Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Nessa

Age at interview: 22

Brief outline: From the age of 17 Nessa was in an emotionally abusive and controlling relationship with her children’s father. She also experienced physical abuse from a subsequent partner. Although the marks on her skin from the violent attacks she endured have faded, the psychological effects of the emotional abuse continue to impact on her sense of self.

Background: Nessa, a full-time mother, lives in a council rented property with her two children aged two and four. She is a single woman of mixed ethnic background (White and Black Caribbean).

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Nessa experienced emotional-psychological abuse and controlling behaviour during her five year relationship to the father of her children. He made her feel unattractive and that no other man would want her because she had ‘stretch marks and two children’. Her partner dictated the clothes she wore, didn’t allow her to wear makeup and made it difficult for her to keep in touch with family and friends. She describes his behaviour as increasingly paranoid. She felt lonely and no longer knew who she was. Nessa ended the relationship after her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and her partner tried to limit the time that she spent with him. 

A few months later Nessa began a new relationship with an old friend. During this nine month relationship her partner subjected her to regular violent attacks. For example, pushing, slapping, head butting and hitting her with the metal buckle of his leather belt. This physical abuse often took place in front of her children. Nessa minimised and excused his behaviour to herself, friends and professionals (such as the police and social workers). It wasn’t until they broke up that she accepted that his behaviour was abusive and that what he had done ‘was really wrong’. This time, the trigger for the end of the relationship was the intervention of Social Services which followed a phone call she made to the police during one physical attack. 

Two months on Nessa flinches all of the time, she doesn’t like men sitting too close to her and feels that she now has ‘trust issues’. Her confidence and self-esteem continue to be dented by her experiences of abuse. Her children, as witnesses to the abuse, are also affected. For example her daughter is wary of men and lacks confidence and her son sometimes displays violent behaviour, such as slapping and throwing things. However, her friends and family have been encouraging her to go out to pubs and clubs with them, which is helping to boost her confidence and both she and the children are feeling happier. Nessa has also found attending the Freedom Programme useful. It has helped her to realise that there are other women in the same situation and that she is not ‘the person to blame’ for everything that has happened to her. 

Initially reluctant to have the involvement of Social Services, Nessa now accepts that her negative ideas about them were wrong. She continues to regularly receive support from her social worker and a support worker from the local domestic abuse service, who have helped her in many ways, such as providing a listening ear, arranging a place for her on the Freedom Programme, and helping her to access bereavement counselling. 

Nessa wants to tell other women currently in an abusive relationship that ‘no matter how hard it is …there is a light at the end of the tunnel and just keep focusing on that light and try to get out of it, because it really, it really is worth it’.

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