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#ReachIn: Nicola's story

This blog was shared with us by Nicola, a survivor of domestic abuse living in Scotland, as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

When I was with my abuser, the abuse was a kind of a hidden secret. I kept up work and had the kids immaculate, always on time for nursery – to an outsider looking in it looked like I had the perfect life. Except to one woman I worked with, Yvonne, she noticed some bruising on me completely by accident when I reached up to a top shelf for something. She became an anchor for me. She let me know that I wasn’t alone and listened and tried to help me find the courage to leave. I couldn’t have got through some days without her; a work colleague that became a forever friend.

My neighbour also turned out to be a great help to me. He was a quiet man; kept himself to himself, said hello in passing. I remember one time after a fairly ferocious beating I waited until my husband fell asleep in a drunken stupor, then passed the kids out of the bathroom window then climbed out myself. We ran to the top of the path and my neighbour had witnessed it all. He never asked any questions, he never judged me, he simply told us to get in his car and drove us to my dad’s house. He ended up a key witness in the court case, his help was invaluable.

I think what would have helped me when I was with my abuser is if my GP had asked me about the abuse. I displayed all the classic symptoms: stress, weight loss, reliant on anti-depressants, constant pregnancies and losses. I think the warning signs were there but my GP was an elderly gentleman and it possibly never occurred to him to look for these warning signs. I think if he had confirmed to me that he knew I was being abused I would have been able to confide in him. Sometimes someone just recognising what’s going on can make all the difference. 

After losing my second child – I was 20 weeks pregnant and had to have an operation, the baby had died at 15 weeks – I was hysterical and had to be sedated. After I came round there was one particular nurse that was assigned to care for me. This nurse cared for me and spoke to me but my husband was in the room. We shared a knowing look. I’m convinced she knew what I was going through due to the bruises on my body, I think if I had had some time alone with her she could have assisted me in confessing  to someone and reaching out for help. 

                                                                                        

#ReachIn: Sophie's story

This blog was shared with us by Sophie*, a survivor of domestic abuse, as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

When I was 19, I reached in, together with another family member, to help a friend who suffered physical violence and self-harm in an early relationship, but I didn't feel I deserved the same help when I was living with coercive control and emotional/financial abuse because it 'wasn't physical'. The person I helped then helped me years later to see that it was still domestic abuse, that I could ask for specialist help, that I was at risk.

Living with domestic abuse is like living in physical and emotional lockdown. The view from outside, from supportive friends, family and neighbours, is so important - it shines a light, gives you a glimpse of how life should or could be, and shows you that others have a different view from the person causing harm.

A few words, a gesture or sign of support, and information when it is safe to give it, can make all the difference, now or even years ahead. You don't have to build the whole road ahead to safety, you can put stepping stones down for people to begin a journey, to make changes that could even save lives.

*name changed

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#ReachIn: Ruby's story

Ruby* shared this blog with us as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

During lockdown I’ve been thinking a lot about what this experience would have been like if I was still with my emotionally abusive ex-partner, and what I would have needed from the people around me.

A lot of survivors have said that living with domestic abuse is like living in your own personal lockdown. If someone else controls who you speak to and where you go, the lockdown measures may be a tightening of the ‘rules’ you already live under.

The emotional abuse and manipulation I experienced was always centred on my ex’s portrayal of himself as an anxious, vulnerable person who needed me to look after him. Very gradually, I made myself and my world smaller in order to accommodate him and make him feel bigger. This is part of why what happened to me was so hard to name; he never raised a fist or threatened me in order to make me do something, instead he manipulated me until I did it to myself.

Eventually, I was (or at least I felt) completely responsible for his emotional wellbeing and his moods, which could change without warning and make the atmosphere unbearable. I was often tired and got used to a tight feeling in my chest.  

We lived in a tiny fifth floor studio flat with no outdoor space, that was too expensive for one person but not quite big enough for two. Apart from the front door, the only other door in the flat was to the bathroom – the only place it was possible to shut the door and be in a different room to him. As I discovered during the year we lived there; there are only so many long baths a person can take.

If I’d been in that situation when lockdown was introduced, I honestly don’t know how I would have coped. Even my outdoor exercise would have been with him, for the sake of avoiding the sulking and silent treatment that would have followed me ‘not wanting to spend time with him’.

One comparable glimpse I have into what lockdown might have looked like for us, is a time when we were stuck together in a campervan in the pouring rain. His quiet, simmering rage was suffocating me, and there were times when I actually thought he might crash the van on purpose. Somehow I found the resources inside myself to keep going, keep finding ways to try and make him calm, keep absorbing everything he threw out because I had no other choice, nowhere to go. That situation only lasted a few days, but I’ve never felt so trapped.

If I was living with him now, there’s no way I would have even framed what I was going through as abuse – it had become my ‘normal’ so gradually. The chances of me reaching out for help or support would be zero unless things escalated to physical abuse, and maybe not even then. I wouldn’t have talked to my parents about it as I wouldn’t want to worry them. I would need my friends to reach in and ask the right questions, when he wasn’t around.

What I always needed – and would need in lockdown – was people to leave me with space to talk about how things really felt at home. Our friends always told me how cute we were together, how good I was for him, how nice it was that we’d set up a little home together. If those are the only messages you’re getting from everyone around you, how are you supposed to recognise that something isn’t right?

If you’re worried about a friend right now – maybe you haven’t heard from them in a while, or their partner does most of the talking on your group Zoom calls, or it’s a gut feeling you can’t quite put your finger on – find a way to reach in and ask them how they’re really feeling. Listen without judging. Reassure them that it’s not normal or ok to feel like this, and it isn’t their fault.

And even if you aren’t specifically worried, please leave room for all of your friends to talk to you openly about their relationships. Stay curious and try to resist saying things like ‘I’m sure he’s just stressed, you two are so great together!’ because you can never really know what it’s like to live on the other side of that door.

*name changed

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#ReachIn: Young survivors in lockdown

This blog was shared with us by a survivor as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

I experienced domestic abuse as a young person, a long time ago, when social media wasn’t a thing, and I know this adds a whole other dimension to how you escape abuse. But being in lockdown has made me think about how, if this was happening to me now, this might be an opportunity for me to escape.  

I had a safe, loving family but I still never really told them how bad it was for me – and it was very bad. At times my life was at risk. I managed to escape because he was forced to leave the area we lived; he was in trouble with the police and local gangs. So this was my chance. It’s this that makes me think about how lockdown might present an opportunity to escape for some. How the few months of physical separation from the person hurting you could give you space to think and a chance for family to help. I was lucky that my family home was safe, and I know that many young people do not have this. It is quite likely that, if this was happening now, even in lockdown he would still have had a huge amount of access to me through my phone. That isn’t to be underestimated.   

But to any friends or family members who might suspect that your friend or your child might be being abused by their intimate partner or peer: use this time to talk about it. It doesn’t have to all be out in the open all at once, but you have the time to find out about their relationship, whether they are happy and feel loved and respected within it. Take the time to rebuild trust and relationships that might have been damaged by the perpetrator’s control. And then ask the question. Does he or she make you feel frightened? Does he or she physically hurt you? Does he/she control you? How are they using your phone and social media to still control and frighten you?

Listen and believe. Reassure them that there is help. Find that help together. Reach In.  

 

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#ReachIn: Melani's story

This blog was shared with us by Melani Morgan as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

During the period of time I was experiencing domestic abuse at home, I was working as a police officer. I recall a time when a colleague took me to one side and said 'we are all worried about you, and want you to know if you need help we will help you.' I remember being horrified that my colleagues had been talking about me in this way. You see for me work was where I had a sense of worth, something that I was good at, that he couldn’t spoil. I recall immediately saying I was ok and that they needn’t worry. Up until then I thought I was doing a great job covering up injuries and making excuses for them. It was such a shock that other people knew.

I didn’t escape the abuse then, but that person reaching in made me feel so much better because I knew that I had someone I could go to when I was ready to escape. At home he was saying 'no one will believe you because you are a cop and your career will be ruined.' Because of that colleague who reached in, I knew he was wrong. They would believe me and my career was not in jeopardy because I was still doing well in my job despite my abuse at home.

I did leave the marriage a while later and I sought help from a colleague to do so, taking my children to their home one day and not going home until it was safe to do so. 

So for me, if you are a colleague of someone who you believe is being abused, ask them, say you will help. They may deny the abuse, say they don’t need help, but your offer will make them stronger in many ways. They will know inside they have an option, that they will be believed – and when they do escape the abuse it will be in part because you reached in.

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