The opportunity for women to share their experiences of abuse can empower both them and others. Here, the women speak directly to those who may be currently experiencing abuse.
All the women had survived and left at least one abusive relationship. Their main messages to women currently in an abusive relationship are ‘You don’t have to put up with it’, ‘Get help’, ‘Leave’ and ‘There is a better life out there’. They also offered advice on how to recognise abusive behaviour.
As Jacqui said:
‘Do not put up with it. You are worth more, if someone is making your life hell and miserable, don’t put up with it, there is no excuse at all, and you will be happier, I can promise you, you will be happier’.
Penny said, ‘Whatever you’re getting out to it’s not as bad as what you’re in’. She urges women to use the helplines, their friends and other forms of help.
Advice to leave
Women knew, from their own experience, that you cannot ‘fix’ an abusive relationship, however much they still loved their partner or clung on to the hope that he would change. The only option is to ‘get out’, but only when the time is right and it is safe to do so, and ideally with help from someone who understands domestic violence and abuse.
Women, like Tina, warned that things would get worse over time and not to delay, while Philippa urged women to get themselves in a safe situation rather than ‘being carried out in a body bag’.
It took Julia many years from making the decision to leave to actually doing it, a process that involved splitting up and re-uniting before finally leaving. She stressed the need for women to take time to make the decision to leave because of threats from their partner.
Stephanie said women are ‘brainwashed’ to believe they cannot live without their abusive partner, but they will survive and be fine. She said how important it is not to ‘normalise’ abusive behaviour. Nessa wishes she had left sooner.
Women said that leaving was difficult but worth it, it was important to focus on the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Tasha stayed for years because ‘you feel as though it’s going to help the situation by not making them angry’. Ana urges women not to give up, however low they feel, and to keep hope alive.
Reading the signs and gathering evidence
Most of the women we spoke to did not recognise that the relationship was abusive when they were in it (see ‘Recognising domestic violence and abuse‘). They were keen to suggest warning signs for women to look out for, particularly for psychological abuse and controlling behaviour. Chloe urges women to take off the ‘rose-tinted glasses’ and see what is really there. As Sarah says ‘You don’t have to be hit to be abused ,.ring a helpline’. For Kate an abusive relationship is:
‘Where it’s a one-way path ,when you try to raise an issue but it can’t get resolved, you can’t negotiate,if your partner isn’t prepared to listen but dismisses you,’
Sarah said her ‘eyes were shut’. She also warned against stereotyping. A confident, professional woman, her message is that domestic abuse can happen to anyone.
Tanya feels that that women should not put up with a man who ‘cheats on you regularly’, who ‘makes you feel sad and drives away all your friends, and you just feel a bit stuck’. She changed from someone who was ‘crying all the time’ to ‘feeling it’s great’ after leaving.
Women said how important it is to gather evidence of abuse in case of legal proceedings. Tina and Philippa, on the advice of the police, kept a secret diary of all abusive contacts. Philippa recorded 140 incidents of abuse that she passed on to her solicitor.
Advice to speak out and get help
Mandy urges women to ‘tell somebody you trust ,there’s help out there, whether it’s a GP, a parent, or a trusted friend, even just somebody at work, they can see it from another perspective’. Mandy’s counsellor ‘opened [her] eyes to what was actually going on’.
Listening, rather than giving advice, to women who are opening up about an abusive relationship was seen as a crucial first step. Alonya said, ‘You can’t be pushed’ but things changed for her when a police officer listened to her for the first time. She says you need at least an hour to get the message across.
Sarah, Tasha and others, urge women to ‘ring a helpline, actually talk to someone who knows about it’, to ‘use people like Women’s Aid’. Catherine encourages women to get help ‘even if you have the slightest inkling’.
Put yourself first
Women stress the damage caused to themselves and their children by an abusive relationship, and how ‘wonderful’ the freedom to live their own life now feels. Jane said, ‘You must put yourself first, put your children first’ rather than trying to make your partner happy. Lolita said the most important message is to ‘love yourself’ first and foremost.