Cheshire Police have relaunched ‘speak out, don’t be silent’ to coincide with a national abuse campaign, which has been issued by the Home Office. Whilst it is customary that cases of domestic abuse happen throughout the year, there is a constant need to drive home the message that no one should have to put up with any form of abuse or behaviour which seeks to demean or intimidate a victim in a verbal, emotional or sexual way.
A victim of domestic abuse has agreed to support our campaign because she feels that her experiences will hopefully encourage other victims to come forward. She prefers to remain anonymous but is keen to drive the message to other victims by stating that "I would say once is enough, don’t go back and fool yourself that they won’t do it again. It takes a lot of courage to leave a violent relationship, but if you don’t recognise yourself anymore then it’s time to make a fresh start. Being subjected to domestic violence for a long period of time can make you lose all your self esteem as I’ve experienced. I only felt empowered once I made the decision to leave. People always comment on how confident I am now."
Her ex partner was seven years older than her, and she recalls the moment as "an instant attraction − he was tall, dark and handsome." Her first impressions of him were "that he seemed like a gentleman, was always wanting to take me out and he would compliment me all the time."
She was in the relationship for three and a half years but it was when she became pregnant that he started to hit her. "We went out for our anniversary and he’d run out of money and I didn’t have much left on me so he made us walk home which was about ten miles or more. I had to keep running to catch up with him and it was getting dark. He pushed me into the road and walked off. I almost got run over. I was worried for months afterwards that there would be something wrong with the baby − luckily there wasn’t. I didn’t tell anyone at all as I was too embarrassed.
When asking if there had been any early signs before the hitting started of him trying to control the relationship, she commented that "he used to shout a lot and if he didn’t like what I’d cooked him for tea, he would throw it on the floor and smash the plate. He had a tendency to smash things up in the house if I had bought them.
In the past, I’d had an operation with a scar on my tummy and he’d always say that if we weren’t together that anyone else would be repulsed by it, but that he didn’t mind it. My friends disliked him and if we ever went out as a group, he would put me down but he would do the same to my friends. He used to tell me to wear lots of make up (not that I did) because he was embarrassed to be seen with me, without it."
She moved into his house after four months of going out with him but started to realise that he was controlling. "I felt that I could change his ways, but he got progressively worse."
His acts of intimidation extended to "telling me that I looked fat in certain clothes that I wore. The first time I went out after I’d had our child, I went out with my friends to celebrate my 20th birthday whilst he stayed at home. It was a girl’s night out but he told me I had to be back at 1am but I wasn’t and he locked me out for the night. He used to lock me out a lot or take my house key off me. He also used to cancel my mobile phone contract without any warning.
She also comments that "I was forced to go back to work when our baby was nine months old or he had threatened to kick me out. I worked late shifts and sometimes three nights on the run but he would always expect his tea on the table before I went. I ended up getting the sack after a few months because if I was working on a Saturday night he wouldn’t stay in to look after our baby."
When the victim stays with their abusive partner, it can often seem like a vicious circle because the more that you stay in the relationship, the harder it is to leave. The victim explains that she did accept his behaviour as normal and because it had been going on for some time, "I‘d never really had a long relationship before. I was only 18 when we got together. After our baby was born, he would say that I loved the baby more than him. He started going out on nights out all the time. I couldn’t work because our baby was very small and my boyfriend would take all my money off me. But then I would have to buy all the food and I ended up getting into an overdraft of £3,500, which I had to keep extending to buy nappies, etc. By this time, I realised that I’d got stuck in a rut and every day I started to love him less and was thinking of getting out. It was very much like mind games with him."
The victim did find the courage to leave the relationship and she puts this down to a final reminder of his abuse. "I found a picture on his mobile of him and a girl kissing so I’d decided by that point that enough was enough. When I confronted him he gave me a black eye. My family and friends didn’t know he was hitting me because I used to cover the bruises up on my body with make up or wear long sleeves. They knew something was wrong, although I think they just put it down to the strains of motherhood. I’d always been curvaceous and a healthy 10-12 but went down to a size 6-8. I’d lost at least two stone and I would take weight gainers (special milkshakes) every day because I used to have moments where I would black out (when you get up too fast, etc), I was completely run down.
Following the split, the victim comments that "he changed after we split up. He was remorseful and couldn’t apologise enough for driving me away. The first three weeks afterwards we hadn’t contacted him once - I knew he was waiting for me to do it − and all contact to see his baby son was done through his mum. He rang me up at 7am one morning crying that I hadn’t got in touch and that he knew that I didn’t want him back. I actually did feel sorry for him but I’d noticed the change in myself and I liked how I had a new found confidence so there was no way I was getting back with him. To this day now, six years later, he still loves me and has tried to get back with me. But there is no way I would ever get myself into anything like that again for the sake of my son."
Her final message to all victims is "I would say really to look out for warning signs − don’t put up with it, because it changes your personality and when you are going through it, you don’t know who you are anymore. You are more confident when you have ended it, and I would say that from my own experience that it will get worse if you don’t tell anyone. I used to pretend that it wasn’t happening myself, you would think, ‘oh no, it doesn’t matter, it was a mistake’. For a lot of the time, I didn’t tell anyone he was hitting me, until he gave me a black eye and then I knew that I couldn’t pretend anymore."
You can read more about our campaigns at www.cheshire.police.uk and www.upbeat.uk.com/17plus.