Note from the author: The following article was written at the peak of my worst ever mental collapse. It had been building for many years, and the wave that I’d been riding came crashing down, taking me with it. Since writing this, I have truly accepted that it’s ok to not be ok, and that the only way for me to really start dealing with everything was through professional intervention, which I have now found. I’m learning to talk. It’s new, uncomfortable, and terrifying, but the alternative is far more terrifying. Nothing from my story will ever go away, but I will learn to live with it, and not let it make me view myself negatively anymore.
This is the sort of piece that I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but also never wanted to write. I’ve always hated, “This is my story” pieces, but never been sure why. It could be a number of reasons. Maybe I thought that, with more and more people speaking out, the impact of what they were saying was lessened, and becoming looked upon as “just another jaded fool playing the victim.” We’ve coped with being not heard for so long, this effect would surely be detrimental to all of us, right? Maybe I hated the fact that others had the courage to say something, and I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I’ve never considered my story to be as bad as others’ experiences (like, no-one ever turned this into a competition, so why does my brain decide that it is?). Or maybe it was because every time another story broke, I relived memories that evoked too many negative emotions for my supposedly strong and steadfast mind to deal with.
Whatever the reason (and believe me I’ve questioned myself on that many times), I’ve kept things buried in me for nearly quarter of a century, and just carried on as if everything was normal, and everything was fine. Like water off a duck’s back. And not once did anyone actually check whether I was really ok, including me. I ignored myself and pushed things away, because everyone expected me to still be “me.” And when I say “me,” I mean the old me. The me that loved life, and everyone within it, and could deal with anything. People knew some of what happened. The tip of the iceberg, as it were. But no-one has ever known the full details. And right now, I still don’t think I’m ready to speak about them.
But having the busy humdrum of life in a pre-Covid world changed by the quiet solitude of a year-long hiatus from normality certainly does give you some time to think.
Now, I’ll pause here to make an interesting point before I hit you with some facts. I haven’t actually said what I’m talking about yet. But (and please let me know if you think I’m wrong here) I can pretty much guarantee that you know what this is about.
But just in case you’re unsure. Here are some facts that are horrific, and make me sick to my stomach:
Almost one in three women aged 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime (Source: Office for National Statistics (2019) Domestic abuse in England and Wales overview: November 2019) [This figure will now more than likely be higher, as domestic abuse has increased during lockdown]
In the year to the end of March 2017, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated:
- 20% of women have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16, equivalent to 3.4 million female victims
- 3.1% of women (510,000) aged 16 to 59 had experienced a sexual assault in the last year.
In January 2013, An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, the first ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office, revealed:
- Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men (aged 16 – 59) experience rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 of the most serious sexual offences (of adults alone) every hour.
Take out the men from that statistic and that leaves the number every hour as nearly 10. Nearly 10 women are being raped, or sexually assaulted, Every. Damn. Hour! … Just let that sink in for a minute…
- Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence report to the police.
- Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence.
- Conviction rates for rape are far lower than other crimes, with only 5.7% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction for the perpetrator. (Kelly, Lovett and Regan, A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases, 2005)
- Data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales shows up to 700, 000 women are stalked each year (Source: Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2009-2012)
- A study on the relationship between stalking and homicide involving a female victim and male perpetrator, found that in 71% of cases the victim and perpetrator were in, or had previously had, an intimate relationship (Source: Monckton Smith et al in conjunction with the Suzy Lamplugh trust 2017)
- Between 120 and 150 women and girls over the age of 14 are killed in male violence against women every year in the UK. (That’s around one every 3 days, or to put it another way, 10 a month)
- In 2018, 149 women and girls over the age of 14 were killed by 147 men.
- 91 of the 149 women killed in 2018 (61%) were killed by a current or former male partner.
(Source: Femicide Census 2018)
Aside from these almost incomprehensible numbers, the most striking thing for me is that, in twenty four years, nothing has really changed. If anything, it’s got worse.
So, without going into details, here’s my tip of the iceberg. At 17, I met a man who I thought was wonderful. He was tall, and strong. He was 29 – the more “mature and responsible guy” that 17-year-old me thought I wanted. Things started well; he was charming. But pretty soon I had no contact with friends or family, because he convinced me they didn’t care about me.
Then the violence started. Slowly at first – an over tight grip on my arm or around my waist. A look that let me know I’d stepped out of line, if I smiled at anyone as we walked through town. I started walking with my head down, ignoring friends if they shouted a greeting. But I stayed.
Then it got worse. Hands round my throat, picking me up and throwing me onto the bed, into a cupboard, against a wall. But I stayed.
Then the worst violence started. The violence that violated everything of me. But I stayed. I stayed because I was scared of what would happen if I didn’t. I knew what he was capable of, and feared for my life. I was scared that no-one would believe me. I believed him that no-one really cared, and that, without him, I would be nothing. I was 17…
Only when I couldn’t take it anymore did I leave. But he came to my family home and caused trouble. Two weeks later I went back to him. He promised he would change, and I didn’t want my family to have to deal with my crap.
He didn’t change.
A month later, I left again. This time, for good. And that’s when the abduction happened.
He took me in his car, drove towards the coast, and went through every emotion from sorrow to denial, and anger, whilst he drove. He was drunk and driving at speed. He broke my fingers. He forced my head under the steering wheel to disorientate me. But the single most terrifying part of that journey was the few words he spoke calmly. “I love you too much, Beth. I can’t let you go. If I can’t have you, no-one will.” I accepted then that I was on my way to die. At 17…
I finally managed to convince him to take me to a hospital. I promised I wouldn’t say anything. He turned the car round, but instead took me to his house. Some friends of his were waiting there to inform him the police were looking for him. So, he drove back towards my parents’ house, and stopped by the shops, about 200 yards away. Within moments, two police cars were flanking us. A male police officer opened his door, and a female officer opened mine. The worst ordeal of my life was finally over.
Or so I thought. The next few months was spent living in fear when my domestic abuser/ rapist/ kidnapper assumed a new role as my stalker. A series of injunctions were taken out on him, with gradually wider areas of restriction placed on him, the third of which was served to him in hospital after he attempted suicide.
Finally, a few months later, the case came to court. He was married by then. I had just turned 18. I was assigned a court lawyer, who I met an hour before the case began. And a string of errors and omission at the time of his arrest had made the prosecution case more complicated. I stood on the witness stand, 10 feet from him and his defence team. His eyes burned into my head the whole time, and I could hardly stand, or speak, with fear. He was charged with Abduction, Dangerous Driving, and Assault. I never reported anything else. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength or the words to. And protecting my family was still more important that protecting myself. The months of violence, both physical and sexual, stayed locked inside my head.
His defence team were very good. They used the fact that I studied performing arts to suggest that I was a drama queen and making the whole thing up. He was acquitted of abduction and assault, and the dangerous driving charge was reduced to careless driving. He got a fine and 3 points on his licence. And part of me died that day. My life as an adult was already broken. The shame, guilt, and fear about everything that had happened gained their fourth horseman then. Betrayal. The system, that I so desperately hoped would protect me, let me down.
After that, and until very recently, every decision I’ve ever made that has resulted in me getting hurt, I’ve always managed to justify with, “Well at least it’s not as bad as it was with XXX.”
The thing about all this, that really struck me, and stuck with me, was that people knew what was happening, but no-one helped. The bedsit we lived in had 4 other male occupants. They all heard things. One of them told me afterwards that he knew something was going on but didn’t want to cause a fuss. That made me so angry. They knew, but they left me to suffer. I. WAS. 17…
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last few weeks, about how this experience affected my life. How fear, shame, guilt, and self-loathing have clouded my decisions, and made me flip-flop between overly cautious and overly reckless. I don’t cope well with anger, and shy away from violence of any kind. Confrontation scares me, and even a raised voice, or a fleeting glance, still sets me on edge. I spend my life in a state of hyper-vigilance, subconsciously evaluating the danger risks of every situation without even realising I’m doing so. I was damaged and traumatised before I even became an adult, but I’ve supressed all that to function in a world that wasn’t prepared to listen. Until now.
The horrific murder of Sarah Everard lit the blue touch paper for me, and scores of other women like me, who are done with carrying this weight, and suffering in silence. Because people only hear, and do not listen. And this brings me (finally) to the point of putting all this down on paper. This is my view on what’s happened since the news broke about yet another femicide.
There’s been a certain amount of rhetoric from sections of the male population who got terribly hurt by the misconstrued suggestion that women were blaming all men, and that all men were being wrongfully tarred with the same brush. They heard, but did not listen.
What we’re actually saying, and what we so desperately want, is not for all men to be painted as vicious attackers, because not all men are. That is a FACT. We all know that. But that’s not what we’re saying. We just want ALL MEN to hear us AND listen. From the misogyny that has been accepted in society for so long, it’s become normal, to the abuse that’s always just happened, and been ignored. We can’t do this anymore.
For our daughters – for YOUR daughters – and their daughters, and every daughter of every generation to come, we need this to stop. We need them to not have to go through the same pain we have. We need them not to have to endure the hidden mental torture and degradation caused by abuse. Please, hear us and LISTEN. And please help us make that most important hope into a reality. Talk to us like you understand. Ask us how you can help make changes. Don’t wait for others to step in, so you can avoid a difficult conversation. That’s all we want.
Words: Beth Jones
If you or someone you know has been effected by domestic abuse and sexual violence, the author has recommended the following services below:
Rape Crisis UK – This is the umbrella body for a network of independent Rape Crisis Centres.
All member Centres provide specialist support and services for victims and survivors of sexual violence.
National Domestic Abuse Helpline – A charity that provides help and support for those effected by domestic abuse. Their phone is 0808 2000 247, this is free and available 24/7.
Women’s Aid – Women’s Aid is a grassroots federation working together to provide life-saving services in England and build a future where domestic abuse is not tolerated.