Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Julia

Age at interview: 57

Brief outline: Julia spent twenty-two years in a controlling relationship with emotional, sexual and financial abuse, having previously experienced sexual abuse at the age of five from a family friend, and one episodes of date-rape as a teenager, and one rape at knifepoint in the street while walking home one night. Her partner left ten years ago but Julia feels her ongoing health problems are a consequence of the abuse she suffered. One of four sisters, Julia was devastated that her abusive relationship caused a ‘wedge’ between her and her family, still ongoing after ten years – because they were unable to accept what had happened to her.

Background: Julia is a 57 year old single, white, freelance artist living in her own home. Her son, aged 27, lives separately. She suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that includes depression, anxiety and digestive problems and limits her ability to work. She uses her artwork to promote many women's issues including voluntary work with charities for street sex workers and ‘End Violence Against Women’ activism.

Audio & video

Julia feels her early experiences of sexual violence made her vulnerable to an abusive relationship as an adult. She met her partner in her early 20s, when she was like ‘sort of putty’, susceptible to his rapidly developing view of her as inadequate, especially as a sexual partner. Sex for Julia was physically and emotionally painful, and although she received medical help for gynaecological problems, no-one addressed the psychological trauma she had experienced.

She describes ‘a building momentum’ of emotional abuse rather than any specific events. It took the form of ‘constant belittling, being ignored ...criticising me all the time ... it felt like a campaign’. He would keep me awake at night arguing about sex, Julia felt responsible for her partner’s mood swings and he had no respect for her opinions on anything. She experienced deep loneliness, exacerbated by her perception that ‘nobody’, including health professionals, her family and friends understands her. Julia reflects that, at times, she wished her partner would hit her to give some visible evidence of the abuse.

Julia only realised that she was experiencing domestic abuse when, a few years before the relationship ended, she saw a TV programme and rang the domestic abuse helpline given at the end. That was the beginning of several years of moving towards separation, aided by psychotherapy, counselling, and self-care with e.g. acupuncture and yoga. After Julia told him to leave, her partner kept visiting her in tears, complimenting her and bringing gifts (love bombing), so that they re-united for a further year until he eventually ended their relationship.

Julia describes herself as ‘broken’ but has recently completed a course of intensive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for historic trauma and a series of solo sessions at Relate with an empathic counsellor. She is finding support through involvement with a local feminist organisation. Julia feels there is a need for more education for health and social care professionals about domestic abuse and the impact it has on women’s lives, in terms of their mental and physical health. Others, like herself, may be left with unexpressed anger and a widespread lack of trust in men. She comments that the men who abused her seemed, initially, like ‘nice guys’. She feels that emotional abuse, in particular, is overlooked and not picked up by doctors who need to ask about what is happening ‘below the surface’. Meanwhile many women’s lives, like hers, are lived in a ‘straitjacket’.

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