‘I’ll never get over it, but at least I’m free’

A domestic violence victim
A domestic violence victim

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It begins with the small things – the way you dress or what you choose to cook for dinner.

It can then escalate into something much, much worse.

Mum-of-two Amy – not her real name – suffered seven years of domestic abuse at the hands of her violent partner.

The extreme physical violence left her with serious injuries including a perforated eardrum and a long-term injury to her neck.

But she’s not alone.

Last year there were 2,503 incidents of domestic violence reported across our area.

Today Amy tells her story to The News, in the hope of convincing others to get out of violent relationships.

‘It’s frightening and incredibly confusing,’ she says.

‘Although you are experiencing the violence and the control, you still experience the nice side of them.

‘You are torn between two people – the violent person and the caring person.

‘The first incident when I called the police was about six months into the relationship.

‘The incident was so severe and my son witnessed it. Neighbours had phoned the police as well.’

Amy said being part of an abusive relationship completely changed the way she lived her life.

‘You end up a bit like a robot,’ she said.

‘It can start with very little things to begin with like the way you might dress or the way you are looking one day. That will have a knock-on effect on your confidence.

‘Then you start to condition yourself into behaving in a certain way and watching what you do.

‘There is always something. When you have got children you try and do everything you can to make it as safe as it can be.

‘That’s why it’s so important to have awareness raising campaigns to see exactly what domestic abuse is. Some people might think it’s normal.’

Amy is concerned that many women might be hiding their abuse from the police.

‘People don’t want any involvement with the police, especially if they have children,’ she said.

‘They don’t want social care in the house. It’s quite controlling and damaging to your self-esteem.’

Although it has been years now since Amy left her partner, she said it’s still very raw and difficult to deal with.

‘It’s a grieving process. It’s about feeling in control of your own feelings.

‘Even now I still have really bad days and I think perhaps it will be ok if I go back.

‘But the other side of me thinks don’t be so stupid.

‘I don’t think it will be something which will ever leave you. It becomes better over time.’

Shonagh Dillon is the chief executive officer of Aurora New Dawn, a Portsmouth-based support service and campaigning centre for women suffering from domestic abuse.

She said that on average, a woman will experience domestic abuse about 35 times before the police are contacted.

‘I have supported a lot of women who have never contacted the police at all or who haven’t used the criminal justice agencies,’ she said.

‘It might be that if their perpertrator is in employment a criminal record may affect his job which would have dire consequences on the finances for the whole family.

‘People do work with services without ever contacting the police.

‘Unless they are at risk of serious harm or murder the agency doesn’t have a duty to forward it on to the police.

‘A lot of people don’t want the police involved at all.

‘Women will move to other parts of the country.

‘Sometimes abuse isn’t just physical. It’s psychological, emotional and it’s about control.

‘There might be some physical violence but that might be part of what they are experiencing.

‘There is always a real shame attached to having to call the police, especially if you have got children.

‘Agencies including the police are working really hard to improve services.

‘I would encourage people to call 999 if they are in immediate danger. There are alternatives. They can call the national helpline or they can call their housing officer. There are lots of other people who they can speak to.’

Shonagh added that financial difficulties could lead to an increase in incidents.

‘The current climate will have an impact,’ she said.

‘It’s an added pressure. With an already-controlling relationship, it can be a ticking timebomb.

‘If you have got two or three children it’s just another thing that people have to deal with.

‘So calling the police might not be an option. Picking up the phone and calling the police or calling anyone is a very brave thing to do.

‘As soon as you say it out loud, it’s happening. That first step can be the bravest but also the scariest because you are admitting that it’s happening.’

Figures received by Hampshire Police show that the number of domestic abuse incidents reported in the past year have actually gone down.

But Det Chief Insp Ben Snuggs fears that this is not an accurate representation, as many women may be too scared to come forward and are putting off reporting incidents to the police.

Det Chief Insp Snuggs said: ‘We would encourage victims to come forward. We want to create an environment where people are supported. We want people to talk to us in the first instance.

‘But it’s very difficult to come to any firm conclusions. We don’t know if it does lead to fewer domestic reports.

‘In general terms it is difficult. In one sense it’s good that less domestic abuse is being reported but we are encouraging people to report offences.

‘So I wouldn’t be alarmed if the numbers had increased.

‘I need to understand why the figures have reduced. Are people less confident in coming forward?

‘Or is there less domestic abuse in the area? That would be excellent news.

‘We are taking a more robust attitude towards offenders.

‘It might be the fact that there are fewer reports because we are better targeting repeat offenders.

‘We understand that domestic abuse is sometimes very difficult to try and see through if you are a victim because of all sorts of reasons.

‘It could be the control that the perpetrator puts the victim under or financial pressure.

‘In terms of the way that the police support victims, we are far more active at that now than ever before.

‘We will always treat a person coming forward with respect and listen to what they are saying so that we can understand and make sure that they are safe.

‘If people are suffering domestic abuse then we have dedicated public protection teams with officers specially trained to provide support.’

This Thursday is Women’s International Day in an event called Building Bridges to Peace.

Women from around the world will gather together on bridges to remember those women that have lost their lives to violence.

A group will gather in Gunwharf Quays at the City Quay Bridge at 5pm and will release 200 white balloons.