I thought the door was going to cave in, thud thud thud , I rushed downstairs thinking the Police had come back with urgent news, instead once again I was confronted with the man who had tormented me for over fifteen years. The familiar rush of adrenaline kicked in, and I pushed back to refuse him entry but it was too late he charged through into what should have been my safe haven. The house I had rented after fleeing the family home some 270 miles away. Though for first few weeks had been spent on a friends floor and then in a B&B when the Council classed us as homeless. Yet again I and my children were paralysed by the controlling man, who to the outside world was so wonderful and funny. "I should think myself lucky to be married to him."
Why did I not just leave?
Fifteen years, why did I just not leave? A number of reasons kept me there , personal and systematic. Personally, I grew up in a step family, with step siblings bullying me and at one point sexually abusing me . More importantly I was separated my half brother, so the trauma and shame that I experienced as a child , clung to me and caused me to latch onto irrational expectations. My children HAD to be brought up in a non fragmented family as I loved them too much to put them through my childhood experience. I wanted the perfect family and that means a Dad as well as a Mum. The system was against me, I took on board that it was wrong to be a single Mum as thrown out constantly by the media. I did not even see myself as a domestic violence victim, I had no understanding at all. I just felt so very ashamed.
I was pressurised to stay with him by the leadership within the church we attended, which effectively isolated me from outside help. Apparently all it would take was for me to love him more for our relationship to flourish, as it was very difficult for a man to cope. In the early years, I had the courage to stand up to him and tell him to leave they took him in and listened to his sob story.Then talked me into taking him back. Most church minsters have improved, but too many still simply do not or do not want to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse.
I also had pets and the thought of leaving them and upsetting the children was yet another reason. It was impossible to think straight,as I constantly lived in fear. My head was on a fast spin the whole time. He alternately threatened that me that I would never see my children again , or he would kill all of us. Most importantly no authority took me seriously, even when I had a knife held to my throat but re victimised me, leaving me trapped behind a closed door.
After 15 years of marriage he did not seem so hysterically funny to me anymore though to be fair he often left me hysterical but in the I am going mad sense of the word. That evening my children and myself were once again dealing with Mr Hyde. I end up begging him to stop, he won't even when his daughter crying unceasingly ends up curled in foetal position on the floor. Not until he has his say, though for once I don't get assaulted, perhaps getting arrested yet again two days before has slightly moderated his behaviour. He finally swept out of my home , leaving me with a broken back door and very distraught children, to try and calm down .
As I say this is a very familiar scene, with slight variations, in time and place, but of course never in public, he would not want to spoil his carefully nurtured public image. In private he was so different,a man with his glass more than half empty, he learnt to act the clown in public at a young age. From what, I know now it was his way of dealing with a deeply dysfunctional upbringing, including him witnessing abuse of his own mother and a household that revolved around alcohol. The signs were there from the beginning, on one of our first dates we went over a rope bridge and he proceeded to sway it when he saw how much it frightened me he wouldn't stop until I was on my hands and knees begging him.
Whats a boundary?
Why did I not heed the warning signs? I had no idea what a boundary was coupled with low self esteem as a result of being bullied by my step siblings. I also had a less than perfect relationship with my Mum, was in her own words robotic during my childhood, which I now realise was probably a symptom of her own trauma . This has changed and she has been a wonderful support through my own journey,as she understands like few others can.
When I had rang 999 just two days before ,it was in desperation to stop him assaulting our son. Grabbing him by his top he dragged him to the floor and laid into him, swearing at the top of his voice. Shaking I phoned and was assured that an officer would be out to take a statement.
After seeing my youngest so very distressed, I summoned up the courage to give a full statement, it all spilled out about the years of abuse when the male police constable finally attended a day later. No physical evidence was taken , and from a data protection request I also found out that the police database had not been checked by the relevant agencies. He was classified at medium risk of offending.My ex was arrested , questioned and released . Then came the knock at the day which was to turn my life upside down and even more frightening then it had been for those last 16 years.
Rather than the end of a reign of terror what followed was the beginning of deadliest of nightmares. We haven't charged him.We are taking your children to live with him, the police officer informed me, in front of the children, it is a joint decision with Children's Services. For the benefit of anyone reading this,in a similar situation, I found out too late, this was unlawful. I erupted, why did no one listen to me, I really had had enough, I just wanted to die. I ran into the kitchen, and frantically opened the medicine cupboard, closely followed by the police officer. I tried stuffing as many paracetamol down my throat as I could but could only manage two, a normal dose. The female officer , sprang into action and called for an ambulance. I told her I had only taken two, but I was falsely told that I had to go to hospital or things would get much worse for me. I was reassured that my children would only stay overnight with my ex.
I had a lovely sympathetic paramedic, who explained he had almost been in my position after suffering trauma and had needed counselling. I walked out of hospital after spending hours in a corridor, then being placed on a general ward. In hindsight, it was not my best decision, but I could not face explaining , just with the NHS curtains around me, how I had come to such a low place in my life. My ex very bizarrely had been given the key to my house,supposedly to get clothes for the children, not much forethought there.
I am not proud of getting to the point of suicide,however on reflection, I can see I had been suffering from PTSD , which was finally confirmed by a psychologist, from the repeat trauma I had been living with. The stress had previously been exacerbated by desperately trying to obtain respite care for my autistic son from Children's Services.
When I did see a mental health nurse, she, after approximately six sessions said I was mentally well. Despite this my children still did not come home.
Over the next weeks, I begged for my children to go into foster care, if I couldn't look after them. Family friends warned Children's Services about him. All was ignored, as had been my desperation about trying to get reasonable support for my son, which would have averted the crisis in the first place. Being completely tied with with providing care over and above what a parent normally provides, had also led to years of delay in leaving the relationship. I do believe some of this was driven by a shortage of foster carers.
Five years on two of my children are still living with him, after what was initially private law proceedings in the Family Court, but turned into public law proceedings and he has always had unsupervised contact with my son. They have had no support dealing with their trauma from living with domestic violence. Nor did I receive the statutory support as a domestic violence victim, I should have as the Local Authority who are the local providers, were my opponents ,as well as my ex in court. This left me living within 20 yards of where my ex worked, further exacerbating my distress. He had moved to be near me again after I had left him. I have not seen my youngest daughter for nearly three years despite there being a court order. I pay child maintenance and he continues to live in the home which we jointly own.I frequently see him in my local area and I find this very unacceptable.
The children and I went from being abused by him to being abused by the system that was supposed to protect us. It has been like living in an alternative reality. There has been an upside. It was because I had been determined to get well for my children and had done so by accessing any free help or course that I could and in the process actually found that I could understand and accept myself.
I have become very aware that my story although a nightmare is not unique. The main reason behind this blog is to educate from my own perspective, why women can become victims, how the system fails them and what needs to change. I had an appalling experience of being dealt with by the Police, which I would not wish on any person. I do understand there may have been subsequent improvements in the service offered to domestic abuse victims. It is not about victim blaming, I have been victim blamed and it is as awful as the abuse BUT if I can help anyone actually recognise the patterns of abuse within their own life or the system, I would have achieved a very important goal. To paraphrase the Bible the sins of the father are passed down to the third and fourth generation. I did not get this at all and thought it revealed a rather sadistic side of God. What I now actually understand is that any deviation from normal(ish) family behaviour does reverberate down the generations. My children would not have gone through trauma if my mother had not years before, her trauma directly impacted my reasoning ability around relationships. My ex may not have been an abuser if he had not seen it first hand when growing up himself. Abuse of any form leaves gaps of self esteem, which results in coping behaviour that is not useful in the long term.
I am not dismissing that men can also be victims, but this is written from my own personal story, part of that experience is that power being very much still in the control of men has added to prolonging my abuse . I am writing for other victims and those who may want to gain some insight. If you have gone through family proceedings yourself, you may find these resources/blogs helpful: Family Rights Group ,http://survivingsafeguarding.co.uk/ , childprotectionresource . If you need to know about family law: advicenow. The transparencyproject works to make family court cases clearer and flags up problems. I would welcome any comments which will be moderated before publication and I will also be grateful for any relevant guest posts.