Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Anna

Age at interview: 47

Brief outline: It wasn’t until she had left her long-term partner in 2014 and attended the Freedom Programme that Anna began to recognise the extent of domestic abuse she had experienced for 10 years. Although she has recovered from the physical bruises she is unsure how long ‘the mental side will take to heal’.

Background: Anna is a single, white British woman. She lives in a council property with two of her six children, one of whom has special needs. She works part-time as a volunteer for two charitable organisations.

Audio & video

In 2002, Anna’s relationship with a man who subjected her to years of deceitful behaviour and psychological-emotional abuse began. He controlled and manipulated many aspects of her life. He criticised her size 8 frame so she began to loathe her figure and dictated what clothes she wore. He also played ‘mind games’ to trick her into thinking he was having affairs. She experienced daily sexual abuse, physical attacks and became increasingly isolated from family and friends. Anna rationalised much of his behaviour, for example, excusing his excessive texts and phone calls to her as a sign that ‘he cared’. She also reasoned that unwanted sex was ‘…not rape, if you’re in a relationship’. She stayed with him because he was her ‘rock’ and although she recognised that he hurt her he was ‘also the comforter’, something that she needed, particularly after the loss of her mother during their relationship. 

In 2008 Anna’s partner attacked her violently in the same room as their two young sleeping children. Motivated by a desire to protect her children she contacted a local domestic abuse service. With their support she went to stay at a refuge before being rehoused by the council. The following year her relationship with the abusive partner began again. However, Anna soon left after realising that she could not return to a life with him. She was not free from his abuse though, as he began to manipulate the contact he had with their children so that he could continue to see her and subject her to sexual assaults. She is now working with the police to bring a case together against him and has now had no contact with him for one year. 

Anna reflects how during the relationship she was an ‘emotional wreck’ and began to self-harm, pulling out her hair, in an attempt to release some of the pain she was experiencing. At times she would forget to eat as she was no longer interested in doing anything for herself. She experienced unexplained pains and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Although she has not self-harmed since she left him, she reflects that the ‘self-loathing’ is still with her and she experiences distressing flashbacks relating to the trauma that she endured. Anna has recently received some ‘excellent counselling, helping her manage the psychological impact of her abusive relationship and to deal with flashbacks. She wants to move on and has set positive goals for the future that she would like to work towards. 

Anna would like to see more education in schools about relationships – describing what is a healthy relationship and what isn’t. She recommends that GPs, police and other professionals need to be aware that women may hold back from reporting the abuse that they are experiencing because they are fearful of the consequences of doing so, that their children will be taken away, a fear which influenced her own help-seeking patterns. She now feels confident and although she still has ‘mental scars’, she feels that she, not them, control her life.

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