The first time that Sophie’s* partner hit her, she blamed herself for ‘hurting his feelings’.
‘We’d only been together for two months and although he’d called me names and put me down, I put that down to him being a bit insecure,’ says Sophie, 34, a customer services manager from London. ‘We were in my house when we had a disagreement and I’d told him that if he wasn’t happy, he could leave. He slapped me hard across the face with the back of his hand.
‘I was stunned and started to cry. Ten minutes later he was standing in the doorway saying ‘Sorry’ and trying to give me a hug. I didn’t know what to do. I thought perhaps it was my fault and I’d said the wrong thing and upset him. I hoped it was a one-off’.
It wasn’t. Over the coming weeks and months, the violence Sophie suffered at the hands of her partner escalated to a horrifying degree.
‘He became heavy with his feet, kicking and stomping on me when he got angry,’ she says. ‘He would drag me across the room by my hair, punch me in the ribs and smash bottles over my head. I remember once, he was beating me so badly with a glass bottle that I was willing for the glass to break so that he would stop.
‘At night, I would barricade myself in my walk-in wardrobe as a kind of ‘safe-room’ to escape from him. When he got tired of shouting from outside, I’d stay locked in and sleep on a pile of clothes until morning’.
These graphic scenes are only a glimpse into Sophie’s life over four long years with her partner. She ended up in hospital at least three times with broken bones and internal bleeding.
Yet incredibly, despite beatings sometimes on a daily basis, it took her two years to first report the assaults to the police. ‘I’d had enough,’ she says simply.
Yet her case is far from unique. On average it takes two years for a victim to seek support, a fact highlighted in a powerful new short film launched today by Victim Support and the National Centre for Domestic Violence.
The haunting three minute film called #breaktheroutine, features real-life husband and wife Jennifer White and Jason Kittelberg depicting a brutal abusive relationship through dance. With an exclusive backing track donated by Brit Award winner Ellie Goulding, the dance was choreographed by Sidi Cherkaoui, an associate artist at Sadler’s Wells ballet. The film will be shown on You Tube from tonight and several TV channels later this month.
‘It’s a very emotional and really powerful film which we hope resonates with people in that situation and helps them to see that there is support out there for them,’ says a spokesperson from Victim Support. ‘Domestic violence is an epidemic and it’s not just about physical violence but the hidden emotional and psychological abuse that goes on too – the name-calling, the intimidation, the coercion. Often, victims will not report the abuse for many years because they’re scared, threatened or fear that they will lose their children. We’ve helped 40,000 people last year who recognised themselves as victims of domestic abuse but many others won’t see themselves as victims so this is just the tip of the iceberg.’
The reported figures are shocking enough. One in four women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes and around 100 people a year are killed by a current or past partner. The Crime Survey for England and Wales 2014/15 shows that an astonishing 6.7million men and women have experienced domestic abuse at some point in their lives.
Although over a quarter of women are victims of domestic abuse, 13 per cent of men have suffered it at some point in their lives. The majority of victims are aged between 25 and 34 but over there were nearly 2000 victims aged 17 and under.
But the study also shows that only one in five partner abuse victims report it to the police and those that don’t say that the abuse is ‘not worth reporting, it was a private matter or that they don’t think that the police can help’
In Sophie’s case, she says she didn’t report the abuse for so long because she was scared of the repercussions and had, to an extent, ‘normalised’ her situation.
She was 26 when she met her partner through friends at a party.
‘Looking back, he wasn’t the sort of man I’d normally have gone for – he was arrogant and insecure but made an effort to meet up with me after the party and I thought I’d like to get to know him better,’ she says. ‘I’d had boyfriends before and never stood for any trouble but he must have caught me at a very vulnerable time because my father had died recently and my mother was very ill. That’s the only reason I can explain for why I put up with his behaviour.’
The couple were soon in a relationship but as the violence continued, Sophie’s family urged her to leave her partner. When she did finally report the violence to the police, she says she still felt trapped.
‘After one altercation, I ended up bleeding and called an ambulance and the police asked me if I wanted to press charges,’ she says. ‘I said yes and he was put on bail for two weeks but as soon as they released him, he was kicking in my front door and hitting me again. I lost consciousness as he dragged me around the floor and when I woke up I was too scared to call the police again.
‘I did feel let down by the police. I remember on one occasion I called them up and one officer came into my house and shrugged: ‘Well, what do you want me to do about it?’ I find it amazing that police are trained in things like terrorism, but not domestic violence. If I go out into the street and punch someone, I’d be immediately arrested but every time I called the police on my partner, they’d let him go so he could do the same to me again.’
Sophie’s salvation came after four years when Victim Support got in touch after one of the later assaults. ‘A lady rang me and asked if I’d like some help and I thought: ‘Ok, what’s this about?’ and went to her office and told her everything,’ she says.
‘My case worker told me I was the victim of domestic violence but I’d never thought of myself in that way. I’d normalised it and thought it was just the same as getting bullied at school – only worse. She saved my life, I’m convinced of that. If I’d carried on for any longer with this man he would have killed me.’
Victim Support helped Sophie press charges against her partner who was later sentenced.
Today, she says she’s in a ‘good place’. But while the physical scars are long gone, the emotional ones are harder to heal.
‘It took me a long time to be able to trust men again but I’m in a new relationship now and he’s a complete angel,’ she says. ‘‘My abusive partner broke down my confidence so much that I don’t even think I’ll be the same person again. But if speaking out now helps just one person in a situation like mine, then job done. I want to tell them that there is an end in sight and they need to get support.’
*name has been changed
For help and support with domestic violence visit www.victimsupport.org.uk.