Get comfortable talking about it – Leeds launches domestic violence and abuse campaign to encourage people to think, talk and ask questions about domestic violence and abuse.
In 2014, there were nearly 15,000 incidents of domestic violence and abuse reported in Leeds, but many more went unreported. It is something that happens every day and the reason this blog is posting stories in support of 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence, and hoping to get people talking.
Domestic violence and abuse is not restricted to heterosexual or family relationships; it is a term which does not describe the gender identity or sexual orientation of those involved.
Ellen’s open and honest story shows why everyone should be able to talk about it.
I can still picture the grey soulless waiting room at Sheffield City Council when I declared myself homeless aged 20 after another violent episode. She had returned home drunk again with that telling look on her face. I had taken the usual precautions of removing anything breakable, hiding ornaments and crockery…I missed the jar of beetroot, I would regret that later.
When she came in she asked who I had been talking to, this was pre-mobile phone and internet days so I had little way of communicating with anyone other than the house phone. This is how it always started; the accusations of cheating, who had I had in the house, what had I been doing in her absence. The level of violence is something to this day I struggle to put in to black and white. I was sitting on the floor comforting my young dog; this only ignited her jealousy more. She then ripped a door from its hinges and threw it towards me. My puppy jumped in front of the hurtling object to protect me from the door, leaving a scar that broke my heart every day for the next 13 years.
The relationship began in a whirlwind, something I see so often in the lesbian community, even today. I moved in with her after a couple of months and at first the flashes of jealousy were flattering, at least I knew she loved me; this must be what it was like, naïve I know. Over the next couple of years it spiralled out of control. On occasions, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house even to attend lectures. It became easier to go along with it than to face the consequences. The scariest thing looking back, was this was almost seen as normal by some of the people we called friends. One lesbian laughingly told me it was the butch way and I should learn not to wind her up.
This is one of the key reasons I embrace the ‘Get comfortable talking about it’ campaign whole heartedly as I know how hard it is to talk about domestic violence and to feel it is being taken seriously. In that cold waiting room I was told I did not qualify for help as it wasn’t considered domestic violence as we were in a same sex relationship, and there was no way they would allow me to keep the dog….(he had limped along with me all the way to the offices). So I did the only thing I could do and went back. The beetroot stain took weeks to clean from the kitchen wall and I’m not a fan even to this day.
When I say those words today I am amazed that I thought it was my only option. I was deeply ashamed. No one ever expects to end up in that situation. I could have talked to my parents, I didn’t. They wouldn’t have understood how hard her childhood had been, how her depression was to blame, how afterwards she was always so sorry. I can talk about it now and there have been tears as they feel that they should or could have done more. I was in a different city and I became really good at hiding things. I often wonder if my reluctance to use make up is I don’t have to hide anymore.
I was lucky to keep a couple of my friends, it’s amazing how many you lose because people don’t know how to handle that conversation, they know it’s happening but I was always there with her excuses ready. People have spoken to me over the years and apologised for not acting, not saving me, some of those were even unlucky enough to end up in a relationship with her when I finally did leave. I am grateful for the ones who supported me no matter what.
I stayed far longer than I should have, I moved back to Leeds but she came too, after all she couldn’t live without me, I had heard that thousands of time. I used to lay awake at night wondering if I had to wait until she died before I could finally be free. This sounds ridiculous now but a lot of years have passed and thankfully the happy times in my life have far outweighed the “Dark days” as my dad refers to them as.
I’d also love to say I was strong enough to leave of my own accord but I have a Bank to thank! I arrived home one day and she had opened a letter that said I had been pre- approved for a mortgage, of course anger ensued. I was back in Leeds now though, my city. I called my brother and I went out and bought my first house in a matter of days. The dog and I were finally free.
Domestic violence happens behind every type of door, in all areas to different types of people and certainly behind rainbow doors. Talking and getting support is the key to getting help and getting out of that situation. Love is not isolating you from your friends and family nor is it controlling everything you do or making accusations. Thank you to the people who have proved this to me every day since.
The emotional scars take slightly longer to heal but they do. I am a prolific communicator, I hate to feel isolated. I talk about me then like I was a different person, perhaps that’s just easier for me. There are still flashes of that girl, I still trust too easily; I still believe that magic letters will appear through the door when you need them and if you don’t respond to a message I will worry about what I could have done to upset you. I’m still not a big fan of pickled beetroot but 15 years on I can talk and sometimes even laugh about it. There is no shame in surviving, so please do talk about it.
I love my life now, I have a lovely home, I am passionate about the work I do. I also volunteer for some of the homeless charities who work to help people open up and get help. I am also surrounded by a wonderful group of family and friends who make sure I never stop believing that things do get better.
Ellen’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
The biggest barrier to getting help or reporting domestic violence and abuse is fear of the repercussions around personal safety or making the situation worse. This applies to victims, witnesses and others who may be affected. Lots of people simply don’t know what will happen if they talk to someone or report domestic violence and abuse, or how they can help someone they know who is affected by it. So before we can expect people to seek help, we need to answer the question – “And then what?”
The campaign, ‘Get comfortable talking about it’, wants everyone in the city to feel comfortable talking about domestic violence and abuse. People can ask any questions they have about domestic violence and abuse – either by email, social media, or by posting a question in our branded letterboxes – look for them in Council Community Hubs so we can help.
If you want to talk about it personally or on behalf of someone else, go to www.getcomfortableleeds.org.uk and ask your question.