Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse


Age at interview: 54

Brief outline: Philippa experienced controlling behaviour and physical, emotional and verbal abuse during her 13 year relationship. She left her husband for the final time in 2005 after he threatened to restrict her access to their children. For nine months she and her daughters stayed in a refuge, where she received counselling and support, and was able to feel safe again.

Background: Philippa is a white British woman who lives with her two daughters (16 and 21 years) in their privately rented home. She is single and works full-time in finance.

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For Philippa, the emotional abuse and controlling behaviour began during the first 12 months of her 13 year marriage. Philippa’s partner made her feel guilty about socialising with friends and he didn’t want her to own a mobile phone. After eight years together the verbal abuse began, and her partner would make derogatory and insulting comments about her appearance, behaviour and family. Soon after, the physical abuse started. During the ‘beatings’ she was punched, kicked, suffocated and strangled. On one occasion the whole of the side of her face swelled up. The physical and verbal abuse usually occurred after her partner had been drinking. The on-going abuse had a detrimental impact on Philippa’s physical health: she stopped eating properly and lived on sweets, wine, cigarettes and coffee. 

Over the years Philippa left her partner on several occasions, each time staying overnight in a women’s refuge or at her parents’ house. However she would always return home, wanting to believe her husband’s promises that he would change and not wanting to ‘disrupt’ the family. She was motivated to finally leave him in 2005 after he threatened to limit her access to her children, telling her that she was to have nothing to do with them and would have to spend all of her time at work. Later that day she picked up the children from school and drove to the police station. With the bruises still on her body from the last assault, she reported what had happened. With nothing but the clothes that they were wearing, they were found a place to stay in a hotel for a week, before they moved into a women’s refuge where they then stayed for nine months.

While in the refuge Philippa received one – to - one and group counselling sessions which she found to be beneficial and therapeutic. In particular the group sessions enabled her to hear others’ stories and to realise that she was not alone. The ‘secret’ location of the refuge also helped her to feel ‘safe’ and ‘relaxed again’. 

Philippa reflects how the abuse has had a ‘huge impact’ on her eldest daughter. Ten years on, age 21, she suffers from depression and is still badly affected ‘by the memories of what happened’. For Philippa, her abusive marriage means that she no longer trusts men and has no desire to begin a new relationship. She also feels that she is always looking over her shoulder, fearful that her ex may fulfil his previous threat to kill her if she took the children away from him. 

Philippa suggests that it is important for women to keep a written record of the abuse they experience. During her relationship, Philippa documented over 140 incidents of abuse on scraps of paper. She passed these to her solicitor after leaving the relationship. This important diary of events meant that her ex-partner realised that there was no point trying to get access to their children, because her evidence outweighed his. 

When in the relationship, Philippa did not talk to her GP about the abuse she was experiencing, not seeing what they could do for her. However, she now feels that health professionals may be the right people to help women experiencing domestic abuse as women could disclose to them in a confidential environment, away from their abusive partner.


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