Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Ana

Age at interview: 32

Brief outline: Ana travelled to the UK aged 17 to work as an au pair. She met her partner through mutual friends and they soon started living together at his mother’s house. They married and had two children. Her husband controlled her behaviour and isolated her, and Ana endured eight years of verbal and physical abuse until she got a UK residency card when she was able to flee to a women’s refuge with the help of the police and Women’s Aid. (Video clips played by an actor.)

Background: Ana is white European and divorced. She has been living with her new non-abusive partner for one year, with her two children aged eight and ten years, in a rented flat. She works full-time as the Administrator of a Children’s Centre.

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Ana gave up her au pair job to move in with her boyfriend at his mother’s house, shortly after meeting him on a weekend away with friends. She soon became pregnant and began to suffer verbal and physical abuse. Her husband took drugs, stayed out late at night and accused her of having affairs. When his mother overheard the violent arguments she did not offer any support.

The couple moved to a different town where Ana knew no-one. Her partner could not tolerate her having any friends or visitors, she was isolated and became depressed as the abuse escalated. During her second pregnancy the couple returned to Ana’s home country to get married. On the eve of their wedding her partner was violent and aggressive to her in private but her family urged her to stick with him. Ana described being ‘in a daze’, like she was enduring a ‘forced marriage’.

Ana recognised early on that her partner was abusive but she felt trapped because her immigration status was only on a spouse visa with no right remain in the UK outside the marriage. She made frequent calls to the National Domestic Violence Help-line where she gained comfort and support, but she could not enter a women’s refuge without access to public funds. She left after violent assaults and, despite involvement of the police, she was offered no alternative but to return to her husband. When her mother and brothers visited from her home country they witnessed but remained silent about her husband’s abusive behaviour.

Ana decided to play a ‘waiting game’ until she achieved indefinite right to remain in the UK, with its accompanying rights and benefits. She endured many more years of abuse, whilst planning a more ‘strategic’ way of escaping, getting information online about her rights and the availability of support. She found some ‘freedom’ in part-time jobs but these never lasted long owing to her husband’s jealousy and his demands on her. She was able, eventually, to get her residency card which she described as a ‘golden ticket’!

Another mother at her children’s school recognised Ana’s situation and introduced her to a women’s refuge worker. With her support, a Women’s Aid outreach worker, and a domestic violence counsellor, Ana prepared for separation and, after a violent row her husband moved out. After many months of harassment, threats to kill her and police call-outs, Ana moved to a women’s refuge with her children for a year. This was the beginning of a long ‘journey’ of recovery for Ana and her children. Her children both displayed aggressive and abusive behaviour towards her at first, and Ana felt un-supported by social workers who questioned her parenting skills.

Ana is now happily settled with her children in a flat, with a healthy partner relationship and a rewarding job. (Video clips played by an actor.)

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