Many choose to duck out of conversations or turn away from an issue that is so prevalent in our society, an issue that is capable of leaving lifelong trauma and scars; sexual violence and domestic violence.
I was pregnant at 20 and married to an alcoholic, a man who when sober was funny, loving, kind and sensitive – but after 4 pints I knew I had to tread carefully. He would go into wild rages, accuse myself and my family of terrible thing. He was always remorseful the next day, but that didn’t stop it happening time and time again.
After seven years of living in fear, I finally found the courage to leave him. I was incredibly vulnerable, hurting and young. I jumped “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” diving straight into a new relationship. My next partner was funny, wild, risky and handsome. We enjoyed each other’s company, and he soon moved in. But it wasn’t long before the domestic abuse began.
It didn’t begin with physical violence, it was subtle and gradual to the point everything I did throughout my daily routine I had him in mind; from tins stacked front facing, toothpaste squeezed correctly, gravy made with water first – he dictated the way I did everything and anything. I dressed in a certain way to please him, wore the shoes he preferred and had my hair how he liked it. When he was cross he would hurl abuse at me using words such as ‘ugly,’ ‘thick,’ ‘slag,’ and ‘fat.’ He was always very sorry after, but that didn’t break the cycle.
The violence soon escalated. He broke my fingers and my nose, gave me black eyes, perforated my eardrum, held scissors to my extremities threatening to cut them off. He pushed me into a freezing cold bath of water and squirted shaving foam all over me dragging me from the bathroom by my hair freezing and soaking wet, pushing me onto the bed which was a mattress on the floor, strangled me and threatened me with a knife. He bit me, and he flicked lit matches at me.
If I cried he told me it made me look ugly, if I laughed he told me I should cover my mouth because I looked ugly. He put lit cigarettes into pile of bags in the bedroom, still there from moving house, threatening to burn us all alive. He stood on my head with both his feet to the point that I passed out – bringing me round by throwing cold water over me. He threw away one shoe from each of my pairs of shoes, locked me in the house and took my cashpoint card, disabled landlines and swallowed SIM cards. Sadly, that’s not all of it.
He humiliated me and sexually abused me on more than one occasion. I was broken and downtrodden. Each time he hurt me I accepted his apology – after all I believed it was my fault I made him like this. I loved him, and truly believed perhaps if I changed, my funny handsome man would return. He often did, soon after an attack, but he never stayed.
It was seven years of hell – and with no escape. During that time both my sons were placed on a Risk Register. We spent time in refuge, had countless failed attempts at leaving, lost friends and family and all of my dignity. I felt like I was going mad.
I tried with all my might to protect both my boys from the abuse, often taking blows for doing so. Several attempts to leave or get rid ended up with us back together. He would always come back and break into my property, threatening to take his life and making promises to change. Yet he told everyone that I begged him back, that he agreed to my demands so he could be with his son. On reflection I was naive to fall for his spin each time, the promises of change, the “I love you’s” and the manipulation – and deep down – fear and shame for my life is what kept me trapped. I so desperately wanted the abuse to stop and have the man I fell in love with back.
One Christmas, we had split up and I was on my way to get the last of the food shopping when he attacked me near the city centre over a child contact arrangement. It was this incident that pushed me over the edge to make the biggest step of my life; to speak out and tell all, to share everything – and I did!
I have never forgotten that Christmas and I don’t think I ever will, nor will I forget the horrific years of abuse I was subjected to. I have long lasting physical and mental scars, however I am grateful that the boys and I survived and are here to tell the tale. If it wasn’t for organisations such as EIP, Aurora and PARCS Hampshire Police and Social Care, I may not have been in a position to talk about the elephant in the room!
Using my experience to help our city move forward
After rebuilding our lives and delving into the big wide world of politics, the majority of my campaigning is on the current welfare system, austerity and domestic abuse and sexual violence. Alongside Stephen Morgan MP and our Labour Councillors I have made sure that domestic abuse and sexual violence is on there adgenda, unanimously passing a motion that committed Portsmouth Labour to training all elected officials on handling disclosures, something I hope the party will adopt nationally. I’ve highlighted services that are available in the city to support victims and campaigned for adequate funding for these services. Recently, I had a meeting with Gemma Green from PARCS who manages Project Catalyst, an activism project for young women and girls from the age of 16-24 highlighting the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on survivors of sexual abuse and the trauma they already live with.
During lockdown the focus has very much been on domestic abuse although this is an important issue, sexual violence also has its costs! Sexual abuse often goes hand in hand with domestic abuse, it also affects children in huge numbers , and we must not turn a blind eye to child sexual abuse often perpatrated by someone the victim knows and trusts.
Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual act or activity. There are many different kinds, including: rape, sexual abuse (including in childhood), sexual assault, sexual harassment, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), trafficking, sexual exploitation (including child sexual exploitation), and others.
Sexual violence can be perpetrated by a stranger, or by someone known and even trusted, like a friend, colleague, family member, partner or ex-partner. Sexual violence can happen to anyone. No-one ever deserves or asks for it to happen.
If you have been raped or been through any kind of sexual violence, no matter how long ago, where you were, what you were doing, wearing, or saying, whether you were drunk or had taken drugs, it was not your fault and you did not deserve this. Please speak up and get help.
I think Project Catalyst and the #weallhavethepowertoshrinktheelephentintheroom campaign is so important, a difficult subject highlighted and spoken about within our communities. We must all play a part by challenging the narratives which often fail to hold perpetrators to account. We must challenge victim blaming, andwe must highlight services locally and nationally offering support to anyone who might need help when disclosing sexual violence.
When 85,000 women and 12,000 men aged between 16-59 experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales every year, and 1/9 girls and 1/53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult, it is vital that we all play our part by having conversations and acknowledging that sexual violence and domestic abuse can happen to anyone. Please do support the #elephantintheroomparcs campaign,these women and girls want us to be part of the solution! I speak out in hope that others will to.