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16 Days of Action: Dawn’s Story

Dawn is a female in her 40’s when she accessed support, she had been through a difficult time in her life, which she now recognises made her vulnerable. She met her partner through friends and felt like they ‘hit it off’ straight away; he was fun, popular and she felt lucky to be seen out with him. She felt able to disclose the difficulties she had faced in her earlier life. When he wanted them to move in together after a few weeks, although she thought it was quick, she’d never felt as happy and didn’t hesitate.

Soon after moving in, Dawn started to see changes in her partner, he started to be verbally aggressive towards her and stopped taking her out with him. She excused this as him being tired and justified him going out alone as he needed time out with his friends, she loved him and knew what a good person he could be. Dawn questioned the change in him, this resulted in her being severely physically assaulted. She was hurt and frightened, however afterwards her partner said that he didn’t mean it and said it wouldn’t happen again, she forgave him, this was the start of an abusive cycle.

Dawn had a child with her partner and even though he had abused her while pregnant, she hoped a baby would be a new start. The abuse actually got worse and eventually social care became involved and her child was placed on child protection plan. Dawn ended the relationship, this wasn’t easy for her as she had an attachment to her abuser, although a very unhealthy one, but she wasn’t prepared to risk losing her child if the relationship continued.

Dawn left it a while before accessing support, as she thought she could move on and just get on with life, she was struggling with her mental health and it was her GP that suggested she contact BCD as they were aware of the domestic abuse she had previously experienced. She started one to one sessions with a BCD worker, it gave her time to explore and understand what she’d been through.

Dawn had experienced childhood abuse and had always been told it was her fault, she believed this and questioned how she could change her behaviour to prevent her partner from getting angry, her partner had also always blamed her when he was abusive. Dawn now understands she couldn’t have prevented any of the past abusers from being abusive. The work she did with BCD helped her to process and understand the behaviour of abusers, the dynamics of an abusive relationship and why it had the impact it had on her and her child.

Towards the end of support, Dawn was able to say ‘I’m not to blame’ and believe it.

She found the worksheets used particularly helpful, and would refer back to them in between sessions. At the end of support, Dawn felt much more confident and her self-belief had increased. She enrolled onto a college course, which had been a dream she never thought she would be able to fulfil. Dawn stated that her ex took her past, but she won’t allow him to take her future.

16 Days of Action: Bryony’s Story

Bryony made a self-referral to the Community Team in summer 2020. She had fled from her husband about 1 month prior to reaching out for support due to his abusive behaviour towards her. She had intended to leave sooner but had been unsure how this could be managed given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Bryony managed to enter a ‘bubble’ and was staying with a friend but knew this could not be a long-term arrangement.

Bryony described her estranged husband as very controlling and emotionally abusive towards her, e.g. he had prevented her from accessing any money of her own or having a bank account. She also disclosed physical abuse had been perpetrated against both her and her older children. Bryony said she had been frightened to tell anyone about this abuse.

Bryony had finally decided to reach out for support (having been the victim of domestic abuse for many years) as her youngest child had been removed from her care by her estranged husband. She was not able to have any contact with him. Advantage had been taken of the pandemic situation to claim her son would not be safe in her care.

Support was provided to help Bryony register with Leeds Housing Options and search for appropriate accommodation. Bryony was supported to access legal advice and legal aid. An emergency application was made to court, although matters took longer to deal with than initially anticipated due to communication with the solicitor being via telephone/email only and court hearings not being in person. Bryony was supported to recognise what crimes had been committed against her within the domestic abuse she had experienced and to report these to the police. Information was provided to enable Bryony to access her own bank account and benefits.

Following completion of a risk assessment, a MARAC referral was submitted due to the high-risk score. Bryony disclosed that she had been threatened several times by her estranged husband and he had been upping the number of calls/texts to her. All of these more recent messages included attempts to get her to go to the house they formerly shared or meet him elsewhere, under the guise that she’d be able to see her son. Bryony was supported to recognise that her estranged husband was attempting to manipulate the situation and that it wouldn’t be safe to engage.

Behind Closed Doors support Bryony to access suitable new accommodation and utilise the LCC bond scheme to enable a move to take place. Bryony’s child was returned to her care and contact arrangements were made via court. The domestic abuse related offences were logged with the Police and Bryony increased in confidence enough to be able to report further offences when necessary. Bryony attained financial independence and Bryony was no longer at high risk at the point of case closure.

My Working Day: Domestic Violence and Abuse Coordinator

I am a specialist Domestic Violence & Abuse Co-ordinator in one of the Early Help Hubs in Children and Families at Leeds City Council. The Hubs promote supporting children and families at an early stage when they are experiencing difficulties. I am in a multi disciplinary team that includes a Hub Manager, Early Help Practitioners, Early Intervention Police Officers, along with specialist workers in Mental Health and Substance Use.

My role in the Hub includes direct work and support with an adult or young person aged 16 or over who are or have experienced domestic abuse. I also provide guidance and support to professionals as well as delivering briefings and training sessions on a variety of aspects of domestic abuse.

My morning usually starts with some form of exercise or sport. This morning at 6am I was swimming outdoors, along with a few ducks and swans! There are a community of open water swimmers that frequent this location, including a couple of blokes who are training to swim the English channel, who are bare chested and in swimming short and some workers who like to unwind after their night shift. I drive back home, wash off my swim gear, googles, swim cap, safety buoy/tow float, have a hot shower, get dressed and have some hot cereal.

Today is a working from home day. At 8.30am I log onto my laptop, check emails, my outlook calendar and diary (I’m old school, I still like an A5 diary you can write in) and any texts and voicemail messages on my work mobile that I need to reply too.

At 9.30am I attend the Hub’s online daily pathway meeting and log on to Microsoft Teams. This is when the team have an opportunity to discuss any requests and referrals from Duty and Advice (Children and Families), schools, Clusters, health professionals like, Health Visitors. The meeting also gives a better insight into the work of the Hub Police Officers.

Following the pathway meeting which usually lasts for about an hour, it is time to make some phone calls to parents that I am providing support to. I speak to a mum who has been assigned to me on Mosaic (the electronic case management system used in Children and Families at the council). As it is the first time we have spoken I introduce myself and explain why I am ringing following a request from a Learning Mentor at the primary school in South Leeds, that the mum’s youngest child attends. She remembers speaking to the Learning Mentor about the child contact difficulties she is having with her ex-partner (who is dad to their three children) and giving consent to be contacted by myself. Mum wants to talk about the historic domestic abuse she went through with her ex-partner and how she ended the relationship. She still feels controlled by her ex-partner and feels he is using the children to get back at her. We discuss safety planning, legal options about protective orders, like a Non-Molestation Order (commonly known as an Injunction) because the children’s dad comes to the house to see the children and can be verbally abusive in front of them. I suggest to mum other ways of managing the child contact away from her home, seeing if other family members or friends can facilitate the contact. I explain to mum about completing a DASH risk assessment and the reasons why so I can assess her risk level. It comes out as medium. Mum is due to go out and we agree to talk tomorrow morning when she has dropped off the youngest child at school. I remind her I have a meeting at 9.30am, so we arrange to talk at 11am. I will check with mum if the children are needing any support which can be offered by the school, the Cluster or if there are any other children and family services that the family can access. I also need to pass on a list of Family Law Solicitors that mum may need to contact for legal advice.

Whilst I am on the phone, I have a missed call and voicemail. After my call, I pick up the message and it is from a Social Worker who would like some advice about a family he is working with and there is significant domestic abuse and parental conflict in the household. I make a note in my diary to ring him back. One of the Early Help Practitioners is trying to contact me via Skype on my work laptop, I type her a message to say I am on my mobile and will get back to her.

I type up my notes from my call with the mum, I also attach the DASH risk assessment.

Midday: I don’t have a set lunchtime and will eat as and when I am hungry. It’s hot outside so I use my break to have a walk on the local field to get some fresh air.

I am due to deliver an online briefing session on Coercive Control and Stalking to a team of Children Centre workers at 1pm so there isn’t time to make another call to another parent I am supporting. I make a skype call to my colleague in the Hub who wants to discuss a case that she has picked up on duty where there is ongoing domestic abuse. We agree to take it to tomorrow’s pathway meeting. I still need to get back to the Social Worker.

1-3pm – I deliver the online Coercive Control and Stalking briefing to 8 Children Centre workers and there is lots of discussion and interest. I agree to email the link to the evaluation, a copy of the briefing slides and some additional support services and links.

I have a short break, then make a call to another parent I am supporting because she is only free to talk in the afternoon, her mobile goes to voicemail and she has already let me know that it is safe to leave a message and text. Hopefully I will speak to her tomorrow.

I get back to the Social Worker who rang me earlier. He is in the process of completing a Child And Family Assessment (CAFA) and would like to know if I can do some work with a mum and dad who want to stay together and there is ongoing domestic abuse. I explained my Hub role and the support I can provide to a parent who is the survivor of domestic abuse and I am unable to work with couples who want to stay in an abusive relationship. I suggested some support services, including Caring Dads, Respect (who have an advice line for perpetrators of domestic abuse). I acknowledged with the Social Worker that it is difficult to find support for couples. He now has my contact details and can make contact if he wants any guidance and support in the future.

It’s coming up to 4.30pm, I start filling up my diary for the next day, including anything I haven’t been able to finish today.

End of the day: My partner is out later with the curry club crew he meets up with every fortnight. That means snacking on whatever takes my fancy, pjs on, feet up and I have got the TV to myself!! That means watching something that has fantastic scenery like Scotland, Cornwall, the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales or watching something on catch up, like a gritty drama series, Vigil or something a bit more comical like Good Girls on Netflix. I nod off in front of the tv, I will have to catch up again tomorrow!

Al’s Story

Al is a professional male in his 50’s, who just prior to meeting his partner had suffered a personal tragedy. He met his partner in a pub and almost immediately felt connected to him; his partner listened and seemed to understand his every feeling. Al felt comfortable disclosing his personal information, which included his healthy financial position.

It wasn’t long before Al’s new partner had moved in with him, he doesn’t recall this ever being agreed, his partner just never went home again. Al’s close family didn’t take to his new partner, they felt something wasn’t right about the relationship and that he was taking advantage of Al’s financial position and comfortable lifestyle. Al became more isolated from his family as it was easier than dealing with the tension between his family and partner. His partner also encouraged this, Al later found out was that his family had sent cards, which were returned without Al having knowledge of them, he had also told them that Al wanted nothing more to do with them, as they were too interfering.

They had a civil partnership and soon after Al started to really recognise the abuse. It started with ‘joke’ name-calling, but this became very personal and Al’s confidence was completely knocked, the more abusive his partner became, the more Al tried to make him happy to try and smooth things over. This generally involved buying expensive presents, Al’s ex would become aggressive if he didn’t get the present he thought he deserved. The abuse increased and at times was physical, Al’s mental health was severely affected to the point he felt like ending his life. He tried to end the relationship, this wasn’t easy and took several attempts as Al’s partner would promise to change if he was given another chance.

Al had one to one sessions with a BCD worker, it gave him time to explore and understand what he’d been through. Al questioned why as an intelligent person he didn’t see the abuse initially starting and why at the end it had been so difficult to leave a person he was frightened of.

He worked with BCD to understand the dynamics of an abusive relationship and the impact it has on a person. Al hadn’t recognised how vulnerable he was when he met his partner, he gave his partner personal information very early on, which he then used to manipulate him. Al had a lot of self-blame and questioned if he could have changed his behaviour to prevent his partner from getting angry, Al reflected back to the relationship with his worker and realised that he was always blamed by his partner when he was abusive, this is what had led to him questioning his own behaviours, Al now understands he couldn’t have prevented an abusive person being abusive.

At the end of support, Al said that he felt his confidence was coming back. He said he had a better understanding of what happened to him and had stopped blaming himself. He found the worksheets used particularly helpful, they helped him to structure his thoughts and put things into perspective. Al had also worked through the early warning signs of an abusive relationship and related some of them to his own relationship, he feels confident that he wouldn’t be so vulnerable if he met someone in the future.

Ben’s Story

Ben’s case was discussed at Marac (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) due to a serious physical assault on him from his ex-partner, requiring medical attention. The incident was reported to the police via a neighbour who had witnessed the assault.

The referral was sent to our Community Domestic Violence Team (part of Leeds Domestic Violence Service) to try and establish contact with the service user and look at what safety interventions and support could be offered to him.

The Community DV Team managed to make contact with Ben, who disclosed that he had been subjected to many serious assaults, his ex-partner was very controlling and although the relationship ended, the abuse not only continued, if anything it worsened. Ben’s ex-partner was so controlling he would phone and text him constantly, he would turn up at his property helping himself to Ben’s property, money and other belongings. He would smash up Ben’s car causing additional financial pressure. Ben’s ex-partner also outed him to neighbours and family members putting a strain on their relationships.

Ben was in receipt of an additional benefit due to his mental health issues and the additional support that he required. An anonymous person reported him to DWP reporting that he was claiming the money fraudulently. This had a massive impact on Ben’s mental health and at times he stated he felt suicidal. We spoke to DWP on the service user’s behalf to advocate about his current situation. This issue was deemed as a malicious report and resolved quickly.

Initially we put a safety plan in place, he changed his number and agreed to call the police should he need to. Due to the high level of threat, Ben was very quickly offered a move from the area. This move had to be timed and planned in a safe way, as his ex-partner had family that lived nearby. Ben was scared he would be followed whilst moving and be located by his ex-partner, therefore he would be at further risk. The move went smoothly; additional security was put in place at his new property to make it safer. The option of legal advice for protective orders was given, should he feel this was necessary in the future. Ben has now rebuilt relationships with his family members who are there to support him. Although his mental health is an ongoing issue, he is no longer self-harming or suicidal.

Ben was very appreciative of the help and support he received, he stated he did not feel judged and had previously found it difficult to open up and access support.

*name changed to protect identity*

Erin’s Story

Growing up with an alcoholic, sexually, abusive father has affected nearly every relationship I’ve ever had. Throughout my life, I’ve endured years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. From a young age, I started to self-harm and as I headed into adulthood, self-harm was still part of my life. 
I always ended up with abusive men and eventually married my abusive partner. I stayed with him for many years until I eventually found the courage to leave him. Even though I was no longer with him he still controlled and manipulated me. I wasn’t intending to start a new relationship with anyone, but then I met  “The One” and my life was perfect!  In the beginning he swept me off my feet. He showered me with love and attention and he adored me.  Sounds great, right? 

What I didn’t know, or could ever be prepared for, is what happened next. Very early into the relationship the psychological/emotional abuse started and slowly my love transformed into anxiety. Nine months into the relationship I was emotionally and physically exhausted and close to having a nervous breakdown. The never-ending cycle of love to hate, and back again was taking its toll. I started drinking excessively and I was hardly eating, socially isolated, withdrawn and in serious debt, the depression and anxiety hit me hard. 

I eventually broke and asked for professional help. This is when [my support worker] from Behind Closed Doors walked into my life. During my counselling sessions, we discussed the different types of abuse. It was during these sessions that I realised  I was sadly involved in another abusive relationship. I wasn’t being hit, I wasn’t being abused, right? As [my support worker] talked I frantically made notes, almost obsessed with trying to make some sense of it all. I learned that I was trauma bonded very early on so that I could be manipulated. It was difficult facing up to the fact that I was being abused again.  Gaslighting was causing severe cognitive dissonance so I started writing a journal. 

A few months later after another long exhausting night of abuse something in me changed. [My support worker] had provided me with the tools,  it was now up to me to find the inner strength to use them. I had left countless times, but he always said the right things to convince me to go back. This time was different. This time I was armed with knowledge. I decided it was time to jump off the merry-go-round of abuse.  The following day I packed my belongings and never went back! 

The Journey is not an easy one, falling in love wiped out my sense of worth. During the first few months I missed him so much the pain was unbearable. I honestly thought I couldn’t live without him, the gut-wrenching feeling was so bad I felt like I couldn’t breathe. He bombarded with love/hate text messages and calls. With every contact my anxiety and depression worsened. He had made me feel so insecure, he had devalued me and I had lost all my confidence. I was confused and suffering from PTSD and severe OCD.  

I became addicted to reading books and watching YouTube videos on domestic abuse. I did everything in my power to educate myself. Reading triggered many incidents that I had blocked out. I missed so many warning signs, the “Red Flags” were there, I just hadn’t seen them!  

 I made a list of all the abusive things he had said and done and when the trauma bond and cognitive dissonance kicked in I would read it. I called it my list of “Truths” I wrote him letters asking why he had hurt me, but I never sent them.  I slowly realised the man I loved didn’t exist, he wore a mask, I told him everything I needed and he created my perfect soulmate. That’s not “Love” it’s “Manipulation” I opened up to my friends and family and having a supportive network made a huge difference. 

Eventually [my support worker] and I agreed I was at a point in my journey where I had to stop reading about abuse and concentrate on my own healing. It was time to fall back in love with myself. I didn’t know where to start I hated myself so much I couldn’t even look in a mirror. I started reading books on Mindfulness, healing the inner child, low self-esteem and setting firm boundaries. It was time to challenge the  “Critical Voice”  and bring back my “Voice of Reason”. I was still mentally exhausted so I looked at different ways to calm my mind, I started meditation, yoga, exercising and walking. I bought a gratitude journal and recorded a list of positive affirmations on my phone, I say them out aloud every day. I allow myself to feel every emotion, sadness, grief and anger.  When the feelings come I don’t push them away, I just sit with them until they pass. 

A few months later I reached a point in my life where it was time to go *No Contact* I changed my number and deleted my email address. That was the turning point, once you remove yourself from the situation and your partner is out of your life, everything starts to make sense. That one call to Behind Closed Doors not only helped me leave my abusive partner it changed my whole life! The healing process is challenging, but it is so worth it. Some days you don’t want to get out of bed but keep going, it gets easier. You can heal and don’t be scared to ask professional support. I made full use of the support offered. My life has changed enormously since I left. I’m a different person and it’s amazing.  I make my own decisions, I have savings, I’m buying my own house, I love seeing my friends and family, my mind is calm, I no longer have a drink problem and my health has drastically improved. The big one for me is I’m no longer afraid of being alone. I love my own company and I’m excited about my future. I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor and I am free! 

My Working Day: Complex Needs Worker

I am a Complex Needs Worker, who delivers support as part of the Women’s Lives Leeds Service. This project has a unique alliance of eleven women and girls organisations from across Leeds. Between us we have specialisms in domestic violence, mental health, sexual health, sex work, trafficking, substance misuse, child sexual exploitation and education. The project launched on 1st November 2016.

Early morning: Rise and shine! “MOMMMMMYYYY!!!” OMG! I have 2 alarms you see if the 10-month-old doesn’t get me up in the morning then my 5-year-old usually jumping into my bed does.

Well I start off by sorting out the children with their morning routines, wash, breakkie, milky, nappy change and then outfits sorted. Babygrow is fine for the baby but my 5year old (going on 15) must look her best for her Zoom school classes. After we all eat it’s setting up my 5-year old for the day with her tablet and school pack on her little table with plenty of snacks and drinks. I log her onto Zoom to start her class and I hand over my baby to the husband. Off I go to my little office in my room after putting a load of laundry in the washing machine.

Morning: Switch on my work phone. Read all my texts, whatsapp messages, check all the voicemail start replying or calling. I am usually then replying to emails or chasing up solicitors or other professionals. Usually it is advocating for my client regarding a social worker decision. I am usually leaving messages and calling several times. I then am chasing banding up with housing, requesting housing assessments due to their banding being too low or they have not been assessed yet. I then login to the housing register and call the client to bid on a property for them. I then usually spend a few minutes updating records and doing any outcome monitoring with clients that have had support for more than 3 months. I then have more calls with clients and usually it is making a referral to apply for furniture due to either it being broken from a domestic abuse incident or the client having moved after fleeing domestic abuse. I then usually read some notes I have received from MARAC regarding a client and start the actions. I usually end up answering a call just before lunchtime that I think will be 10mins but how can you put the phone down when the client is telling you they have no food for the weekend and no heating whilst having a new-born baby that is poorly already, because her ex-husband has made a fraudulent claim and moved the benefits to his name and she has not been paid anything this week.

Midday: The husband at this point is usually kind enough to make me some lunch along with a side of work that he did with my 5year old to check before I upload it onto the school app. I am then kindly asked 100 questions related to the work set by school and end up helping my daughter with phonics and the art work as daddy apparently can’t help as good as mum (secretly inside so happy). As I eat lunch I usually start to call the interpreting services as they usually are on hold for 20mins I leave it on speaker whilst I finish my lunch and upload all the work my daughter has done so far before the other mum that lives on my street uploads her son’s work that is in the same class as my daughter, (competitive is an understatement – but I win as she said she is unemployed at the moment…hhhmm imagine what my daughter would be capable of – if I was also unemployed – I promise I am not competitive…muhahaha…)

Early afternoon: I take my cuppa with me to my little office where I continue to be on hold to the interpreting services whilst I start my food parcel application for one of my clients. I then do a conference call with my client that doesn’t speak English when the interpreter finally answers. I am usually on the phone for an hour due to the translation delay. I have another list of things now. I then either reply to some other calls that I have missed whilst being on this call or I start to call my colleague to ask for some ideas and help with this client. I then make a referral to Money Buddies or citizen’s advice for the clients I have with debts going way above £2000. Whilst I make the referral for the debts I am usually on hold to speak with DWP regarding a mandatory reconsideration I need to make for a client that has been given the wrong amount on her benefits. I then reply to some texts or calls I may have missed whilst on the call to DWP.

Late afternoon: I either have a Zoom meeting with my team which will take an hour or two. Sometimes I am typing up my notes whilst in the meeting if I am behind on my notes. I quickly check my secure email inbox to make sure Sanctuary have got the referral I made yesterday for a property to get some target hardening. During the Zoom call I may need to ask my daughter to get out several times as she opens the door and sneaks in to ask me for some help with her school work again because daddy is not doing it the correct way. I usher her out and then get back to my meeting after slamming the door all whilst on mute. After the meeting I then take a break to go to the bathroom or make another cuppa or change a nappy for the baby and give her a quick feed. I then usually need to upload work and help finish off some phonics or art work with my daughter. I then quickly run back to my little office and slam the door again indicating “please don’t disturb”.

End of the working day: I then tick some items off my never-ending list and update all my conversations and work onto each client’s case. I then complete my last one or two week’s timesheets before I get a “polite reminder”. I then send off my expenses and mileage claim if I have any. I delete documents off my desktop that I don’t need or file them correctly. I send some quick text updates if I need to and then switch my phone off. I update and check my diary to see when I am next due to attend a court hearing with my client and what I have on for tomorrow.

I open the door to be greeted with a desperate warm welcome from my family. The husband is usually looking worse for wear right now. The 10month old’s nappy is sagging and the 5-year-old has chocolate all over her top. I take the children off him and go out in the garden for some fresh air or playtime with them before I start dinner. I won’t bore you with the bedtime routines. Hope you enjoyed a snippet of a day in the life of me!

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Our Community Domestic Violence Team Supervisor’s Story

I joined Behind Closed Doors 14 years ago as a volunteer. At that time BCD was a small organisation supporting victims of domestic abuse who lived in the North West area of Leeds, with a focus on reaching rural communities. At the time I joined BCD there were 4 paid workers and myself volunteering. Whilst volunteering, I was given one to one training that enabled me to gain the skills, knowledge and experience of front line working. An opportunity arose for me to apply for a position as a part time paid member of the team; which I was successful in securing and I also continued to volunteer for the remaining half of the week due to the growing need of the service. I then progressed into being a full-time member of staff.

I started my journey with BCD after having lived experience of domestic abuse. I accessed support to flee the abusive relationship along with my four children. We went into a refuge and over time began to rebuild our lives.

In my personal experience it was difficult to leave the relationship but the hardest thing was dealing with all the practicalities on my own with very little support available at that time. Therefore when I started volunteering at BCD it was so important to me to offer that support to people who had experienced the same thing.

Over time BCD has grown and developed its services that are now offered city wide.

During my time at BCD I have been involved with the recruitment and also the mentoring of volunteers. I recognise how important the volunteer role is and how people like myself can progress in their careers. I was supported by my line manager to develop my leadership skills and this led to career progression for me, when I was promoted to Senior Community DV Team Practitioner.

2020 proved to be an extremely difficult year not only did we face the coronavirus pandemic, we have had to adapt to new ways of working and delivering the services remotely. We have remained extremely busy but are committed to offering the best support we can under some extreme circumstances.

BCD has re-structured its management team this year and I have secured a further promotion to Community DV Team Supervisor. I feel really positive about the future of BCD as we continue to develop the services we offer. My journey has been one of growth and positivity and I am so glad that I took that chance and applied to become a volunteer with BCD.

Laura’s Story

I didn’t realise that I had been abused. I knew that my ex had been difficult, temperamental, awkward for awkward sake at times (I mean, who WANTS to visit their in laws?) but not abusive. I figured that this must be normal. All people argue, right? 

He had confidence, and that is what I fell in love with. He had a spirit and demeanour that you couldn’t help but be drawn into. He was funny, people liked him, if only for a short time. He was clear about who he liked and disliked and you could not change his mind about someone he perceived as trouble. I wanted to be like him (!!) and he knew it. He knew I was a fence sitter, someone who would never kick up a fuss, someone who didn’t have the confidence to be clear if I was your friend or not. 

I trusted and followed his advice about how to ‘deal’ with friends, family, co-workers, everyone and everything around me. Where we went, what we did- it was easier to let him decide because if I decided and it wasn’t ‘right’, we wouldn’t be doing it anyway. Nothing I did was ever good enough, and he let me know it. He was clear at telling me what he would have done- “you should have said this, done that…”. This is coercive control. 

I lost friends. I lost co-workers. I was distanced from my family and they didn’t come to find me because they didn’t like his company. He made that very clear to them. I didn’t see it at the time- I thought he was protective and we were building our family unit- just us two against the world. He was slowly but surely isolating me from anyone that cared and didn’t want to see my personality disappear and his take over. He didn’t want them to connect with me, reach me and tell me get out. This is coercive control. 

I love my job and I have worked hard to get where I am. I am unbelievably fortunate to have my job and I have always been proud that I am financially independent as this was one of the few things that kept me going when my world fell down around me last year, when he left. I followed his advice about how to cope with work issues. I used to tell him everything that happened- office gossip, conversations I’d had with my colleagues, and discussions about career progression. What I hadn’t accounted for was how the evening discussions about work had gotten shorter and shorter for me, and longer for him (despite him not working) and rather than the discussions being supportive, they became accusatory. I also wasn’t keeping my family afloat anymore- money was getting tighter as he always had some bill or another that just needed paying off. This is coercive control! 

He won me over to begin with and I fell completely into it. Things moved far too fast and despite having warning bells going off in my head, I convinced myself that he loved me and he was right when he said we would be together forever so why wait? He moved into my flat, he drove my car around and within six months he was the only person I was spending time with. 

We separated after he had violently attacked me for a seemingly trivial matter. He had ‘only’ been violent twice before at the beginning of our relationship so I hadn’t expected what he did, but I knew from the beginning that he had no problem with aggression and violence towards the people he ‘loved’. 

We have been separated for one year and I want you to know that there is life on the other side of abuse. If he tells you that you won’t cope without him, know this is a lie. If he says nobody will ever love you again, know this is a lie. If he says you are too stupid, too fat, ugly, depressing, uneducated, please know that is all lies! None of it is true and you have so much to live for. Abusers are experts at manipulating people and they will go to any lengths to keep you in their control. They will strip you of your identity to be sure you don’t have the strength to walk away from them. Behind Closed Doors will help you find ‘you’ again. 

I didn’t realise that I had been abused. I didn’t realise that my loving, caring, friendly personality has been hidden because I believed the lies he had told me. I am not a fence sitter- I am good at seeing both sides to every story. I am not someone who would never kick up a fuss- I know how to deal with conflict gracefully and with tact. I am not someone who didn’t have the confidence to be clear if I was your friend or not- I try to see the good in everyone and I will go out of my way to make sure you are OK. 

Behind Closed Doors have been pivotal to me processing what he has done to me. Abuse is not normal. I did not choose this. Violence, oppression, emotional manipulation, financial control, absolutely refusal to do anything for my benefit, controlling my thoughts, feeling, emotions….none of it is normal. None of it is deserved.

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