“I knew that if I stayed any longer he would kill me,” Grace* told us. She was the victim of domestic abuse and violence but has bravely shared her story with us to help anyone else going through something similar.
“It sounds like such a cliché but when I first met my husband, he was the perfect gentleman,” she said. But, in the end, Grace was forced to face a harsh truth: She had to find help and run before the escalating violence became fatal. However, he was not going to let her go easily.
Incidents of domestic abuse tend to increase at this time of year, during the family stresses of the ‘festive period’. The international 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence runs between 25 November and 10 December. If you or someone you know needs some advice, or urgently needs to go a place of safety, please see the information at the bottom of this article.
Domestic abuse can come in different forms, not only physical violence. It can also be emotional, financial or sexual. In fact, domestic abuse is defined as any controlling, coercive, threatening or violent behaviour, by someone who is, or has been, an intimate partner or a family member, regardless of gender or sexuality.
Grace was referred to a charity called Hestia by the family court. It offered her a safe place to stay, as well as practical and emotional support to help her begin to recover from her experience.
This brought a terrible cycle of domestic abuse to a close; but the marriage had started so differently and Grace finds it hard to believe how things changed so dramatically.
“It felt like a fairy tale; we were both doing well in our careers and we were in love,” she said. “On our wedding day, I couldn’t be happier.
“After we got married, my husband moved to Scotland after deciding to accept a new role. I was excited to start a new chapter in our lives and to start a family with him. I stayed behind for a few months because I had my own commitments to my business.
“However, during our time apart, that’s when everything started to change. I was stunned the first time he verbally abused me over the phone. He accused me of being with other men, would scream down the phone and called me names like whore and slut.
“As crazy as it sounds, I thought it was down to the pressure and frustration of not being together all the time for the first time.”
Beaten for three months before she escaped
After moving to Scotland, the verbal abuse turned physical when Grace’s husband wanted her to get a job but she was unable to at such short notice.
“The first time he put his hands on me, I was in the kitchen and he asked if I had been found a job yet,” she remembered. “When I responded ‘no’, he grabbed my neck, pushed my head against the wall and then threw me against the floor. This continued every day for three months. He would punch and choke me, spit at me and threaten to kill me.
“I knew that if I stayed any longer he would kill me. When I finally told my sister everything that I had been going through, she broke down completely over the phone. She told me I had to escape and had to come to London where I would be safe.”
Hearing her talk on the phone, Grace’s husband became furious.
“He got very angry and started beating me and tried to take my passport from me,” continued Grace. “But I managed to lock myself in a room; and then I ran out of the house while his friend held him back from beating me.”
She then took the first train to London to be with her family with only a few documents and the clothes on her back; and she reported her husband to the police.
A court hit Grace’s husband with a restraining order but he failed to turn up to the hearing.
“If I didn’t lock myself away that day and call the police, anything could have happened. Hestia is helping me to get my life back in order. They have provided me with a safe space to live with clothes, food and emotional support. I will be eternally grateful to the team.
“I will always live with the trauma of what I went through but I know that I have to remain strong and move on because he is finally out of my life.”
Hestia is a charity that, among other services, provides post-trauma support to victims and also refuges for those fleeing abuse. It operates right across London and has abuse refuges in 11 boroughs, including Ealing.
Last year, the charity helped more than 3,600 adults and children to recover from the trauma of domestic abuse. This includes 719 women and 668 children who were supported inside their refuges.
Its refuges are places of safety for any mother and child or single woman made homeless by domestic abuse. Staff offer emotional and practical support and ensure every service user has an up-to-date risk assessment and support plan tailored to their needs.
‘We are working tirelessly’
Ealing Council works with charities like Hestia, and other local organisations, to provide a support network for those in need of help.
Councillor Joanna Camadoo, cabinet member for community safety and inclusion, said: “Domestic violence disproportionately affects women and we are working tirelessly to raise awareness, to support victims at substantial risk of experiencing serious harm and provide intervention programmes for perpetrators with families to help break the cycle of abuse.
“We are doing this through education, supporting victims through the court process and using a partnership with numerous services to tackle across the borough.”
Do you need help?
There are several organisations around the borough that are dedicated to helping you.
But if you urgently need to leave your home and go to a place of safety, call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247. This service is free and is open 24 hours a day.
Having a personal safety plan is essential if you or your children are suffering abuse or living in a violent home. In an emergency the single most important factor is your physical safety and the safety of any children you may have. Click here to see the safety techniques you could use.
Hestia’s Bright Sky is a free mobile app providing support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know. For more information and to download the app visit http://www.hestia.org/brightsky
How to make a silent 999 call
The Home Office has a system in place called Silent Solutions, which helps callers, such as domestic abuse victims, who cannot speak to an operator.
If you have not been able to signal that your call is an emergency by coughing after dialling 999, you will be put through to the operator.
If you are in danger, you will be asked to dial “55”, otherwise the call will be terminated.
*Name changed to protect her identity.