White ribbon-wearers across the UK marked National End Violence Against Women Day last week. Single mum Tracy, 42, was proud to be among them – and all thanks to a Domestic Abuse Helpline, which put an end to the two years of beatings she endured at the hands of her partner.
After he battered her black and blue, broke her teeth and her spirit and plunged her into £15,000 of debt, she almost killed herself.This is Tracy’s story...
Q. When you first met your partner, what was he like?
A. We met on a night out in 2008. We became good friends. He seemed very caring and concerned about me as I was in an unhappy marriage and very low. Months later I left home with my daughter to start a new life. He helped us settle in and a friendship built up. Then we started a relationship. A few months later he moved in and things were really good. We started to build our home up and got my daughter settled into the local school.
Q. How long was it before he changed?
A. About four months later he started going out drinking. He would be agitated when he came in and would say cruel things to me. I brushed it off and put it down to the alcohol. Then he started getting bossy. We were on joint benefits, which were paid into his bank account, and he insisted on taking control of paying the bills.
Q. Did he start to become jealous?
A. Yes, even of the time I spent helping my daughter with her homework or listening to her read. He gave me just 20 minutes to take her to school or go to the shops, then he would start ringing me constantly, accusing me of sleeping with other men. He made me feel I couldn’t go anywhere or talk to anyone.
Q. Can you remember the first time he hit you?
A. About five months after he moved in he came home one evening drunk and started pushing me about. I said I was going to bed. He pinned me down by the throat and slapped me across the face. The next morning he couldn’t remember a thing and was so sorry about it when I told him what he’d done. But then it happened again and again, always when he was blind-drunk.
Q. How long did you take the abuse for?
A. I stuck it for two years. It got to the point where what was happening was the norm - and he was always so sorry. I kept thinking back to how good he was to us in the first place and convinced myself he would be the same again. I kept making excuses for why he was doing it; he had conditioned me so much that I believed it was my fault and that I must have deserved everything I got - the black eyes, scratch marks, torn tendons, lumps and bruises everywhere, the broken teeth...
Q. How did he break your teeth?
A. Punches to my face. Once he pushed my face into the fridge freezer. In the end, he had broken all but three teeth. Eventually I went to the dentist, but there was nothing he could do. I had to have them all taken out.
Q. What was your most serious injury?
A. He tore a tendon in my shoulder. I’m still having treatment for it two years on. But the damage he did to my mind was worse. I almost took an overdose of pills to end my life. What prevented me was the thought of how it would affect my daughter. To stop myself I put pictures of her all over the house. I even put one in the medicine cabinet.
Q. Did you try to leave him?
A. After one incident I ended up in hospital as I had to be X-rayed as I couldn’t move my neck and had blurred vision. I thought: no more, my daughter was getting stressed out with it all and one day when he was out we packed our bags and went to stay with relatives.
Q. What happened?
A. He kept ringing me in tears, saying how sorry he was and that he would get help and that he loved and missed us. I was very vulnerable and messed up and my daughter missed her friends and school, so we came back.
Q. Do you regret believing him?
A. Yes. Only a week after I came back, he was at it again.
Q. Eventually you managed to get him out of your house. How?
A. After that time in hospital, Social Services got involved in our lives. They set up meetings to try and help, I attended all mine but he refused to go to any of his, so eventually they said either he went, or they would take my daughter into care. That was a huge wake up for me. I had to be strong for her. With the help of Social Services, I got him out.
Q. Your daughter was only 11. It must have been terrible for her...
A. She had two horrible years. Neighbours called police to our house about 20 times. She rang 999 herself once. Another time, when she heard me being hit, she ran out of her bedroom, barged him to the floor and helped me escape to her bedroom. I feel so guilty at what she had to go through.
Q. He got you £15,000 into debt: how?
A. I discovered he hadn’t paid any of the bills and had got into rent arrears too. He had spent all the money on alcohol.
Q. How supportive were police?
A. They were always brilliant - and they always believed me.
Q. Do you think women being subjected to domestic violence think they won’t be believed?
A. Yes, because partners condition us over a period of time. They drum things into your head. He told me if I called the police I would get arrested for wasting their time.
Q. You also got help from the domestic abuse helpline...
A. After he was removed from our home, an outreach support worker visited me. I was too afraid to go out. I felt in a very dark place. I couldn’t see anyway out of it. She was so amazing. She empathised with me rather than sympathised - sympathy does no good at all. She got a colleague to help me sort all the debt out and kept me on track. When she felt I was ready, she got me on a confidence-building course with local organisation Scoop Aid. I met some good friends there. A year ago I started going to the women’s group EVA. It supports women who have been through domestic abuse and it’s fabulous. I can remember not wanting to go through the door as my confidence was so low. Now I’m the first one there.
Q. What would you advise women living with men who control them by fear to do?
A. No matter how big or small the abuse you are going through is, please speak up. I wish I had spoken up earlier. The domestic abuse services are truly amazing and it’s confidential, so never worry about anyone finding out.
Q. What is your life like now?
A. I live alone with my daughter. I am doing all I can to make her feel secure. I needed treatment for post traumatic stress disorder and still have panic attacks. I’d like to have a partner one day, but don’t trust my own judgement.
If you are suffering from physical, mental or verbal abuse and don’t know where to turn, call the 24 Hour Domestic Violence Help-line
on 0808 800 0340.
For more information, contact Nottinghamshire Independent Domestic Abuse Services (NIDAS) 30 St John Street, Mansfield, NG18 1QJ 01623 683250, or visit their website: www.nidas.org.uk