Do abused men not matter?

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My domestic abuse support group was cancelled two months ago. Let me make that clearer: the only support group for male survivors of domestic abuse for at least a hundred miles suddenly and unexpectedly abandoned us.

There was no warning, no fanfare, no real explanation. On the day of the group, mere hours before it started, those of us who were relying on it for our mental health and our recovery received a text message from the organisation to say that, ‘effective immediately’, the group was cancelled for the next six weeks as staff were needed to cover holidays elsewhere (i.e. the refuge and the women’s support groups). In the meantime, here’s a number to call if you’re in crisis. The end.

We asked why. We asked for an explanation. Nobody replied.

I attended the group every week for eighteen months. For eighteen months, I cried, raged, debated, learned, and started to heal. During that time, I went through suicidal crises, episodes of self-harm, binge-eating disorder, PTSD. The group always had my back. It was immensely reassuring to know that, once a week for two hours, I could sit with people who understood. Who shared my pain. Who told me that, no matter what, I’d get through this.

For the first six months after I fled my abuser, nobody would listen to me tell my story. I felt like a ghost, seeing the world from behind frosted glass. I reached out to my doctor, social worker, domestic abuse helplines, the police, mental health services, my MP – none of them gave a damn, not least because I am the male survivor of a female abuser, and everything is overwhelmingly geared towards female survivors of male abusers. I thought I was going crazy.

And then the group started. That first day when I attended – when I told my story and was heard – it was like waking up from a bad dream. I felt validated, human, real. People nodded, looked at me with concern, and said, ‘How awful. How hard that must have been. The behaviour you describe – that is categorical abuse. It is exactly what abusers do. You didn’t cause it. You didn’t deserve it. You’re no longer alone.’

Over time, I met more survivors, heard more stories like mine, listened as they poured out their hearts, facing the same struggles that I did. It helped me to understand what I had gone through. I watched some men recover quickly, and then relapse, others get worse for months on end. I saw men go back to their exes, only to be brutally and violently assaulted, then hide away in shame.

And I saw men heal. I saw the light coming back into their eyes, their shoulders lifting. Some of the men entered the group crushed, and left it standing tall. The effect was profound, miraculous even. It is amazing how powerful it is to be heard.

Some of the men were big, tattooed, bearded bikers with hearts of gold. Some were small, skinny, submissive types. Men in their sixties, boys in their twenties. Professionals and blue-collar workers, those with Masters Degrees and not even O-levels. Wealthy, poor, healthy, disabled. But no matter our background or how we were suffering, the group was a place for us, where we could grapple with the new reality we faced. A place where we were accepted and could feel safe.

We waited the six weeks for the group to restart. We struggled. We tried to support one another, but without the formal context of the group, it was hard. If you meet one or two others in a pub, it’s not easy to talk about the violence you’ve suffered, the mental health problems that have resulted, and the pain that you’re feeling, when you’re worried about the teenage girls at the next table overhearing. We counted down the days until the group resumed.

The day before it started back up, we’d still heard nothing. We chased them up several times, to no avail. We started to worry.

And then the day of the group – the very gosh-darned day – we got another text to say that the group would not currently be running. But it might start up again at some point. And that was it.

You can imagine how we felt, and the effect that it had. For many of us, that group was the one thing holding us together. Given that there are no courses for male survivors of domestic abuse – no Freedom Courses or Pattern-Changing like there are for women – it was all we had. And now it is gone.

I sent them a written complaint, saying that I could not understand how, after all the good they had done for eighteen months, they could suddenly drop the group and leave so many vulnerable men with no support. How they could not spare a single staff member for two hours a week in a venue that they already owned. I even offered to run the group myself for free.

They never even replied.

One of the men contacted the police and asked for help. Their only assistance was to send him a domestic abuse help sheet, which he passed on to me. It listed a number of helplines for women, and one for men. But it’s not helplines we need – it’s a support group. A place where we can be helped and heard and validated. It’s not hyperbole to say that it’s a life-saver.

The sheet said that there were three support groups in the county and provided the numbers. I rang all three. The first two were of the very organisation that had just cancelled our support group. The third said they ran groups for women, but had never run any for men, nor had they any plans to do so.

And that, dear readers, is where male survivors of abuse find ourselves in Twenty-First Century Britain. One space in a refuge for every forty spaces for a woman, and most of those don’t take children. No courses to help us now or in the future. One support group that is dropped without anyone caring one jot about the lives that it affects. Not even the decency to reply to my complaint or even consider my offer to run the group myself.

Some of the men I talk to are really struggling now. Some of them are circling the drain. The group was their lifeline, and now it has gone. For most of us, the loss of the support group will affect us for the worse. Given the deterioration I’ve witnessed over just the last two months, I dread to think what the next two months will bring.

It’s particularly galling that the women’s support groups (plural) and courses are still running, while our only source of solace or comfort in this world has been taken away from us. Yet still on TV, I see domestic abuse campaigns telling us how we need more support for female survivors of domestic abuse.

Do abused men not matter?

Understanding Controlling and Coercive Behaviour (by a survivor)

Everything you want to ask

What is Coercive Control?

Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate of Family Relationship became a crime in the UK in 2015. In short, Controlling Behaviour is a pattern of acts where an abuser makes their victim subordinate to and dependant upon them – very much a master/slave dichotomy – while Coercive Behaviour is the use of threats, violence and intimidation to harm, punish or frighten their victim.

I suffered both.

While the legal distinction of the two is useful in a courtroom, in the real world the line between Control and Coercive Control isn’t so clear. From my experience, coercion is just part and parcel of a range physically, mentally, emotionally, financially and sexually abusive behaviours designed to dominate and control you. It’s all controlling. It’s all demeaning, humiliating, manipulative and wrong. It’s the same crime.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if your abuse isn’t physical, it isn’t as bad. For me, violence was just an extra tool. The threat of violence, the behavioural explosions, the taking away of my dignity, were just as harmful, just as destructive and just as difficult to recover from.

From a legal point of view, it’s important to note that for coercive control, your abuser doesn’t ever need to lay a finger on you. If they have made you fear that violence will be used against you on just two occasions, it’s coercive control. Otherwise, you have to prove that the behaviour had a significant effect upon you e.g. physical or mental health deterioration or changes in your day-to-day activities.

For both, the behaviour has to be engaged in ‘repeatedly’ or ‘continuously’. For survivors of abuse, I’m sure we can all think of dozens if not hundreds of incidents that fulfil these criteria. I filled 200 pages with emails documenting the things my abuser did to me.

How is it prosecuted?

Lol. Badly. In my case, because the violence and threats of violence had occurred behind closed doors (though for some incidents I had witnesses), the police couldn’t use that to prove I had been made to fear physical violence on two occasions. Furthermore, while my medical records said that I was being abused and that my mental health was declining, they did not say that my mental health was declining as a direct result of that abuse, thus there was no evidence that the abuse I suffered had a significant effect on me. Therefore, the police were unwilling to investigate further as it wouldn’t stand up in court.

Yes, they could prove that I was abused and that my partner was an abuser; they simply couldn’t prove that the abuse caused me significant distress. Essentially, I couldn’t prove that I had suffered enough for my abuser to be prosecuted. My breakdown, tranquilisers, antidepressants, depression, anxiety and PTSD could have been caused by other things, not just the abuse. Therefore, my abuser got away scot-free.

I imagine the fact that I’m a man and my abuser was a woman meant the odds were stacked against me from the start, but I don’t think women have it easy either. The police seem to have few specialists in this type of crime and successful prosecutions are few and far between. In my experience, and those of others I’ve spoken to, the police like things that are neat and easy.

Controlling and Coercive Behaviour isn’t neat and easy. By it’s very nature, it mostly occurs out of sight in your home. Physical abuse is still prioritised over mental and emotional abuse, and easier to prosecute if there is evidence of bruises. I think all cases should be rigorously investigated and vigorously prosecuted. Unfortunately, that’s not where we are right now.

How does it work?

It’s actually very simple. Your abuser cuts you off from outside influence, often gradually, often without you noticing. They impose their wants and needs over your own. You become distant from family and friends. You start to give up your hobbies and interests. Your dreams die. You become isolated. You lose your freedom and the ability to escape. You become a prisoner in a relationship that was supposed to be built on love and trust, and is now characterised by exploitation and fear.

Abusers remove you from outside influence – anything from which you could derive pleasure or comfort or even an alternative viewpoint. Friends, family, hobbies and dreams connect you to a wider world outside the confines of your home – a world of ideas, of emotion, of gratification, enjoyment and pride. To people who might tell you that things aren’t right in your relationship. Those things are a threat to your abuser’s control of you, so they need to be taken away.

The aim of this behaviour to make you dependent on your abuser. They are your only friend, your only family, your only interest. They are your sole source of self-esteem and your only frame of reference for the world. They dominate your headspace so you can’t see what’s really happening. You don’t have time to yourself simply to think. Everything has become about them. Keeping them happy and fulfilling their needs is now your only goal in life.

You rely on them for your emotional and psychological wellbeing. The person that hurts you is the only one who can make you feel better. You crave their approval – some validation that you’re a good boy, that you’ve done right, that you’ve made them happy. When they show you kindness, it’s like nectar. You try to pretend the bad times never happen. You feel safe. So when they hurt you again, you do whatever it takes to make them happy again. You can be safe if only you try harder.

That’s how Controlling and Coercive Behaviour works.

What techniques do they use?

Any and all. It’s a multi-pronged attack on everything that makes you you. From talking to dozens of survivors of this type of abuse, the common factor is a complete disregard for their victim’s boundaries – physical, mental, emotional, social, familial. There isn’t a line in the sand that they will not cross. We’re told to stand up to bullies, but the word ‘no’ is like a red rag to a bull to these people.

Simple obstruction is the easiest way of controlling someone. Right from the start of the relationship, my ex would get in my bed and refuse to get out. Take my car keys and not give them back. Stand in the doorway and block me from leaving. When an adult behaves like that, there’s very little you can do. If you touch them, it’s assault. Abusers know that. It’s easier to just give in and do what they want.

Dominating your time and headspace is another key tactic. Constant phone calls and text messages. Wanting to see you every free minute you have in the day; unable to give you time to yourself. Reading your texts and emails. Stalking your social media. Everything becomes about them.

Belittling and putting down your interests, achievements, ambitions and dreams is pretty much Controlling Behaviour 101. “They’re all stupid. They’re silly, like you. You’re not exactly a success. You’re a fat loser, a disgrace to be seen with. Nobody likes you. You’re lucky I put up with you, because nobody else would have you. You’re so ugly. You’re so mean. You’re such a horrible person. You’re scum.” This lowers your self-esteem further, keeping you broken down and therefore compliant.

Emotional blackmail and guilt-tripping are very common. “You don’t love me, you’re being mean, you’re so selfish, how could you do this to me? You’re meant to be my boyfriend. You’re going to leave me, aren’t you? Everyone leaves me. You said you’d be there for me no matter what. I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.” More than anything else, abusers seem to want you to pity them. If you’re a good, empathetic person, you want to be kind to people, especially when you feel sorry for them. Abusers use this to their advantage.

They make things very awkward when you see your parents or friends, insisting on coming along or otherwise sabotaging your arrangements – needing you to support them with urgent emotional crises, for example – until it becomes easier to cancel plans and not make any more. The same applies to hobbies, education, jobs. Anything that doesn’t revolve around them and their needs becomes too much effort to maintain.

Direct threats are commonplace. “Give me money, or I’ll tell the children you don’t love them. Do this, or I’ll tell our friends you hit me. If you ask me again, I’ll hit you. If you accept that invitation, I’ll abort your baby.” I stayed far longer than I should because my ex used to tell me that if ever I left, she would get custody of the children because “the courts always side with the mother and my parents can afford better lawyers than you.” I stayed because I was terrified I would lose my children. And I was right to be.

Bribery is another common technique, often tinged with threat. “If you do x, y or z, I will give you sex/allow you time to yourself/let you see your friend,” the implication being that if you don’t do as you’re told, sex will be withheld until you do, she won’t give you time to yourself, and you won’t be able to see your friend. Of course, the promised bribe often never appears after you’ve given them what they wanted. But there is another aspect to bribery. Gifts come with strings attached. When they buy you something, when they do something for you, you owe them now. You’re beholden to them. You have to do what they say.

One of the worst and most effective techniques is anger, pure and simple. Abusers often say they have an ‘anger problem’, but this isn’t true. Anger is just another technique they use to control you. They only get angry when you’re not obeying them. I lived in fear of my ex’s ‘behavioural explosions’. When she kicked off, she would shout and scream and pull at her hair and bite herself. Behind closed doors, it was terrifying. In public it was embarrassing and humiliating. Just the threat of a tantrum kept me in line. It was easier – safer – to let her get her own way. Fear keeps you in line. Even when things are good, they’re good because you’re doing everything you can not to trigger an aggressive response.

Violence – threatened or otherwise – is another aspect of control and domination. Hitting someone dehumanises them. It makes them an animal. You sink lower, losing the will to resist, the confidence and self-esteem to get away. You start to blame yourself. You come to feel like you deserve to be treated this way. And you believe her when she tells you she was provoked. “If you hadn’t wound me up, I wouldn’t have hit you. If you hadn’t walked away from the argument, I wouldn’t have had to follow you. If you’d been a better boyfriend, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Gaslighting – denying reality and making you think that you’re going crazy – is one of the most insidious techniques in a Controlling and Coercive relationship. Abusers often deny that things had happened – “I never hit you, it didn’t happen, you’re just making it up” – or alter recollections of events to suggest that your perceptions are faulty. They have a mastery of manipulating things to position you as the aggressor and themselves as the victim. “I lied to you to protect you, because I knew you’d get upset if I told you the truth, so really, you’re the one with the problem.” Or, “I had to hit you to stop you, because you were going crazy. Don’t you remember?” While the constant belittling and undermining damages your emotions, your identity and your perception of yourself, gaslighting destabilises your mind and makes your doubt yourself. It’s one of the worst things a person can do to another.

With these techniques, there’s no limit to the control a person can have over you. They can control when you eat and when you sleep, what you wear, how you style your hair, where you can go, with whom and for how long, what you can do, where you can work, children, pets, money. They control everything.

How does it feel to be in a Controlling and Coercive Relationship?

Pretty shit, obviously. But a lot of the time, you don’t even realise it. You know something’s wrong – you can feel it – but because your abuser dominates your mind and your emotions, you can’t quite get a handle on what’s going on. You spend your life fighting fires, going from one crisis to another, unable to stop, take a breath and see the bigger picture – the whole freaking world is on fire, and nothing that you do will make it any better.

From speaking to other survivors of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, one thing is clear: while we started our relationships on an equal footing with our partners, we ended them broken down shells of ourselves at our lowest possible ebb. We were traumatised, depressed, isolated and alone. We’d lost our hobbies, our jobs, our interests, our personalities. The things that used to make us feel like us had been stripped away. We’d been hollowed out, turned into lifeless creatures that looked like us on the outside but had none of the substance inside.

Our abusers, however, hadn’t changed at all. They were the same person at the end of the relationship as they were at the start. They hadn’t grown, they hadn’t developed, they hadn’t suffered: their behaviour was unchanged. Their attitudes, values, belief systems, were unaltered. We were the ones whose behaviour had changed. We were the ones who thought differently about ourselves.

Before I left, while still under her spell, I thought I was the worst person on the planet. I thought I was an angry, hate-filled, violent, ugly, despicable monster. It wasn’t until after I left that I realised how effective her control had been: the person who hit me, threw drinks over me, cut off my beard with kitchen scissors; who shouted and swore and threatened and blamed; who blackmailed and manipulated and stole and lied; somehow convinced me that I was the bad one.

Why did you stay?

The easiest answer would be to say ‘fear’. It makes it nice and neat. She was a bad person, and I was afraid of her. She was the criminal and I was her victim. But that’s not the whole story.

I loved her. If it was bad all the time, that would have been easier, but it wasn’t. She gave me just enough honey to keep me hooked. Whether that was a deliberate tactic or not, it worked. It kept me craving the sweetness. And like a lot of survivors of this kind of abuse, I struggled – and still struggle – to blame her. I divide her into Jekyll and Hyde, with Jekyll all the things I loved, and Hyde the uncontrollable monster that lived with us. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome: to make sense of it, I piled all the abuse and all the responsibility onto Hyde, so that I could love Jekyll. I pretended that Jekyll was as much a victim of Hyde as I was. I invented a fictitious person that I could love, and spent years trying to make that person a reality.

And that’s the other reason I stayed: I wanted to help her. I cared about her. I wanted what was best for her. Everyone else abandoned her, and I didn’t want to be that person. The good times were good enough that I couldn’t give them up. I couldn’t stop hoping that one day, things would improve and we’d have the relationship I’d always dreamed of. So I always gave her one more chance. I always let her cross one last boundary, always thinking that this time – this time – things would be different.

I could have left many times – certainly before the children were born would have been easier as she couldn’t hold them over me – but I was mentally and emotionally bound to her. I saw her as a drowning victim that I had jumped in to save, and even though she was pushing me under, I thought that if I let go, she would sink. I therefore sacrificed myself to keep her afloat. Ultimately, that was my decision, and while she was to blame for everything she did, I have to address the thing in me that made me susceptible to this kind of abuse.

Why do they do it?

Is it deliberate or learned behaviour? Do they know what they’re doing is wrong? Are they conscious of their behaviour or is it instinctive? And what made them that way?

Ask a hundred different survivors, they’ll give you a hundred different answers. For me, I think abusers are horribly insecure and filled with self-hatred. They’re so uncomfortable in their own skin that controlling another person, trapping them and degrading them, makes them feel better about themselves. In particular, if they can take a person that has all the characteristics they don’t – kindness, empathy, tolerance, compassion – and beat the goodness out of them, it makes them think they’re not the outlier, they’re not the one who is fundamentally wrong inside.

I don’t think they feel guilty about what they do. I don’t think they feel regret. They’re good at faking these emotions. They’re good at hiding what they really are. But deep down, they’re predators. A lion doesn’t care about the antelope he slaughters.

Nor do I think they can be redeemed. From everything in my experience, it seems that these people can’t change. I hate saying that, because I hate the idea of giving up on someone – anyone. But it’s true.

You can’t fix someone who doesn’t even know they’re broken.

Is the behaviour conscious and deliberate or instinctive and learned? Are they responsible for it or are they so damaged they can’t help it? It doesn’t matter. The fact that they do it is enough.

What happens after a Controlling and Coercive relationship?

You rebuild. Dream new dreams. Reach out to old friends, if they’ll have you. Try to find something that gives you comfort. And swear you’re never going back.

It’s not as easy as all that. Your abuser gave your life meaning for so long that finding another purpose in life is tough. All your dreams revolved around them. Your only comfort comes from them. The only one who can make you feel better is the one you had to leave because they were destroying you. And now everything feels empty, and you’re alone.

You do the things you used to do, the things that used to make you feel good, and they feel different now, as you’re different now. You can’t return to the person you were.

That’s where I find myself now. Struggling to find new meaning, the new me, as I move forward to what I hope is a happier and healthier future.

Are you ever tempted to go back?

All the time. I think all survivors are. All you want to do is escape the cage, but you come out and find you’re in a desert. It’s dry, it’s hot and dusty, and there’s nothing you can see from here to the horizon.

Except behind you. Behind you is the cage you just escaped from. And it’s familiar. It’s enticing. It holds meaning and purpose and it promises comfort, albeit tempered with pain. Things might be different if you go back. You’ve shown your abuser that you’re not going to put up with their behaviour. They’ll be different this time. Things will have changed.

But I know I can never go back. Lions don’t care about the antelopes they slaughter. They are just food to them.

What can I do to help someone in a Controlling and Coercive relationship?

Probably not a lot. People told me I was being abused – I didn’t believe them. When you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re bound to your abuser by love, fear, guilt, dependence, often housing, money, children. They’re your everything. You have to break something in yourself in order to leave.

If you pull the person out of that relationship, they’ll go back. They have to hit rock bottom to see for themselves what everyone else can see. They have to choose to leave. As hard as it is to accept, you can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed – even when they’re the victim of abuse.

Maybe tell them you’ll always be there for them. Tell them they can come to you to talk anytime. Tell them about support groups, helplines. Advise them to see their doctor. Show them this blog. You can show them a way out, but ultimately, they are the ones who have to walk through it.

I always told people that I had to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I’d tried everything, because if I left, I was the one who had to live with my decision.

Now I live with it. I own it. And I know it was the right thing to do.

I hope this has helped you better understand Controlling and Coercive Behaviour.

Further questions

If anyone has any further questions they’d like answered, respond in the comments and I’ll add them to another post.

Male Tears: Recovering from Abuse

I’ve always considered myself a modern man. I’ve never been afraid to get in touch with my feminine side, I love talking about feelings and relationships, and all my best friends are women. I don’t have a killer instinct, I don’t like confrontation or aggression, and I’ve never understood the obsession with competitive sports.

I even did a course in Gender Studies at university where I wrote essays about ‘The Patriarchy’ and the artificial creation of gender norms based on notions of biological sex. And this was twenty years ago, before it became mainstream.

I’ve always believed that it’s okay for men to show emotion. When I’ve been with men as they’ve cried, I’ve been sympathetic and supportive and assured them repeatedly that there’s nothing wrong with it and it’s entirely okay. I always maintained that crying is entirely normal, understandably human, and nothing to be embarrassed about.

So why, as I recover from the abuse I suffered, do I feel so ashamed crying in front of people?

Throughout my life, whenever I shed my tears I do it in private, behind closed doors, and entirely alone, as though to have witnesses would somehow un-man me. I know it’s not a sign of weakness to cry, but it is ingrained within me, as it is drummed into all men, that “Boys Don’t Cry.”

At my first school, I was known as a Cry-baby. Everything would set me off, every day. When I was 8, we moved and I started at a new school, and I swore to myself that I wouldn’t cry in front of these new children. Tears attract bullies, I told myself. Tears expose weakness. They make you vulnerable. So I’ve spent a lifetime keeping my tears in check, and been very successful at it.

Until the day I ended my marriage to my abusive wife. Since then, I can’t count the number of people who have seen me cry. Far more tears have come in public than in private. And every single time, I try to fight off the tears, try to control how I’m feeling inside. I try to hide it.

They come when I least expect it. They come for silly reasons, and for important ones. I hear a sentimental song, and I cry. I see families out for the day with their children, and I cry. I see Wellington boots lined up on a porch – a daddy pair, a mummy pair, and two child pairs – and I cry.

I cry for the children I miss. I cry because they don’t live with me; because they’re not growing up in a loving household with their daddy. I cry because I’m not there to take them into school in the morning or tuck them in at night. I cry because I can’t hold their little hands or wipe away their tears.

I cry when I go somewhere I once went with my family; I cry when I go somewhere new without them. I cry in parks and at the beach; I cry at the cinema; I cry in the support group. I cry in front of friends and support workers and other survivors of domestic abuse. I cry in cafes and at dinner parties. I cry in the bath and in bed; on the sofa; in the car. I cry while walking the clifftops, while cycling in the forest. I cry; I cry; I cry.

I cry for the person I used to be and the things I used to do. I cry for the emptiness I feel inside. I cry for the loss of my future dreams and because nothing feels the way it should. I cry as I search for meaning in this new life that was thrust upon me against my will.

I even cry over my wife, the person who brought me to this place. I cry when I think of our wedding, for the happy future we never had. I cry on her birthday; on Valentine’s Day. I cry on our anniversary. I cry that we’ll never grow old together, because despite knowing that she was bad to me, and bad for me, a part of me still loves her and always will.

People tell me it’s normal – that after having to keep it locked inside all the years I was being abused, it’s no surprise that as I start to recover from the trauma, a backlog of emotions comes pouring out. I’m sure they’re right.

But it doesn’t stop me feeling humiliated when it happens, like my dignity is being taken away again, the way it was for all those years.

I think the reason I’m so ashamed of doing it is because it’s a reminder of what she brought me to. Each time I cry in front of people, it’s a new trauma that adds to all the others. That’s the legacy of abuse – a never-ending series of indignities, vulnerabilities and exposures that last long after the abuser is out of the picture.

I just wish I knew how to stop welling up when I’m out and about in the world, because even though we all know that men have emotions the same as anyone else, nobody wants to see a grown man cry.

Abuse and PTSD

At the end of December, I received a letter from my psychiatrist that spelled out, in black and white, that I have been formally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the abuse I suffered during my marriage. It was the first time after leaving her – the first time in nineteen months – that somebody actually acknowledged what she did to me and how it affected me.

Trouble is, I’d known it already for the better part of a year-and-a-half. It wasn’t like I was hiding how I felt. In the days after I left her, my doctor put me on sleeping pills and astronomical doses of antidepressants because I was so afraid and agitated that I was climbing the walls. I startled at the slightest noise, leapt to my feet if a dog barked, a car drove past, the postman came up the driveway. I checked the doors and windows were locked a thousand times a day. I planned escape routes in case she turned up because a ‘helpful’ neighbour had informed her where I’d gone when I fled the home for my own safety.

I spent weeks curled up in a little ball, my chest tight with fear, my heart pounding, tormented by flashbacks, soaked in sweat, unable to sleep. On those occasions I did manage to drift off, I was plagued by nightmares. My hair fell out in clumps. I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than trying to keep myself safe, jumping at shadows, hypervigilant to the slightest threat.

I hadn’t realised how much I feared her, not until I left. The twelve years I endured her Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, I had pushed it down, ignored it, focused on keeping her stable and trying to manage her explosions. Once I was away from her – the first time I’d ever been more than a few hours apart from her – that’s when the terror rose up and swallowed me whole.

Every childcare handover, every meeting with Children’s Services, every communication with the police, with my doctor, with my solicitors; every time I received a message from her (several hundred a month); every night when I dreamt of her; I was retraumatised. Having to repeat my story again and again, my chest ached, my throat closed up and I struggled to breathe.

But nobody seemed to care.

I begged my doctor for help. I begged to see a psychiatrist, but I was rejected by the mental health team because, apparently, I wasn’t bad enough. I developed an eating disorder and put on several stones, but apparently it was the wrong type to be treated. I started self-harming, but my injuries were apparently too ‘superficial’ for intervention. I contacted my doctor more than twenty times in a year, but I didn’t see him once – I was simply told to keep taking my medication because I wasn’t ill enough to be seen.

I told him about the nightmares, about the fear, the anxiety, the pain, the self-hatred. I once spoke to him on the phone for twenty minutes about all the memories that kept haunting me, the incidents I couldn’t get out of my head; that I tossed about in bed all night in the dark, unable to sleep, my thoughts spiralling round and round. In my medical records, it simply read: ‘Trouble sleeping; prescribed Amitriptyline.’ Nothing about the trauma I had suffered, or the downward spiral I found myself on.

It wasn’t until I took myself off my antidepressants and had a major mental health crisis that I was finally allowed to see a psychiatrist.

He was rather blasé about everything I told him – ‘You’re thinking of killing yourself? Everyone is. You feel empty and lost? Yeah, that’s normal. You’re having nightmares? Of course, it goes with the territory’ – but he did suggest I might have PTSD and then sent me on my way. That was six months ago.

The people I told about the PTSD doubted it – counsellors, friends, social workers. The impression of PTSD is that it’s something suffered by soldiers, police officers, people who have witnessed death and serious injury. Nobody seemed to credit that years and years of physical, emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuse could damage a person – especially not if that person is a man and his abuser is a woman. They acted as though PTSD was the latest trend that all the cool kids say they have to make themselves feel special, as though I was being a drama queen for even suggesting it.

I even had people telling me I was weak because I had ‘allowed’ myself to be affected by her. I needed to ‘get off my arse’ and get on with my life. I needed to ‘get over it’. I needed to ‘stop feeling sorry for myself’. It was as if it was somehow my fault if I was having nightmares and struggling to cope with the damaged confidence and self-esteem that comes from over a decade of abuse – abuse that I can’t get away from, since I have to see her every week to hand over the children, and endure her continuing attempts at manipulation and coercion.

Clearly, being hit with coat-hangers or having your beard cut off with kitchen scissors isn’t being shot at; being deprived of sleep for five years and doing everything you can to keep your partner from flying into a violent rage isn’t seeing your buddy step on an IED; and having drinks thrown over you and water poured on your side of the bed isn’t dragging a dying person from a wrecked vehicle. The threats to abort my babies, to make me homeless, to take away my children, isn’t the same as fighting an enemy actively trying to kill you, and having someone read your emails and your text messages, steal money from you, lie about you, and take away your dignity, is not the same as having incoming mortar bombs.

But that doesn’t mean it was nothing.

I’ve spent almost two years trying to be taken seriously, trying to get someone – anyone – to acknowledge that what I went through mattered. When the police declined to prosecute her, they said it was because with Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, you have to prove that a) you were abused, and that b) the abuse had a negative impact on you. While they could prove she abused me, they said, they couldn’t prove it had an effect on me…despite the fact I reported it several times to my doctor and Social Services, the eyewitnesses, my testimony, the testimony of friends and family, emails, text messages and my own pleas for help. Indeed, they said that while my medical records stated that I was being abused and that my mental health was declining, they did not state that the decline in my mental health was as a direct result of the abuse, and therefore the case would not stand up in court. Brilliant.

All this time that I’ve been ignored, all this time that I’ve been struggling, all the blows to my self-respect and all the times I’ve been made to feel invisible – the letter containing my diagnosis of PTSD, coming more than four months after the appointment, is vindication. It makes me real. It makes what I went through real. It restores to me my sense of self that was taken from me. It is the first, the very first, official acknowledgement that I am not crazy, I’m not making it up, I’m not weak, I didn’t ‘allow’ her to affect me, I’m not being a drama queen, I’m not making it out to be more than it was – it happened, and my pain, my suffering and my trauma matter. What she did to me matters. I matter.

Yes, I still have nightmares almost every night. Yes, I still feel anxious at every childcare handover, every time my phone beeps with a text message, and every time there’s a knock at the door. Yes, I’m still so terrified of people and what they might do to me that I shy away from anything even resembling a relationship. But those four letters on a piece of headed paper – PTSD – have given me back some of the dignity that I lost.

It’s not a great thing to have, but I’m grateful to be told I have it, even if it came way later than it should. And if nothing else, it is proof both that she abused me and that this abuse had a negative effect on me. I now have enough evidence to have her prosecuted for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour. I just need to decide whether I want to put myself through that hell again.

Should you be the bigger man?

A united front for the children

Despite being the victim of quite hideous abuse from my former wife, I’ve been told several times recently that I need to show a united front for our children. For their sake, I have been urged to put aside my differences with her, yet my protestations that this is impossible have been repeatedly dismissed with the argument that I need to be ‘the bigger man’.

This has even led to the suggestion that I should have Christmas Dinner with her i.e. return to the home in which I was abused, to sit across from the person who cut off my beard with kitchen scissors, who I reported to the police for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, Assault, Extortion, Theft, Harassment and Stalking, and surrounded by the people who aided, abetted and endorsed her behaviour – to do what? Smile? Make happy small talk? Pretend that everything is fine and dandy, and that the past eighteen months haven’t been a nightmare of police investigations, court cases, false accusations, lies, gaslighting, and PTSD?

Apparently, yes. That is what I am told I should do, for the sake of my children.

When I say that I don’t want to put my head back into that noose – that I can’t – it is implied that I am somehow morally wrong, and that my inability to ‘get over’ myself is equally repugnant to the behaviour that caused it. “Well, I think that’s sad, and I feel sorry for your children.”

I’ve been told I should remain friends with my ex. I’ve been told that any man who criticises his ex, particularly if she is the mother of his children, is a scumbag. Always, always, it comes back to the same thing – no matter what she has done or continues to do, I must be ‘the bigger man’.

Pardon my French, but what the hell is this sexist, misandrist, rose-tinted, patronising bullshit?

I can’t imagine a woman being told she is weak, oversensitive or somehow equally in the wrong if she refuses to go into the house in which she was abused to sit across from the man who abused her and pretend that he never laid a finger on her, ‘for the sake of the children’. I can’t imagine she would be told that her physical and mental wellbeing is insignificant, and she must expose herself to the threat of further abuse and trauma, ‘for the sake of the children’.

Some say that, while we will probably never be friends, I should ‘try to get along with her’. What do they think I’ve been doing for the past decade? I tried that. I tried every day for years. Even after I left, I tried to get along with her for the sake of the children. I sat beside her at the school play in order to put on a united front for the children. She thanked me for it, and later texted to say she really appreciated it. A few weeks later, when she again wanted to hurt me, I received a letter from her solicitor telling me how ‘inappropriate’ it was that I had sat next to her at the school play, as I had made her feel uncomfortable. Bald-faced lies.

Anybody who suggests that I should just ‘try to get along with her’ has no idea the power that an abuser can hold over their victim. She is the spider and I am the fly. Should you really ‘try to get along’ with a person who has been actively trying to destroy you for a decade? Sitting across the table from her would threaten to undo all the positive work and healing I have done since leaving. It would give her the opportunity to gaslight, to manipulate, to use my attendance as ‘proof’ that she never abused me – because why would I come back if she had? It would be to make myself vulnerable again.

Others keep suggesting that, because we have children together, we must be able to communicate face-to-face in order to make decisions around the children. They are seriously proposing that I try to ‘co-parent’ with the person who threatened to abort my children to control me; who threatened to neglect them to make me obedient; who taught them to lie to me; who called them liars when they told me the truth; who said she would take them away from me to punish me if ever I left; and who treats every parenting decision as a battle that she has to win, no matter the consequences and who gets hurt.

Again, do they think I haven’t spent years trying to co-parent with her? You can’t co-parent with a person like that. There is a false assumption that persists in society at large and in the institutions that deal with parenting, that when there is high-conflict between two parents, they are both to blame and both in the wrong. But believe me – one person can create more than enough problems by themselves, and if you stand up for yourself, as by necessity you must, you come to be regarded as party to the madness, instead of the only rational one.

“Well, I’m sorry you can’t meet up for the sake of the children. She’s willing to.”

Of course she is! She’s the abuser! She knows that if we sit down in a room together, she can use all the tools at her disposal, all the ones she used so effectively for so many years, to bully, intimidate, browbeat, pressure and emotionally blackmail me into giving in to whatever she demands. She knows that if it is spoken, instead of written down in emails, she can claim that I said or did or agreed to whatever she wants to lie about next. I use the voice recorder on my phone in my pocket at every single childcare handover so that she can’t make stuff up about me. This is all for my protection. Yet people think that I’m the bad guy because I refuse to expose myself to further abuse. They can’t seem to understand that I am afraid of her, and I have good reason to be: I almost didn’t survive what she did to me.

In response to all these critics, who love to use that moralising phrase ‘for the sake of the children’ – as my ex does all the time, in order to attempt to justify whatever egregious, conniving, vindictive, threatening or unreasonable demand she’s going to make next – I have this response:

‘I always believed that you never walk away from a marriage: you stay and make it work. But I came to the realisation that if my children were in the marriage I was in, I would tell them to run; that some things can’t be fixed; and that there is no shame in walking away from something that is toxic, destructive and unhealthy. I decided that I could not tell them that and remain in my marriage. I would have to lead by example, no matter how hard and no matter how much it broke my heart. I left my marriage to show my children that there is a way out of the prison of abusive relationships.

‘You tell me that for their sake, I need to be friends with their mother and put on a united front. You believe that it would be good for my children to have both parents to Christmas dinner. Let me ask you this: would you tell your child that they have to socialise with a person who abused and continues to abuse them? Would you tell them that they have to pretend to like that person, pretend to be friends, pretend to be okay with that person? Would you tell them to expose themselves to further harm because it would make others feel better if we all pretend to like each other? What sort of lesson are you teaching?

‘I would argue that while in the short term, it would make your children feel good, in the long term, you are teaching them that adults are false. By lying to them throughout their childhood – and they will discover you were acting out a pretence the whole time – you will teach them that adult life is all about deception. You’re teaching them that we should pretend to like the people who harm us. That no matter how awful a person’s actions, we should cover them up and continue to make ourselves vulnerable to further abuse in order to keep other people happy. Is that really what you want for your children?

‘The reason I will not share Christmas dinner with my ex-partner, the reason I will not sit in a room with her, and the reason that we communicate by email instead of face-to-face, is the same reason I left the marriage: to show my children that you do not have to put up with abusive people. It is not right to put up with abusive people. It is not right to ask a survivor to pretend that the abuser did not abuse them. It is not right to lie to your children by pretending that you and their abusive mother are friends.

‘If this means I am not the ‘bigger man’, then so be it. I do not need to justify myself to you. I need to be able to look myself in the mirror every day knowing that I am doing everything I can to provide for the long term physical, emotional and psychological welfare of my children, and that is exactly what I am doing. I have never told them anything about what she did to me. I have never been impolite to her at handovers. I have never criticised her to them. But I do not need to pretend to be friends with her. There will come a day when they discover what really went on, and why I made the decisions that I made. And on that day, they will know that they do not have to tolerate the abusers in their lives. I will have led by example.’

Come home, daddy

What can I say?

When my children ask me to come home, what can I say?

‘I’m sorry, kids, but your mum abused me to the point I had to be removed for my own welfare to a place of safety. If I go back, I would end up dead. She would make sure of it.’

Of course, I can’t say that.

‘I would love to come back. I would love to spend my days with you. I would love to watch you grow up under the same roof as me. But I’m not prepared to put my head back in that noose. I would cease to be the person you love and become something else, a husk of what I am now. To be your dad, I have to look after myself so that I can look after you.’

I can’t say any of these things.

And that just adds to their confusion about why I left and why I won’t come back.

‘Sometimes,’ I tell them, ‘when mummies and daddies argue, the only way to stop the arguing is for one of them to leave. I didn’t want you to see us arguing all the time, and as mummy owned the house, it was daddy who had to go.’

It’s fair. Far fairer to my ex than she has been to me. But what else can I say?

‘Your mother subjected me to ten years of controlling and coercive behaviour, physical assault, extortion, gaslighting, emotional blackmail, financial abuse, threats, torture. She took away everything that I was, and everything I wanted to be. She used you both as weapons to cause me pain. And then she took you too.’

No. I can’t say that.

Yet my mind continues to wander back to that dangerous territory, that fertile breeding ground of what if? What if it was different? What if we went to couples counselling? What if, what if, what if?

I left to spare my children having to witness the abuse that was being inflicted upon me; to spare them being used as pawns in a malicious game of control; to break the cycle for the next generation and spare them growing up to be abusers or abused. I would have taken them with me if I could, but they were ripped away from me, so I had to leave alone.

I consoled myself these past eighteen months that at least they were being spared the toxic atmosphere that persisted in their home. At least, I fooled myself, if she didn’t have me around as a punchbag, the children wouldn’t have to witness her outbursts and her mania.

I’ve found out over the past couple of weeks that this was a futile hope.

Some of the things she did to me – the cruel, the awkward, the irrational – she is doing to them now.

My daughter was ill, so I decided not to take her to her extracurricular activity. She was terrified that her mum would shout at her.

‘But you’re ill,’ I said.

‘That doesn’t matter, she’ll shout at me.’

‘But you’re ill. It’s not right to go when you’re ill. And she has nothing to shout at you about – when you’re with me, I’m in charge and I make the decisions. If she’s going to shout at anyone, it will be me.’

Imagine a child having to be afraid of being shouted at because they’re ill? Yet when I lived in that house, I had the same fear. When I had a migraine and took myself to bed to lie down in a dark room, my wife would stomp up the stairs, open the door, shout at me, call me a loser, a disgrace, a selfish arsehole, turn on the light, and then slam the door, forcing me to get up to turn the light off. Anyone who has ever had a migraine can empathise with just how evil and vindictive that behaviour is.

My son was panicking because his jogging bottoms were loose and kept falling down.

‘The wasitband’s gotten stretched. Just wear a different pair.’

‘No, mum will get cross if I don’t wear these ones.’

‘Why would she?’

‘Because she did last week. She shouted at me because they kept falling down.’

‘Hang on. She shouted at you because your jogging bottoms were loose and kept falling down, but wouldn’t let you wear a pair that fits?’

What can I say? Is it fair to criticise their mother to them, to tell them she’s unreasonable and that what she’s doing is wrong?

‘Mummy keeps losing things,’ they tell me. ‘And then she gets angry and blames us when she can’t find them, but we haven’t moved them.’

Yes, I know exactly what that’s like. She did the same to me, almost every day. The increasing irrationality, the growing anger, the blame, the accusations, the shouting, the raised fists, the profusion of C- and F-words. But what can I say?

‘Your mother has a personality disorder. She doesn’t mean to be this way. She’s like the scorpion in the story with the frog: she stings because it’s in her nature. It has nothing to do with you. Just ignore it.’

No, I can’t say that, because I have stared down her rage as a grown man with a height and weight advantage, and she terrified me. How much worse it must be as a child to see the darkness in her eyes and have no one to protect you from it.

I tell the children’s social worker, only to have them ignore it. ‘Different parenting styles’ is how they like to classify my concerns. Nothing to see here.

I keep telling everyone what’s going on. I’ve been telling them for years. But nobody listens. And still my children ask me to come home.

Just what can I say?

A Letter to my Abusive Ex

The words I can never say

To my ex-wife, the mother of my children, my best friend and the one I wanted to spend my life with.

It has now been 18-months since that fateful weekend when my entire life fell apart. It has been the longest, hardest year-and-a-half I have ever experienced. I have wanted to talk to you every day; missed you every moment; cried far too many tears and dwelt too long in recrimination and regret.

But never, in all that time, have I been able to talk to you. And never have I been able to ask you that question that all survivors of abuse long to ask, the question that drives us mad in the long hours of the night. Why? Why did you do this to me?

I know you can never give me the answers I want. I’ve seen enough people break themselves as they search for solace, for acknowledgement, for anything from their abuser to indicate that they are sorry, that they understand the enormity of what they did to us, and that it was wrong. I know such a hope is futile.

I still dream about you. Nightmares, really. Three nights a week, I’m in that house again, locked up with a wild animal, knowing I’m going to die unless I get out. I wake up soaked in sweat. Those dreams aren’t the worst.

Once a week while I sleep, I try to tell you what you did to me. We’re often in a public place – a city, a park, a shopping centre – and I tell you that you destroyed me. I describe how it felt to have drinks thrown over me; to be hit; to feel so powerless that I shaved my head and grew my beard, only to have you cut it off with kitchen scissors. I explain how you took away my self-belief and my ambitions; how you taught me to hate myself; how you made me believe I deserved to be treated like dirt.

And in this dream, this weekly emptying of my heart, every single time, I hope that there will be some admission on your part, some form of empathy, some regret about what you did.

But it never comes. In the dream, as in life, you gaslight; you deny; you make excuses. When that doesn’t work, you go on the attack. ‘Well, you’re not perfect, you know! It’s your fault, really. If you didn’t make me so angry, I wouldn’t hit you.’ I wake up feeling crappy that some part of my subconscious even tried to have that conversation with you.

I know that you can never provide me with the closure that I need, so I have to speak to you without expecting an answer, in the hope that this will make me feel better and work through the grief and pain that I’m feeling. I have to speak to you without giving you the opportunity to respond, because I know the response will be filled with lies, manipulation, deflection and attack. My psyche is too fragile to stomach another barrage of false accusations that twist my words and my character into something ugly, so I will never send this letter to you. Besides, you’d only respond with your lawyers.

So I write this for myself. All the things I cannot say.

You were my wife. You were the mother of my children. You were my best friend. You should have protected me in the shelter of our home and our marriage. But instead, you exploited me and hurt me and crushed me. You treated me like a disobedient puppy that needed to be broken.

You told me you loved me even as you poured drinks over my side of the bed; you told me you loved me even as you threatened my children to get your own way; you said you couldn’t live without me as you cut me off from friends and family, read my emails, stole from my bank account, and blackmailed me into obedience. You told me you loved me as you took away everything positive in my life that didn’t revolve around you.

Hobbies? Gone. Career? Gone. Dreams? Gone. ‘If you go to that conference, I’ll abort your baby.’ You saw my health declining; you saw how depressed I was becoming; and instead of engendering sympathy, or compassion, you used it against me, to further isolate me and make me beholden to you.

You used the threat of losing my children as a weapon to keep me your slave. ‘If you don’t like it, you know where the door is, but I’ll get custody of the kids because the courts always side with the mother and my parents can afford better lawyers than you.’ You made the marital home into a prison and you used my love for my children as bars to keep me locked inside with you.

I was terrified of you. I woke up dreading what the day would bring. My constant mantra was to ask how much more I could take. When would my suffering be enough to make you happy? I did everything I could not to set you off. I tiptoed around you, trying desperately not to say or do anything that would bring your anger down upon me. But always it would come. We would be having a nice time, and suddenly you’d whip me with a wire coat hanger, and I had no idea why. I would walk away, only to have a drink thrown over me. I would leave, only to have you follow me out and continue berating me.

And yet, despite all of this, I wanted to make it work. Like in a hostage-situation, I came to identify with my jailer. I wanted us to be the family you always said you wanted us to be. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so afraid of you. But then, every time I became comfortable, or felt safe, or thought that things might be improving, you’d pull the world out from under my feet. ‘I don’t want to be in your family. I don’t want to be on your team. I don’t want to be on your side.’ I craved your validation. You gave me enough crumbs to keep me hooked. And you told me you would never let me leave.

The only way to survive the horror I found myself in was to divide you into two separate people. I took all the good parts of you and pretended that was who you really were, and I loved that person very much. I cast all the evil, violent, twisted parts of you into a different being completely distinct from you, a creature I despised.

Looking back, I realise that I was in love with something that didn’t exist, and the person that I miss is nothing more than a figment of my imagination. You were always both people, the beauty and the beast, the Jekyll and the Hyde, and in separating them out, I never knew the real you.

Not that anybody knew the real you. You were so adept at wearing masks, I wonder if you even know who you truly are. All I know is that I miss the good side of you, and I think I will always love the good side of you, and never get over losing the good side of you. But the beast inside of you can’t be ignored. I am like a moth, drawn to a flame, but to save myself from the fire, I have to go out into the darkness, alone.

If I stayed with you, I would have ended up dead. Depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, self-harm and thoughts of suicide – you caused it all. I cried to my doctor that I wanted to die because it was the only way out, the only way of escaping you. She gave me drugs and sent me home. I told another doctor that you were abusing me. He told me to do as you wanted and maybe you’d treat me better, and sent me home again. You reduced me to the point that I either had to leave or be sectioned. And still you told me you loved me and that you would never let me leave.

Even at the end, when I was down on my knees at the roadside sobbing onto the tarmac, desperate for my wife, my best friend, the one I wanted to spend my life with, I gave you another chance. I asked you to get help. I asked you to bet on our family, to keep us together, to make it work, to please try to get help, for all our sakes. To accept that you had a personality disorder; to accept the treatment you’d been offered; to work with me instead of against me. I was willing to wait. I was willing to help. I spent ten years trying to help you.

But you turned me down. Instead of getting help, you chose to throw me under the bus. You chose to deny the things that you’d done; to tell lies about me to discredit me; to set your family and their lawyers on me; to accuse me of the very things that you had done to me; and to take away my children, just as you’d always threatened. You chose this horror that our lives have become. You chose this animosity. You chose to throw away our marriage, our friendship and our family because you wouldn’t admit to what you had done.

I was willing to forgive you. I’d forgiven you for ten years already. I was desperate to forgive you. But in all the threats and blame and anger at losing your favourite toy, in all the manipulations that were to come, all you had to do was to say sorry. Just once. ‘Sorry for what I did.’ I would have come scurrying back. Even if it was false, even if it was fake, even if you didn’t mean it. You would have won.

You are the master of manipulation. How could you never even think to say sorry?

Since I left, you’ve made my life a living hell. I’ve struggled to pick up the pieces. It’s hard to put yourself back together when you’ve forgotten where everything is meant to go or what you’re even supposed to look like anymore; when your identity has been so effectively erased and subsumed beneath another person that anything you take for yourself feels wrong. I feel empty and alone, terrified of the world I find myself in, and always awaiting the next crisis you send my way – the next lie, the next baseless accusation, the next court case.

Sometimes I think of going back to you. I wouldn’t be alone; I wouldn’t miss you anymore; I could see my children every day. Sometimes I worry that it’s inevitable; that I have no choice in the matter. It is my lot in life to be your victim, so why am I still fighting to be free? All I’m doing is causing myself more pain in the long run. Simpler to give in and go back. Accept that I will always be beneath your shoe and learn to be happy there.

Such thoughts are dangerous. What is it in me that makes me crave a person who has no compunction about hurting me? Am I so badly bruised that I think it’s all I deserve? Am I happiest when I’m being beaten? Why can’t I see you for what you are – an abuser – instead of what I want you to be? Why can’t I let go of someone who attacked me in every way it’s possible to attack a person? Why do I still love you? What is wrong with me?

I know that if I went back, I would not survive a year. I know that, as hard as my life is now, it is better than the life I had with you. Yet still I miss you. And still I wonder. And still I wish that things were different. I’m heartbroken that you chose to protect yourself and your reputation instead of choosing me, us, our family. We could have made a life together. You chose to throw it away and destroy me. To destroy us both.

I wonder if you ever have regrets about what you’ve done; if somewhere, deep down in that black hole you call a heart, there’s a part of you that knows it’s your fault and that you sabotaged the best thing you had going for you and the person who would have stood beside you until the end? Or have you convinced yourself that it’s all me? That you did nothing wrong, as you’ve told everyone, and the fault was mine for leaving?

You told me on our wedding anniversary that you never thought this would ever happen; that you thought we’d be together forever. Then why didn’t you fight for me? Why didn’t you do something to stop this? All you had to do was admit to it; to say sorry; to get help. That was all I asked.

Did you ever love me? You said it often enough. Are you even capable of love? Words are cheap. How a person treats you is how they feel about you, and you showed me no compassion, no empathy, and no kindness, except as rewards for doing as I was told. So were they ever real, or simply part of the manipulation? And were the good times really that good, or did they simply seem good because the bad times were so bad and because I was doing everything in my power to make sure they were good? I don’t know. That’s the legacy you’ve left me with, the legacy of our marriage: a giant question mark.

I can’t think back on our marriage with happiness. Happy photographs are tinged with regret and sadness, and the knowledge of what was going on when the camera wasn’t looking. I watch the strong, confident person that was me shrinking into a shell of his former self, the sadness behind his smile, the desperation in his eyes. Ruined, all of it ruined.

I lost my marriage, my home, my children, my wife, my best friend. Our connection was severed like an axe falling from the sky, so suddenly and abruptly that I sometimes thought I had died and this was hell. I wish I could talk to you, but you hide behind others for fear you’ll say something that incriminates yourself. You tell lies through lawyers. You threaten me with legalese because I left. You twist everything I say to try to make me into the bad guy, and I can’t make myself vulnerable to that kind of exploitation again.

I can never tell you how much I’m grieving, because you keep telling people I’m mentally ill and not safe around the children. I can never have an honest conversation with you, because you use my words against me. I can’t share my life with you, because you’ve stalked me and harassed me since I left. You chased me off social media, forcing me to set up online under a false name so you can’t find me here.

This is what you’ve done to me, to our children, to yourself. You took away everything I ever wanted. You took away my dignity, my self-esteem, my hopes and dreams for the future. And what am I now? The shell of what was and what could have been, because of you. I’m in love with a fantasy, addicted to a drug that only causes me pain but desperate for the next hit. And you’re the only one who can make me feel better.

But you never can, and you never will. Because you can’t admit to what you did or even say sorry. And I can’t say any of this to you, because you’ll use it against me. So I’m stuck; caught between a past filled with regret and a future that I don’t want. This is what it means to be a survivor of abuse.

I can’t stop wishing that things were different. But this is the way things are, and I have to accept that the reason I’m writing this letter, and the reason I can’t send it, are the same: the person I’m writing it to is an enemy who has no qualms about destroying me. The person I would want to read it – the kind, sensitive, empathetic person I loved – was somebody I made up. The real person who would receive this letter took my love and turned it into something ugly. You took my spirit and strangled it until it was dead. You broke my heart and didn’t care. I will get no solace from you.

So I need to stop looking for it from my past and start looking to get it from myself and my future. Maybe if I can find a tiny light and a scrap of warmth out here, in the dark, cold world I find myself in, then I can finally start to put you behind me.

It has been the longest eighteen months of my life.

Regards,

Your ex-husband, the father of your children, your best friend, and the one who wanted to spend his life with you

Weekend Dad: A Victim of Abuse

It’s a never-ending cycle of trauma

We hear a lot about the struggles of single motherhood and the horrors of deadbeat dads, but what about the good dads who love their children very much, but only get to see them every second weekend? This is what it’s like:

I have my children and everything slots into place. Everything feels right. They’re sleeping under my roof, under my protection. I feel like an eagle guarding his nest beneath his wing. I could achieve anything. I feel larger than life.

Everything I do reaffirms what I always knew: I’m a great dad. I make them a picnic and take them to the park; I catch them when they fall; I put plasters on their knees and wipe away their tears. We draw pictures; we play schools and doctors; we build cities out of Lego. I read them a bedtime story, turn out the light, sit outside the door as they settle with their teddy bears. They fall asleep safe in the knowledge that they’re loved.

Sunday arrives. We’re on the clock today – the countdown to them going home. When they ask why I don’t live with mummy, I tell them that sometimes mummies and daddies can’t live together anymore, and as mummy owned the house, daddy had to leave. I don’t tell them the truth: that mummy abused daddy for ten years, and even though he told everyone what was happening, they all sided with her; they believed the lies she told; and the only reason he can see his children is that he had to fight her through the courts to get two days out of every fourteen, leaving him emotionally and psychologically crushed.

They tell me stories about what is going on at home – things that mummy has said and done. She’s going to try to take away my time at Christmas, they say. Looks like she’s breaching the court order, again. But in order to enforce the order, I have to pay to hire a lawyer to take her back to court, and I can’t afford that. So I have to pretend it’s okay, that she’s doing nothing wrong. Don’t worry about it, my dears. It’s okay. We’ll celebrate Christmas when we can.

‘But why can’t we see you?’ my daughter asks me. ‘It’s not fair.’

‘It is what it is,’ I say. I can’t tell her that this is mummy’s doing, that she’s doing it to punish me for leaving. I can’t tell them that mummy uses them as weapons because she knows that the best way to hurt me is through controlling my access to them.

Times ticks on, too fast. I start to get nervous: my abuser is coming to my doorstep. What nonsense is going to happy today? What will she accuse me of next? I don’t want my children to go, but I can’t let them know how much it hurts. I paint on a happy face. I’m fun daddy. No, my heart’s not breaking. This is totally normal. It’s fine that I see you four days a month. No problem at all.

‘Oh, you know you were going to take us to that special place next time we’re here?’ says my daughter. ‘Well, mummy is going to take us there instead.’

Oh. She found out I was going, so she got in there first. She took it from me. Again. I’m not allowed to have anything.

I spend the last hour hugging my kids. We sit on the sofa and watch TV, their bags packed, but I don’t see anything on the screen. All I can see are my children.

The doorbell rings. They jump up excitedly. They forget to look back as they run out to greet her. I hand over their things, tell my abuser any pertinent handover information, give my children a hug, and close the door. I don’t watch them loaded into the car; I don’t stand to wave them goodbye. That’s just too painful.

Inside, I run myself a bath and start to tidy up. Relief that there was no problem at the handover, and that I survived another encounter with the monster, is mingled with grief. The dolls go back on the beds; the drawings in the drawer; pyjamas into the laundry bin. I wipe away my own tears and get into the bath. I stare at the tiles and I lie there for an hour, two hours. I’m drained. Spent.

Then begins the long haul. Do they miss me as much as I miss them? What are they doing today? What am I missing out on? Their bedroom stands empty. I don’t open the door to the playroom. There is an absence in my home as there is an absence in my life. Nothing feels right. Nothing feels as it should. I try to forget, but all I can think about is when I next see my children again.

‘Two days out of fourteen,’ I tell people. ‘It’s so hard. It’s so unfair.’

‘Well, you should be happy you get every other weekend,’ they say. ‘That’s normal for men.’

‘It might be normal,’ I reply. ‘It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t mean it’s not excruciating.’

I count down the days. So many days, with nothing in between. I live my life on tenterhooks: when is the next manipulation going to come? The next solicitor letter? The next accusation? What is going to be the next bullshit I have to wade through? What’s the next emotional blackmail I’m going to be subjected to? Will I survive it?

Paranoia – justified paranoia – runs through my head. ‘Oh, I forgot you were having them at Christmas, and I’ve booked all sorts of lovely things for them, and they’re so excited about going to them. You don’t want to disappoint them, do you? They’ll be so upset if you take these things away from them. You’ll ruin their Christmas.’

‘You knew I had them when you booked these things. You know what the court order says.’

‘Don’t ruin their Christmas. They’ll be so upset that you won’t let them go to these wonderful things I’ve booked. They’ll blame you for it.’

After eleven days of waiting, I start to get excited: I’m seeing my children tomorrow! But my anxiety grows. It’s been so long, what’s this weekend going to be like? Will my children have changed? Can I cope with all the problems that crop up? I’m so out of practice – I’ve spent two weeks living as a bachelor and I have to become a full-time single parent again, albeit for two days only. Why am I so nervous? I know I’m a good dad. I know I can cope. So why am I doubting myself?

They’re coming later today. I tidy up, get out their toys, do some shopping. It’s four hours away, but I can’t focus on anything else.

Three hours. I’m dreading the handover. I’m dreading seeing my abuser again, standing on my doorstep. What has she written in the handover book? Will it be some comment attacking me again for something I haven’t done? Accusing me of being something I’m not? Will it simply be two words long, a curt, dismissive snap?

Two hours. I feel nauseous. The excitement is getting buried beneath the fear. I check there is space on my phone for the recording. Yep. All set.

One hour. I pace from room to room. Is everything ready? Can I keep it all together?

The doorbell. I switch on the recorder and slip my phone into my pocket, force a smile onto my face as I open the door. I’m greeted by a scowl from my abuser, but my children leap into my arms. ‘Make sure they clean their teeth,’ she says. Always a criticism; always a passive-aggressive questioning of my parenting ability. They always brush their teeth at mine. Always. Why even bring it up?

‘Say goodbye to mummy, children,’ I reply.

‘We need to talk about Christmas,’ she says.

‘Email me.’ I don’t add: Like it says in the court order. All communication must be by email, in order to protect me from these manipulations and ambushes on my doorstep.

We go in. The fear is gone, and so has the doubt, as sudden as flicking a switch. I beam from ear to ear. I’m so happy.

I save the audio file and then listen to all the things my children have been up to. Everything feels right again. Everything feels where it should be. I am a dad again, and I am a bloody good dad.

I put them to bed, happy and loved. And begin the countdown to when they leave again, a mere 48-hours after they arrived.

This is what it’s like as a weekend dad. It’s a never-ending cycle of trauma – of grief, excitement, love and fear. When your ex and co-parent is also your abuser, it’s even worse. My abuser comes to my home twice every fortnight. She stands on the threshold of my new life. She never lets me go.

This is what it’s like as a weekend dad.

Controlling the Narrative: Abusers and their Stories

How can you twist things so badly?

I have recently been divorced by my abuser on the grounds of my unreasonable behaviour. It comes as no surprise, given that abusers will do anything to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, but it still hurts.

Abusers will always discredit their victims. Even if they don’t act like it, deep down they know that their behaviour does not conform to acceptable standards of human interaction, so they will do whatever they can to excuse, mitigate, downplay, deny and misrepresent reality to depict themselves as innocent and their victims as the aggressor. If they are guilty, they must make you look guilty in the eyes of society. And they’re very good at it. My divorce is a case in point.

The particulars of my ‘unreasonable behaviour’ were as follows:

  • That I left the marital home without explanation.
  • That since the separation, I failed to show my wife love, kindness and affection.
  • That I had been distant and withdrawn for a number of months.
  • That I focused on solitary pursuits.
  • That I became very controlling and stubborn.
  • That I criticised my wife on a public blog.

The reason she didn’t wait two years for the ‘no fault’ divorce was because she had to make me out to be the one at fault. None of these things really amount to ‘unreasonable behaviour’ – I mean, does anybody show ‘love, kindness and affection’ to their ex? – but certainly they create a story that is acceptable to friends and family: I was to blame. However, these particulars require closer unpacking to show just how easily an abuser can cast their victims as the guilty party. In particular, they are very adept at making your reasonable reactions to their behaviour appear unreasonable:

  • I did not simply leave the marital home, nor was it without explanation. I was removed from the home to a place of safety for my own welfare as a result of ten years of abuse being perpetrated upon me by my wife. She was not allowed to know my location, but she was promptly informed by Social Services that I had left. Of course, this was not mentioned in the legal literature.
  • It goes without saying that there is nothing unreasonable about failing to show love. kindness and affection towards a person that abused me for a decade and has restricted my access to my children as a means to punish me for leaving.
  • The reason I had been distant and withdrawn for a number of months was because this is a natural response to being abused. I know exactly when I started to become distant and withdrawn – it was when she cut off my beard with kitchen scissors. Again, my reaction to her behaviour is depicted as the problem, not the behaviour itself.
  • While it is true that I spent much of the final months of the relationship alone, that was because I was at home looking after a baby and a toddler while she went out with her friends, sometimes six nights out of seven.
  • Towards the end, I started to stand up for myself, objected to her abuse of me, and tried to stop her repeatedly breaking the law. If this makes me ‘controlling and stubborn’, instead of ‘normal’, then we are all ‘controlling and stubborn’.
  • And lastly, I did not criticise my wife on a public blog. I detailed the things she was doing to me, in hindsight as a cry for help. Somehow, the fact that my wife was hitting me, threatening me, threatening the children, throwing drinks over me, preventing me from sleep, emotionally blackmailing me, stealing money from me, pouring water on my side of the bed, reading my emails, and breaking the law, wasn’t the problem – the problem was me telling people that she was doing these things, albeit anonymously on the internet.

As you can see, abusers will break your spirit, push you to the edge, bring you to the point that you have to be rescued for your own safety, and then criticise you for not simply enduring their mistreatment of you.

While these things are rather academic – who cares what it says on the divorce paperwork? – they can have real world implications. The story that has been spread about is that I abandoned my family during the Covid lockdown. I simply walked out without telling anyone, and she doesn’t know why. She’s the poor, innocent, heartbroken single mother, and I am the mean, uncaring husband and father that left without a backward glance. This is why what were our friends have all turned their backs on me; why I am ostracised at the school gate when I pick up my children; why I have to endure the stares and muttered comments whenever I take my children to parties and playdates and extracurricular activities.

The truth, of course, is that I was abused for more than a decade; that I eventually couldn’t take anymore; that when I told everyone what was going on – Social Services, Children’s Services, my GP and the police – nobody helped; that I had my children taken from me and had to fight through the courts to get adequate access; and that since the separation, I have continued to be harassed, intimidated, manipulated, blackmailed and toyed with by my ex. But that’s not a story she’s likely to concede, is it?

While I can take all of this – the former friends who believed her lies, the acquaintances who have only heard one side of the story, the fact that people text her whenever they see me to let her know where I’m going and what I’m up to – what I can’t abide is the lies she tells my children.

When I was putting my four-year-old son to bed the other night, he said, ‘Daddy, you don’t live with us anymore because you just left. You just walked away.’

Not exactly the phraseology of a four-year-old.

I asked him why he would think such a thing, and he said, ‘Because mummy told me.’ Of course.

When you leave an abuser, they know that they’re in the wrong and that you have enough dirt on them to destroy their reputation. Therefore, the misinformation campaign begins early – even before you’ve left. After I left my wife, I discovered that for years she had been secretly emailing my friends and family, portraying me in a particularly unfavourable light. The stage was already set for me to play the villain in her little fantasy.

Abusers don’t just gaslight you – they gaslight the whole world. Every time you speak out about their actions and try to tell people the truth, they say, ‘See? Look how evil he is! He’s making up lies that I’m an abuser, just like I told you he would.’ People see you as a bitter ex-husband saying whatever he can to hurt his former wife. When you try to raise legitimate concerns with Children’s Services, they think you’re just trying to cause trouble. When you talk to the police, they think you’re doing it for revenge. The victim of abuse becomes invisible, his voice silenced.

But she has done me a favour. By divorcing me, she has cut the last thread that bound me to her and that toxic way of life. I can finally draw a line under it and move into the future. As painful as it is to be divorced, I am free.

Police Corruption and Coercive Control

Some are more equal than others

After the police dropped the investigation into my wife for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour without looking at any evidence or speaking to any witnesses, it almost killed me. In my anger and despair, I lashed out at everyone that had failed me.

I complained to Social Services about the woman who’d done nothing to support me, even though she knew I’d been attacked by my wife with kitchen scissors and had my beard cut off.

I complained to Children’s Services about the children’s social worker, who, by leaving me in that house with my abuser when I told her I was being abused, facilitated my abusive wife to take the children away from me.

I complained to the police about PC Noise Complaint for dropping the investigation without doing any investigating.

I complained to my surgery about my GP, who, when I told him I was being abused, sent me home to her with the advice to do whatever she wanted and try not to piss her off, and maybe she’d treat me better.

I complained to my MP about all of them.

I blocked my wife on Facebook, only for her family to call Social Services and tell them that I needed my mental health investigating because I was lying about being abused when I was in fact that abuser.

I never heard back from Social Services. Children’s Services told me that they believed my wife had abused me, but they also believed that I had abused her right back, and so my complaints were null and void. My MP told me he appreciated how difficult it is for male survivors of domestic abuse to be taken seriously, and asked Social Services to intervene on my behalf, which they didn’t.

The practice manager at my surgery thanked me for my complaint about Dr West Country and said she’d passed it on to him to investigate.

‘Sorry, am I reading you right?’ I replied. ‘You’re giving my complaint about Dr West Country to Dr West Country so he can investigate…himself? Do you not think that presents a conflict of interest?’

‘Your complaint is of a clinical nature, so it is up to the clinician to investigate,’ she replied.

Unsurprisingly, Dr West Country’s investigation found that Dr West Country had done nothing wrong. How could he possibly have known that I was anxious and depressed when I hadn’t told him I was anxious and depressed?

At the appointment, I had told him I didn’t know how I was going to get to the end of the day; that I was going to end up in the nut house; that I’d built a wall around my emotions but it was starting to leak and I was terrified that the trickle would become a tsunami that would wash everything away. I mean, sure – how could he possibly know I was anxious and depressed if I didn’t specifically use the words ‘anxious’ and ‘depressed’?

Is this really the standard we can expect from our health services? A male victim of a female abuser gets short shrift from everywhere.

Only my complaint to the police got me anywhere. Amazingly, after a review by an Inspector, they decided that there were perhaps a few avenues they could further investigate for potential evidence (such as actually speaking to my witnesses, looking at my medical records, etc.), and that due diligence had not been carried out. Contrary to PC Noise Complaint’s statement that the case would not be reopened, the case was reopened.

Unfortunately for all involved, they put PC Noise Complaint back in charge of it. My request for it to go to the Domestic Abuse Team was denied because – remarkably – a Force covering a population of several million people had no Domestic Abuse Team or any domestic abuse specialist officers. So PC Noise Complaint of the Neighbourhood Policing Team, who knew my father-in-law, blundered his way from place to place, collecting statements from my support workers, my GP and Social Services. Perhaps he even read my 200-pages of evidence; I will never know.

I contacted a lot of domestic abuse organisations at this time, because I was desperate for whatever help anybody could offer. I found a pitifully small number that didn’t discriminate on the basis of gender, and when I told them my story – the litany of failures on the part of the Police, Social Services, Children’s Services and my GP – practically all of them responded the same way: ‘Your wife’s family – are they known? Wealthy? Well-connected?’

‘They’re millionaires. Prominent local landowners.’

‘I thought so. This isn’t unusual. I’m not saying it’s what’s happening in your case, but it might explain why you’re facing so many obstacles.’

They found it utterly disgusting how the police had handled my case. One man kept saying, ‘Your wife’s family are Freemasons, aren’t they? There’s no way you’ll ever get justice. They’ve got friends on the council, right? I know how these things work. They look out for their own. No way you’ll ever get justice.’

But justice was on my side, right?

When the police dropped the case against my wife for a second time, they had the courtesy to do it face-to-face, albeit online. This time it was an Inspector, a Sergeant, and PC Noise Complaint; me, my dad and my support worker Vicki.

They said that in order to pass the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, it had to pass the Full Code Test. This test has two parts: is the evidence available to the charging authority sufficient for a realistic chance of a successful prosecution? And is it in the public interest to progress it? They said that the second part was fulfilled, but the first was not because I had no realistic chance of a successful prosecution.

‘The problem we had,’ they said, ‘is that we have plenty of evidence showing that your wife abused you. We have more than enough statements from your support workers to confirm that she was abusing you physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. But unfortunately, in order to prove Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, we need evidence both that she was abusing you and that this abuse had a negative effect on you. We don’t have that evidence.’

‘What about my medical records? My mental health was in a steady decline the past two years.’

‘The doctor recorded that you were being abused, and that your mental health was declining; he didn’t record that your mental health was declining as a direct result of that abuse. Therefore, we can’t prove that the abuse negatively impacted you. Because you didn’t report the abuse at the time, there’s no evidence to show the effect it had on you.’

‘But I did,’ I said. ‘I wrote hundreds of emails to Vicki asking for help.’

‘You telling other people what was going on isn’t evidence. It needs to be witnessed independently.’

‘We did witness things,’ said Vicki. ‘We raised safeguardings with Social Services and Children’s Services every time.’

‘Well,’ said the Inspector. ‘They should have passed it on to us at the time. Because they didn’t, we don’t have the evidence chain to back up your claim that the abuse had a negative impact on you.’

‘But I went to doctor appointments with him,’ said Vicki. ‘I sat with him as he poured his heart out for a solid hour to his GP.’

‘Then I don’t know why that’s not recorded in his medical records,’ said the Inspector. ‘Look. What we have is a mountain of evidence that Richard was abused by his wife. Unfortunately, we have a corresponding lack of third-party evidence to show how this abuse affected him. We can’t attribute the decline in his mental health to his wife’s abuse, so there is not a realistic chance of prosecution.’

‘Can’t Vicki attest to the effect of her behaviour on me?’ I asked.

‘She can,’ said the Inspector. ‘But as it wouldn’t be backed up by your medical records, or by Social Services, it wouldn’t matter.’

‘So, let me get this straight,’ I said. ‘You can prove that she abused me. You can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. But because of my doctor’s shoddy record keeping, there’s nothing you can do about it?’

‘Frankly, in this case there seems to have been a total failure on the part of the professionals,’ said the Inspector. ‘It’s not “we don’t believe you,” it’s “there’s not the evidential basis to prosecute this.” I’m sorry, but there it is. You’ve fallen through the cracks through no fault of your own. I know it probably won’t help, but you did nothing wrong.’

‘You didn’t even take a statement from me. There was so much more I wanted to say.’

‘There was no need,’ said the Inspector. ‘The first interview should have been a lengthy video interview – I don’t know why it wasn’t. We considered doing a further interview, but as we’d already run into evidential difficulties and wouldn’t be able to prosecute it, there wasn’t any justification for it.’

It was like the world had been pulled out from under my feet. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I don’t know how anybody ever gets prosecuted for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour if the burden of proof is so high, but okay; there’s not enough evidence. I accept that. What about the ancillary crimes? The common assault? The extortion? Forcibly kissing me?’

‘With lower level crimes – low level assault – the statute of limitations is six months, and we’re already out of that window.’

They completely glossed over the sexual assault.

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I appreciate you taking the time to explain it to me. I was let down by the professionals who had a duty of care towards me; let down by shoddy record keeping. I guess I just have to accept that.’

Afterwards, I looked up my medical records, and if that’s the standard of doctors’ notes, no wonder there wasn’t any evidence. When my new doctor prescribed me sleeping pills, I had a twenty-minute phone call with him in which I told him I’d been abused; that I was having flashbacks and thought I was suffering from PTSD; that I was agitated by unpleasant images, tortured by bad memories; that I tossed and turned on the bed until five or six in the morning, afraid, disturbed, scratching my scalp with my fingers.

My medical record read: ‘Trouble sleeping; prescribed Zopiclone.’ Twenty minutes was distilled into just four words.

So I accepted the police’s reason for dropping the case. I accepted it for two days, right up until my dad spoke to his neighbour about my case.

Midway through, his neighbour said, ‘Excuse me, can I ask – the wife’s family: are they wealthy? Well-connected?’

‘Massively wealthy. The father is on the board of the county show. They’re friends with the head of the district council.’

‘I thought so,’ said the neighbour. ‘There’s no way the police in that county would ever prosecute your son’s wife.’

I’d been hearing this for a while now, but I still wasn’t ready to accept that corruption might be a factor in things – why blame a conspiracy when laziness, incompetence and prejudice could explain it all away?

When my dad’s neighbour told him this, I sat up and listened. Why? His neighbour is a Detective Inspector with the next county’s Police Force.

‘It happens all the time,’ he said. ‘The officers in your son’s case have been told to make it go away and that’s exactly what they’ve done. It sounds like you probably didn’t have enough evidence to convict her on indictment in Crown Court, but you had more than enough to have her summarily convicted in Magistrates Court. But to go to Magistrates Court, it has to be within six months. Did it feel like they were dragging their feet? How long did they wait until they dropped the case?’

Six months and four days. They dropped the case six months and four days after I left my wife.

They waited until it was no longer possible to prosecute her in the Magistrates Court, knowing it wouldn’t get to Crown Court on indictment, and then buried it. It didn’t matter how much evidence I had: because that time-limit had lapsed, my wife will never see the inside of a court room.

It turns out that, as far as the law is concerned, George Orwell was right: we’re all equal, but some are more equal than others.