Over the Bank Holiday weekend, I’ve been lucky enough to muck about in a field while volunteering at a kids festival, so I’ve been bouncy and smiley, friendly and helpful and patient and happy. It was a brilliant weekend, with only a migraine that nixed me from going back on Monday for the final day. I was also staying with my mother in law so I’ve been spoilt with amazing chilli and cheesecake as well as hugs aplenty. We seem to have similar taste in books, so a swap was always inevitable at some point and I came away with 3 new books, one of which I’ve just finished having started it last night. Billed as a psychological thriller and written from 4 people’s perspectives, “I Let You Go” by Clare Mackintoch, weaves the stories of a woman running from a horrendous hit-and-run of a 5 year old boy, the police that are searching for her, the mother of the deceased boy and husband of the woman on the run.
I’m not great at spotting twists in the story, nor can I see ahead when I’m reading. I didn’t expect was to feel nauseous while reading as the plot unfolded. I won’t spoil the ending if you want to read it but I will say this: be prepared. The story shows how easily the behaviour of the husband escalates from charming and attentive to controlling, jealous and violent. The words become bitter and accusatory, physical control escalates, eventually ending in catastrophe. For some, this book may require a trigger warning. For me, it made me eternally grateful that I saw the warning signs when I was a young and naive fresher and got the hell out.
I was at university in my 1st year when I met him. Like most things that year, I was forever trying new things, new clubs, new societies, new people and friendships. We met and somehow, I liked him. He said he loved me. He asked me to marry him and stupidly, I said yes. I left a drunken message on my parents voicemail which sparked panic when I failed to answer my phone due to sleeping off the hangover. I found several missed calls on my mobile from Devon and Cornwall Police requesting that I contact my parents and themselves to confirm that I was safe. Looking back, I was scared. Scared of rejection and scared of him, despite his quiet, almost sullen personality.
I was talked into staying out of lectures, staying with his sister in rural Devon, into staying with his parents. My choices of clothing were criticised, my food decided for me and my friends edged out in favour of staying in…always with him. I will never forgive myself for allowing him to spend all day asleep in my bed at student halls while my parents came to visit – in a darkened room, a whispered conversation between my mother and I about how fucked up this situation was and I was too scared and naive to see her truth. The truth from an outsider.
Like most things of this ilk, it didn’t get better. It only got worse but by then, I was starting to wise up a bit. I’d make him go home so I could sleep alone, unfettered by unwanted hands. I’d take the long way across campus, avoiding the computer lab where I knew he’d be. I’d started getting more involved in student politics and had people and friends who didn’t ignore me or tell me I was stupid and wrong. I should have got out sooner. The first time he hit me I was so shocked I couldn’t react. Watery apologies followed and I stayed. The second time, I left for good. Someone saw the hand marks and didn’t wait for an excuse. I never saw him again.
In the UK, domestic abuse will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men¹ – a number I never knew was so high. Domestic abuse counts for 16% of all violent crimes but is the least reported violent crime to the Police. I never reported him. In my head, I was alone and no one would believe me. He had instilled a fear in me that I was nothing and no one would believe me and that his dad was a hot-shot in the Fire Brigade so he had “clout” among the uniformed services. I believed him too – so naive and innocent at barely 19. There are charities across the world who work with women, men and children who have been victims of domestic abuse. They provide practical information and advice and offer free phone numbers for advice and support. In the UK, Refuge is the leading charity that help women and their children to escape domestic violence and Mankind is a charity especially for men who are experiencing abuse. People don’t think men can be victims but this is not a gender specific crime. Anyone can be abused. Anyone can be scared and anyone can be faced with the horrific truth that their partner is not the one they can trust to protect them.
I was one of the lucky ones; I got out and got on with my life. I never think of him. I’m no longer scared of him. I met new people who gave me courage and supported me. I married a bloody awesome chap who makes me laugh and never tells me I’m stupid.
In the USA, the National Domestic Violence Hotline offers support and advice to men and women experiencing DV and in Australia 1800 RESPECT offer nationwide DV support and advice and there are other charities across the world working to support those leaving domestic violence and abuse. Wherever you are in the world, there is help available. If you know someone in a situation that could be abusive, offer to help but don’t be surprised if they tell you you’re wrong. Be there when they get out. For those of you in the situation you never imagined you’d be in, there are ways out. Please don’t stay. You are worth everything, despite what they tell you. Your children are worth everything and they deserve to feel safe and loved.