Laura (29), victim of emotional abuse, coercive control and stalking
“After two dates with D*, he asked me to move in with him. I was flattered and soon we started living together. Looking back, the minute I moved in, D took control of the money, the house, the bills, where and where I went out – but I thought he was just trying to protect me. He didn’t like my family or my friends coming round and I was feeling isolated.
I found out I was pregnant soon after. We were arguing quite a lot and D used to ask me to leave or complain about things like the house not being clean enough. After we had our baby, he started to distance himself even more. There were periods when he was nice, and periods when he was nasty and aggressive. He was never violent – it was always threats of violence. There always seemed to be a ‘consequence’ and I never knew what that would be if I made a mistake. I tried to be really good and accommodating to him, and do whatever he wanted, but nothing ever seemed to work.
I stayed with him for nearly 3 years but eventually we split up. We kept in touch and at first I thought D had changed because he was nice and helpful. But he hadn’t and he was following me everywhere and seeing where I was. To placate him I’d sleep with him or do anything he wanted.
Then there was the incident when he shouted at our children in a way that he used to shout at me and that scared me to death. I decided that we wouldn’t have any form of relationship. I knew how he would fight me through the courts to be with our children, so I allowed contact. But it ended up being on his terms.
I started to pull away and realise who he was. I was changing and became independent, and learn that I could make a decision without asking D first. That was when I found out that he had recorded me from different cameras throughout our relationship – sexually, playing with the children, when we were in bed together. He didn’t like my independence and started to threaten me. He used send snippets of the footage to my phone. He said that if I was to report it, he would take the kids away from me and say I was mentally ill and had tried to commit suicide. He convinced me that he had all the power and I had nothing, so I didn’t report it.
There was an incident when I called the police because D had been following us. Unfortunately, at that time the police just thought I was a bitter ex-girlfriend fighting over custody – and that’s just from the police report. I looked like that at the time and I would have looked at myself from the outside and thought exactly the same. But I wasn’t.
D used to threaten me, it was only the threat of violence, but I felt that was a very real threat.
Then the police started to contact me, because they’d decided that there was something going on. But I wouldn’t cooperate. D used to threaten me, it was only the threat of violence, but I felt that was a very real threat. I was very lucky because the sergeant in charge decided there was something about this case and D’s attitude to authority that meant the case needed to go to Marac. That decision enabled me to make the complaint.
On multiple occasions I had to contact the police, because he followed me home or to the shops, threatened me with footage or shouted at our children. It came to a head when I found out he had a tracker which enabled him to know where I was. When the police came to interview me I explained everything. Then I begged them not to arrest him. Because I was petrified. The police were really convincing that they’d protect me. Eventually they arrested him the next day but he was bailed the following day.
I’d been advised to stop letting him see our children until social services got involved. The first social worker didn’t see D as a risk, so he was able to start contact with our children again. It got to the point where he kept telling social services that our children had been attacked by me or my partner, so they would be at my house every other day. They never found anything wrong but they had to investigate each time. Eventually I decided to stop all contact between our children and D. At the time, that was a really scary prospect because I didn’t want our children to not see their dad, but now I’m really glad I made that choice.
Family court started because he wanted to see our children. In the meantime he’d been charged with stalking and pleaded guilty. That’s when the court decided that D could no longer see his children or have any direct contact with them. He was released after a few weeks. I’ve seen him driving around, but he’s not been in contact.
I feel safe in that I have the tools now to deal with a bad situation and know when I’m under threat.
I’ve had a lot of counselling and the police were really good. The family and criminal judges were amazing, and I had a brilliant team around me. I feel safe because I have the knowledge how to protect myself now and I’m a different person, but I feel like he’ll always be a threat to our children.
At the time, my judgement was very clouded. I couldn’t see how badly everyone around me was affected. But now I know all this has had an enormous impact on our children. When we were going through the court proceedings and D was classed as a risk to us, I had to do a safety plan for my children. I had to give the responsibility of my younger children to the older one – if D were to break in, they were lock themselves both in the bathroom, regardless of where I was. To give that responsibility to small children was massive. It was only when D was arrested that I saw our children change. He taught them at one point to call me a s***, and he recorded it and sent it to me. They knew that their dad was bad, but he’d taught them to say offensive things about me. When he had our children, he used to sit them down and tell them what to say. You’d hear them re-enact what he’d taught them. Because they didn’t have to do that anymore, they started to come out of themselves and play games. They are different children now. I didn’t realise how scared and unhappy they must have been until I came to know them as they are now.
The response I got from professionals was hit-and-miss. It depended on who you spoke to and who had the knowledge to help.
When I went to the GP they gave me antidepressants and signed me off work which wasn’t what I needed, whereas my Idva got me counselling. That was amazing – what I needed right then wasn’t tablets or time off, but somebody to sit down with me and go over what had happened and work out the fears I had and my anxiety. My first social worker wasn’t very helpful, he didn’t see D as a risk. He eventually apologised to me in criminal court when D pled guilty. My second social worker was amazing and seemed to know a lot more. When I first wanted to leave my ex and I went into housing, they said I would have to declare myself homeless and that it was quite a long process, which scared me out of leaving. I didn’t know about refuge and places like that, until my dad had researched it and told me to ring Paladin (a national stalking advocacy service) and other organisations.
The only people who seemed to have that knowledge were my second social worker, Paladin, my Idva, and the police. They were the ones I relied on. That’s what I got from agencies - I didn’t know about until I actually found them, and I wouldn’t be here without them. If it hadn’t been for the police, things could have gone very differently. My whole case hinged on one team working as hard as they could.
My relationship with my parents was really bad when I was with my ex. It was a frustrating position for them, because they wanted to help but in order to do so they had to step back. They could see what was going on and I couldn’t. That’s really difficult when you know that the possibility of the person getting hurt is quite high. Once I started this process, I realised how amazing my parents were and how they let me recover in my own way. My relationships with my friends were affected also, because D harassed them. So he affected the people around me until he was arrested. I didn’t really have much friendship with anybody apart from him. In my head he was on a pedestal, and it took me a long time to knock that pedestal down. It was hard to watch for family and friends, and when D was nasty to them they would sometimes get angry at me – after all, they hadn’t chosen to be in a relationship with him.
When it was all over I rebuilt those relationships. It took me quite a long time, but now they’re stronger than ever. But it took a long time to recover that trust with people, because I had lied and covered for him for so long that they lost belief in me.
Looking back, I would have relied on my family more and listened to their decisions and advice. I would have been stronger and not let D see my children. I would have reached out to agencies sooner while I was with D, so that they could give me somebody to talk to and help me have the courage to leave sooner.
The best advice I could give to others is to reach out. It’s not about leaving straight away or taking that massive step – don’t think of it as an enormous leap, but a small step of reaching out to somebody. It doesn’t have to be family or friends, it can be completely anonymous. There’s no judgement and they don’t force you to report it, leave, or do anything you don’t want to. It’s always your choice. You will just be shown the right direction. The best feeling in the world is the feeling of freedom and you can’t quantify that. That’s a journey you have to take.”