Please forgive the length of this story – I just really, really want to share – I’ve missed so many details and incidents, but there’s still plenty. It won’t be the ‘worst’, but it may well have some parts, at least, that many people can relate to, and may, I pray, help someone else.
As a child I grew up in a household where abuse was normal. I had a very idyllic childhood in some ways, growing up in the countryside where we grew lots of our own food and I could play in the woods. However my father was a tyrant. He abused my mother, my brother and I verbally and physically and also abused me and my brother sexually. I was touched inappropriately, I was exposed to pornography, I was allowed to be ‘kissed’ and spoken to sexually by several ‘friends’ of my parents, I was regulalry locked in my bedroom, I was pulled around by my hair, pushed, pinched and shouted at, mocked and isolated. I was never left with marks though, he was too smart for that; my mother was sometimes left with bruises, but they were usually not in visible places (I remember one time, a heel-shaped bruise from a shoe on her thigh for instance). My father’s abuse was often accompanied by a kind of sick pleasure he took from enjoying power over us, humiliating us in public and belittling us, or leaving us places with no money or transport. My grandfather once commented that he wouldn’t treat a dog the way my father treated us, but like so many others, he didn’t do anything to stop it and didn’t know the full extent of the abuse. I’ll skip forward to me aged 15, self-harming and sucidal and feeling very anxious in life. I finally spoke to a teacher about my self-harm and was referred to a school counsellor, who I was lucky to have at my school. During our sessions I told him that I had been abused and said ‘I think I may have been sexually abused’ – he told me that if this was true then he’d have to tell the police and get social services involved – I clammed up, I didn’t talk about the abuse again for many, many years – it was just too much of a responsibility and too scary. If only this had been handled differently, it’s too much to have this on such young shoulders after all the trauma already. I did later attempt suicide at school one day by [redaction of suicide method for safety reasons] enough that I required medical treatment, and the school called my Mum. She came in and spoke to my school counsellor, she told me later that he’d asked her if I had been sexually abused, her reply was ‘even if she was, what could I do about it?’, and there it was left.
Some time later I was left at home with my father whilst my mother was away for the day, it was a typical kind of occurrence with him that he was demanding that I do chores and watching over me, complaining that I didn’t have the right facial expression and calling me a ‘spoiled brat’ (one of his favourite names for me), he followed me upstairs as I carried laundry to put away and because I didn’t put it in the cupboard straight enough he started to push and shove me into the wall, I told him then that if he ever laid a hand on me again I would call the police. Apart from shouting and being unkind, he never, ever touched me again. I tried to speak to my mother about the sexual abuse when I was in my 30s but she didn’t believe me and didn’t want to listen. I really can’t blame her though, she was also a victim of such horrors and she tried to stay because she believed that was the right thing to do, and I think admitting this level of abuse would’ve just been too hard at the time. And, although this may be hard to believe, much, much later in my life he was actually really good to me when I left my husband and even very vaguely acknowledged his abusiveness.
When I was 19, I met a man much older than me. I realise in retrospect that this is classic ‘daddy issues’, but at the time he seemed like someone stable and reliable in my emotionally turbulent life. I didn’t really undertand abuse, and when we had sex sometimes it hurt, or I would become completely dissociated. I told him later and his response to me was that because I didn’t say anything at the time it was ‘self-rape’ and he just continued. As our relationship went on I gradually learned to say no if it hurt or was bad, but he didn’t stop anyway, so I stopped wanting sex, he then told me that I was frigid, and when we were trying for children he told me that if I didn’t behave as he wished I couldn’t have his sperm (gross, I know).
As he was older, there was a huge difference economically, so when he bought a house and I moved in with him I didn’t pay as much towards the bills as he did, but he also forbid me from making any alterations to the house in case I tried to make any financial claim to it. He was hostile to my friends and parents and I was constantly anxious about how he treated them. He also monitored my texts, emails and limited my time on the phone. Through my life with him, he gradually became more jealous and controlling, he would push me out of the house, kick me (hard) out of the bed and push me out of the car if he was displeased with me saying that they were ‘his’.
Things got worse after we had children and he insisted that I stop my doctoral studies and give up my work to look after the kids as he was earning a really high salary by this time. If I wanted to go out anywhere he accused me of abandoning them and said that they needed me and I was being selfish. He controlled all of our money, and made me keep receipts of everything I spent, he told me that I would have to find or borrow money to pay for any trips in the car that I made by myself, for dental appointments, vet bills and any unauthorised groceries or toiletries, etc. When I used our joint account card to buy a £20 birthday present for my brother he took away all my cards and cut them up saying that my ‘irresponsible behaviour’ was why he had to manage the finances – he was on a 6-figure salary at this point.
Because he was rarely physically abusive I honestly, and I know it sounds stupid, didn’t recognise the abuse, but after he tried to strangle me I left him. I took my kids and stayed with my aunt. He pleaded and promised to change – so I went back. None of his promises were fulfilled and he started to become more aggressive towards our eldest child, and when he left them with a bruise I finally took courage to see a solicitor. I really didn’t think I would be entitled to anything or able to leave, but the solicitor assured me that I should go and take the children somewhere safe and restrict his contact, and that if I proceeded with a divorce I was entitled to stay in the family home. He followed up our discussion with an email. My husband read it (without my consent of course) and became very angry, but he was working from home, so said he’d come back to finish the conversation later. I grabbed everything I could think of in a panic, collected my children from school and drove to my parents house. I stayed there for weeks until, again he promised to seek help. We attended couples therapy and it was here that i realised that he really, really couldn’t access empathy – he just felt that he was right. I also found that I had become really numb. We had been together nearly 20 years before he finally tried to work on our relationship and be kinder, but it was too late and I asked for a divorce. I moved into the annex at the side of our house, because he wanted to stay in the main house and I felt bad (yep, I know, I know!), but he started to monitor me again and I felt very unsafe. He told our youngest child that if I came into the house he would kill me and a friend of his contacted me soon after and told me that he feared for my safety. I was told that I was unable to get legal aid as I was still married to him (so crazy), so my parents helped me pay for solicitors and rent a house (I told you my Dad came good in the end). When I moved out he would call and text me over 30 times a day, until my solicitor said I could cite the harassment act and I got him to stop.
I was an emotional wreck and started suffering with PTSD, having flashbacks from my childhood and being hyper-vigilant. I was seriously depressed and stopped eating and wouldn’t get out of bed – but I did start to go to therapy, and finally, finally talk to someone properly, who listened and helped me name my experiences as abuse. Around the same time, after a visit to their Dad, my kids came home all shaken up saying he’d been weird, driving erratically and threatening to kill himself (and blaming my eldest child). I called social services to ask what to do and was told that if I let my children see him then they would investigate ME! So I stopped contact. He then took me to court. During this process he began harassing me with texts again so I called 111 and they asked me to go to the police station and make a statement.
As I was sitting in the police station, I saw a poster saying ‘non-consensual sex is rape’ – well, I’d always associated rape with screaming and black eyes and torn clothes (like in films), but as was becoming clear from my therapy, rape is definitely not always like that. When I went in to talk to the officers I was given a risk assessment – lots of yesses, and then as soon as they asked about rape (I’m not even sure they used that exact word) and I said yes, they called in more people and everything went a bit nuts! They asked me to come back to the family centre later that evening and give a full statement on a video. I was terrified, but I thought ‘this has to stop, I can’t let him do this to someone else’ and I honestly don’t think he even thought of it as rape either, probably for the same reasons I didn’t. I went to the centre and i only spoke about his poor boundaries with me sexually (unwanted touching, not repsecting my wishes, unwanted BDSM, not listening to ‘no’, me getting dissociated, etc.) I didn’t mention my childhood abuse at all. I ended up speaking for 2 hours. They said it was the longest interview they’d ever done! (like this story, there was a LOT to say)
The very next day they went and arrested him. I have to say, I felt awful. I didn’t want him to go to prison, I just wanted him to stop, to get insight, to never, ever do this to anyone again. In the end, because it was all historical and I never went to a doctor or anything the case was dropped. I fully expected it to be. But what was so amazing was that a female police officer came to me in person and sat with me in my home and when she told me, she took my hands and said ‘It’s not that we don’t believe you’. I cried and cried, I don’t think she’ll ever know how much that meant to me.
Sadly that was the closest to justice that I’ve ever had – and this story has a few more chapters still to go – if you’re still with me.
My ex-husband took me to court for denying him access to the children. My children point blank refused to see him, they didn’t want to talk to him either, and they expressed fear and distress. I know some people may maliciously withhold contact, but I was not one of these. Honestly, I was so emotionally vulnerable, I could’ve done with some time alone and my kids could’ve benefitted from some time with a happy parent (I was very depressed and anxious). During the court proceeding it was alleged that I had fabricated the rape charges to prevent him from seeing the children, his solicitor shouted across the court room that I had accussed him of rape “RAPE!”. I was so shaken that the court was adjourned, and my solicitor bought me a cup of tea, but questioned me asking ‘you aren’t lying are you???’. Ultimately a social worker was employed to interview my children, me and my ex. She was a godsend, no lie. She was really kind to me, my children loved her and after 5 months one child resumed contact. The other took a long time, a whole year, before they were ready and to this day (8 years ago now) their relationship is still problematic and the other child is his ‘favourite’.
So, now we come to the boyfriend! I had had one sexual partner since I was 19, I was now 39. I met a guy on an online dating app. He was a charmer – you can probably guess where this is going…
Let’s cut it a bit short – I was massively low, I had no confidence, but I was having therapy and I was finally financially free (the ex was not happy despite me settling for 50/50 split because I didn’t want to be ‘mean’ – I don’t regret it, but he’s still very bitter as he felt I took what was his). The boyfirend love-bombed the heck out of me. I had never been praised, or told I was beautiful or even been on a date before I met him. Two years later, he’s moved in, he’s taking drugs, he’s not contributing financially, he’s really hostile to my kids and to his ex-wife and he’s been accused of sexually abusing his daughter. I am told by social services that if I leave my kids alone with him whilst the allegations are being investigated then I will have them taken away from me. The case is ultimately dropped, but shortly after this he loses his sh*t big time, over some sweets left on the sofa and smashes my children’s room to bits (smashed furniture to splinters, broken pictures and glass everywhere, bed tipped over, guitar destroyed, walls dented, etc.). Well, I learned a lesson, a bit late to be fair, but I took photos of the mess and I also kept voice recordings from him and texts he sent saying that these were ‘the consequences of not living by his rules’ and that destroying the room ‘felt like a fu*king symphony’. I didn’t report it at the time though, as I was scared and confused by his claims to love me and that it was all in my head and that I was the poor parent, he was just stressed, etc. Four months later, he decides he’s going to be a breatharian (look it up, pretty bonkers) – I thought this was silly – he didn’t like that, he was brewing for a few days. He stopped eating or drinking and then stated that he was ‘transcending his ego’ and began getting agitated. He leapt from the bed early in the morning shouting ‘we’re done’, which woke my child who yelled out for him to be quiet. He then turned and punched a hole through my bedroom wall right next to their head whilst they lay in bed next door. They were very, very frightened by this and I became fearful for my life. I stood up from the bed and told him to get out of the house, he then pushed me back onto the bed and proceeded to punch the wall a second time, I called the police and he stated “If you call the police, we’re done and I’m never coming back”, then he punched the wall a third time. There was plaster everywhere and splintered wood all over the floor. At some point he shattered his wrist because he was punching so hard (this later required hospital treatment with plates being put in) and there was blood left across my wall from the damage he caused himself. He left, and the police showed up about 30 minutes later. They asked me if i considered this to be a crime – I mean really??? Who else ever gets asked this kind of question? I think this is a classic in terms of domestic abuse, already minimalising the event. They took a statement and gave him a conditional caution. My child suffered months of anxiety and depression and was suicidal for a time. I had to clear up all the physical and emotional mess and he drove away.
He also owed thousands in debt to me, to his ex wife for unpaid child maintenance and to various courts and debt agencies. Never paid a penny.
I decided to contact his ex wife, as I was concerned for the welfare of her children. She hadn’t been informed of his behaviour and neither of us were contacted regarding the caution. I found this out when I reported the earlier crime (of him smashing up my children’s room) this is a copy of the email I received in response after showing the police photos, texts and voice messages (names removed):
“Hope your well?
We had xxxxxx come into the station this week and made admissions to breaking some items but not all mentioned.
During the Interview xxxxxx stated that following an argument you had stormed out the house and he had lost his temper and knocked over a metal shelving unit across a bedroom causing it and the wall to be damaged. He believed that a picture frame was also damaged and possibly a guitar although he was adamant that the damaged drawer unit was not his fault. He also went onto say that the shelving unit was originally his and had been put into the bedroom when he moved in. xxxxx stated he contacted you after the incident admitting his actions and expressed regret for his behaviour.
He was therefore surprised by the complaint as you had remained together for 4 months and he had tried to make good the damage.
xxxxxx stated that you and he had parted on bad terms and he felt that this was just revenge to make his access to his children more difficult.
The decision has been made by the gatekeeping sergeant that no further action is taken regarding this unfortunately. xxxxx has been told not to make any contact with you at all, which he has made quite clear he will not be doing!
Although not the decision you were hoping for maybe, he has been spoken to and given strong advice regarding his behaviour and any future incidents.”
For the record the boyfriend never expressed regret or tried to make good the damage, but this response is just so utterly ridiculous on so many levels i just don’t know where to begin!! It is true that we remained together for four more months but how does that negate a crime? This email and the next part of my story are actually the pieces I feel most angry about. I was so clear, I had good evidence and I had been the victim of crimes, but the police didn’t treat me with respect or take thse crimes seriously and I know that abusive behaviour generally escalates Anyway, suffice to say the story doesn’t end there (but it will soon I promise).
The ex-boyfriend now ends up in family court proceedings where I am asked to give evidence, which I do. The outcome is that if he writes to his kids for a period of time, has a negative drugs test and attends a course for perpetrators of domestic abuse, he can have contact with his children (I suspect supervised, but I don’t know). In his world this is spread across the internet under ‘rights for fathers’, the unfair court system and psychotic women taking his children away from him. He sends me a text message at Christmas telling me ‘watch your back you sick bitch’ and posts online: ‘my behaviour is your responsibility. If I were you I would watch your back, all I had left was my children and you took them away from me knowing that I was a good dad. A man with nothing left to lose is a dangerous one, holes in the wall is the least of your worries’. I report this to the police, they phone me 6-8 times telling me that they haven’t managed to organise an appointment to speak to me yet and trying to come to my house (which I tell them not to because I don’t want my children worried). When I eventually get an appointment it is late at night and I’m alone with one other officer at an otherwise abandoned police station, I’m treated like I’m making a fuss about nothing, they blame me for getting involved with his ex-wife and for not having changed my phone number and tell me that I would need to be receiving three death threats a week for them to prosecute, but they will make a note of it in their records. They later post me a rape alarm.
This is pathetic and fails both me AND these abusers. This lack of action protects no one and has really damaged my faith in the police. When I hear that 2 women a week are killed by a partner or an ex-partner I’m not shocked. I spent weeks getting agitated that he’d show up suddenly, but that’s what he wanted, so I eventually just thought ‘f*ck it’ and gotten on with my life, it’s been over a year now and he’s goodness only knows where.
My father has now died, as have the other nasty men from my childhood, the ex-husband still hates me, but we communicate well enough by text only, to give him credit he genuinely tries to be a good, loving father and that’s all I care about now. Last I heard the ex-boyfriend is homeless and was assaulted in a knife fight. I think about them all and I just feel sad.
I’m in my mid 40s now, I’m healing, I don’t have flashbacks anymore, I’m not with an abusive partner, they’ve all gone, and I am here and strong and brave – like anyone forged by fire.
I got this way because of ME and some very kind words, financial support from my parents and a few amazing services (shout out to Stop Abuse For Everyone). I hope my story empowers you, reminds you that even with a lifetime of abuse, you can come through and that even if the police are crap and justice is not done, you aren’t alone and there is a life beyond the pain.
Constabulary: Devon and Cornwall Police
Timespan: Whole life until just over a year ago
Did you report it to the police?: Yes
Your ethnicity: Mixed/Multiple Ethnicity
Have you experienced suicidality due to this?: Attempted suicide more than once
Are you disabled as defined under the Equality Act 2010?: No