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Victim speaks out about the reality of life in an abusive relationship
Home Secretary Theresa May has said she wants police to improve the way they handle domestic violence. It is a national problem with 100,000 people at risk of serious harm or murder. Southampton Women’s Aid says there are 5,000 incidents of domestic violence reported to police in the city every year. And the majority of victims are aged 16 to 19. Rebecca Pearson meets Kate, who has rebuilt her life after falling into an abusive relationship at the age of 14
AS KATE opened the door she was grabbed by the neck.
Her necklace broke and the beads scattered across the floor.
“You shouldn’t make me so angry. I only get worked up because I love you,” he said.
That was when Kate realised she was in an abusive relationship.
James was her first serious boyfriend. They had met a year before when Kate was 14 and James was 18.
“He made me feel special and I felt so grown up as he was four years older than me,” Kate said.
“Our relationship progressed quickly and before I knew it there were all sorts of rules that he made me stick to. I wasn’t allowed to have male friends, we had to have sex every time we saw each other and I had to clear it with him before I wore any sort of dressy outfit.
“Being so young and feeling lucky to have an older man on my arm I thought it was the norm and went along with it all.
“It was only when I noticed the consequences if I didn’t stick to the rules that I started to feel trapped and alone.”
When Kate was 15 they found out they were going to have a baby. Although they were both young they decided to keep it.
But then they had their first major row and James grabbed her by the neck.
He apologised but Kate realised she couldn’t bring a child into their relationship.
When her mum found the antibiotics Kate was given after the abortion she wanted answers because Kate was so young.
Not knowing what to do Kate ran away with James.
“We moved from flat to flat, usually being thrown out for breaking things during our regular and violent rows. We got involved in drugs and this felt like the perfect escape for me,” she said.
But as time went on he became more controlling and beat her more often.
“I felt like his prisoner,” she said.
“He would cut up any clothes he thought made me look ‘like I was asking for it’ and although he was so laid back when people invited me out he would go crazy once we were alone if I ever agreed to go anywhere without him.
“We still had sex regularly but I had no choice. I sometimes cried quietly as it was happening, but it felt like James was all I had.”
Kate continued to lose her identity. She became dangerously underweight and her life revolved around hiding her bruises and making excuses for James.
“By this point I was desperate to feel something other than trapped but at the same time I loved him so much and felt like I couldn’t go home. I felt hopeless,” she said.
It wasn’t until a friend from Southampton came to visit that Kate was able to escape.
“James and I had a row in the early hours because he was jealous,” she said.
“I knew what was coming so I made a run for it. I tried to get to Charlotte who was asleep downstairs to flee from what was about to happen.
“This made no difference and he dragged me back upstairs. She woke up and followed.
“In a desperate bid to call for help I ran to my phone but he saw this and broke it into pieces.
“My friend jumped on him to stop him kicking and punching me.
“Between us we grabbed the phone pieces and ran. I called a friend to come and get us.
“As I sat there holding ice on my lumps and bruises I knew I couldn’t go back.”
Kate escaped back to Southampton and moved in with her sister. Eventually, in the protection of her family, Kate and James finally broke up. Kate got a job at a call centre as she began to rebuild her life.
“I was scared as I didn’t know who I was or even how to be me again,” she said. “Through work I started to meet normal people and I realised for the first time how wrong the way James had treated me was.
“It showed me a different way of life and I started to get my confidence back.
“It was such a long journey but eventually my health started to return and with that so did my personality.
“It took a few years of fighting my self-doubt and pity but eventually I found the person who would lift me to what I wanted to be.”
Kate credits her husband Paul, who she met six years ago, her friends and family for helping her find the strength to untie herself from her situation.
Realising the importance of having a support network like hers to eventually feel strong enough to leave an abusive relationship, she has become involved with Southampton Women’s Aid, where she helps other women affected by domestic violence.
“There are little things that will never go away. I can’t stand the sound of people rowing and I sometimes have issues with anxiety,” she said.
“But I haven’t let what happened to me dictate my life. The biggest change is my ambition.
“I can’t stress enough just how different my outlook is now.”
No real names have been used in this article to protect their identities
Women of any age can contact Southampton Women’s Aid directly and do not have to go to the police first.
A free helpline is open 10am-1pm Monday to Friday on 080 8801 0334. A 24-hour national helpline is also available by calling 0808 2000 247.
Women can also seek help by emailing email@example.com.
Men of any age, background or sexuality can contact the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327. The confidential helpline is free from landlines and mobiles connected to O2, Virgin and Vodafone networks and is open 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. A voicemail service is available and the charity aims to return calls within two days.
Men can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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