Trigger warning: this article includes reference to domestic abuse, murder, violence during pregnancy and animal abuse.
The term ‘domestic abuse’ is understood by many to refer to physical violence inflicted on a partner. However, as I have come to understand from my recent exploration of this difficult subject, the reality is far more complex and dark. What’s more, the true extent remains unknown due to victims’ fear of reporting it.
In this series of articles on domestic abuse, I will report on information I have gathered from reading and from interviews with victims and with professionals working in the field. Future articles will investigate key issues arising under the headings of police and legal matters, politics, and support services. However, it is only fitting that we begin the series by hearing directly from survivors of domestic abuse.
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to visit a non-profit organisation called Hull Sisters that helps victims from the BAME community and was able to talk to people they’ve helped. It doesn’t make for easy reading but the bravery of the women I spoke to was inspiring.
All names have been changed.
Case study – Jess
“I fled once and I went to Milton Keynes and he’d found us. He rang me and said I’m outside your Auntie’s house.“Jess
Happily, Jess has been away from her previous partner for three years and has now remarried, which shows a real turnaround in her fortunes. Nevertheless, some of the after-effects are still there. For a time, her son suffered from sleepwalking and chronic night terrors. Her daughter’s attitude towards boys has changed significantly.
In the past, Jess had contacted Women’s Aid who “effectively sent me back to my abuser”. The police told her that as the name of her ex was on her son’s birth certificate, there was no law preventing him from seeing him in the street and taking him. (I have verified this with several anonymous police officers online.)
These are just some of the experiences she was willing to share….
- He slapped her one day after he was told she’d been seen talking to another man in the park. She was holding her son when this happened and the man she’d been talking to was her brother.
- Her wages and money for the children went into his bank account, meaning she had nothing of her own. He attacked her one day, as there was no money in there for his car insurance.
- In a fit of rage and because he couldn’t get to Jess, her ex destroyed a fish tank given to her son as a gift. The boy witnessed this and given the situation, Jess felt compelled to apologise and say, “Daddy didn’t mean it”.
- Jess was forced to home-school her son for two years so her partner wouldn’t know where she was.
- After a period in hospital, she was at home and needed to use her partner’s phone to order more painkillers. She saw six or seven dating site notifications. When confronted about this, he said, “I was lonely and needed somebody to talk to”.
All of her experiences were awful, but there were two incidents that really floored me:
Case study – Maria
“He lost something … it was my fault.”Maria
Maria was with her ex for 19 years. Unfortunately, much of the time they were together was marked by abuse. She referred to him as an “energy vampire”, as he sucked the energy and life out of her. There were violent moments, but the abuse was mostly verbal. Early on it was more manageable, as she had work and friends she could interact with. However, things got worse when Maria had kids because she had to leave work and her life became so much more isolated. She wasn’t even allowed to talk to other parents at school.
These are just some of the things she told me:
- She tried to sell her car at one point, but he deliberately removed a crucial piece of the logbook to prevent that from happening.
- He took the car keys off her for three days so she couldn’t drive her kids to school. This meant they had 50-minute walks each time.
- He made her do all the cleaning and one day she asked for a new hoover “because the old one was finished”. He refused, so she had to get on her hands and knees and do it. Whilst this was happening, he was sat down, just looking at his phone.
- She inherited some money, but it’s frozen and she relies on universal credit. She’s been told getting a non-molestation order will cost her £6,000 and has (so far) been unable to get legal aid, though Hull Sisters are trying to help her (applying for the order is free, but there are lawyer costs). Also, legal aid is more restricted these days, but you can get it in domestic abuse cases).
- One day, one of her children had gone. She was incredibly worried and on the verge of calling the police, only to find that her abusive ex had taken her. “So he just got the little one and disappeared”. He said later, “She’s OK, no need to worry”. Maria is worried this may happen again.
Towards the end of our conversation, she showed me her large handbag. She said it contains all her most important possessions and she takes it everywhere. This includes passports because she’s too afraid of him breaking into where she lives and taking them.
“When I got angry, that was power to the husband. Waiting for my anger and emotion.”
Maria had such a mixture of emotions. There were times when she seemed quite confident and vocal. There was also anger, fear and times when you could tell some incidents were hard to talk about. I felt privileged that she shared her experiences with me.
Further examples of domestic abuse
During a conversation with Sonia (founder of Hull Sisters) she told me many more real stories of abuse. Here are some:
- An Iraqi man had special metal shoes made and beat his wife with them if she ever made a ‘mistake’.
- The husband of a GP threatened to get her dependent visa cancelled, meaning that she’d lose her job and be forced to leave the country.
- A victim’s husband passed away, but the family kept on abusing her.
- A heavily pregnant client of Hull Sisters was beaten for not cleaning her husband’s feet.
- Multiple cases where the husband deliberately didn’t get the marriage registered when they entered this country, meaning that the wife has fewer rights.
One term you may hear being applied by abusers in BAME cases is ‘characterless woman’. This is an accusation that can be made when a woman shows any sort of independence from male control or, for example, doesn’t dress in what is regarded as a modest way. Sonia told me one story where this term was used. The victim was murdered by her abuser and nobody from the community turned up to the service at the mosque because of the accusations he had made against her.
An experience that leaves long-lasting scars
There were a couple of occasions in my conversations where I started to say, “Now that you’ve escaped the situation …”, but I felt compelled to correct myself because, although they aren’t with their abusers anymore, they still have the scars. Children were affected too, and the effects of abuse can last for generations.
In the next article, you’ll hear more stories from a variety of different sorts of people, showing that domestic abuse can affect anyone.