Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Sue

Age at interview: 52

Brief outline: 18 months ago Sue’s 20 month relationship with a controlling and sexually abusive man ended. She previously survived a marriage of ten years to a man who was verbally and physically abusive. She became very frightened of him and fled when she realised the impact his behaviour was having on her children. Following years of isolation she received help from her GP and mental health services, to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She felt consistently let down by lack of support from the police.

Background: Sue is a 52 year old white British woman, divorced and living with her son aged 20, in the home of an elderly relative for whom Sue is the full-time carer. She has a 23 year old daughter at University.

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Following her parents’ separation and her mum’s new relationship to a man she describes as ‘horrible’, Sue lived with her sister until she met her husband and soon moved in with him. She describes him, initially, as ‘exciting’ but from the time of her first pregnancy onwards, he became increasing drunk and verbally abusive. He would ‘smash up’ property and ‘knocked me to the floor a few times’. He was also out of work, leaving Sue to work and pay the mortgage.

Sue became very frightened of her husband when, with the slightest trigger, he would argue aggressively and loudly for hours, shouting in her face. Her mum suggested that placating him was the best strategy and Sue became very ‘quiet’ and increasingly isolated. When he started behaving aggressively towards the children, she fled, when they were aged 8 and 3, after secret planning over several months. Shortly before she left, her husband poured petrol all over the house and was going to set fire to it with the children in, but they escaped un-harmed. Sue called the police but was told no action would be taken unless he physically assaulted her.

Years later, Sue met her ‘soul-mate’, a man who ‘swept me off my feet’. She describes the relationship as initially ‘wonderful’, and they soon spent most of their time together. Only in retrospect did Sue realise how she was being ‘manipulated into everything’, particularly into sexual behaviour that rapidly became abusive. He put her down verbally and blamed her for his behaviour. His behaviour became increasingly ‘sinister’, hiding at night and surprising her in the dark or watching her in the bathroom. He also owned guns and after the relationship ended she realised that her life had been at risk. She also discovered that he had a history of assaulting women and children. He eventually told Sue to leave on the day that he moved his next partner in.

Sue believed the abuse she endured was her fault, and she wanted to ‘fix things’ in her relationships. She is now getting help with PTSD following a GP mental health referral. Both her children both have ongoing problems with anxiety. She is now aware of support services ‘out there’ but did not know how to access them at the time. She also feels that ‘no-one can ever stop them’ [abusive men], and that the powers of the police, in particular, are limited. Sue would like to see better education to counter ‘pervasive attitudes in society’ that disempower women. 

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