Life after domestic violence and abuse: ongoing harassment

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 ‘harassment’ is used to cover offences that ’cause alarm or distress. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 created two new offences of stalking. The term stalking is not specifically defined but examples include ‘following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media’. Chloe’s relationship began after she had posted some business adverts on community and personal websites. Her partner found out about her via these websites and when he approached her ‘he knew exactly what buttons to press to create a bond’.

For many victims of domestic violence and abuse, harassment and stalking can be a particular problem post-separation, as ex-partners try to maintain their control. This is why leaving can be so dangerous (see ‘Leaving a violent or abusive partner‘, ‘Domestic violence and abuse: why women couldn’t just leave‘). Women described partners seeking them out after the relationship had ended, continuing to pester and intimidate them with threats, turning up at their workplace or cruising up and down their neighbourhood in a car, watching out for them.

Mandy was harassed very publicly when her ex-partner painted a message on road bridges near her home. Many people who saw the message thought it was a romantic gesture, whereas in fact it was extremely disturbing for Mandy:

‘I was totally freaked. Because those bridges are walking distance from my house and he lives some thirty miles away, so he’s been hanging round the house and we’re now, what, four, five months on.’

Charlotte’s ex-partner decided to return and live at the family home, where he carried on with his controlling behaviour.

Charlotte described her ex-partner moving back home and refusing to leave although no-one wanted him there (read by a professional).

Age at interview 38

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Using children or other family members

Some women such as Kate and Tasha described how their ex-partners used children as a means of continuing to harass and control them (see ‘Impact of domestic violence and abuse on children‘). Women reported their ex turning up at their house despite a non-molestation order, or trying to gain access to children by turning up at their school. Kate’s partner subjected her to a ‘campaign’ of harassment after they separated, following her in his car and turning up at the children’s school. She got support from the school and from friends and she got an emergency non-molestation order.

After they separated, Kate’s ex made lots of phone calls, and sent numerous text messages, emails and videos, as well as turning up unexpectedly demanding to see the children.

Age at interview 44

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Tasha’s ex-partner was only allowed to contact his children by sending letters. He used these as an opportunity to be abusive to her.

Tasha described her ex-partner’s refusal to let go’s and how he would send letters in which he was nasty about her to their children

Age at interview 40

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Victoria described how her ex took their child away for the weekend, but didn’t bring him back for six days. Victoria described ‘just being in a total state’ as she wondered how long her child would be kept away from her.

Lindsay left her husband after a brief abusive marriage but endured years of ‘hell’ as he constantly harassed her and her family until she felt like ‘prisoner of war’ and her spirit was broken.

Lindsay was abused for years by her ex-husband who claimed that she was mentally unbalanced’s. Eventually, because of his lies and manipulation, she thought she had lost her mind, and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Age at interview 35

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Some women described how their ex-partners tried to turn children against them. This was the case for Jessica as her ex manipulated her two adult children by giving them money and ‘bad-mouthing’ her. Khalilda also found that her ex-partner was trying to use money to ensure that the children were on his side.

After leaving her marriage of twenty-seven years, Jessica realised that she had lost everything, including her children, but she is now working on rebuilding her life as a new me.

Age at interview 46

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Khalida’s husband helped his daughters out financially and through them he tried to access his son (read by a professional).

Age at interview 58

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Being tracked, stalked, and living in fear

After ending an abusive relationship, women tried to find a place of safety for themselves and their children, which was unknown to the ex-partner. However, they remained fearful of being found. Philippa, for example, was concerned that her ex-partner would find her through her parents.

Philippa described trying to remain hidden because of her ex-partner’s previous threats to kill her if she ever took the children away.

Age at interview 54

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Alonya described how her husband kept finding her, sending harassing texts and making up stories about her. He had frequently ‘surprised her’ with acts of physical and psychological abuse and even though she had left, with her daughter, she remained fearful, anxious and sleepless in case he turned up.

Alonya felt the only solution was to disappear completely’s, change her name and start a whole new life to stop her abusive partner tracing her.

Age at interview 31

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Ana found that her ex-partner was so controlling and jealous that even after the relationship was over, he threatened to kill her when he thought she was seeing someone else. As she said: ‘He just kept on harassing me, harassing me, harassing me’. For safety, she moved into a refuge with her children.

After threats to kill her, Ana with the support of a Domestic Violence and Abuse agency and the police, moved into a women’s refuge to keep her and the children safe after her ex broke a non-molestation order (played by an actor).

Age at interview 32

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Sexual harassment and abuse after leaving the relationship

A few women experienced ongoing sexual abuse by their ex-partners. Both Tina and Victoria described how their ex would only give money to support the children if they first had sex with him. Tina said:

‘He was giving me like 500 quid and saying, ‘Pay the bills, electric and get food’. And then, another time he come in and he made me have sex with him, he put a fiver on the side and said, ‘There you go, that’s all you’re worth’. And walked out.’

Likewise, Victoria’s ex attempted to blackmail her into having sex with him in return for child maintenance payments, so that she felt like a prostitute.

Support from the police for harassment

Liz’s husband left the house after a violent argument when Liz discovered he had abused their daughter as well as her. Liz was fearful when her husband, a violent angry man, turned up at the house to collect his belongings.

Liz feared for her own and her daughter’s life as she rang the police after her husband turned up at their house.

Age at interview 46

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Shaina described how ‘traumatic’ it was when her ex turned up at her house, tapping on the window and causing their daughter to have a panic attack. She phoned a friend who advised her to call the police.

Shaina described her ex-partner turning up at her door, and the panic this caused her daughter.

Age at interview 32

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Women were, however, frequently disappointed in the police response to harassment. They felt frustrated and fearful when they were told that there had to be clear evidence of a threat of physical harm, and there was little repercussion for men who broke court injunctions such as a non-molestation order.

Tasha felt that police are a lot more clued up now about domestic violence’s but she was frustrated by their limited ability to prevent unwanted contact from her ex.

Age at interview 40

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For many women, this form of abuse began or intensified after they had left. Several women found that being prepared for the manipulative tactics used by ex-partners could help to lessen the impact.

Despite ongoing harassment for many women, the impact of leaving their abusive partner was generally accompanied by a sense of relief and the start of a new, independent life. (See ‘Life after domestic violence and abuse: taking back control‘.)