‘I felt isolated – like I wasn’t in control of my life. I was on edge, walking on eggshells. I felt like it was never ever going to end. It wasn’t going to stop. I just thought: “This is it, this is my life”.
‘It was though I’d lost myself and was stuck in a hole. I felt lost – like I didn’t want to be here.
‘I was like a zombie – things were going on around me, but I wasn’t really there.’
These are the words of Louise, a domestic abuse survivor. But they’re not about her seven-year relationship with a man she says beat, strangled, sexually assaulted and controlled her. They’re about the months after it ended.
According to figures from several academic studies, including one called Long Journeys Toward Freedom, 90% of people who escape abusive relationships report that they continue to be victimised afterwards.
Louise is speaking to Metro.co.uk under a pseudonym because, even now, more than 10 years after she and her ex broke up, she still doesn’t feel safe.
She tells how she had been split up from her ex Victor* for a few months when he ‘did the ultimate thing’ to her. As her toddler slept in the same room, he allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted Louise.
‘I woke up and there was blood covering the sheets,’ she recalls. ‘I called my mum for the first time in a long time and she said “he’s assaulted you”, but I didn’t believe it because I just didn’t think he would be capable of something like that.’
Worried about what had happened to her, Louise went to see a doctor and he reportedly told her it was the ‘worst case of anal and vaginal damage he had ever seen’.
‘I still have no memory,’ the mum from the east of England says. ‘I get flashbacks sometimes, with his hands around my throat, but he would always do that.
‘When we had sex it was never making love, he was always on top of me, choking me.
‘And he wouldn’t stop – even when I was crying and there were tears. It’s like he got off on seeing me so vulnerable and so weak.’
It took Louise around three months to eventually go to the police. ‘I didn’t want to believe that he would assault me at the time,’ she says. ‘That’s why it took so long for me to speak out.’
She believes Victor attacked her so brutally that night as a form of revenge because she had been ‘getting herself back’ following their break up.
Louise explains: ‘When we first split up it was really hard because I always felt like I loved him and I thought he loved me. It’s only after you leave something like that and you realise that it’s not love.
‘But then I started making friends and I was going to the shops without curfews and I was walking, doing things with my children and going to the gym. I lost weight and I was getting me back. It felt nice and he didn’t like that.’
Despite no longer being with Victor, Louise says she was still plagued by an average of 50 texts and 25 calls a day from him asking where she was, what she was doing, wearing and who she was with.
‘It was very controlled – it was like we were still in the relationship,’ she says. ‘He didn’t want me but he didn’t want anyone else to have me.’
Desperate to be free from Victor, Louise was advised by a relative to tell him she had been on a date ‘to get him out of her life’.
So, she told him one day as the pair sat in his van. Her ex didn’t say anything, Louise recalls, but ‘gave her a horrible look and told her to get out of the van.’
Victor ‘went quiet’ for about two weeks then called and said he would babysit on a night she was due to go out for a work colleague’s birthday a few days later.
Although Louise thought the offer was ‘weird at the time’, he insisted he would sleep on sofa, so she gave him the benefit of the doubt.
However, once in her home, Victor’s behaviour turned dark from the off.
Louise says: ‘I’d lost about five stone in weight since I hadn’t been with him and I wore a dress for the first time. It went to my knee and it had sleeves on it – it was a nice outfit.
‘But when I came downstairs, he said “you look like a cheap slut”, and I instantly started crying and didn’t want to go. He just put me back in that place again and made me feel completely crap.
‘It was that night when I came home, he drugged and assaulted me.
‘He never wanted me to move on, he just wanted to keep me there in a place where I was still being controlled and he could do whatever he wanted.’
Although Victor was arrested, the Crown Prosecution Service felt there was not enough evidence to prosecute him. And while Louise’s story is shocking, it is sadly not surprising for Ellie Butt, the head of policy at domestic abuse charity Refuge.
‘Domestic abuse is all about power and control and leaving somebody that’s abusing you is a real challenge to their power,’ she tells Metro. ‘Lots of perpetrators continue to abuse and continue to try and control women after they’ve split up.’
Since her ordeal, Louise has had to rely on the family court system to obtain several non-molestation orders and make sure Victor is banned from seeing his son.
However, she says her ex continues to stalk and harass her to this day, posting her new address online, sharing photos of their son in his school uniform and getting family members to make contact.
‘There’s an inaccurate assumption that once the survivor has left, and perhaps got through the first kind of month or so, then the risk isn’t the same – when that is absolutely not true,’ she says.
Research shows that the point at which a victim leaves an abusive relationship, and the months which follow, are the most dangerous in terms of homicide.
The Femicide Census, which records information about the women killed by men in the UK ‘has consistently shown that separation is a risk factor for intimate partner femicides, or more accurately, a trigger for violent, abusive and/or controlling men’.
Its most recent report showed that 37% of the 57 women killed by their partners in 2020 had separated from them.
This number is substantially lower than the 43% recorded in 2019 and researchers believe this is because pandemic restrictions made it more difficult for women to leave abusive men.
Louise is terrified that Victor ‘is not yet finished with her’ as losing her and their son has left him desperate and ‘desperate people do desperate things’.
She tells how she knew she needed help when a friend noticed she had checked her front and back door was locked 15 times.
‘I literally came in to flick the kettle on to make tea, went back out to check front door, checked the back door, then made the tea and then I did it again,’ she remembers.
Since then, Louise has begun to receive counselling, which she has been told she will need for the rest of her life, to help with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Louise says this has helped her, along with bravely speaking out about her experience so people know how much needs to change.
Who to call if you need help
For emotional support you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, run by Refuge and Women’s Aid, on 0808 2000 247.
If you are in an LGBT relationship you can also call the helpline run by Broken Rainbow and Galop UK, on 0300 999 5428 or 0800 9995428.
Male victims can call also the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327.
Metro.co.uk has extensively covered how multiple domestic abuse survivors feel unprotected by the police and the criminal justice system, with many experts and survivors blaming a lack of understanding about domestic abuse for frequently poor responses.
However, Ellie says ‘it is not good enough that only some people understand it – this is not something that police officers come across every now and again.’
Indeed, police in England and Wales recorded 1,500,369 domestic abuse-related incidents in the year ending in March 2022.
Ellie says this prevalence should mean that ‘it should be an absolute basic condition for being able to do a police job – because it’s so much of that job’.
She goes on: ‘We wouldn’t tolerate police officers not really understanding what a burglary is, yet we seem to tolerate them not really understanding what domestic abuse is.’
‘It takes a lot for anyone to speak out about domestic abuse,’ says Louise, adding that it’s imperative for survivors to know ‘they are not alone and it’s not their fault’.
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