12 years ago I was living at home, a hard working legal secretary and a social butterfly. Today, I am a single mum, a survivor and advocate for others.
I wasn’t brought up in a “troubled family”, I was loved, cared for and cherished. I wasn’t abused as a child, I didn’t witness abuse, I didn’t abuse. I went to school, went to college and worked hard. I wasn’t a delinquent, a trouble maker or a runaway.
The handsome stranger walked into the crowded room, our eyes met and the attraction was instant. We fell in love, set up home and lived happy ever after. At least that was my dream. With a packed social life, lots of friends, a loving family and a great job, life couldn’t have been better but then in a blink of an eye everything changed.
I became a victim of domestic abuse. Of course, I had no idea of this at the time, it was only when I became a victim that I learned to understand the complex cycle.
The abusive relationship didn’t start off physically. The abuse started subtly, with isolation and before I knew it I was seeing less and less of friends and family, in time I lost my job and stopped my driving lessons. He took away my identity, he took away my freedom, he took away who I was, all because he didn’t like me having my own independence. He just wanted me to continually rely upon him, he always wanted to control me.
When we first met he was charming, said all the right words, said the things I wanted to hear, said the things I wanted him to say, but his actions were very, very different. I was so shocked when the first slap came and I believed his false promises, how he was sorry and it would never happen again. Little did I realise that this just gave him the green light to carry on abusing me.
We can’t help who we fall in love with but I feel that if there had been more domestic abuse awareness in my sex education lessons I would have known the early warning signs and would have known that abuse is not acceptable and should not be tolerated in any relationship.
Over a three year period I suffered physical and psychological abuse. I was strangled, I was knocked out, I suffered a miscarriage, I was slapped, I was spat at, I was mentally controlled to the point where I lost all self-worth, esteem and confidence. I was a shell of my former self, a skeleton with every ounce of me sucked out by his control. I no longer thought about myself or even for myself, everything revolved around him. I wasn’t living, I was just in existence.
In November 2006 my ex-perpetrator hit me for the very last time. As I tasted blood in my mouth, I hugged my 10 month old daughter tighter and knew that this had to end here and now. She gave me the strength and courage I had been craving over the last 3 years and I knew I had to do it for her sake, for her life.
It was the weekend, I knew I had to act fast but in a way that he wouldn’t suspect I was up to anything. It was too late to do anything at that moment, but tomorrow would be the day.
I woke up early and put my daughter in her pram, I didn’t even bother dressing her, wrapped her up, made some excuse that I was just going to the shop and caught the bus to the Police station. I made a statement and there was no way in the world I was going to retract this one, my daughter was my Guardian Angel and I had to do this for her; adrenaline rushing and buzzing through my veins. Next stop, Solicitors. I was granted a non-molestation order and we were in Court that afternoon. It all happened so very quickly, like a whirlwind but I knew it was the right thing to do and now, I felt I had to do it, for my daughter’s sake.
Even though the injunction order was in place, I was still intimidated by him, he still scared me but my main focus of priority was my daughter now. She gave me the strength to not reply to his text messages, phone calls or the manipulation of his family. It was hard and difficult because not only was I a survivor I was a new mum too.
I found my local police force to be so helpful but I still wish I had spoken out sooner. I wish I had been aware of not only domestic abuse but the support that is available such as Women’s Aid and Refuge. I had support from my local Children’s Centre too which helped my daughter grow and nourish.
Since April 2009 I have raised awareness through the media, set up my own domestic abuse support group and blog about the difficult issue. I do this because it’s important for our young people, the next generation to live in a safe environment, to know the different between healthy and unhealthy relationships and more importantly, to understand that domestic abuse is a crime that should never go unreported.
Domestic abuse is a horrible ugly, vicious circle; it is rarely a one-off event increasing in severity and frequency; there is no single identifiable type of perpetrator or victim. Domestic abuse knows no boundaries; age, gender, culture, religion, rich or poor. Even famous people are affected by domestic abuse.
What I would say to anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse is to understand that it is not your fault and more importantly, speak out; speak out to someone you can trust. I wish I had.
Sam Billingham, 2014