Rebecca, 34, victim of domestic abuse, Wales
“I was experiencing abuse for over 8 years before I sought help. L* and I met when I was just 16 and soon after we had our first child. At the beginning things were fine but then he started to change. He would punch walls and doors and kick things. Soon he moved onto me and started to push, shove around, punch and kick.
The first time I reported abuse to the police was in late 1999. We had one child then, our daughter wasn’t even 1 year old. L had been drinking with his friend and he had a go at me. He accused me of seeing other people and we were having a row. He tried to strangle me. I had marks, I had split lips, cuts and marks from where I had tried to fight him off. I managed to call the police. I locked myself in the bathroom, when a young policeman turned up. L opened the door and was trying to get rid of him. He blamed everything on me going mad. When I came out, I questioned why the policeman wasn’t arresting my ex partner. I was a gobby teenager and I had sworn. Because of that, the policeman warned me he was going to arrest me for being disorderly in public. This made me so angry – I phoned him for help after all - and I swore again. He arrested me straight away. He handcuffed my hands behind my back, lifted me up by the cuffs and carried me to the car.
I was so worried about my baby daughter who had been left with L and his friend. They had both been drinking. I was at the police station for hours. Then, they changed shifts and a different sergeant came on. He knew me a bit from when I was younger. He opened the door to look at me and asked what had happened. After hearing my story, he let me go straight away and asked if I wanted to press charges against the policeman who had arrested me. By that time, I just wanted to go home to my baby. He called the officer back and made him apologise to me and gave him a warning.
That was my first experience of reporting abuse to the police. The abuse remained constant. For the next 4-5 years, I had called the police but I had only asked them to arrest L for being drunk and disorderly. They would usually do it and keep him in overnight. I didn’t want to make a fuss about being abused because they wouldn’t believe me, like the first officer. I lost all confidence in the police. But I know things are improving now and the police are getting more training.
In early 2003, I ended up in hospital. Because there were children present, a health visitor came to speak to us about what had happened. We were quite honest, even my partner. He told her what had happened and that there was abuse happening in the home. She promised to help us and find courses that could help. But she completely forgot about us.
A few months later I was hospitalised again. Social services got involved because a couple of incidents had been reported. So my daughters were placed on the ‘at risk’ register. I attended a child protection conference, there was also the same health visitor who had seen us before, probation, a school headmaster, social worker, and a few other people. The health visitor said she had known me for years and had no idea this had been going on. I reminded her what I reported months ago and nothing had happened – we were still waiting as far as I was aware. In the next conference meeting, she came forward. She’d been through her notes and old diary and she had forgotten about it. She admitted her mistake and was apologetic. But if something had been done, it could have saved me from that hospitalisation. I was upset and angry. It was quite a big thing to forget about.
I wasn’t offered help at all until the girls got put on the at risk register. That’s when my partner had to do a parenting course and anger management. He was doing everything he’d been asked for. With the birth of our son, I thought things were getting better. We still had social workers popping in but once that started becoming less and less frequent, L went back to the way it was before. I left and went into a refuge. L continued to stalk me and harass our family. He ended up in prison for a while but is now free. We don’t have contact anymore and I feel safe with my new partner.
I feel that having a female police officer present might help some people disclose. More training and awareness of domestic abuse is needed. I now see posters in hospital waiting rooms with helpline numbers but back then there was no information where to get help from.
All this took place before the time of Idva workers. I feel that if I had been able to have a specialist domestic abuse worker to give me advice, support and to tell me what help was available to me, our story may have been very different. I might not have had to go into refuge with my children and move them away from their school, friends and myself away from family support.”