Ssshhh! Don't Tell Anyone!
By Gemma Leon for (March 2010)

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones…

In the UK alone domestic violence kills (on average) two women a week. From my makeup artist to my colleague at work, they all have a story to tell about abuse. It's the words that make you feel so small that you can't even look at yourself in the mirror; or the "innocent" slap that is closely followed by a remorseful apology. Abuse takes many forms: it can be sexual, physical, emotional or verbal.

"I was once in a harmful relationship where a person I knew and loved was continuously threatening to me. Every insult carved a chunk out of me and when the relationship ended (after four years) I had lost my identity. I didn't dare tell my parents about his humiliation or his pushes or hitting - because I loved him..."

Battered self confidence is one thing but what happens when it becomes physical? Katie* suffered daily abuse for years: "He would kick me, slap me, push me, trip me over, throw things at me, stand on my feet, yell abuse and call me names… but I learnt to cope with it by trying to make him happy. I believed that it was my fault or something that the children had done wrong, so I worked tirelessly to make home life as stress free as possible."

Katie only left when her partner started to lash out at their children. She contacted a women's centre that helped her get an injunction; regain all the relationships she had cut off and began to rebuild her life again. Since then she has had counselling and says that she affirms herself positively every day to get her self esteem back on track.

The Mind Games Break You

Marilyn* was with a control freak for 12 years before she left. "He never hit me but he wanted to control everything I did. I had to be home before he was and if I was late he would turn out all the lights and refuse to speak to me. One day he made so much fun of my driving skills that I got out and said "You take over then!" He drove away leaving me on the sidewalk at 10pm at night, in the middle of nowhere... I couldn't believe it. I had to walk home in the dark and got back at 3am."

Jessica* recalls the same kind of experience: "I wasn't allowed to walk in front of him at anytime, or he would accuse me of disrespecting him. I wasn’t allowed to choose the dates we went on (if I tried to we would stay home). I couldn’t speak to other men – married or single, at work or socially - or he would accuse me of cheating. I lived in constant fear of losing that relationship and worked so hard to meet his criteria.

In the end he was the one cheating! It destroyed me. I had invested so much time and effort trying to be the perfect partner: to like what he liked and sacrificing myself constantly; only for him to go and find someone else. I felt used."

Although six years have passed, for Diane* the scars of her abuse are still a struggle. "I battle everyday with who I am; telling myself that I am worth it and that next time will be better." (She cries as she speaks to me, which makes me emotional even as I write).

She speaks about the horrific years of being forced to sleep with a man that she once loved. "I think that I hated him in the end and it has taken my every bit of willpower to stop reliving the nightmare, day after day..."

She tells me, between sobs, that she was forced to commit lewd acts in parks and even on public toilet floors, or she would be insulted or beaten.  Her scars aren’t apparent – apart from the emotional ones that rip through her heart – because she was beaten with soft objects that wouldn’t leave a trace.

"I felt ashamed" she says. "Today, my fight is to believe that that man was bad and there are good men out there. My perception of love and sexual intimacy has been ruined by a man that wasn't good. Not all men are like that...?" She says looking to me with doubt shadowing her face.

I Know What Love Isn't...

Sandra* met her husband at church, so she ignored the red flags and married him anyway. "The first time he was abusive was during our engagement. He slapped me across the face because he had a stressful day at work.” He apologized and that was the last of it…until they actually got married.

"The slap turned into violence and after six months the honeymoon was well and truly over. I wanted a divorce. He told me that he would kill me and my parents if I ever left him." Out of fear for their lives, I stayed, hoping that things would get better. They didn't." After some time Sandra became a prisoner in her own home: he cut off visits from friends and family and even stopped her from going to church. "I had to get home from work within 15 minutes or he would accuse me of cheating and the torture would start."

Everything changed when she saw a true movie about a woman in a similar situation. She had killed her husband to be free from him but Sandra didn't have the guts to do that. However, it gave her the strength to fight back. "That night when he hit me, I hit back. Then he spat in my face and I spat back. I stood my ground - expecting the beating - but courageous anyway. I was tired of being a victim. He didn't lash out at me! Instead he called the police and told them that he was a victim of domestic violence!" Thankfully the police didn't believe him and she later won her case against him in family court.

Silence is a Killer

The thing that all of these women have in common is that abuse hurt them. Don’t let silence kill you. You are not alone. In any one year, there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women from partners or former partners. That is a huge statistic. For many the scars are so deep that they will struggle with them forever. Don’t allow the fear of being humiliated, or feelings of failure rob you of your right to freedom…and happiness.  Get help for you and for the abuser by bringing it to light. This is one secret that you should tell.

Self Love

Healthy relationships involve respect, trust and consideration. Self love is knowing your value and appreciating your life, regardless of your flaws and mistakes. It is knowing that you deserve to love and be loved.

No one has the right to hit, slap, ridicule or belittle you. We are the very essence of God's Being - His own personal work of art; and no one has the right to damage us.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”
Genesis 1:26

This means that we have the right to think for ourselves, keep healthy friendships, be part of a family and be free to be everything that God intended us to be. No one should suppress that. Loving a person that abuses you is not enough to make it stop. Love yourself. Believe that you are strong enough; understand that you deserve better and reach out to people who can help you.

I asked all of these women why they stayed and for most the answer was the same: “I don't know.”

So now you know better, do better.

Helpful Numbers:
Removing All Hurt And Abuse (RAHAB) - Women who help women struggling with abuse. Call Now: 020 7686 6000
24 Hr Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247

*Names changed