Isabella Heede

Thirteen million incidents of domestic violence take place in the UK every year.
But the majority of abused women still choose to remain silent. Here, on the 35th anniversary of the charity refuge, one survivor tells her harrowing story.5th november 2005. sunday mail.

I always said a man would never raise his hand to me. I thought women who put up with domestic violence were mad, but now having been through it myself, I can see how hard and frightening it is to get out of a relationship like this, especially when you love the person who hurts you.

I certainly didn’t see it coming I was 33 and going through a divorce from my first husband when friends in reading, where we all lived, introduced me to Paul in July 2000. I was working as a pensions administrator and Paul made me laugh so much I couldn’t help but loving him. He was even great with my two sons then aged 10 and 7 and took them to the park to play football or feed the ducks. Those first few weeks were fantastic and I thought id finally met the one.
We even talked about getting married.  But within a couple of months I saw a darker side to him, one I could never have envisaged during those happy first weeks.  We'd been out in October 2000 – he’d been knocking back Bacardi and cokes – and we had a bit of a row about something as trivial as what time we should come home. He followed me upstairs, shouting at me, at the time I was glad that my boys were away for the night. I would have hated for them to have heard this tirade. But what followed was much worse.

At the top of the stairs, he headbutted me in the face and blood spattered all over the walls and the carpet. It came as such a shock, I had never experienced anything like that before and I couldn’t even understand fully what had happened. Paul slept where he fell – downstairs – but I lay awake, in pain, the whole night, wondering what had just happened to me and what I was going to do about it.
The next morning I had two black eyes and he’d slept the alcohol off. He was so lovely to me and the boys for the next four weeks; I was convinced that attack had been a one off. Later that month I discovered I was pregnant, we were both really excited. The baby would be Pauls first and I thought maybe being a father to his own child would stop him behaving like that again.
But I was wrong. He started to follow a pattern. He’d be lovely to me for about a month, then he’d erupt and hit me. If I sensed he was brewing up for a row id get the children to bed as early as possible, anything than have them hear him shouting and see him hitting me.

Even when Paul was hitting me, I tried so hard not to scream or shout or cry so I didn’t wake the boys if they were asleep. They were always my number one thought, even when I was in real pain and bleeding.  But sometimes they woke up and came downstairs. They tried to intervene. My oldest would shout “get off my mum!” and try to get in between us, while I tried to get them both out of the way, so they didn’t get hurt. After a few beatings, Paul got clever and hit me in places, like my chest and arms and back, where people wouldn’t see the bruises.

I lost the baby from that first pregnancy but in May 2001 I fell pregnant with Charlie who’s now 4. We were excited about having another chance to have our own child – I still loved Paul and hoped, in vain, he’d go back to being the loving man he was when we first met. We split up so many times after a beating, I pressed charges 11 times over the next two years, but he’d worm his way back into my affections. Always saying “the baby needs a dad” and I dropped the charges and took him back.

When I was seven months pregnant with Charlie, Paul barricaded me and the boys in the kitchen, holding a knife in front of us. He was yelling: “if I can’t have you, nobody will” and threatened to slit my throat and then cut the baby out of me. I managed to ring the police and when they arrived, he made a run for it, but they caught him, with five kitchen knives on him. He was charged with making threats to kill and given a two year suspended sentence.

When Charlie was born, Paul was brilliant with him at first, but the attacks started up again. I was at my lowest ebb. My confidence had gone completely. He was constantly telling me I was useless and threatened things he was going to do to hurt us. The physical scars healed but those mental scars stayed with me a long, long time.  By now he didn’t have to be drunk to hit me, and he’d scream abuse at me in the street. My friends hated him but I told them there was a bond between him and Charlie and I couldn’t leave him. 

Despite all the beatings, the final straw came when I found out he’d been having an affair with a friend of mine. I refused to take him back, but soon after I found out I was pregnant with my second child by Paul.  Stupidly I let him come with me to a hospital appointment as there had been fears Bella had spina bifida. Thankfully she was ok, but that night, Paul beat me up, yelling id pretended the baby was ill just to get him back. As I looked at him something inside of me snapped. He was never going to change. Id lost three and a half stone and I looked terrible, I knew there was no way I would take him back again and I told myself Charlie wouldn’t want a father like him anyway. At last id seen sense and I stuck to my word.

I was moving to a four bedroomed house on the day of the final attack in September 2003. Paul let himself in whiles I was heavily pregnant and packing, and he hit me on the back of the head, out of character I hit him back, I then walked downstairs, picked up Charlie and calmly asked Paul to leave. He picked up the vacuum cleaner and took the hose and whacked me on the chest with it with real force, just missing Charlie. In agony, I tried to ring the police, but Paul grabbed me and twisted my arm right back, making Charlie tumble to the floor, then smashed the phone.
Like a light going on in my head, I realised this had to stop. A few days after, my chest and arm still badly bruised, I rang the police. I had a new baby coming. My kids were far more important than him. I made my statement on September 8, and he was arrested on September 10, when Bella was born in December he didn’t even know for a week. Now I think of her as MY baby – she has never had anything to do with him.

I was petrified about pressing charges but I had support from refuges 24-hour helpline, which I used regularly when I just needed someone to chat to, Berkshire women’s aid, social services and the courts victim support service. I also had huge support from my family. They knew nothing about the abuse until the court case.  Paul pleaded not guilty at reading magistrates court, which meant I had to give evidence at trial in reading crown court in may 2004. I had to go through this. If I didn’t, Charlie would grow up thinking its ok to do this kind of thing, and Bella would put up with violence because her mum did.

After hearing two days of evidence, Paul was found guilty of assault and putting me in fear of violence by harassment. I cheered. A month later, he was sentenced to six months in prison for each, and his two year suspended sentence was brought in.  Since then, I have moved to start a new life with my children. The two older boys had counselling and now live with their dad. Paul served his sentence but was out only a few days before I heard he was back in custody and he’s apparently serving another prison sentence. He never apologised, I doubt he ever will.

I’m disgusted with myself for putting up with it for so long. But now I understand why women don’t react immediately to domestic violence. They have to be strong enough before they can take action. I know now if I had stayed with him I wouldn’t be alive today. He would have killed me. At last i'm safe and I have my life back.

The names in this story have been changed.
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