The Emotional Abuse Victim/Survivor Perspective

Emotional Abuse Under The 2018 Domestic Abuse Act- Part 5

Mary´s case

“I was disgusted throughout my case to learn Judges making decisions at child welfare hearings actually don’t have any training at all in Domestic Abuse!”. That´s what Mary, a 48-year-old Fife-council teacher declared.

Like many other women in Scotland, Mary has been emotionally and physically abused. She met her husband in 2000, married in 2001, and had her daughter in 2002. She owned her own property and car when she met him. He lived in army barracks and had nothing. When he moved in with her, he left the army. Initially, her husband was Prince Charming, but gradually became more and more emotionally abusive. He then became physically abusive towards her dog, and eventually to her. At this point, in 2006, she decided to leave the marriage. But the abuse did not stop. In fact, it got worse.

Her ex-husband approached her family, friends and neighbours, trying to isolate her. He even went as far as contacting her workplace and her school´s headteacher, making false claims regarding her mental health. Mary did not feel safe at her job, with her ex-husband constantly turning up, making complaints and false allegations against her. She was put in a position where she was not allowed to discuss the situation at work. She received little help from Fife Council social workers, but could not complain, since many of these workers were her colleagues. Overall, she felt unsupported. This has been going on since she left him and continues to this day.

“Emotional abuse happens subtly to the point you question yourself, you blame yourself for the other person’s actions, you’re in denial to begin with as it is hard to take in that someone you loved and was supposed to live you wants to hurt you constantly, humiliates you in front of others and reduce you to tears. (…) You feel like a slave in your own house”.

Eventually, her husband tried to kidnap her daughter. This is what crossed the line. She contacted the police as he packed a suitcase with his and their three-year-old daughter´s belongings, in addition to her daughter’s passport and his. He left the house declaring that he would take her daughter away, wherever and how long he wanted, and that she couldn’t do a thing about it.

Luckily, the police stopped him in the car, and brought her daughter back. This seems straight out of a film, but it is real life, and happens more than you think. The police then set up a follow up meeting with their Family Protection Unit. She received leaflets on domestic abuse and had to fill a checklist, and finally realized she was being abused.

“I was horrified to see in black and white the extent of the abuse”.

But this was not the first time she had heard about abuse. As a teacher, she received annual training in her school, along the other staff, on all forms of abuse. Despite the training, she was in denial this entire time, like most victims are. The basic steps of abuse, as she herself put it, are disbelief, denial, guilt and fear. It is really hard to accept you are being abused.

You need a lot of courage and strength to walk away. Mary felt drained, alone, guilty, and afraid of repercussions. She went through a strenuous process and countless all-nighters and is still going through all of that today.

Mary believes everybody failed her and her daughter, except the police: the local authority Children’s Reporter’s Office, social workers, and courts. Her social worker was struck off for falsifying reports and putting Mary´s daughter at risk of harm, letting her stay with her ex-husband. She reported the social worker and the false reports to the Data Protection Office. Her ex´s then girlfriend had a son who was known to the authorities for his “sexually inappropriate behaviour towards young children”, which was obviously very dangerous for her daughter, because of this son and her abusive ex-husband. She received no mental help at all and doesn´t trust anyone anymore.

Luckily, the police were very helpful. In fact, they were the most helpful authorities in this story. They advised her to press charges on several occasions, but she was always too afraid of repercussions to do so. When she finally went to the police station, she had to fill out a checklist in the police´s domestic abuse leaflet to see her degree of abuse. The list consisted of things like keeping money from you, isolating you from friend’s family, picking fault with things, telling you what you can/cannot wear, and putting you down. According to Mary, Scottish police received the same annual training she did as a teacher and are aware of abuse.

The Family Protection Unit of the police was very supportive but ultimately powerless to help in any way. They helped by fitting a black box panic alarm in her house, and her address was put on a tag for immediate police assistance. Overall, she believes people are becoming more aware of different kinds of abuse, but there still is a lack knowledge regarding the effects and impact it has on the victims.

“I am most definitely a victim of domestic abuse and of the court system. However, I am also a survivor”.

For her, court was “even worse than the actual abuse as it gave my ex a platform to humiliate and abuse even more”. To think that a victim/survivor thinks court is worse than abuse is shocking, and this should be a wakeup call to the authorities. The situation was not dealt with seriously, the court did not reprimand her ex-husband for lying, although evidence of abuse was provided in court. She kept a diary to present at court, police visits/calls and bank records showing her ex-husband emptied her bank account and their daughter´s savings, and paper trails of social work meetings. This is very traumatic for future and current victims. Apparently, in each session, there was a different judge, so there was no continuity in the case.

“The Judge´s attitude was appalling. I felt like I was being treated like a common criminal”,

Mary revealed. She now has no faith in the justice system and has very little respect for the courts. It should be common sense that no judge should hear a case unless they have undergone domestic abuse training, which Mary believes this had not been the case in her situation. Even though the courts were aware sexual abuse was going on with her daughter and her ex-husband, Mary stated that they insisted on her daughter having residential contact with her father. Court cost her a fortune and her case went on for years. She even had to list her house, as she couldn´t afford the mortgage.

Mary now no longer trusts anybody, nor does her daughter, and she is only now starting to regain some confidence back. She had to go through court procedures from 2006 until 2010, where she saw that judges are not given annual mandatory training in domestic abuse, neither are social workers.

The abuse has continued to the point where her ex-husband contacted CSA (Child Support Agency) and family allowance, to regain custody of his daughter on her 13th birthday. The CSA did nothing to help Mary, even though there was a court order in place which stated she had residential custody of her daughter. She couldn´t afford to go to court again, and didn´t feel like she could cope with the emotional process again. So, she lost her daughter.

Mary had a breakdown after that and was off work for approximately five months. She is now on medication and developed high blood pressure due to the stress. Her daughter only recently contacted her and is experiencing the same abuse with her father. She is now 17 and wants to leave but is afraid to.

“I’m a shell of the bright, bubbly person I once was”, Mary claimed.

She believes that the 2018 Domestic Abuse Act is a huge step forward but is meaningless if court officials are not given clear training or guidance annually. According to her, the police works very hard to bring cases to court, but courts are a huge problem.

Her advice for any victim/survivor out there is that you must “keep a diary, never have a meeting with any agency unless you have a witness with you, insist on paper work so there’s a paper trail, avoid phone calls as in my experience things can be lied about/ taken out of context and misconstrued. Make a Subject Access request to gather any data being held about them. Report any false information to The Information Commissioner’s Office”.

Since then, Mary also presented material at a training day with support agencies and helped with some domestic abuse projects. She still has to deal with abuse, but she grows stronger every day. The courts may have failed her, but she won´t fail herself.

Susan´s testimony

“I wanted to pretend nothing happened and felt like I was in a dream state and the whole situation was surreal”.

Susan, a strong-willed 44-year-old nurse and mother of three, is a survivor of both emotional and physical abuse. She wants to share her experience and give an honest perspective on abuse.

Initially, Susan thought that the abuse was only attentive behaviour. He wanted to be involved in every detail of her and her children’s life. He is not their birth father, so she thought he just wanted to be involved. But it started to feel suffocating when he would change the children’s clothes that she had laid out for the next day, tell her how to cook when he never would. She didn´t say anything at first, even though she had a sense of foreboding.

He then moved into her house, without even having a conversation about it. He moved her children’s belongings into their rooms, instead of the living room, where she always kept

them. Her abuser filled her house and loft with his belongings, including from his mother´s house. He bought them clothes that were not their style. “We looked like we were ready for an expedition up Everest. To this day I will never ever shop in bloody Mountain Warehouse”, she said. Her partner even would leave his laptop open, with very suggestive conversation with his ex, and would mock her children´s father in front of them.

Susan tried to convince herself that it wasn´t abuse, only interest for her wellbeing, so she dismissed a lot. She only truly realised it was abuse when it escalated to physical abuse. She confronted him, in the hopes of change, but he didn´t change. Susan believes that the physical abuse started because she couldn´t be controlled.

“I can’t think of exact time I thought I’d experienced emotional abuse. It is not until now, roughly eight years down the line I can map the relationship out. I do believe as a woman and a nurse I try to nurture people and make them better. I’m strong willed and I suppose in a way I would allow him to control me”.

Her neighbour phoned the police, as Susan had a head injury. She was taken to the hospital by the police, and she had a visit on discharge for forensics to take photos of her injuries. At the time, she felt very supported by the police, as she was clearly a victim, but the police were powerless in how they could help.

Her relationship ended after her head injury. She went through scans and exams, believing that the numbness to her right-hand side was the sign of having a stroke. She had horrific headaches, probably due to her head injury, and chronic stress. Almost the next day after

the injury, she was phoned by Women´s Aid, but she wasn´t ready to talk yet. The shock was too big.

Susan was assigned a liaison worker, by the police. The worker visited her weekly at home, whilst the children were at school. She mainly listened, and Susan grew to trust her since she offered caring advice when needed and was very attentive. Her main fear was the court case. It was arranged that she would be treated as a vulnerable witness and could go to the back door on the day of court. But Susan was terrified.

Her sleep became erratic due to the worry of the court case, and balancing working full time as a nurse, while being a mother to three children. Her friends, who lived on the same street, listened to her over her repeated worries, as did the police officers, and her supportive parents. She had mixed emotions, as she was glad her partner was out of their lives, and the family had good times again, but she was terrified about the court case.

The dreaded day arrived. As she tried to enter the back door of court, Susan was told she had to go in through the front door. She felt “hugely let down”, and explained the situation, but still had to go to the main door. Her abuser came over and stood right next to her, in an intimidating manner. She felt alone and scared, even with her friend next to her. The session never went ahead, and three months passed before it recalled.

“Court was one of the most stressful things I have ever went through in my life”, she declared.

She didn´t understand, and still doesn´t to this day, why her abuser had an assigned lawyer who had time with him to create their story, which was that she had tripped in the kitchen, causing her injuries. As for the lawyer representing her, she hadn´t introduced herself before entering the court room. Susan felt that her lawyer lacked empathy and wanted to ask her who she was there for. She saw her exchange laughs with the accused’s lawyer. It was a weird and stressful situation.

Finally recalled, her case was at the same time as four other cases and was in the same room as her abuser. Yet again, after six hours of waiting, her case didn´t go ahead, as a witness wasn´t available. Susan went through a lot of unnecessary stress for nothing. She also didn´t understand “why court sends you away for lunch for an hour. **** is a small town and I was terrified I’d end up in the same café as my abuser. I stressed he was following me”. Court, as for Mary, was the worst experience: stressful, unprofessional, and unhelpful.

Susan stated that some assigned helpers and therapists are better than others. She was “handed over” from her supportive police liaison officer to a therapist/volunteer at Women’s Aid. Susan felt this next person was not for her. “I thought she was crazier than me”, declared Susan. Women´s Aid also didn´t follow up. Listening is vital, and there is a strong need for proper support for victims/survivors.

“I would love to say to people in abusive situations that no matter how hard you try you can’t help or change these people. Please summon the strength to leave. Ask for help”.

Susan doesn´t think many people will recognise emotional abuse, as she didn´t at the time. She believes it´s great it is criminalised as of 2018, since victims and people close to them may recognise signs of emotional abuse.

“I wouldn’t want to go through a court case to prove emotional abuse. I went through hell with injuries and physical evidence for my abuser to only get six months community payback order. Police and charities may recognise this form of abuse, but I feel the courts let victims down”, she declared. And effectively, courts have let Mary and Susan down, whilst the police helped them.

Susan said that looking back, she was a vulnerable person who let a narcissistic person get close to her. But she is strong, and stronger than she thinks. If talking about her experience will help victims/survivors, she is glad to share it. “Sad thing is he wasn’t a stranger”, Susan declared.

Disclaimer

All the names mentioned in this article are fictitious, in order to provide the survivors´ anonymity.

Your case doesn´t have to be as extreme as these two women to be valid. Often times, many cases do not end up in court. If you think you are being abused, whatever kind of abuse, you are probably right. If you identify to the Scottish Government´s definition of domestic abuse, or relate in any way to these stories, even if it´s small, do some research and get help. Don´t tell yourself your abuse doesn´t matter because it does.

These testimonies are from two self-sufficient and career-oriented women, who still fell foul to emotional and physical abuse. Abuse can happen to anyone. Facts don´t change our minds, but hopefully some compassion and awareness can be raised.

Police Scotland seemed to be helpful, even if they don´t have a clear training, and same for all organisations and charities. Court in both cases was the worst part, even with evidence of emotional and physical abuse. Mary even admitted it was even worse than the actual abuse. Imagine going to court “only” for emotional abuse. Imagine relying on untrained Court officers, when you feel the lowest, and feel worse afterwards. Courts should have a training program, in order to understand, be empathetic and help the men and women who have to live this nightmare.

You should be able to take your case to Court, whatever the abuse, and get justice.

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