Mel B says she missed these signs of domestic abuse

·3-min read
Photo credit: Noel Vasquez - Getty Images
Photo credit: Noel Vasquez - Getty Images

Melanie Brown (Mel B) has spoken candidly about her experience of domestic abuse, including missing the signs of coercive control at the start of her relationship.

The Spice Girl and TV judge married Hollywood producer Stephen Belafonte in 2007. Over the course of their 10-year relationship she alleges that she suffered physical, sexual, verbal and financial abuse. They reached a private settlement in 2017, just before charges of domestic abuse were due to be heard in court.

Now in a new interview with The Guardian, Brown has spoken about the impact this abuse had on her friendships, family relationships, personality and day-to-day life.

She said she slowly became withdrawn, quiet and deceitful – both with those close to her and the outside world – as she struggled to deal with what was happening at home.

"It was my duty to lie because in my mind there was no way out," she told the newspaper.

"You’re living in a nightmare, and then tell the outside world that everything is fine because you’re so embarrassed, and riddled with guilt, and worried that nobody’s going to believe you."

She says the abuse started "with tiny things", such as being told what colours to wear and encouraged not to call her mum as often. At the time she didn't realise this was all a form of coercive control.

Domestic abuse charity Women's Aid defines coercive control as "an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim". It is a criminal offence.

Brown explained: "I didn’t even know what colour I liked any more because those choices were taken away from me for so long. And I just accepted it. I felt so much self-hate.

"It’s like abusers have all read the same handbook. Before you know it you don’t have your own front door key, or you don’t even drive your own car any more... Your power is taken away and the only person you have to rely on is your abuser."

Like many women, she says she wasn't fully aware of the signs of domestic abuse until she began a relationship with Belafonte.

Photo credit: David M. Benett - Getty Images
Photo credit: David M. Benett - Getty Images

"I tried to leave seven times, so you can imagine how desperate I was in those 10 years. I didn’t have anywhere to go, I didn’t have my own credit card, I didn’t have a car, I’ve got three kids, I was very on the edge of self-destruction."

It wasn't until she left Belafonte and LA, and moved back to her home city of Leeds, that she began to realise her experience wasn't unique. That's when she attended a workshop for domestic abuse survivors run by Women's Aid. "We all had exactly the same story," she said.

Four years on, Brown is now an ambassador for Women's Aid. She is slowly working through the trauma of the relationship – and speaking out about her experience to help other women in similar situations. Especially after lockdown, which has caused a huge spike in calls to the National Domestic Violence Helpline.

She has also starred in a short film that echoes her experiences called Love Should Not Hurt. Watch the trailer below:

You can read The Guardian's full interview with Mel B here.

For help, support and advice around domestic abuse, call The National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or visit their website here.

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