A senior police officer and a police community support officer (PCSO) from Avon and Somerset Police have shared moving accounts of how they found themselves trapped in situations of domestic abuse.
By breaking the silence that often surrounds abuse in the home, they hope to deliver clear messages that no-one is exempt from finding themselves in an abusive relationship and if you do, there is no shame in reaching out for help and support.
In a heartfelt and moving video Sharon Baker, now a Chief Inspector, tells of how an affectionate relationship became one of controlling behaviour, erosion of self-confidence, and social isolation. Paralysed with fear, she felt unable to confide in friends or colleagues.
“I didn’t want anyone to see me in a different light – the feeling of shame and embarrassment was overwhelming.” Sharon said.
“It’s hard to express how difficult it is to even admit to yourself you may be a victim. Abuse is clever: it creeps up on you and wears many faces. It slowly takes away any self-confidence you had and leaves you doubting everything you think. It slowly isolates you until one day you look around and realise you are alone.”
When words became threats – then more – Sharon called 999. She was met with kindness and reassurance and has since been able to share her story with her supervisor and work colleagues.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made. There was no why, no judgement, just unwavering support and belief.”
Watch Sharon’s video HERE
Gemma* who has also courageously shared her story, thought she too had met her “forever partner” and chose to ignore the alarm bells that rang when insignificant incidents became a reason for a cold reaction or irrational anger. It was during lockdown that the controlling behaviour escalated to emotional torment and physical action.
Until the very last incident where her partner was arrested, Gemma hadn’t considered herself a victim of domestic abuse because he had never previously punched or kicked her or left her with visible bruises or broken limbs.
“Of course I was a victim, I just didn’t see it.” she reflects.
Now, with the help of counselling, Gemma is on her way back to positivity, strength and independence. She has found “amazing support” from family, friends and colleagues.
“If I can help one person recognise those alarm bells and encourage them to act on them straight away then it’s been a worthwhile piece to write.” Gemma says of her story.
You can read Gemma’s story below.
Both accounts highlight the slow and manipulative way in which perpetrators of abuse will often isolate victims from friends and family and eventually take control of their victim’s life.
The stories show that abuse comes in many shapes and forms. It can involve physical violence, but it can also be psychological – something which is referred to as coercive and controlling behaviour. This type of abuse leaves no marks or scars but can cause victims to experience fear and loss of freedom, on a daily basis.
Domestic abuse will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime. For two women each week and 30 men per year, it will end in murder. It accounts for 16 per cent of all violent crime.
Sharon’s advice is: “Anyone who is suffering or has suffered abuse is that you are not alone and you will be believed. I know from personal experience that it isn’t easy, but please reach out – we are here for you and we can help”.
If you recognise any of these signs or behaviours in your own relationship, you could be a victim of domestic abuse.
If your relationship leaves you feeling scared, intimidated or controlled, you may be in an abusive relationship. There is no excuse for abuse – it’s a crime.
.*not her real name
Gemma’s story: ‘Be kind to yourself’
From the very first time I had met him he had completely blown me away. Great job, family man, smartly dressed, charming and very funny….wow I thought this could be my forever partner!
I left the venue smiling and so pleased that this wasn’t the normal waste of time I had been used to with dating. Dating at my stage of life wasn’t easy. The following day, I was at work when a bunch of flowers arrived, surely not for me? Yes they were, I should been pleased and flattered by such a romantic gesture but, I was concerned this was a little intrusive. Why my work place? Why not my home? Most of my colleagues thought this was a lovely act of romance but one person thought it was, in his words, ‘a little creepy’. I agreed but kept this thought in my head so not to appear ungrateful or ‘creeped’ out too. This was followed by numerous messages on my phone constantly throughout the night, 1,2,3,4,5am telling me how I was ‘his world and how amazing I was’. Again, I was concerned this wasn’t ‘normal’ but convinced myself it was ok and maybe I was being ‘unromantic’.
On one occasion, he had left my house after having dinner and within five minutes of leaving he sent a message saying: ‘facebook’. No other words, no smiley faces, and no kisses. He’d clearly seen I’d logged on and wasn’t happy I’d looked at my social media. (I now know he had regularly checked or been able to log into my account). Again, the alarm bells rang. Surely this wasn’t right? But the good times outweighed the dark times, he was charming, kind, thoughtful, good to my family, and generous. Weekends away were of course secretly booked and arranged without consultation. Each mini-break holiday was not as facebook portrayed. He’d get angry at the slightest thing. Camping trips included shouting, threats and constant verbal abuse. Were these really ‘good times’? Yes how lucky was I? I’d never been on so many holidays, mini-breaks and trips away. Surely I’m being ungrateful?
Several months passed, moving in together, well things got worse, and the real version of this man slowly appeared. Incidents included:
- Punching of walls (although covered up within an hour so no-one saw)
- Being thrown out of the house with my dogs at 3 am in the rain.
- Food thrown outside the house for me as I’d upset him.
- Cowering in the kitchen, garden, in fact any safe place, I had even locked myself in the bathroom to put space between him and me to allow him to calm down.
- Me closing every window in the house so that the neighbours wouldn’t hear him shouting at me.
- He’d demand that I kiss him before I got out of bed in the morning, hold his hand at every opportunity, (especially after an argument whilst out in public) and of course sit directly beside him on the sofa, (not the other end as this clearly meant I didn’t love him and boy would I suffer for that!)
The list goes on…..
Up until the very last incident where he was arrested he had never punched or kicked me, or left me with visible bruises or broken limbs. Not like the people who suffer physical violence we meet so often in our jobs. He’d ‘only’ dragged me off of the sofa, bent my arm and fingers, pushed me, pinned me down not allowing me to leave the house. I didn’t feel like a victim of domestic abuse, or was I?
Of course I was, I just didn’t see it. ‘Drip fed’ was the word my amazing counsellor Abi described.
I carried on doing the job I loved, my work was my ‘safe place’.
On one occasion I went to a secondary school to talk about ‘domestic abuse’. This was my eye-opener. I handed out leaflets regarding abut the first signs of domestic abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour. These described my relationship. What a hypocrite I was. How could I help young people when I can’t help myself?
Lockdown was the worst and best time for me. I was very fortunate our lovely house was walking distance from work. He had been working from home while I carried on as normal which put more pressure on us. He’d insisted that I come home on my break to spend every spare minute with him. Our time was ‘precious’ and on the occasions that this wasn’t possible, he’d question why I wanted to spend time with my colleagues and not him. I was his world and clearly as he’d often state ‘he wasn’t mine’.
One of the hardest parts was lying to my team. I hated making excuses why I had to go home and not take breaks with them. They thought he was amazing. They didn’t see that I’d arrive ready for work on numerous occasions with no sleep due to his aggression and him shouting at me all through the night, or the argument we’d had over who was at the station and why they were there. They saw my smiley face and my ‘work mode’, this was my ‘safe place’ where I could be me. They saw my partner walking me to work and walking me home on most days. This wasn’t as appeared to them, this was so that he knew where I was and making sure I came straight home. Home to him of course.
I could continue with so many examples of what I now know to be as ‘controlling and coercive’ behaviour but this would then go on to be a novel.
So me now? ‘Positive, strong, independent’, well not quite, but I am getting there. It’s a slow healing process, one which I never thought or imagined I would be ever be in. I have been so lucky, I have had amazing support from my family, friends and especially my colleagues who have listened to my real ‘story’, let me cry when I’ve needed to and above all given me the strength to speak out loud.
As my counsellor quoted on many occasions ‘be kind to yourself’, I now know it’s ok to have good and bad days, cry when you want, get angry at life but above all make sure we learn from this and look out for those ‘signs’ in the future.
Big thank you to all of my colleagues, I can never repay your kindness and support that has allowed me to heal and get back to me being me.
If I can help one person recognise those alarm bells and encourage them to act on them straight away then it’s been a worthwhile telling my story. Those niggling feelings are often the right ones. We all deserve to be treated with respect especially from our loved ones.
If you think you are a victim of domestic abuse, or you think someone you know may be a victim, we urge you to report by calling 101. Always dial 999 in an emergency. If you can’t speak, call 999 and dial 55 when you hear the operator. You can also report online via our website HERE.