Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Charlotte

Age at interview: 38

Brief outline: Charlotte experienced years of emotional abuse during her marriage to a ‘clever bully’. Although the relationship ended three years ago, her ex continues to affect her life, and at the time of interview, Charlotte was signed off sick from work due to the continuing stress and upset caused by his behaviour. (Video clips read by a professional.)

Background: Charlotte is a White British woman who lives in her privately owned home. She has three daughters, aged 11, 15 and 16 years and she works part-time as a teacher.

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Although she didn’t see it at the time, the emotional abuse and controlling behaviour started only a few weeks into Charlotte’s relationship with her ex-partner. For 15 years she experienced a ‘subtle, insidious drip, drip, dripping of not being good enough’. For example, her partner would criticise her parenting style, who she socialised with, how she managed finances, and her thoughts and beliefs. At times he would look through her phone and accuse her of having affairs. He excused his behaviour by telling her that it was only because he loved her, it was just because he was stressed at work, and it was due to his unhappy childhood. 

Four years into the relationship, Charlotte witnessed her ex-partner’s first violent outburst, when he broke a chair and threw a plate across the room, because he was unhappy that the house was untidy. After this episode, similar incidents slowly started to occur, and Charlotte recalls other times when he punched walls, shouted and smashed property and personal possessions. Daily life eventually became a ‘careful balancing act’. Although Charlotte tried to ‘cling on’ to the good bits, she also found herself ‘walking on eggshells’, knowing that at any point, she or her daughters may do something unacceptable, but not knowing what that would be.

Charlotte recalls ‘slowly shutting down and disappearing’, and she started to lose sight of who she was and what she believed in. It was a private counsellor, who she was seeing after the loss of her father, who first flagged up that she may be in an abusive relationship. This insight helped ‘open her eyes’ to the fact that what was happening in her marriage wasn’t normal, and enabled her to recognise that she didn’t want to live like this anymore. 

Early one morning in June 2012, following a night of enduring her husband’s drug and alcohol induced abuse and threatening behaviour, Charlotte took her daughters and drove them to her mother’s house. Later that day, supported by her mother and sister, she returned to the family home. After further confrontation, her husband went to stay with his friend. However, he subsequently moved back home for a short while before permanently moving out. 

A year after they broke up, Charlotte recognised that she was missing shared experiences, and got in touch with Women’s Aid who referred her to a local specialist domestic abuse service. Through them she attended the Freedom Programme, which was invaluable for Charlotte, as it gave her the chance to talk through her experiences with others who had ‘lived through similar things and who understood it.’ She has since also attended The Recovery Toolkit course.

However, three years on, the emotional abuse has not stopped and she describes him as a ‘very clever bully’. Her ex-partner has threatened to commit suicide, has refused to agree to a financial consent order and has scared the girls to the point where they have now chosen to have no contact with him. Furthermore, after being made to feel for years that she wasn’t good enough, Charlotte still has many self-doubts. At times she feels sad that she did not leave him sooner so that the ‘damage’ could have been lessened on everybody. 

Charlotte urges women who are living in an abusive relationship to leave ‘quickly and safely’ because ‘nothing’s ever going to change’. (Video clips read by a professional.)

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