A purple eye, a bloody lip
A twisted arm, a broken hip
It’s every day, it’s every year
Violence, repression, rape, fear
Their hands are tied, their mouths are gagged
They’re hearts are hurt, their breathing ragged
But we don’t see the storm inside
We only see the smile to hide
Internal torture, terror, pain
We only see the happiness they feign
We can’t hear their screaming souls
Can’t see their eyes like burning coals
We only hear protective lies
Not wanting questions, nor anxious eyes
Suppressing pain without a cure
Creates more suffering they must endure
Depression, Anxiety, OCD
Physical ailments, PTSD
Insecurity, eating disorders, social stress
And no one to whom they can confess
But with 3000 pounds to Women’s Aid
We can ensure that more modern day heroes are paid
To cover helplines around the clock
So victims of domestic abuse can talk
In confidence to specialists who’ll give them solutions
Because if we work together we can start revolutions
Nothing is insignificant, even a bruise
Help Women’s Aid stand up to any abuse
Domestic Abuse – The BIG Questions
Landing in refuge, is an experience that those, fortunate enough to have ‘normal
relationships’ often cannot comprehend. Be grateful for that, if you are reading from the other
side. In reality, Domestic Abuse (DA) is in one of every four homes in the UK. If you have
daughters, sisters, loved ones etc you might want to read on.
Although great strides have been made recently in raising the profile of DA with political,
police, legal & media support, the consequence is, that the available infrastructure is now
outstripped by demand. Please do not be complacent. It’s time to pay attention.
Enter left stage ‘Covid 19’ and every woman – with or without children lucky enough to have
a flat in refuge, felt literally sick, for those who weren’t – during lockdown. An abusers
paradise. Support systems evaporated in the chaos of the global pandemic. No way out, an
already dangerous position, fuelled by frustration, financial strain and a lack of control.
210% in your face. No respite from it, by going to work, school, the gym or seeing friends for
example.Communications monitored full time. It came up, a lot in the communal laundry
room, corridors and shared garden. Fear.
Domestic abusers can go from zero to insanity in a heartbeat, this is most often exclusive to
your home setting, behind closed doors. You are blindsided by these episodes, effectively
reeling on the back foot because there is no rational validity or explanation for what’s going
on. If you protest, appeal for fairness, effectively fight back verbally, get ready to join the
“you are mentally unstable” club or, be prepared to expect “no recollection” of events as you
remember them clearly – which will leave you at best crying, traumatised and at worst in
hospital, or in the mortuary. When this dynamic becomes bothersome for the abuser, you
can eventually expect to enjoy complete indifference and feel grateful by this point to be
ignored. The discard. That however does not mean the control has been relinquished. With
no recourse, apologies, or ability to address the relationship issues, moving forward in a
positive way is not an option available to you. This level of gaslighting & abuse, will most
likely never get better, and only get worse. If you have any concerns about a loved one, arm
yourself with knowledge, now.
Public awareness has also come from the courage of many , who finally, finally feel they will
be supported enough, to ask for help. Do not underestimate the courage that this takes
because it oftentimes results in losing everything. Your familial home, business interests,
income, car, possessions for example & your dignity. Your children are psychologically
damaged by this point. Escaping an abusive relationship can take many years to achieve.
On average, a victim of DA makes 7 unsuccessful attempts to leave and many years of
suffering in silence before ‘getting out’.
It is not an easy read. It’s an uncomfortable social subject. The nuances, harm, be it
financial, physical, emotional or psychological remain largely unrecognised by society today.
The bruised face images catch attention. A visual ‘hook’; yet many people still instinctively
look away, when abuse comes to light and things get a bit too publicly ‘messy’. A cruel
consequence, along with the unwanted triangulation of awkwardness that comes with
separations; the lost family, friendships, through no fault of your own. Relationships break
down every day. THIS, is completely different. It is highly likely that you will pay a price for
speaking your truths, so prepare. It’s time to get smart. Get help.
In the same way that society has embraced the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and they
absolutely should ; society also needs to be challenged and educated on the full spectrum of
DA, which extends far beyond the classic black eye image. The abuser (male or female)
habitually uses an arsenal of ‘weapons’ including emotional, financial and psychological
abuse. Physical abuse plays a key role in discovery but most in refuge would agree that its
the additional elements, commonly perceived as less of a problem, are emotionally
catastrophic and can drive victims to self harm or suicide. The daily drip drip of public and
private demeaning, oftentimes in front of your children may, on the face of it seem harmless
enough, at best rude even, but collectively and combined with instilling fear, controlling your
income, what you wear, how & where you shop, iron, clean, your social life evaporates along
with your personality. The outcome mentally is devastating. Many of us have PTSD. Social
media is a problem. Your true friends; who will have noticed the change in you – and in time,
can’t bear to watch on helplessly and frankly detest your abuser so the couples’ social
invitations thin out, and with that, so do your opportunities to get out. It’s about isolation and
control. Isolating you from your support system. An abuser is not concerned that your friends
don’t like them. Any aspirations you may have had for yourself, are gone. Any respect you
had for yourself or self esteem, is gone. Regardless of your intelligence or social standing in
life. Refuge is home to professionals and people from all walks of life. DA is like cancer, it is
indiscriminate. Even the mighty can be conned in life. In the simplest terms, your life is no
longer your own. You lose your voice.
Within refuge, you quickly learn that abusers of this magnitude all do and say the same
things, in varying shades of darkness. It’s like they are reading from a malignant script of
words and tactics, and it becomes easy to finish the sentences of new arrivals to refuge, in
sharing your toe curling journeys in basic but welcome accommodation. Every woman and
child arrives with the same facial expressions, that display raw trauma ….but quickly learn
acceptance whilst being flanked by unconditional support from your new ‘flatmates’ and
The BIG Questions:
Why didn’t you leave? How could you stay all those years and subject yourself and
your children to this? If it was that bad, he/she would surely have left? I’ve known this
person for years, It can’t possibly be true . Incorrect .
Victims of abuse spend years, many years – just trying to break free. You had no idea? Let
me explain why.
Abusers and Narcissists to this degree are accomplished liars, effectively conmen who often
target those they perceive as vulnerable. If you weren’t vulnerable at the outset, you certainly
will be on departure. Abusers have skill sets you do not wish to experience. They cannot
control themselves and upon losing control of you and attempting to leave, it is the most
dangerous time for a DA victim. As things get out of hand, it feels truly unbelievable and
incomprehensible. The shame and embarrassment is so overwhelming that you are too
frightened to tell your friends & family. Leakages of truth come at a price. The fact that your
abuser may be popular, an alcoholic, a gambler, a man of standing in the community, a
wealthy or a church goer for example, with veiled respectability, becomes the strongest
chain of your silence – because you are reminded often that “no one will believe you
anyway.” The problem is you. Your silence hands them the control, to continue. This will be
carefully managed, with tactical isolation from your family and friends. You can expect less
nights out and to dramatically drop off your social scene. Abusers believe they operate
above society, the law and often see themselves as ‘God’ like, without any shame. Self
congratulation will be a theme in conversation. There will be little interest in you, as a
person, professional or mother. It’s all fair game to the abuser. Many hide in plain sight, have
outgoing personalities and even show others the kindness you deserve and long for within
your family unit, but the behaviour is most likely not exclusive to you. You will reassure
yourself that it wasn’t always like this, in the hope that things will get better. During this
masquerade and in the throes of ‘True Love’, you could expect to be lovingly stripped of your
assets, financial security, career, secrets, style, life preferences, the person you were. You
will endure having those deepest secrets and insecurities thrown back in your face. It’s one
of the sharpest weapons in the box. Taking things that are sacred to your core and bashing
you with them. Control of you; is everything in their world. In order to achieve this – enter, the
person you fell in love with, ‘The Imposter’.
Victims of abuse hold on longer than fathomable in the desperate hope that the person they
fell in love with, that would never lay hands on you, the person who was so loving, kind,
generous and caring, will return. It’s highly unlikely to happen; it doesn’t exist in this reality.
It’s simply what they do. It’s the first step on the DA journey, akin to being conned. The
beautiful life promises you have taken on, in good faith, are equivalent to rotten carrots on
sticks. These heartfelt promises will come out at times of crisis often with fake tears, purely
to draw you back into control. The only thing you can count on, is that you cannot count on
an abusive partner and it will never change. Periods of normalcy keep you going in hope, but
never last for long without an unexpected spike in behaviour, effectively kicking the legs from
under you. You can expect every special occasion you genuinely look forward to, in your
lives together, to be ruined by abuse. You’re not allowed those moments. I wasn’t allowed to
wear high heels but ultimately, it was my choice if I “wanted to look like a tart”.
Why would you have children with an abusive partner? If you realised the precarious
position you were in? Because they were planned, on a promise of a beautiful life, that you
yearned for, that turned out to be a nightmare. Never assume all children in an abusive
setting are optional. It is a means of tying you to their home and demands = more control.
Like financial domestic abuse, it effectively contains you and limits your options. It holds your
head underwater, removes your social options. There is little partnership in parenting, in my
experience and you will be responsible and held accountable for your own desperate
emotional state and that of your children. Everything is your fault.
When did things change? Typically on the back of a change in your position within the
relationship. Becoming pregnant, getting engaged, moving in together etc. Why ? In my view,
because this is giving you a form of commitment, you are later deemed unworthy of. It is a
commitment, that even when planned, backfires because it symbolises gifting you some
significance in the relationship. Abusers don’t like to give anything away, for free. By this
point, you are in shock and existing in a high state of anxiety. Your world as you knew and
expected it to be, has gone. Welcome to your monster.
There is no correct response in the face of being verbally or physically abused in front of
your children. Children will be used in the weaponry arsenal and forced to watch you being
lambasted daily but will, like you ‘bleed’ emotionally or physically. Noone escapes
unscathed. Children in refuge are broken and whilst you try to manage your own recovery,
this personal healing is often hindered with the hideous bubbling up of truths, now the
children are safe to share their experiences and express their true feelings.
Why wouldn’t you know what’s going on with your own kids in that regard? As a
mother, how could you miss that? Simply because as children grow in years and become
aware of abuse, they learn not to rock the boat, and their silence is both for self preservation
and protection, of you.
Option One: Hang your head in shame and say nothing. Just take it. This sets a very bad
example to your children who will normalise the lifestyle. Children can role model themselves
on what they see and display inappropriate behaviours, such as bullying at school. Girls
may, in the future unwittingly be drawn to this kind of relationship despite understanding the
anguish because to them, it’s normal.
Option Two: Defend yourself as best you can, in front of the kids. To let them know this is
unacceptable behaviour. This rarely ends well. Like every situation you will be firefighting in
this lifestyle, there is no getting it right. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
The lives of children in abusive families are far from ‘normal’. Children quickly learn to
understand limitations around loud music, fun, choice of TV, haircuts, fashion, glitter mess
etc. Children who make it to refuge require therapy for conditions such as OCD, self
harming, anxiety and physical manifestations of stress such as psoriasis. Control extends to
almost every element of your lives, including how you hold a knife and fork. Being left
handed, it was a problem in restaurants. Accidental spillages now come with a fear reflex.
My goal within refuge and beyond is to retrain little minds into having fun. Getting dirty is ok.
It is no coincidence that many women in refuge have brightly coloured hair, it’s a healthy
defiance. Because they can.
If, by this stage, you are wondering about your own relationship or that of a friend or family
member, it is important to understand that what may seem like low level domestic abuse that
seems excusable – for example blocking your exit if you try to leave a room to diffuse a
situation, pushing you down to even a soft landing – a couch, bed for example or the floor;
can go wrong in a split second, and is a step away from serious. Monitoring your movements
can be misconstrued as ‘protectiveness’, then it becomes your phone. The boundaries will
keep being pushed. It is simply unacceptable and dangerous. If you are experiencing this,
It’s most likely going to get more significant. Tried and tested.
What is unbelievable and sadly common, is the level of cruelty when you are most
vulnerable; mourning the loss of a loved one, pregnant or unexpectedly ill for example – it is
like a sick punishment, for being sick/unavailable. Perhaps not being able to maintain the
status quo and uphold domestic demands, work or look after the children as expected. You
are not supported, because you have disrupted the order of things and it creates domestic
and/or financial tension. Illness for example is out of the realms of normal control. You
become conditioned to the control and desensitised. You learn that it is the small things in
your story that shock people, you darent tell them the whole truth after seeing initial
reactions. As time progresses, the abuser has to find even more horrible ways to affect you.
They ramp up the cruelty, to make it count.
Relearning your freedom takes years. Start now. Do not hesitate. Go. Take back control of
your life. You can do this, no matter how bleak the outlook, your prize is your freedom. Take
every hand of help available. Remember yourself, your friends and family waiting in the
wings to support you. You are loved. Being free is liberating. Realising your self worth and
being able to uphold your values is empowering. As the complex web of lies you’ve been
sold for years, peel away like banana skins, it is liberating and validating.
Trust in your instincts, if your gut is telling you something is wrong, it’s because it probably
Do not ignore the red flags and make excuses to yourself, for your partner.
“ He hit her with shame. The past, false accusations, control, solitude, judgement,
abandonment, indifference. Fake love, control, insults – dressed up as jokes and yet…..
…..he never touched her”
This insight from within refuge has one purpose. To help people understand and with sincere
hope, to potentially save even one soul from many wasted and hopeless years in an abusive
relationship. A widely accepted & collective response from women in refuge to the most
commonly unasked questions and misconceptions. No words required to ask all these
questions, we see it in eyes and the involuntary societal reactions. It’s time to challenge
public perceptions harder and shine a beacon of light, on the darkness.
Rhea, Tori, Amy and Rachel (Dingwall Academy pupils – this poem was part of their Youth & Philanthropy Initiative competition presentation)
We all like a bevy
But nothing too heavy
Though some folk will take it too far
For we’ve all seen the sight
At the end of the night
Of someone being thrown from the bar
He just cannot stop
And then he takes a pop
When security tells him to go
He lashes with fists
For he’s totally pissed
And everyone out there’s his foe
So he looks for a fight
With whoever’s in sight
Doesn’t matter who with, cos he’s mad
So around town he roams
Till he’s finally home
And by then the red mist’s really bad
So he climbs up the stairs
To the bedroom that’s theirs
And he hauls her up out of the bed
As he blackens her eye
She thinks this time she’ll die
And he kicks her once more in the head
In the corner she cowers
As above her he towers
And he reaches his hands out to throttle
But this time she’s ready
Her hands are quite steady
As she whacks his head, once, with a bottle
Then he widens his eyes
With a look of surprise
For not once has she done this before
He falls down to the ground
Doesn’t utter a sound
As he lands on his back on the floor
In the morning he wakes
And his whole body shakes
As he searches the house for his wife
But she’s taken her stuff
Because she’s had enough
Of fearing that he’ll take her life
Late that night in the bar
Once more he goes too far
And they throw him out into the night
As he lies in the gutter
It’s his wife’s name he mutters
As he finally gives up the fight
© Sandra Proctor 2015
Let me tell you a story about a young boy and a girl. This young woman had no problem to tell anyone if they had over stepped a boundary. She knew her mind and she wasn’t afraid to say ‘No’.
This young woman was beautiful, talented and bright.
The young man was rather taken with her as he watched her rescuing some frogs and although he thought this pastime of hers was rather odd it gave him an idea – an experiment to try.
On his way home he caught two frogs from a nearby pond. He placed two pots on the stove, one with cool water and another which had already boiled. He threw a frog into each pan. The first frog landed into the boiling water and jumped out immediately, but the second frog stayed in its pan.
The young man carefully and gradually turned the temperature up and up and he noticed that the frog in the warming water barely moved.
He noticed that when the water was at boiling point, the frog stayed in the pan even though there was no lid on it. The frog could escape and hop out of the pan at any time but . . . it did not, even while it was being cooked alive. It didn’t seem to realise what was happening to it at all.
The boy started to think and wonder about the girl, he saw a scenario playing in his head. There was not much he needed to do to befriend her, he saw himself finding one or two things that she liked and he drew her to him.
Although he had no intention of caring, of being there or being a genuine friend to her. He could pretend he was smitten, that he wanted her and needed her. He would tell her that she was all he had and beg her not to leave, even when he behaved very badly indeed.
If he could not convince her that he was something she needed, or that he was truly sorry, why he could simply supply endless reasons why she should worry!
No one knew her like he did, no one cared for her like he did, no one loved her like he did.
Forgetting herself, and where her edges started, she was no longer standing tall. She would come to believe she wanted, loved and needed to be with him, and unsure if they had an end at all?
His temper would grow as the tension would grow and she began to realise that nothing she could do would fit the shape he would need, she just had to walk on the eggshells in between.
She would go back and forth with the little voice in her mind, she would ask to be treated better and occasionally find the courage to leave, but he had got so upset, he’d bruise and hit her.
Then, once he had pulled her to her knees he would pretend to be sorry and tell her he loved her, he was her friend and that this would never happen again, but it always did, again and again, and again.
These lies would be easy for others to see. In time though, she would believe them to be true and the little voice in her head would become quieter and quieter until it would eventually become silent.
It would no longer say ‘Jump, Jump little froggy, there’s no roof in your way, jump out!’
This scenario made the boy realise exactly what he would do. The next day after school he approached her ‘Hey, I have a surprise for you’ he said handing her a shoe box. She lifted it from him and peeked inside. Two little green frogs with bright pink bows on and the softest brown eyes stared up at her ‘Oh thank you’; she said ‘how did you know?’
He smiled as he knew she was caught, and just like that, off she set, down the treacherous path with her two little frogs, hand in hand with the Toad Prince!
I’m sorry that this story didn’t go the way you’d hoped, I could talk and tell all sorts of things about abuse that you probably wouldn’t want to believe, you’d probably ask why would anyone stay and choose to be treated this way?
Sun Tzu wrote in his book ‘The Art of War’ ‘Subdue the enemy without fighting’ – this is the best way I can think of describing coercive control in domestic abuse.
The act of convincing someone that there is no threat, that no harm will come to them, that they are safe, and they are loved and accepted whilst raging war in their heads and pretending to be their friend all the while.
Though most of us would probably not care to admit it, we are all a little more like the young woman with her little frogs than we’d like to think.
Would you have had the good sense to jump out of the pan unless the water was boiling when you were thrown in?
When my husband was first arrested for domestic abuse, the relief I felt was immense. My children and I had been living in a refuge for a month, and his bail conditions meant we could live in our own home without the constant anxiety of wondering what he was going to do next. Police Scotland were amazing when I reported him, I can’t praise them highly enough. I had spent a lot of time making sure I had good evidence before going to them, as I knew it would be really hard if I had to persuade a court to believe me, but I had no idea what lay ahead, if I had I’m sure now that I would not have reported him, and we would have remained living as we were.
Both myself and my 2 eldest children were cited as witnesses in the trial, I asked the Procurator Fiscal’s office early in the process if we would be cross examined and how hard the defence would go on us. I was assured that a trial is just about finding the truth, there would be no muck-slinging. In reality, the defence agent called my son & I outright liars, said I had entrapped my husband by taping him abusing me, and blamed me for his abuse by trying to make out that I was a drug user & having an affair (I wasn’t). It was one of the most horrendous days of my life and will haunt me for a very long time, as I’m sure it will my son.
My husband was convicted of threatening and abusive behaviour against me, and the charge of assaulting our child to injury was unproven. The verdict has healed the wounds imposed by our justice system to a degree, but it was a difficult and traumatic road to get to it. At times our experience in the justice system felt worse than the abuse from my husband. We have very good domestic abuse laws in Scotland, but the system for getting a conviction is flawed and allows perpetrators to continue their behaviour in a courtroom. This needs to change before we have a justice system that deals with both survivors & perpetrators fairly.