“It’s domestic abuse and against the law”: A victim’s reaction

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I wish I had known then that this is a crime.

On 1st of April a new domestic abuse law came into force in Scotland, now recognising psychological harm as a criminal offence. This can include but is not limited to isolating someone from their family and friends, restricting their access to their phone/money and frightening or humiliating one’s partner.

Safer Scotland’s new ad is being shown on TV right now, and I’m sure most of those living in the UK will soon see it if they already haven’t.

The advert shows a pile of items taken away by an abusive partner, including clothes and makeup brushes. It’s a short but a powerful ad that tells us that a loving partner wouldn’t do these things and that this type of behaviour is a crime.

I was not prepared to seeing this ad. I was binge-watching the Undateables on my laptop, already used to the three ads Channel Four seems to be playing constantly: one about car insurance, one on those stupid meerkats and one on booking holidays. All of a sudden I was thrown with this ad and it literally took my breath away. I was transfixed.

A weight sank into the pit of my stomach. I instinctively put my arms around myself.

The show must’ve come back on after that ad. I can’t remember anything of it though.

When I was being abused, coincidentally there was another campaign on abuse. The tagline was: “If you could see the abuse, would you stop?”

One time, exasperated, I yelled at him: “Remember that ad? If you could see how you’re treating me, you’d be horrified at what you’re doing right now.”

I will forever remember what his reply was.

“Maybe.”

He would do many of the things that have now been ruled as illegal.

Examples of controlling or coercive behaviour:

      • Making someone dependent on or subordinate to the abuser

Slowly, over time, I became dependent on my abuser’s opinion. Whenever we were out in public, he would observe me and tell me afterwards what was wrong with my social performance. My jokes weren’t funny, my stories were boring, nobody wanted to hear them. Why did I insist on telling them when it was obvious that nobody cared? No wonder I didn’t have any friends.

According to him he was only helping me. He knew how wonderful I could be when we were alone. He just wanted others to see what he did. That’s why he would say horrible things that made me cry. It was only to improve me.

  • Isolating someone from their friends, relatives or other sources of support

“Have you ever thought that he was isolating you from others when he did all that?” a victim support worker asked me. “If you didn’t have any close friends, you wouldn’t feel like you could tell someone what was going on.”

It blew my mind.

  • Controlling, regulating or monitoring someone’s day to day activities

I ask him to walk me to a counselling appointment because it’s dark outside.

“Why?” he asks and refuses to do it. If I wanted to go to counselling, I had to get over my fear of the dark.

“If you were to run against me, who’d even vote for you?” he asks when I’m planning to run for same position as him in a club we’re both part of.

“You might as well not come, you’ll just be awkward,” he says before going out clubbing with friends. When he gets home he tells about girls he supposedly met who wanted him to go home with them but he didn’t go because he’s with me.

“I’m ashamed to introduce you to my friends because your shoes are so ugly,” he says right before I’m about to walk out the door. At that point I’m so defeated that I just turn around to change shoes.

  • Depriving someone of, or restricting their freedom of action e.g. controlling their phone/communication access or access to money

Landlord is calling again because he’s refusing to pay his share of the rent. He refuses to tell me why. It’s not because he doesn’t have any money. He’s just refusing to do it.

  • Frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing someone e.g. abusive name calling, playing mind games that causes someone to doubt their sanity

“How do you think I feel when other guys are telling stories of how they’re sex with their girlfriends and I have to live with a fucking frigid?”

When he says things that make me cry, that I’m boring and awkward and nobody likes me, it’s all in the name of self-improvement so I shouldn’t be upset by it.

“I know how amazing you can be when we’re alone. I just want everyone to see it. Don’t you get it? I just want to help you. You’re so impossible, you can’t handle one bit of criticism. You keep telling me that I do this and that. Can’t you see that you’re the problem?”

“There is something wrong with you. You need help. You need some serious help.”
In England and Wales, controlling and coercive behaviour has been recognised as a crime since 2015 (Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act of 2015).

News about the then-new legislation were so emotional to me. I was finally told that what he did was not only horrible but illegal. Society as a whole recognised that what he did was wrong.

Still, data obtained by the BBC from 33 police forces showed there were 7,034 arrests between January 2016 and July 2018 across England and Wales but only 1,157 cases ended with someone being charged.

This means that approximately 4,837 cases were dropped.

Controlling and coercive behaviour was one of the charges against my abuser. On 27th of December I was told by the police that no action whatsoever will be taken. Had the data been more recent, my case would be one of those dropped.

I’m happy that this type of behaviour is finally being seen for what it is. Hopefully it will further equip authorities to protect the public from any form of abuse. The ad campaign is brilliant and hard-hitting, and I hope that it gives someone the nudge needed to show that what’s happening to them is illegal.

I hope they’ll find the courage to seek help. When this was happening to me, I was too brainwashed to understand what was happening wasn’t my fault, let alone wrong.

The advert about seeing the abuse poked at something inside me. I didn’t know what it was then but I know now.

If you watch this advert and it upsets you because you can relate to it, don’t do what I did. I hid everything inside me. I didn’t tell anyone in years because I thought that by not talking about it I would get over it and I could move on with my life.

This happened years ago and I was only recently diagnosed with PTSD. About a year ago I attempted suicide. That is why I will be singing this campaign from the rooftops, so that someone living this right now will hopefully hear it loud enough for the penny to drop.

It won’t get better. This person will never change. There’s nothing you can do to suddenly make them as lovely as they were in the beginning. That person will never come back. No matter what they say, everyone is responsible for their own behaviour and their own alone. What they say or do is their fault. Not yours.

There is no point in asking what if but I know that had I spoken out when it happened things could’ve turned out a lot different, even though most of the things he did weren’t recognised as a crime back then. They are now.

Unfortunately for me it just came too late.

Watch Safer Scotland’s new domestic abuse ad

The BBC story

More information about Scotland’s new legislation

My post about the police decision: Into the abyss

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