Words: Evie Muir
In all likelihood, the next time I receive support from a practitioner will be whenever I have my next breakdown. I say when, not if, because through the fog of mental health issues, the reality is that without professional intervention a breakdown is probable. This defeatist outlook derives from being informed on precisely how underfunded, understaffed and undervalued the social sector specifically, the domestic abuse sector, is.
I am a domestic abuse support worker. My role is to emotionally and practically support victims. Imperatively, I am the person that believes them, who is on their side. However, on a daily basis I witness how a sector designed to uphold the wellbeing of vulnerable people, regularly fails victims of abuse. Legislation may be in place, services may be available, but prosecution rates are abysmal and waiting list times are deplorable.
As a domestic abuse victim, I feel the weight of this patriarchal structure on a personal level. I was failed at 16 when I went to the doctors, yearning for some magical cure to the mental health repercussions of an abusive relationship. Instead, I was hurriedly dismissed by a GP who said: “everyone your age goes through breakups”, the immensely damaging effect of unhealthy relationships during adolescence both ignored and left to fester. I was failed by a psychiatrist in a mental health ward, whereby I was sectioned for 2 weeks whilst my abuser walked free.
This abuse is termed gaslighting and it is defined as “manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity”. I was failed by my mental health practitioner, who after a couple of months of relatively ineffective CBT discharged me with the advice to self-refer to a specialist DV service, neglectfully leaving the responsibility of a monumentally overwhelming task to someone who had deferred her Master’s degree, quit her job and spent most of her time in bed. Months went by before I felt capable of seeking organisations, only to find that all but one free counselling service had closed waiting lists: as of January, I am on a 12 month waiting list, it’s unjustifiable.
I was also failed by the police. When leaving the relationship escalated the abuse; he lost control, he was triggered and he proceeded to stalk and harass me incessantly. One weekend, following days of harassment, he escalated to waiting outside my mum’s house in his van – a van he later locked me in when I resolved that it was safer for me to go to him, than for him to break into the house. The police took 11 hours to arrive, by which time he’d left moments earlier; the police said they didn’t need his contact details and wouldn’t be speaking to him at this time.
Within those 11 hours, he brought the girl he cheated on me with into the van, sneering up at the window, relishing in the pain he was inflicting on me. When you measure abuse as the impact an act has on a person, cheating – particularly cheating with over 50 people – is one of the most abusive acts imaginable. His cheating was unprecedented, yet he manipulated this by using my ‘unfounded’ paranoia as his defence; making me doubt my sanity, rationality and reason until I distrusted my reality. He’d use the threat of cheating as a means of control, warning me that “if I didn’t come home immediately he’d get someone else to” and if I dared resist, I was locked out and only allowed back in if I stripped at the door, which he watched through the peep hole. This is coercive control.
After the police’s negligence, every incident of harassment that I’d have been in my right to report (including him breaking into my car and stealing the one item which identifies my whereabouts: my diary), along with all professional judgement, was overshadowed by the stigma in being made to feel like a nuisance by the police. When I next reported him, he’d managed to harass me from the confinements of a jail cell – this the police took seriously. Nevertheless, when I made a statement, I was informed that before a stalking and harassment charge could be made against someone, they must first receive a warning, in assumption that the perpetrator ‘doesn’t know’ that their actions are causing harm). This means that if the police officer had given that warning after the van-outside-the-house incident, I’d have legal protection by now. Let that sink in.
“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” when applied to domestic abuse is synonymous with victim blaming. After a physically violent first relationship whereby a jealous and insecure boy obliterated my self-esteem as a means of control, I was an easy target for someone even more manipulative and sadistic than the first. Like most victims, who have underlying trauma, I became trapped in The Cycle of Abuse. I associated love with pain. After a turbulent, abusive, unhealthy relationship with a mentally ill, financially unstable misogynist, who needed mothering by his girlfriend, had a drug and alcohol dependency, a criminal history, and a propensity towards 16 year old girls, it finally ended last year, but the trauma still consumes me.
Managing my ongoing experiences of abuse, and the deep-rooted trauma, which presents itself in panic attacks, insomnia, oppressive distrust, constant fear and obsessively checking registrations of vans (no matter where in the country) whilst also working in an emotionally labour-intensive role, requires energy and resilience I often can’t utilise. In a professional setting, I am confident that my experiences afford me higher echelons of empathy, dedication and expertise, but often, it is simply too close to home. Identifying with cases resurfaces suppressed memories and the relief of momentarily forgetting that you too are a victim is not a familiar luxury. Nevertheless, this job has facilitated my realisation that I myself need help, and hopefully I, like the women I support, will finally receive the help that I’ve needed for almost a decade.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.