The first time he hit me we were on our way to see a friend. He had stayed up all night drinking, and when I tried to wake him up, he threw a chair at me as I walked away from him. It hit me on the back of the head.
The first time he broke one of my bones was on my birthday. By this point, I was self-conscious about my appearance after months of comments about my weight, my clothes, and other little things he used to say to demean me. He would tell me that it was my fault he drank, or got angry, or violent. In a way I didn’t believe him, but when somebody tells you these things every day you begin to doubt yourself, and start to wonder if it was something you did wrong to end up with someone like this.
I’d asked him to take a photo of me with our dog. He accused me of posting photos on Facebook so I could sleep with other men. He grabbed my hand, and when I tried to turn away from him his grip tightened, and I heard the bone in my thumb snap as it broke The next morning, he took me to hospital and I lied to the nurse about how it had happened.
After that, it became a regular occurrence. Domestic violence often escalates, and after that first time, he broke my nose and fractured my wrist a few months later. Our friends just thought I was accident prone. He threatened to take the dog away from me if I kicked him out, and one time the told me he would hurt the puppy if I left him. One night he told me he could smother me with a pillow, and it would be my own fault for driving him to do it.
He tried to control every aspect of my life. If I came home late after classes, he would accuse me of cheating on him. Every day I dreaded coming back to the flat, because I was never sure if he would take his anger out on me or if he would just punch a hole in the wall.
I was embarrassed to leave him, because I thought at the time the questions people might ask would be worse to endure than what he was doing to me. I hated him so much, and I hated myself for staying with him. Barely a day went by without him telling me everything I did was wrong, from my “slutty” clothes to my taste in music. He would start arguments with my friends and blame them for our problems. He accused me of sleeping with other men. He stank of whisky, all the time, but he accused me of taking drugs behind his back though he knew I didn’t do them. I felt isolated from my old friends, and I didn’t know my new uni friends well enough to confide in them.
The few times I did try to end things, he would take the dog, only to phone me hours later begging for me to let him back into the house, telling me my puppy was cold and wanted to come home. I let him back in every time.
I wish I could have told my younger self that what he was doing wasn’t okay, that the things he was telling me about myself just weren’t true, and that things were never going to get better until I left him.
I consider myself as lucky. Some things have happened in my life that people might be shocked to hear about, but I’m here and I am relatively unscathed. I’m also lucky in that one day, he got careless and hit me in public. I remember trying to walk away from him; I remember his fist coming towards my face and thinking that this wasn’t even the worst he had ever done. We were in front of a Costa Coffee less than five minutes away from the flat. The police were amazing; he was picked up and taken to the station within the hour. On the Monday, a lovely woman from Lothian and Borders Domestic Abuse Victim Support phoned to let me know a temporary restraining order had been put in place until the court hearing.
On the day of his court hearing, I was put in a room with other women who were also victims of domestic abuse. We had each gone through the same things, and it was the first time I felt able to openly talk about what he had done to me. Each woman there had their own reasons for staying: some had children, some were afraid because their abuser had threatened their families. Some just felt they had no other options.
I had never openly identified as a feminist before; it always seemed to be something other women were, ones who were stronger or more outspoken than I was. Sitting in that room with women who had been through the same things I had, who were different in so many ways but were all trying to move on with our lives after being beaten down, abused and treated like shit, I realised the importance of speaking up.
Domestic abuse is something that society tries to hide behind closed doors; the emotional, psychological and physical intimidation is something we rarely talk about because it makes us uncomfortable to think someone we trust could be capable of hurting us. It’s about control, it’s deliberate, and the impact on the abused can go beyond bruises and broken bones.
In Scotland alone, almost 60,000 cases were reported in the last year and hasn’t shown any signs of decline (Scottish Government 2014/2015). In England and Wales, this means that one in every four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives, with a higher instance of repeated offence than any other crime. Consider that these are only the cases that are reported, and think how many women suffer in silence (Crime Survey of England and Wales 2013/14).
Talking about domestic abuse makes people feel awkward and uncertain, in the same way that we struggle to talk about date rape. It’s difficult to conceive that someone who claims to care about us could do these things, and people are scared that this is something that could happen to them. Isn’t it easier to think that we might be attacked by a stranger than someone we loved, who we believed was a good person until the moment they decided to turn on us?
It took me some time to trust people again. Even though I claimed it didn’t get to me, the things he said affected the way I thought about myself for a long time. It’s made me a very different person to who I expected to be. It’s so important to openly discuss these things that make us feel uncomfortable, because it’s the first step in removing the stigma attached to victims of domestic abuse. Even now, it’s quite hard for some of my friends to talk about what happened. I think because the topic is so taboo they might have had their suspicions, but nobody wanted to be the person to bring it up.
I just wish I’d known then that it wasn’t my fault.
- Lucie Wang