Domestic Violence Services Save Lives and Families

Regular S&C contributor Christine Lawrence urges Portsmouth City Council to reconsider the decision to cut domestic violence services in Portsmouth in 2017/18.

I was more than horrified to hear of Portsmouth City Council’s decision to cut funding to the Early Intervention Project, the council’s service for victims and survivors of domestic violence.  What are they thinking taking away funding from one of the most important agencies in town?

Fifteen years ago I was at the height of my career.  I was a Senior Manager in the NHS with years of experience working with drug users and people with alcohol problems, both of which often combined with mental health issues, physical illnesses and those affected with HIV and AIDS.  Often my clients were women and several were in abusive relationships.  More often than not I was able to assist some of those women and their children to escape from the abuse by helping them to contact EIP, or what was then known as the local Women’s Aid Service.

I was a strong woman and was well respected in my work.  Yet at home it was a different story.  I would drive home from work at night, my anxiety rising the closer I came to home.  By the time I arrived, I had transformed into a quivering wreck.

I lived with a controlling man, a person I had once loved, had married and had a beautiful daughter with.  When I look back on those years now, I don’t think I would have put up with it for so long if had it not been for my daughter.  In the end, however, it was she that gave me the push to end it.  She was seven years old.

My husband never hurt me physically, until the end.  Instead he chipped away at my confidence bit by bit, turning me into a terrified, insecure wreck of a woman.  Somehow though, I was able to keep strong at work.  It was as though I were two people – the strong manager during working hours and a doormat at home.

Oh, I did fight against him many times, even told him that I couldn’t go on any longer.  Yes, I did that quite a few times but he wore me down each time by repeatedly waking me up over and over again during the night.  It was like the torture of a dripping tap – I’d drop off to sleep exhausted and ten minutes later he would wake me up again to another argument.  Eventually I would break down, say I was sorry and that I didn’t mean it.  Once he threatened to kill himself and another time he threatened to kill our daughter.  I got to the point where I talked myself into believing that it was for the best that I should stay with him, at least until our daughter was grown.

I could tell you more about his controlling behaviour, but that’s not why I’m writing this.  I had friends at the time but few had experience of this kind of thing, and even if they did, I didn’t want to burden them with my troubles anymore.  I got sick of hearing my own voice talking about it to close friends, knowing that they could do nothing for me.

Eventually I realised that staying in this relationship wasn’t doing my daughter any good, on the contrary, it was probably harming her – she was getting caught up in his controlling behaviour. She was forbidden to have friends in to play and to spend time with her brother, my son from a previous marriage who also lived with us and was also effected by my husband’s behaviour.  I was devastated but couldn’t find a way to get free.

I always carried around with me in my work diary the telephone number of the Women’s Aid Service and one day, whilst sitting alone in my office, I picked up the phone and called.  I was desperate for help but extremely embarrassed and I didn’t want to give my name.  I guessed that they would know who I was, that I’d probably been at conferences with many of the Women’s Aid Workers.  We made an arrangement for me to meet an outreach worker in a safe house.  They were happy to work with me without knowing my name.

When I talked with the outreach worker about my situation it was a great relief.  Just to have someone to listen to me and to have my fears taken seriously was extremely important to me at the time.  After nearly ten years, at last I had someone who not only understood what I was going through, but could give me practical support and advice.  She made me feel that was was happening to me was real and not imagined, that I wasn’t going mad, and that I could find the strength to get out of it.  Even so, I didn’t really believe her when she warned my to be careful, that controlling partners often turn to physical violence when they realise that they no longer have control over their victim.

Later, when I was in A & E on that final night of my marriage, I was shocked at how unsurprised the hospital staff were about what had happened to me.  Whilst patching my wounds, I was told that they saw many women like me, often much worse; one nurse told me that she’d been in a similar situation herself.  As for me, I had never been attacked before, not even after nearly thirty years of working with people who were often disturbed either by mental health issues, drugs or alcohol.  Being attacked in my own home was the last thing I expected.

One thing I do know is that without the support of Women’s Aid I wouldn’t have found the courage or even known how to get to the point where I could say ‘Enough. That’s enough.”

Without Women’s Aid I don’t think I would have got my life back and without EIP, I fear many other victims of abuse will never get the chance.

Photography from Sarah Cheverton.