Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Sophie

Age at interview: 49

Brief outline: Sophie describes her ex-husband as a ‘clever’ and ‘charming’ man. However, since their four year marriage ended nearly five years ago, she has been able to recognise that her relationship to him was abusive from the very beginning; that he is a ‘manipulative’ and ‘parasitic’ individual and that she was just ‘a resource for him’.

Background: Sophie is a well-educated, single white woman who lives with her two children (aged eight and eighteen years at the time of the interview) in their privately owned home. She is a full-time carer to her youngest child, who lives with a neurological condition.

Audio & video

For four years, Sophie was in an emotionally abusive marriage to a man who told her constant lies, about: who he was, what he did, his finances and relationships. Whilst she was struggling to buy basic necessities, he would be spending thousands of pounds on the latest gadgets and top of the range vehicles. He monitored her whereabouts and was resistant to her leaving the house alone; something which made Sophie feel like she was living in a prison. Having recently relocated to a new area, Sophie was already distanced from her social network. However, his ‘prickly’ and ‘argumentative’ behaviour around her family served to reduce her contact with them, and further increase her social isolation. He also began to monitor her phone calls, check who she had called and would call her repeatedly in the day when he was out to monitor her activity and movements. During the marriage, her husband sexually assaulted her on several occasions. Sophie also became concerned about his behaviour around the children and his use of the children and childcare to manipulate and control her.

Sophie describes how her husband would blame her for his actions. This led her to feel ashamed and vulnerable, and to question whether his behaviour was her fault. Towards the end of the relationship Sophie’s physical health also started to suffer. She was exhausted and so weak that she could barely stand. 

In December 2010, whilst her husband was away from home on holiday, Sophie went online and completed an application for divorce. She had come to realise that he would never change and that the abuse would only get worse. She no longer wanted him in the house and when he returned she asked him to leave. As a result of his aggressive behaviour and reaction to her request (e.g. shouting at her, hitting furniture and walls), Sophie called for the assistance of the police. She praises the support that she received from them, and was reassured by the visiting officer’s calm and pragmatic reaction to her situation. 

The police referred Sophie to a specialist domestic abuse service. She was allocated a keyworker who helped her to realise that she was not to blame for her husband’s behaviour. She was also encouraged to attend the Pattern Changing course (a 14-week course for women who have been affected by domestic abuse). Accessing these specialist services entailed considerable travel for Sophie, as living in a rural location meant that local provision was not available. 

As a result of the abuse that she endured, Sophie’s sense of trust in people has been destroyed. She remains fearful of her ex-husband, describing him as a ‘stalker’. Although a court order now keeps him away from her home she still receives unwanted emails from him every few months. 

Sophie suggests that health professionals need to receive adequate training in domestic violence. She thinks that they should be taught to leave their personal attitudes and prejudices outside of their working practices, and to realise that ‘nobody deserves’ to experience domestic abuse.

Sophie wants to encourage other women living in abusive relationships to find the courage to get out, that although it won’t necessarily be easy, that they ‘can do it’.

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