Claire, victim of domestic abuse

24th February 2015

There were certain events that were pure physical violence and I knew that was wrong. Then I found myself justifying it – H* was nice again, he had a new job and we had young children so he was under a lot of pressure. Deep in my head I knew it was abuse but I was hopeful things would change. But there was also the controlling and emotional abuse, and it was just wearing me down and breaking me.

I went to my health visitor and said “things aren’t right”. I explained the situation - that we were under a lot of pressure and the money was tight. She asked how I was feeling and I told her I wasn’t happy and I was arguing a lot with my husband. But I didn’t disclose. She did a scoring to establish if I had postnatal depression. Her thinking was all to do with me - I had a problem, I was upset, I had depression. Although there were cues in what I was saying, she never asked me about abuse.

I knew I didn’t have postnatal depression and I didn’t meet the criteria. The health visitor suggested she'd see me at home in a couple of weeks' time which she did. After the first visit, I mentioned to H what happened and ever since he was using it against me. He told people that I had mental health problems so if I was then saying things were tricky or there had been a tiff, that worked with his story.

I also started going to my GP – I was getting migraines all the time, and I had a lot of pain in my neck and shoulder. I was seeing a chiropractor - it was the stress building up and up. But the GP didn’t pick up on what was going on for me.

There were 8 major incidents and countless smaller events but I still wouldn’t accept I was in an abusive relationship. And after the 8th incident in which he threatened to kill me, I phoned the police for the first time. I was petrified. I just nearly died and now H was threatening to kill me and the children. Because I had a baby, I didn’t want to phone the police and tell them exactly what had happened. I was worried that social services would get involved and my children would be taken away.

When H left the house, he took valuables with him, which is all I mentioned when I rang the police. A policeman came round and he just looked a bit awkward. He did the risk assessment which answered in a way that I knew wouldn’t create suspicion. I told him about where I thought H could be and the policeman went to get my possessions back. He was reassuring and explained what the next steps were. He managed to get the possessions back and gave H some very strong words of warning. Because the policeman knew we were having a difficult time, he said it was challenging to understanding what was going on between husband and wife, especially during separation. In retrospect, if he pushed me a bit more to disclose and gave me just a bit more time, if he had talked to me about the bigger picture and tried piece things together and use that to information rather than just taking all on board, I probably would have spilt my guts. But he didn't and so I kept quiet.

I had to phone the police at least 5 or 6 times because of other incidents. Each time the police came back, it was like a clean slate. They didn’t look at anything that happened before. After the 5th or 6th time, they were doing the risk assessment and something just broke in me and it all came out. But things hadn’t happened that morning, they had been happening for a year. H’s behaviour had been consistently threatening, he'd been stalking me and I was in fear for my life and for my children. He wanted to have contact with the children but was threatening me to take them away and he was neglecting them to punish me. I could tell from their reaction that the police thought “Oh, now she's coming out”. H was living with somebody else, the woman was having his baby, so maybe they just thought I was a jealous ex-partner making things up.

By that time I was so desperate and I managed to get hold of an Idva based within the police. She was amazing and helped me so much. My work had also got involved, they had seen how it was beginning to impact me. They changed my location to a key coded place and made sure I didn’t do lone working. I was having counselling and that's how I registered the danger I was in. It was like the fog had lifted and I realised I needed help and this wasn’t going away.

The police response was inconsistent; there was some really good and really poor practice. I remember a policeman saying when I was moving area “You shouldn't have to do that. Why don't you just move down the road and don’t tell him where you live.” and I just looked at him and thought “You just don’t get it, you haven’t got a clue”. I was at the point of H knowing what time I had finished work, I had to keep my curtains closed, so that he wouldn't be knocking on the windows or hammering on the door. My whole life had to change completely and it was really hard to hear that comment from a person who was supposed to be helping me.

I also had a meeting with Cafcass. The first meeting should be for 10 minutes and they do a quick check. I was interviewed by a completely uninterested person. He was not listening, not documenting, we got interrupted 3 times and we finished in 5 minutes.

After I had separated from my husband, my GP came back to my house because of my child.  We sat down and, after he checked I was on my own, I disclosed a bit. He just said: “I’m really, really sorry, I didn’t pick up on the signs, did I? I’m here for you now if you ever need anything.” and it was so reassuring to hear that.

I think there needs to be awareness everywhere to ask the question, to talk about it.  If you go to a hairdresser and they spot clumps missing of your hair, they should ask. Or the dentist or when you go for a smear – it’s all those opportunities when you're on your own. What needs to change is the attitude, too many people think that what happens behind closed doors stay there.

*To protect identities, names have been changed.

We’d like to thank VOICES, a survivor-led charity helping women recover from the impact of domestic abuse, for their help in arranging consultation with victims of domestic abuse who were willing to share their experiences.