fact is no-one should live feeling belittled and unworthy because of someone else.

“They are no better than you no matter what has happened in your past or who you are. Nothing gives anyone the right to make you feel like that.

“Some days I struggle, which is understandable, but no matter what I do, I’m in a better place now than I was back then.”

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There is no excuse for abuse and you do not have to suffer in silence. The police and Refuge Warwickshire can provide support any time. Call 0800 408 1552, email DVSW@refuge.org.uk or always dial 999 in an emergency.

*Please note Sarah’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

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