Why I’m sceptical about the new domestic violence legislation (content note)
The UK has bought into law, legislation regarding domestic violence and coercive and controlling behaviour. It seeks to tackle that insipid form of domestic violence whereby a partner is emotionally and financially abused. Where a person’s ability to go out, use the bathroom, spend their own money, or talk to friends is controlled by a partner. This law is welcome. It aims to tackle what has been a yawning gap in our legislative tools to fight domestic violence. However, I am concerned about how this law will work in practice. This form of domestic violence is insidious and it is subjective. The law relies on evidence in the form of bank balances and witness testimony. Just as physically violent partners are careful not to leave easily visible bruises, the controlling partner is careful not to leave witnesses.
My first marriage was to an abuser. I met him when I was just 19 years old. I’d recently had a nervous breakdown and spent two years living in a tent in my parents’ back garden whilst struggling with severe depression, anorexia and what I now realise was psychosis. I socially isolated myself, reducing my friendship circle to just one person. To say I was vulnerable at this stage of my life is an incredible understatement.
My sister had started encouraging me to come out with her and her friends and it was during a night out with them that I met him. I was in a wheelchair and sitting apart from my friends the first time he spoke to me. He was charming and confident. A few weeks later we went on our first date. This was also the night we had our first argument. I cannot remember what I said, but it prompted an overly large reaction. I should have seen the early warning signs and walked away at this point but I wanted a life and friends again and he promised me both.
Two weeks later I moved into my first house away from my parents. Two weeks after that he moved into my room and lived there rent free. He quit his job and relied on me financially. He made sure he still had nice clothes, and that he went out every night. It was not long before he had banned me from my strict vegetarian diet- telling me that “we” could not afford meat for him and a vegetarian diet for me. I began to pay for the payments on his car. He kept telling me he had new jobs, but it soon became apparent that he would quit them after one day and then hang out at his parents’ house so that I would not find out.
One night I had my old friends over to the house for a night of catching up. This didn’t go down very well with him and the next day he took great pains to tell me that they did not really like me, that they were using me and that I shouldn’t see them again. I cut them out as he wanted, and with his encouragement threw out all of my old photographs of them; “Your life is with me now”, he assured me. I got on well with his friends, but he didn’t approve. He would constantly question me about my attraction to them, until it got to the point that he would stop me from going out with them. This behaviour extended to my own girl friends too- who he did not like. Slowly he became suspicious of my motives in going out with them until I no longer spent time with them either.
He began to cheat on me; flaunting it in my face. He was attracted to one of our female flatmates and would constantly cuddle up to her and make comments about her breasts. Once he left me on a stranger’s car bonnet as he used my wheelchair to push her when she felt unwell. I put up with it all. He would tell me that I was stupid, and what intelligence I did have I had learned from books so it didn’t count. He would tell me I was unattractive. That my breasts were too small. That I had a big nose. That my face was asymmetric. It might sound silly but all of it worked to undermine my self-esteem so that he could do anything.
I fell pregnant. For that brief time he idolised me. However, 8 weeks later I lost the baby. I sunk into a depression and could no longer live in our house with our flatmate who was by this time pregnant and continuing her flirtation with him. We moved in with my parents and four weeks later I was pregnant again. He was never home. I was left alone whilst he took my money to go partying with his friends- telling me that I ruin everything and I’d only get tired anyway. He sold my things to put a down payment on a sports car- a two seater that would not fit our soon to be family. His behaviour with women became more and more blatant. He would tell me all about the different women he met, how he masturbated whilst thinking about them, about how sexy they were. If I was with him in the car he would beep his horn at girls.
There was also a darker side to him. He had been physically abusive to me on a number of occasions, but it went beyond just me. I would find our kitten on a shelf that was 8 foot high in the air. One night, in tears, he admitted to me that on a number of occasions he had put the cat in a duvet cover and beaten it. It seems so strange to write that now- why didn’t I just leave? I don’t understand it. He’d broken every part of me, and in a strange way I felt sorry for him. A few months later the dog had numerous blisters all over his back. We thought it was an allergy. A week later my mum pulled me aside. She had caught him pouring boiling water on the dog’s back. I wouldn’t believe her.
Our son was born in the early part of the following year. We both nearly died. He was taken to ICU- my husband left. The following morning he was late coming in to the hospital. He said he was late because he had been masturbating about the thought of the hospital unit’s receptionist. Two weeks later I left the hospital, though my baby couldn’t leave for another 2 weeks. I’d had an emergency C-section and was in a lot of pain. He took great delight in telling me how fat I was, how tired I looked. He demanded sex. I cried in pain all the way through. That is how our second child was conceived.
We didn’t find out I was pregnant until I was 12 weeks along. The pregnancy was all my fault and all my responsibility. He wanted me to have an abortion. The doctors wanted me to have an abortion. It was booked in for 16 weeks but when I saw a picture of an aborted 16 week foetus I burst into tears and begged him not to make me go through with it. He agreed, but only until the legal point for an abortion had passed, then it became that I had coerced him into the pregnancy against his will. He hadn’t wanted another baby, and I was destroying our marriage because of it.
He was still going out all of the time, whilst leaving me at home. He wouldn’t even take me and the baby to the shops because he said it took too much effort to get us ready to leave the house. We spent weeks indoors whilst he was out all day, and all night, spending my money. One day he let me come to a party at a friend’s house and we left the baby with my parents. I couldn’t go in the pool as I didn’t have a maternity swimming costume. I sat there and watched as he initiated sex with a girl in the pool and then took her into the sauna. Later he took me home and went back to have sex with her. All in all he had five affairs whilst I was pregnant, one of them with my former flatmate and “best friend”. Eventually he left me for one of them when I was 6 months pregnant, though he kept returning, telling me he wanted us to be a family, but then leaving once I’d agreed to have sex with him.
He would tell me that I was fat and ugly and that in leaving me with two kids he had ensured that no one else would ever want me. He told me he would be back for us in five years’ time, once the hard part was over. Then when I lost the weight after the baby was born he would tell me that if I looked like that then he wouldn’t have left me, which was another ploy to make me believe we would be a family. Eventually this all culminated in him locking me in his car whilst driving around for a few hours, and holding me despite me screaming, and crying and begging to leave. When I finally had the back bone to cut him out of my life he would turn up trying to smash down my front door. He hated that I learned to stand up for myself. Though he even tried to take credit for that, telling me that he had made me a stronger person.
The physical side of our relationship was horrific, there are still holes he put in my parents’ house. If I think back I can still feel the pain of him grabbing me, but it paled into insignificance compared to all of the emotional pain he put me through. I don’t know how to properly convey the relentlessness of what he did to me. There are far more examples of this behaviour than I could write in a blog post
The BBC state of the new legislation:
“Witness testimony could be supported at prosecution through a variety of ways, including documentary evidence of threatening emails and text messages, or bank statements that show the perpetrator sought to control the victim financially.”
The point I really want to make is that though my parents and friends didn’t like him- I doubt they knew enough to be able to write a witness testimony. He was careful not to behave that way in front of people. I also loved him, and wouldn’t tell people just how much was going for fear they would hate him- and I was convinced that I deserved it. He wasn’t naïve enough to write nasty texts or emails. I doubt my bank statements would have conveyed the truth either. I’m concerned that such a law will provide a false sense of security and suffer from all of the same evidential flaws as rape legislation. Though this law is welcome, I am wary of how useful it will be. I’m not knocking legislative instruments, but we need so much more than this. I don’t have the solutions, but I think it’s important that we have an honest, and loud, conversation about the problems.
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