Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Jessica

Age at interview: 46

Brief outline: Jessica knew something was wrong in her marriage but it was only when a friend recommended the Freedom Programme that she realised that her husband was controlling and abusive and it wasn’t up to her to ‘keep trying to hold the marriage together’. With the help of a friend she left, with only a ‘plastic bag’.

Background: Jessica is a single retired white British woman in her fifties. She has lived alone for three years since leaving her abusive marriage of 27 years. She has two adult children. She was employed until she developed fibromyalgia.

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Jessica experienced emotional - psychological and financial abuse in her marriage to a man she describes as ‘very controlling and manipulative’. Her husband never said anything good about her, turning her family and friends against her so that she became very isolated. She struggled with her ‘two jobs’- working night shifts and taking care of two young children by day. She became anxious about leaving the children in the care of her husband who did not look after them properly. Her husband was unsympathetic about Jessica’s health problems, offering no practical support or help at home. Following hospitalisation for surgery she was expected to do the family food shopping on the way home. 

She felt that her husband had taken over her whole life, taking control of household finances and making a timetable for her days in which she had no say. Small details illustrate the bigger picture. She never cut the cheese straight enough, she had no access to the TV remote and was not allowed to read in bed. Eventually she lost touch with her self-will and felt ‘broken ...a nothing’.

Following the suggestion of a friend, she attended the Freedom project (a rolling programme of group support and learning for women experiencing domestic violence and abuse). This was a ‘wake-up call’, meeting other women in similar circumstances, understanding that she was in an abusive relationship and recognising the controlling tactics used by her husband. She found this new knowledge ‘empowering’ and eventually left.

Over several months, she put together a ‘survival pack’ of money, passport and a few belongings at a friend’s house, until she was ready to leave. When the day came her friend had cold feet and did not want Jessica to stay. She found temporary accommodation through an acquaintance and then moved into a women’s refuge for three months. She describes the difficulty of sharing a house with others, the absence of staff and the sense that she was ‘living in hiding’. She underwent a grieving process, missing her house, her possessions and her role as wife and mother. She felt she had lost everything and had to ‘start from scratch’ to rebuild her life. 

Life after the refuge was difficult. Jessica felt un-supported by health and social care professionals since they did not seem to understand domestic abuse. She made use of the national Helpline and accessed counselling which she describes as beneficial but too short (six sessions). She recognises that it can be difficult for GPs (general practitioners) to identify psychological abuse, especially if, like Jessica, women ‘walk around with a smile on their face’ to hide what is going on. She feels that health visitors could be more aware of signs of the impact of domestic abuse on children.

Life continues to be tough for Jessica, who has ongoing health problems and continues to deal with harassment and manipulation from her ex-partner as they go through divorce proceedings. Re-building her life is a long slow process but she says that it is ‘good to be alive ... it gives you a buzz’. Overall the experience has made her stronger. She feels that she has always had a ‘little’ soft voice that is now expanding through workshops such as self-esteem building, craft, drumming and laughter workshops; things that she would never have done when married. She also acts as a research advisor for the domestic violence research group at her local University. 

Jessica stresses how important it is for women to leave at the time that is right for them, and she wants to reassure women that support is out there. She waited until her children were adults before she left her husband. She had believed for many years that she should try harder to hold the marriage together and keep her husband happy. She also says how important it is to stick with the decision to leave, even when others around you are judgmental. Friends and family do not always understand the inside story of a marriage. Jessica recognises that she now has the choice to do things differently and so she cuts her cheese in pyramids!

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