Sunday, 27 October 2019

‘He would destroy my sim cards and lock the front door’: A mother and two daughters’ story of domestic abuse

Cycle of abuse passed down through generations, women in refuge tell The Independent: ‘I think dad made us weak. He opened us up and made us vulnerable’

Zoe* and Holly* grew up in a household where their father subjected their mother to psychological and physical abuse and have been exposed to domestic violence since they were born.

The two sisters, who are currently in hiding in the same refuge for domestic abuse victims in Reigate and Banstead in Surrey, have gone on to endure domestic abuse in their own respective relationships as adults.

Zoe has been forced to move 11 times to escape her perpetrator after being subjected to a “dark” campaign of abuse which involved him regularly physically assaulting her, confiscating her bank card and keys, locking her in the house, and destroying her sim cards in an effort to isolate her.

Holly, her 25-year-old sister, who is pregnant, was also subjected to coercive control, psychological manipulation and physical abuse at the hands of her abuser.

Emma, the mother of the siblings, says it troubles her that her daughters have had to endure the same violence that she suffered.

“It upsets me that they have gone through it too,” she told The Independent. “Although I feel that I protected them as much as I could from it, obviously they heard and saw a lot more than I realised.”

Emma, who is visiting her daughters at the refuge despite guests not ordinarily being allowed for security reasons, says it has been an “emotional rollercoaster” witnessing her children suffer at the hands of their abusive partners.

She adds: “Zoe was totally besotted with him – a bit like how I was with her dad. Zoe is like me – she has a very strong shell but she is very gloopy inside.”
The two sisters are currently in hiding in the same refuge for domestic abuse victims in Reigate and Banstead in Surrey ( Angela Christofilou )

Emma was worried her daughter might be murdered at the hands of her partner.

“I was scared she was going to die. I would have dreams she had been stabbed by her ex when she was pregnant. I said to her, he is the type who would throw acid in your face and say: ‘I can’t have you so no one else can’.

“If he found out she was here, he would, without a shadow of a doubt, come. Even if it was just to sit across the road and look at her to say, ‘I know where you live’. For both of my daughters, it has been horrendous knowing what is going on as a mother and worrying night after night thinking I am going to get a phone call.”

Emma suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-husband throughout their 18-year marriage.

They met when she was 20 and he was 33. “I would have died for him in this first six months,” the 50-year-old recalls. “I fell head over heels in love. I can’t even describe the love I had for that man.”

But things quickly changed when she got to know him and found herself isolated from her family and friends and was forbidden from wearing makeup.

She adds: “I did not speak to my family because he constantly told me they were out to get me. All the friends he allowed me to have were victims of violence as well. I had a friend who used to come to my place black and blue with blood pouring from her face.

“I used to say ‘why?’ and she would say: ‘This is just us, this is how we live’. My husband used to say to me: ‘She clearly hasn’t done what she is told’.”

Emma also recalls feeling under pressure to have sex with her husband.

“My husband was a very sexual man. It sounds disgusting now but he had to have sex every night before he went to bed for the whole 18 years. Even if I was pregnant, or had just given birth, or was ill. You name it.

“Every day for a year, he went on about us having a threesome. In the end, I did it because I couldn’t stand the badgering. He would hit me in places people don’t see. He was also very emotionally abusive. He would say: ‘Nobody would ever want you’. He was a vile man with a vile mouth. Even the police said: ‘Don’t let him see the kids, he is mentally torturing them’.”

The entire burden of cooking for the family fell on Emma, for the duration of their marriage. The only time her ex, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for beating her up, would make her a cup of tea all year was on Christmas morning.

She says that she tried to get a space in a refuge when she finally managed to escape her abuser but was denied one so was left homeless and was forced to stay with her sister. Emma now works as a support worker for domestic violence victims.

“It can be tough at times because you are dealing with people who have been where you have so you know where they are,” she says. “Women will say ‘I love him’ and I say to my manager: ‘There is no point in me even saying leave him because unless you are ready you are not going’. Some of the ladies I deal with have been hit really badly but they love them. I know from experience you will not leave them until you find that inner strength.”

Statistics show women are at the greatest risk of homicide at the point of separation or after leaving a violent partner – some 55 per cent of the women murdered by their ex in 2017 were killed within the first month of separation and 87 per cent in the first year.

Every week in the UK, two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner. A woman will try to leave a violent partner an average of seven times before eventually managing to flee.

Holly explains she had never even heard of a refuge until her sister was placed in one – adding that coming to the refuge had massively helped her.

She thinks that seeing the abuse her father, whom she no longer speaks to, perpetrated against her mother made her normalise such abuse.

“Me and my sister Zoe seem to go down the route of ‘he only did this’ because we have seen it so many times before that it is sort of normal,” she says. “We do not see loads wrong with it. I think dad made us weak. He opened us up and made us vulnerable. I think I have never really understood the difference between ‘Are you okay babe, are you having fun with your friends? and ‘Where the f*ck are you?’”

Hestia, a charity which campaigns on the long-term impact domestic violence has on children, found some 50 per cent of children who experience domestic abuse as a child go on to endure the same abuse later in life. 

Zoe says her ex would force her to FaceTime constantly and did it so much that he was eventually fired from his job – adding that he would go through her phone and question her about things that happened a decade ago.

“If I didn’t relay it word by word, I was disgusting, I was dirty, I was a liar,” she says. “He used to even go through messages with my mum. I wound up leaving him after just over a year after he really, really beat me up. But coming to the refuge has given me peace of mind and given me myself back. I feel like I can be me again.”

Zoe, who has been in the refuge for around six months now, also credits the shelter with giving her a fresh start. But she vents her frustrations about the fact it took her around a year to get into a refuge, due to a lack of spaces.

Those in need of a refuge are finding it more difficult than ever to find an available bed, with the most recent figures showing 60 per cent of them are unable to. Local authority spending on refuges has been cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017 – with several refuges forced to shut in the last nine years.

Zoe says her ex turned violent within just a couple of weeks of being with him and quickly pressured her into leaving her job after accusing her of sleeping with both male and female colleagues.

She adds: “He quickly wanted children and I had a baby with him. He chucked me out whenever he wanted and threw my stuff out the window. And he became violent, even if it put their baby in danger.

“He once strangled me when I had the baby in my arms. If we were arguing, the first thing he would do would take my keys, my phone and my bank card. He would smash my phone against the wall and destroy my sim cards so I could not contact anyone. He would lock the front door so I couldn’t go outside.

“He would cause wedges between me and all my family. I had no friends. The only ones I have now are from the refuge.”

Zoe says on one occasion in their relationship he posted an explicit photo of her on Facebook after a fight and in another instance, he broke a court order barring him from contacting her and burgled her house.

She recounts another incident where he flew into a rage while she was driving on a busy road and tried to steer the car into oncoming traffic before pulling the handbrake. He then dragged her out of the car by her hair – forcing her and her young children to walk a two-mile journey home in the late evening.

Charlotte Kneer, herself a domestic abuse survivor, is now chief executive of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge – her violent partner was jailed for seven years in 2011.

Kneer believes Zoe may not have been forced to experience such abuse if her mother had managed to get a space in a refuge when Zoe was young.

“An important element of the work we do here is ending the cycle of domestic abuse so it is not passed through generations,” she says.

“We help women identity signs of abuse so they know what they are looking for and to make sure they don’t enter other abusive relationships in the future. This family is an example of abuse being normalised in childhood and then it recurring.

“This family shows why being in a refuge is such an important way to stop that happening. Maybe a lot of this horrific abuse might have been avoided if Emma had been able to find a refuge space when the children were younger.”

*The names of the siblings and mother in this article have been changed to protect their identity

(Source: Independent)

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