Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Sara

Age at interview: 40

Brief outline: Sara was married for almost seven years to a man who became increasingly controlling towards her, withholding money, making constant sexual demands and criticising her. Sara finally ended the relationship when he became physically abusive towards their young son. Her Christian faith has been very important in helping her deal with troubled times. She recently returned to live in her home area, nearer family and friends, due to medical reasons. (Video clips read by a professional.)

Background: Sara is a 40 year old Christian woman who cares for her two children aged four and six years. She lives in a privately rented home, is divorced and is engaged in voluntary work.

Audio & video

Sara’s relationship with her husband had a difficult start as he insisted she had repeat screening for sexually transmitted diseases as she had been sexually abused in an earlier relationship, a fact which he confided in his parents without her consent. Sara had been traumatised by the sexual abuse, had been screened at the time and also received trauma counselling.

Her partner also dictated the plans for their wedding which Sara went along with, believing it to be a sign of his love for her. Sexual difficulties emerged early in their marriage which led to stress during her two pregnancies. Following the birth of each of her children, Sara’s parenting was constantly criticised by her husband and her self-esteem became very low. Help from her husband around the house was contingent on her rewarding him with sex. She was given barely enough money to manage the household, restricting her ability to engage in any activity outside the home. In seven years of marriage, Sara went out alone twice.

Life was difficult for Sara whilst parenting her two children with little support from her husband who made continuous sexual demands and joked with his friends about their poor sex life. Sara, however, regarded her marriage as ‘normal’ and saw any deficiencies as her fault. A friend tried to help her recognise the extreme degree of control she was living under, for example being criticised for spending £1 and not being ‘allowed’ any time out of the house. Alarm bells only rang for Sara when her husband began to bully and hit their son and she knew that she must take steps to protect her children.

Sara felt low and exhausted most of the time and began to experience ill health such as allergies, pelvic infections, pneumonia, sepsis and atopic asthma which led to at least two periods of hospitalisation. Following one such episode Sara managed a rare visit to the GP on her own, for a check-up. She ‘broke down in tears’ when the GP asked her how she was, Sara confided in her GP who gave her contact details for the national domestic abuse helpline. Sara was not happy with the emphasis on ‘getting out’ of the relationship, and experienced guilt at the idea of ‘breaking up the family’. She had previously booked herself and her husband on a marriage course through their church, but after only one session her husband was verbally abusive to her.

Sara eventually left after her husband tried to gain custody of the children on the grounds that Sara was mentally ill and not fit to continue parenting. Sara and her children stayed with a friend for five days then entered a refuge for three months, an experience she describes as ‘like prison’, although her keyworker was ‘awesome’.

Sara’s children live with her, and their father has access to them. Sara cannot be alone with her ex as he becomes confrontational, and so hand-overs of the children are supervised by a male family member. Sara now feels supported by her friends who witnessed her ‘slowly dying inside’ during her marriage, but now see her as ‘a totally different person’. (Video clips read by a professional.)

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