Domestic violence - our stories

One in four women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives.

James Marston

One in four women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. And getting away from a destructive relationship can take years. In a harrowing and moving interview two women tell JAMES MARSTON their story.

SUE and Pauline are today able to finally look to the future.

For the first time in decades they can wear what they want, they can live in safety and without fear, they can eat what they want and when, they can see who they like, they can do all the things most of us take for granted.

They are happy.

But both women have lived through terrible times, both have feared for their lives and both have endured years of physical and emotional violence and abuse.

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Former residents of Ipswich Women's Aid refuges, Sue and Pauline have come through the other side of domestic violence.

Sue, 45, was married for 24 years.

She said: “Much of my abuse was mental and emotional. I couldn't wear this or that or go here and there. I didn't speak to my sister or my mum for ten years because my husband fell out with them.

“He wanted control.

“Things got really bad a couple of years ago. He started pushing me around. When I moved out the violence started. He assaulted me, he came to my flat in the early hours of the morning and assaulted me.

“The police couldn't protect me from him. I feared for my life.

“I met him in McDonald's to tell him why I had left. I thought I would be safe there as it was a public place. He dragged me out and put me in his car, no one helped me, people don't want to get involved.”

For Hilary Cadman, Sue's opening remarks are part of a familiar story of a cycle of abuse she has heard many times before.

Hilary founded the first women's refuge in Ipswich back in 1976.

She said: “Women are at most risk after they have left their husband. Then they have nothing to lose when they finally realise the woman is leaving them.

“Two women in England are killed every week by their husbands or partners.”

For Sue the fear of her husband forced her to leave her job, her life and seek refuge here in Ipswich.

She said: “My job was the only thing that kept me sane. I loved work, I used to dread having to go on holiday as I would have to be at home with him, I wasn't allowed to go anywhere.”

Throughout her married life Sue experienced mental abuse which destroyed her confidence and self esteem.

She said: “He didn't like me going out with certain friends. He didn't like things I wore, he'd say I looked like a tart, if I dressed down he'd say I was scruffy. He didn't like my hair. There was something he would find every day.

“Because everyone can see bruises no one really knew what I was going through. It was very disturbing abuse. You don't always realise how much it destroys your life.”

Sue's husband had a number of affairs throughout their time together.

She said: “I always took him back, I told myself it was for the sake of the children.”

The abuse crossed the generations in Sue's family with one of her daughters also finding herself in an abusive relationship.

Sue said: “My daughter also came to the Ipswich refuge. She went into an abuse relationship when she was 16. It was what she had grown up with, she knew that environment.”

Leaving her home, her job and her life was very distressing for Sue.

She said: “When I came to Ipswich it was very upsetting. I had quite a big house and then found myself in one room. The staff at the refuge were wonderful, if it hadn't been for them I would have cracked, they help you with everything.

“For the first time I met other people who had been through the same thing as me, people who understood and for the first time I felt safe.”

Sue said there were good times with her husband.

She said: “Women still love violent men. Things were good as long as he was getting his own way. It was part of a cycle of abuse. I believed I couldn't cope by myself.

“Life is totally different now. I'm not frightened of him any more. I feel I could stand up to him now. I have friends I have made here in Ipswich where I had been deprived of friends before.

“I have my own flat how I want it, I can go out when I want, I don't have to cook dinner each night, I can wear what I want, I can stay in bed if I want. I have the freedom to be myself, I feel like a totally different person.

“My message to others is you don't have to put up with it, there is help out there.”

Hilary said Ipswich now has a 15-bedroom refuge which opened in 2000 and an eight-bedroom house bought by Ipswich Women's Aid in 2003.

She said: “The refuge was set up to offer temporary accommodation to women and their children who were suffering domestic violence.

“We offer a number of services and advice surrounding legal, benefits, and housing issues. We can organise debt advice, councillors, health visitors, and help with childminding.”

The refuge also has a resettlement team which helps women into independent living. There is also a freedom programme on offer to women at the refuge.

Sue is among those who have taken part.

She said: “The programme tells you about the different forms of domestic violence. It makes you realise you are not the only person and it helps improve your self esteem.”

For Pauline violence and mental abuse were present throughout her married life.

Now 46, she married at just 18.

He husband was first violent with her before they were married.

She said: “He punched me on the nose because I saved a pound for the bus fare home. We had been together for five months, he called me a dirty whore. The next day he said he was sorry, he blamed the drink and I forgave him.

“There was a cycle of abuse and then forgiveness but it always build up until the next time. You think you can change them if you give them what they want.

“When I was pregnant with my first son there was violence - he kicked me in the stomach. He was jealous of the unborn baby.”

Pauline said she lived with regular physical violence as she struggled to bring up her four boys.

She said: “He was a drinker, he did drugs as well. He'd come home roaring drunk, I'd open the door and he'd punch me. He told the kids I wasn't a fit mother.

“He would say I made him do it, if I hadn't done things or said things then he wouldn't have had to beat me up.

“You think it is your fault. There were times when I might be cuddling him but at the back of my mind I was always wondering what he would do next. He told me he did it because he loved me.”

Pauline, who lived in London, said her husband would tell her she looked like a tramp.

She said: “I used to think I better wear something else so I would, then if I put on a different top he'd say I was flaunting myself. He would ask me where I had been out whoring, he wasn't unfaithful to me but he told me was.

“It all seemed normal to me, I didn't know any different.”

Over the years the violence got progressively worse, though Pauline was never allowed to go to hospital.

She said: “He wouldn't let me go to hospital, except once when he stabbed me in the leg and I went to hospital with some concocted story. The nurses knew what was happening but I just told them I was fine. You're programmed not to say anything, you can't be sure you are safe.”

Pauline said she tried to leave her husband a number of times and would sleep rough on occasions.

She said: “I went to a refuge once, but he told me his probation officer had told him where I was so I went back, he said he'd find me wherever I went so I didn't think I could go to a refuge, you believe everything they say.

“The mental abuse is just as bad as the physical abuse, the bruises fade but in your mind it stays with you.”

Then one night in March 2007, she had driven one of her sons to his friends and got a flat tyre.

She said: “My son asked me if I would be all right. I said I would go home and get a beating but it would be OK. Then as I was driving home I decided I couldn't do it any more. I stayed the night in the car and the next day started walking to my mum's. The police picked me up on the M25 and I went to the station.

“I met the domestic violence officer and ended up in Ipswich. It is difficult when you first go in to the refuge, you don't know what to say to people. But a lot of people open up, suddenly you can talk about things which you couldn't talk about before.”

Now with friends she has made here in Ipswich, Pauline is looking for work and hoping to rebuild her relationship with her sons she had to leave behind.

She added: “I have to pluck up the courage to talk to them. It is difficult because he'll ask them where I am.”

If you have been a victim of domestic abuse call the Ipswich Women's Aid helpline on 01473 745111.

The Evening Star has changed the names of the women to protect their identities.

Have you used the Ipswich Women's Aid refuges? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to

IPSWICH Women's Aid chief executive Hilary Cadman has announced her retirement from the organisation after 33 years helping women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

Hilary said: “I am delighted to have been part of IWA, expanding the services we offer and seeing other agencies now helping to tackle this huge problem - one in four women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives”

On 13 November, 1976, with a five-bedroom property rented from Ipswich Borough Council for a peppercorn rent, the first refuge for women and their children fleeing from domestic violence opened in Ipswich, thanks to the Women's Section in the St John's Ward of the Labour Party, whose idea and hard work it was.

Hilary said: “We were all volunteers and I remember saving 10p coins to use the payphone in the hall which was very narrow so you were continually breathing in for people to pass while you phoned housing departments, benefits offices and solicitors.

“The conditions were fairly rough by today's standards, all furniture was donated and families shared bedrooms if there was a free bed, but the atmosphere was very supportive.”

Over the years IWA has supported 2,751 women and 3,933 children in its refuges and currently employs 30 staff and 13 volunteers.

Domestic violence accounts for between 16pc and one quarter of all recorded violent crime.

There is one incident reported to the police every minute.

45pc of women and 26pc of men had experienced at least one incident of inter-personal violence in their lifetimes.

Women are much more likely than men to be the victim of multiple incidents of abuse, and of sexual violence

54pc of UK rapes are committed by a woman's current or former partner.

On average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: this constitutes around one-third of all female murder victims.

At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence.

Children who live with domestic violence are at increased risk of behavioural problems and emotional trauma, and mental health difficulties in adult life.

In 75pc to 90pc of incidents of domestic violence, children are in the same or the next room.

One in five young men and one in ten young women think that abuse or violence against women is acceptable.