The first time my husband attacked me it happened so suddenly I barely had enough time to raise my hands to protect myself. Several punches to my head and face and it was all over. I spent the rest of the night slumped in the corner of the room holding a towel full of my own blood. He sat, hunched over, on the edge of the bed blaming everybody for his actions except himself.
You might think this was the moment I realised I was in an abusive relationship. You'd be wrong. Nor did the realisation come when he threw a pint glass against the wall above my head when I was eight months pregnant. Nor any of the times he put his hands around my throat to shut me up during an argument. You see, when you are in an abusive relationship nothing seems as clear cut as it would to someone on the outside looking in.
I'm not an idiot, I always knew the violence was wrong, but he made me believe it was my fault. So instead of leaving, I would end up thinking that I shouldn't have disagreed with him, or that I should have walked away when I could see he was getting angry. I placed the need to change on me, not him.
What helped me realise I wasn't to blame were the many social media campaigns run by charities like Refuge and Women's Aid. I read about the cycle of behaviour that is so often seen in abusive relationships and instantly recognised it. My situation has never been bad enough for me to need the safety of a women's refuge but these charities offer so much more than that. The awareness, support and advice they provide is so important to women in situations like mine.
Last year, the government marked International Women's Day by announcing the creation of a £10 million fund to support women's refuges. Yet one year on, a quick look at the Twitter timeline of the feminist campaigners Sisters Uncut shows that many services remain under threat. Recent protests against proposed cuts to funding for domestic violence charities have been held in Doncaster and Portsmouth. All across the UK women's charities are fighting for their survival.
It can take a long time for a woman to leave an abusive man. According to Refuge, a victim is likely to be assaulted an average of 35 times before her first call to the police. But once she feels ready to plan an escape, these organisations often play a key part in the process. They run helplines, drop-in centres and internet forums, which all help to support women as they try to gain the courage to leave.
The reasons women stay in abusive relationships are vast and complex. I know, because I still haven't left. For me, there is mainly fear. I'm all too aware of the research which shows that the most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she tries to leave. And I'm terrified about my children having unsupervised contact with him. But there is also guilt about how us leaving would affect him. This is something I have really struggled with and thought I was alone in feeling. Reading other people's stories on the Women's Aid forum has shown me this is actually very common.
I have been a regular lurker on these forums for a while now. I have watched as women describe the process of leaving an abuser, almost in real time. They talk about the preparations they have made, usually with the help of women's charities, to find accommodation, buy furniture, and open new bank accounts. I've held my breath waiting for a new update on the days I've known they are due to leave. And I've felt both relieved and envious once they are eventually free. Most importantly I have come across people with similar experiences to mine.
I don't suffer regular violence but there is a lot of controlling behaviour and emotional abuse. Recognising it as such has been a big step for me. Last year, I finally made a call to the National Domestic Violence Helpline which is run by Women's Aid and Refuge. Their validation that what I was experiencing was in fact abuse has played a huge part in me seeing my relationship for what it is.
Mine is not one of the many inspirational stories you are likely to read this International Women's Day. I haven't found the strength to leave yet and to be honest, I'm not sure I ever will. I often daydream about what my life would be like without him. I picture me and the kids in a little flat, happy, relaxed and free. I can see where I want to be, I just don't know how to get there.
I do know that if I'm ever brave enough to leave, help from organisations like Women's Aid and Refuge will be vital. There is no sugar coating the impact the closure of domestic violence services has. Two women are killed by a partner each week. Without the support these charities provide, more women will stay in violent relationships and more will pay the ultimate price for doing so.
The author of this piece wished to remain anonymous
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