I was 19 years old when I met him. He was 38 and married.
I was a teenager with an unsettled home life when I met him. I had an uneasy relationship with my mum and siblings, I felt afraid of my stepfather and did not feel safe in my own home. I felt like he rescued me.
At first I didn’t recognise that I was being controlled, but now I can see that it happened very quickly. He isolated me from family and friends very early in the relationship. Soon he was the only person I saw. He was well known to the police for serious criminal activity, including violence and weapons. I knew he had access to lots of money and would pay people to use violence against others. When we lived together I wasn’t allowed to have a phone, access to a computer or to a TV. I remember being shocked when in 2012 I found out that Michael Jackson had died (in 2009), and I had no idea who the current Prime Minister was.
He was obsessed with the belief that I was an undercover police officer. He began to monitor my every move and had cameras and recording equipment inside and outside of the house. He would often believe that I was monitoring his moves, even believing that I may have recording devices implanted in my body which he attempted to find and remove. If I left the house he would always come with me wherever I went. He would pull out my hair or shave my head regularly to ensure that I ‘was not attractive to other men’.
He began to involve me in his criminal activity, threatening or using violence to make me comply. Once he had implicated me he used this as a tool for control, threatening to take me down with him if I tried to leave or involve the police. He was plying me with alcohol and drugs. He also used drugs, and his behaviour was erratic and unpredictable. He often threatened to kill me and said he would then kill himself. He owned a crossbow which he used on animals in the countryside near our house in full view of neighbours. He held this to my head on several occasions, sometimes for hours at a time.
Violence became a daily occurrence. He used a taser to control and incapacitate me. This became the norm. I couldn’t report most of the assaults and rarely received medical attention. Later the doctors found that I had untreated fractures. The more paranoid he became, the less able I was to call for help.
My self-esteem was at rock bottom. I found it increasingly hard to look after myself in terms of eating and washing. I developed a stammer. In one assault I lost some teeth. I had little hair left. I didn’t want or feel able to leave the house. Medical professionals later recognised that I experienced Stockholm Syndrome and PTSD. I was in a constant state of panic, and at times felt the only way out was to take my own life. I attempted suicide several times during and soon after the end of the relationship.
I felt I was being judged by professionals for staying in the relationship, for using alcohol and drugs. You feel bad enough about yourself without others judging you too. I needed help and support but was not able to trust those who judged me, I felt worthless. I had to do what he demanded of me in order to stay alive but to those who judged me I was choosing to stay, choosing to take substances, choosing to do what he asked. No one saw me, they saw someone who was making bad choices & decisions. I was trapped and spent every day doing what I needed to do to survive.
One police officer changed my life. He could clearly see that I was a victim of domestic abuse and obviously understood what that meant. He once said to me at the police station, quietly, “you don’t have to live like this”. He reminded me that I had a life before this relationship, he treated me as an equal and wasn't pushy. He was very respectful towards me.
When I finally did feel ready to leave it was him I got in contact with. He also followed through and arranged a refuge for me to go to. I would never have approached any other officer as I didn't have much confidence due to bad experiences...This officer was non-judgmental, open and kind. I felt like I could approach him for help without being looked down on or judged, or risk of making the violence worse. There was no one else, no one at all at that time that I could trust. I was completely isolated.
This was just the beginning of my journey out of abuse. It was a difficult road, I didn’t always get the right support I needed. At times I felt let down by those who were there to help me. However, I can look back now and see that this police officer - the first person I did not feel judged by, the first person I felt I could trust, helped save my life. I also received support from an Idva that was life changing and has helped me get to the point where I am now. She reached out to me, she didn’t give up on me when I was not able to engage. She engaged me. She empowered me. She cared, and she didn’t judge me. She got it. She was warm, she made me feel safe and she made me believe I was valued and had value. With this support I am proud to say I grew stronger and learned to trust others. I engaged with more support, I volunteered – I was good at it! I now have a job where I was volunteering, and I am loving it. I help empower women. I am passionate about my work and feel excited for my future. I am happy, and I am stronger.
If I were to pick two things that can be learned from my experience…No 1 would be: attitude. If professionals have the right attitude towards those living with domestic abuse, if they truly understand what it is like for victims living with abuse - to live in fear, be controlled, feel worthless and trapped and SHOW that in their face, in their language and their response then they will have greater success in engaging victims into support and save lives.
No 2 would be to focus more on managing the behaviour of the perpetrator. I can see now that it was only when I had space from the perpetrator that I felt safe and able to take action. I felt all the responsibility was put on me to leave, to comply with the police to secure an arrest and prosecution. If he had been held to account for his behaviour, if he didn’t believe he could get away with it I may have believed I could get help sooner.
I think these are two obvious, simple but vital things that could make a real difference and save lives.
Describe myself now? I don’t like to say survivor as I feel there are three stages, victim, Survivor and ME. I’ve moved on so far, I am ME now.
*For safety reasons we have changed Amy’s name