We shouldn’t suffer in silence
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.’
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?
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.
Your ex-husband, the father of your children, your best friend, and the one who wanted to spend his life with you
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.
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.
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.
A Tale of Two Police Forces
I was in a support session when I spoke to the police officer on the phone. I told him what had happened for ten years; what was continuing to happen. He said that as it was an initial call, he could only focus on a few specific details. I gave him everything he wanted.
Afterwards, he said that the allegations were very serious indeed. He said he wanted to investigate my wife for Assault, Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, Child Neglect and Child Abuse; my mother-in-law for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour (aiding and abetting); and my father-in-law for Assault on a Child when he slapped my daughter and he and my wife covered it up. I had no idea the police would go after all three of them.
To be heard, after so long being ignored, was the most liberating experience of my life. It was the moment that I stood up and declared that I would no longer be a victim. My support worker cried; she was so proud of me. My mum cried. I felt like I’d been reborn.
It didn’t last long.
A police officer visited to take an initial statement. I gave her the 200-page document comprising ten years of emails, text messages and diary entries recording what she’d done to me, and spent four hours detailing incidents, dates, times, witnesses. I gave her the text messages where my wife admitted threatening to hit me, threatening to abort my baby, using my children to control me – the ones where she’d said that it hadn’t been her; it had been Mr Hyde.
I was bursting to get it all out, but the officer told me that while she knew we were only scratching the surface, this was just an initial statement to get the ball rolling. I would have plenty of time to make fuller statements later on in an interview suite, where I would be interviewed on camera. She told me to expect things to move very quickly; that with the amount of evidence I had provided, an investigation was likely to proceed even if I withdrew my consent for it; that the case would be passed to the Domestic Abuse Team in CID and that things would move very quickly. She told me I should expect many phone calls over the coming week.
I had mixed feelings about reporting my wife to the police – about charging my wife, the mother of my children, with a crime. But the fact was, I had been a victim all my life. If I walked away, it would follow me all my life and I would never be free of it. The only way to get over this was to turn and confront it, and say that this isn’t right, and I’m not going to put up with it anymore. One of my favourite sayings is, ‘Keep facing the sun, and the shadows will always fall behind you.’ The flipside to that is that if you turn your back on the sun, you will always walk in the shadows. I wasn’t prepared to live the rest of my life under a shadow.
It would also show my kids that I fought for them. It was the right thing to do. You’re not a good person because you do the right thing when it’s easy, you’re a good person because you do the right thing even when it might destroy you. The world needed to know that you couldn’t do this to someone – you couldn’t abuse someone, take away their marriage, their children, their home and their health, and then walk away with everything you wanted.
I wanted to serve as an example to others. I probably had more evidence of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour than anyone before me. Where others had not being able to pursue a prosecution, everyone told me I had more than enough. I would be a beacon of hope for all the downtrodden survivors of domestic abuse.
Because my wife lived half-a-mile into the next county, and that’s where the crimes predominantly took place, the Force that took the statement where I was now living handed it over to the Constabulary who oversaw my wife’s area.
And that’s when everything started to fall apart.
On the first birthday my daughter had spent apart from me, I got a call from the new police officer assigned to the case. He said he’d looked through my statement, and it didn’t look like there was much there. He certainly couldn’t identify any crimes, but he wasn’t really an expert in abuse cases. What did I actually want him to do about it? Did I really want him to investigate?
‘Yes,’ I said, appalled. ‘What she did was wrong; she needs to be held to account.’
‘Well, I honestly don’t think it’ll go anywhere, but like I said, I’m not an expert in this type of thing. Look. I’m going on holiday for a fortnight, but when I get back, I could talk to my supervisor about it.’
‘Do you have the attached document?’
‘Yeah, I haven’t read it yet – it’s really long. What are you actually hoping to get out of this?’
‘Unless I have her prosecuted, I will never be free of her control.’
‘Mmm,’ he murmured. ‘Don’t rely on it. I don’t think you have anywhere near enough evidence for a charge. We could investigate and then in six months, the CPS could just drop it anyway.’
‘I’d still like you to try.’
He sighed. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘As I said, I’m going on holiday for a fortnight, but I’ll be in touch when I get back.’
It was like he just couldn’t be bothered. I couldn’t believe that one Police Force was so keen on pressing for a prosecution, but the other couldn’t care less. I’d been told that it would be investigated by CID and/or the Domestic Abuse Team; that things would move very quickly; that I’d have to make further statements on camera, and that it would be taken very seriously indeed. Instead, from that very first call, I had a dreadful sense of foreboding.
If 200 pages and 90,000 words of emails, blog posts, diary entries and text messages in which she’d admitted her guilt, weren’t enough evidence for a charge, then what the hell was?
Time dragged on. My children grew ever more distant from me and the custody case was still months away. The only thing I had in my favour was the police investigation. It was a slam-dunk case, and if she was prosecuted for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, it would prove that I was the responsible parent.
‘What if they claim she’s not responsible for her actions because of her personality disorder?’ asked my support worker Vicki.
‘They’re caught in a bind,’ I said. ‘If they try to claim she’s not responsible for her actions, then she’s not responsible enough to have the children. If she is responsible enough to have the children, then she’s also responsible for her actions. The only way they can win the custody case is by losing the criminal case; and the only way they can win the criminal case is by losing the custody case.’
For the first time in years, I felt like things might go my way.
The trouble was, I hadn’t heard anything from the police. I spent seven weeks chasing up the officer, only to learn he was, in fact, a Neighbourhood Policing Officer, more used to dealing with parking violations and noise complaints than a complex domestic abuse case. He also likely knew my wife’s father, a prominent local landowner in the officer’s local beat. I felt forgotten and ignored. Why on earth hadn’t he spoken to me in seven weeks? Why hadn’t he contacted all the support workers I’d listed as witnesses? Why hadn’t he looked at my medical records? Why was a Neighbourhood Policing Officer dealing with it? Shouldn’t it be passed on to somebody with expertise?
The silence was deafening.
PC Noise Complaint eventually emailed to apologise that I had felt the need to chase him up, which wasn’t an apology at all. It had only been seven weeks, and didn’t he already tell me he’d been on holiday? He was still seeking advice on what sort of evidence might be needed to build a case of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour. If there was deemed enough evidence, he would be sure to pass it to somebody else to investigate it i.e. he wasn’t interested in the slightest.
More weeks passed. I sent him more text messages I found from her on an old phone, and he said they weren’t really evidence, and he didn’t think I had a case.
I let rip at him. I sent him a massive email in which I told him that the officer who took my statement had led me to expect a number of phone calls over the coming week; to be put in touch with Victims Support; to be spoken to by either the Domestic Abuse Team or CID; to have further interviews on camera in an interview suite; for things to move very quickly; and that with the evidence presented, an investigation was likely to follow even if I withdrew my support for a prosecution.
Regarding the supposed lack of evidence, I told him that according to the Crown Prosecution Service’s own legal guidelines on the crime of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act (2015), the types of evidence by which to build a case included copies of emails (of which I had hundreds written by me to Vicki reporting incidents of my wife’s abusive behaviour; and several written by my wife admitting to and apologising for what she’d done); text messages (of which I had many wherein my wife admitted threatening to hit me and threatening to abort my baby to control me); evidence of abuse over the internet (I had dozens of examples of her using Facebook to put pressure on me); records of interactions with support services (I had reported my wife to my Care Agency, Social Services, Children’s Services, my GP and the Mental Health Nurse); medical records (including the dates I reported the abuse); witness testimony (in which various support workers, friends and family could testify to what my wife did to me and the effect it had on me); diary kept by the victim (of which I had six years of continuous record, including numerous instances of her threatening me with homelessness and to take away my children); and the victim’s account of what happened to the police (in which I had only given an initial statement and was prepared to give so much more).
By any token, I said, there was more than enough evidence to build a case, if he would only do his job. I told him I felt I was being ignored because of my gender – that I was being discriminated against because I was the male victim of a female abuser. Social Services didn’t care; Children’s Services openly admitted they would have had me and the children in a refuge if I was a woman; my GP, on being told I was being abused, advised me to do everything she said and maybe she’d stop abusing me; and the domestic abuse helplines wouldn’t talk to me because I was a man. At a time when domestic abuse was supposed to be a national priority, I could not understand why I wasn’t being taken more seriously.
Two days later, PC Noise Complaint told me he was pleased to announce that after undertaking an evidence review, he was passing the case to CID to be progressed. Thank God, I thought. I felt like I was finally being taken seriously. Finally, I was going to be treated with respect, and afforded the dignity that I deserved.
And then my support worker Vicki dropped a bombshell in my lap. She’d been contacted by PC Noise Complaint. He wanted her to set up a meeting between us in three weeks’ time.
‘Sorry, did you say PC Noise Complaint? As in, Neighbourhood Policing Officer PC Noise Complaint?’
‘No, PC Noise Complaint.’
I felt like I’d been floored by Mike Tyson. He said he’d passed it on to CID, so why was he still the officer in charge of the case? Why was he setting up a meeting with me through Vicki? Why didn’t he have the decency to tell me what was going on himself instead of this Chinese Whispers bullshit?
It was cruel. I’d been abused and humiliated; I had to kowtow to my abuser every time I did a handover with the children; and PC Noise Complaint had treated me to such indignity, like I didn’t even matter, that he could talk to Vicki about me but not talk directly to me.
I lost it. I thought, What’s the point? She’d stolen ten years of my life, and now she was living the life of Larry because nobody cared. I thought of hanging myself; jumping off a bridge. She’d taken everything from me, and the police had taken away my last shred of dignity. They’d treated me as though I was nothing. If they came out in three weeks, it would be three months since their Force had been passed the case – three months before I saw a single officer from their constabulary.
What I couldn’t understand was that if I threw a brick through a window, they’d be out like a shot – I’d be talking to an officer face-to-face within ten minutes. So why was a pane of glass more important than my dignity? Why would they respond to a broken window in a matter of minutes, blue lights and sirens, but after someone abused me for ten years and then stole my children, they’d keep me waiting for three entire months? It made no sense.
If things were the other way round, I thought – if I’d been abusing my wife, I’d been the violent one, I’d cut her hair, I’d thrown drinks over her, I’d used her as a slave, I’d stolen and extorted money out of her, I’d coerced her into letting me break the lockdown, and then when she left, I’d denied her access to the children – oh, and she happened to be a vulnerable adult with a neurological condition who was still recovering from a breakdown – do you think that Social Services would have refused to do anything? That Children’s Services would have sided with me? That the police would wait three months before talking to her?
Let’s call it what it really is: discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of sex. I’m a man. Justice isn’t blind; it wears a dress.
After many fevered calls to the police, PC Noise Complaint finally condescended to ring me and tell me direct that he was dropping the case. They had looked at the evidence and decided there was insufficient to do anything at all. There was simply no case to answer.
‘You haven’t spoken to any of my witnesses. You haven’t looked at my medical records. You haven’t even taken a statement from me. How can you say there’s insufficient evidence when you haven’t even looked at the evidence?’
‘Look, Richard, I’m not going to argue with you. I’m just telling you the outcome. Now, I’m going to visit your wife and tell her that you’ve made an allegation against her.’
‘You’re going to what?’
‘I’m going to tell your wife that you’ve made an allegation of domestic abuse against her, that we’ve investigated, but there’s insufficient evidence to pursue a charge.’
‘Why on earth would you do that?’
‘Wouldn’t you want to know if you’d been investigated?’
‘You’re going to go to the person who abused me and pat her on the back and tell her she got away with it? You’re going to tell the people who control when I can see my children that I reported her and that she’s untouchable? So they can laugh in my face?’
‘I think she has a right to know that a complaint has been made.’
‘Well thanks!’ I snapped down the phone. ‘Thanks for nothing, you’ve been a real help. I’ll probably never see my kids again. What a great job you’ve done.’
‘You can complain if you want,’ he said sourly, ‘but a complaint isn’t an appeal, and the case won’t be reopened.’
And then he rang off, and left me devastated.
How could two police forces, side by side, come to two completely different conclusions about the same crime? How could one force want to prosecute her and the other not care one jot? It couldn’t be right that the only reason she wasn’t being prosecuted was because she lived half-a-mile over an invisible line on a map, could it?
I’m not sure how I survived the next month. I was in so much pain, it felt like my brain was collapsing. I thought I was cracking up, losing my mind. I felt I’d lost everything; had it taken from me. The grief, guilt, shame and humiliation of all the abuse I received hit me like a fist to the face.
I paced from room to room, agitated, so agitated. At night, I kept waking up, digging my fingers into my scalp and scratching back and forth, without conscious control, like I was disturbed. The rational part of my mind was thinking, ‘Dude, what the hell are you doing?’ but still I scratched, as though I couldn’t control myself.
I was tormented, tortured, lost in grief and sorrow, retraumatised by everything I’d gone through with Social Services, Children’s Services, the police. The worst thing was that they all believed me – they believed my wife had abused me – they just didn’t think they should do anything about it.
The doctor gave me sleeping pills, but still I tossed and turned in my bed, thrashing around like a fish flung onto the dock. The only thing that had got me through the previous few months had been the belief that I would have my day in court; that I would be heard. Instead, everyone was doing everything they could to help my wife, the perpetrator, look after the children and overcome her demons, while I was receiving no help, no respect, no support, despite everyone agreeing that I was the victim.
If my wife and her family had taken me ninety-five percent of the way towards destruction, how I’d been treated by the authorities got me the rest of the way there. I’d believed in justice all my life, trusted the criminal justice system, but I was shaken to the core – the innocent suffered and the guilty went unpunished. I’d done everything right, followed all the rules, sacrificed my whole life for my children; my wife did everything wrong, broke every rule, and sacrificed nothing. I would always be the man who abandoned his family during the lockdown. She was rewarded for her behaviour with custody of the children, a nanny, a nice house, and her reputation entirely unblemished.
How was that justice?
You left me with no choice
As therapy for myself, a couple of week after leaving my wife, I thought I’d put all the diary entries, text messages and emails I’d written asking for help over the years into a single document. I thought it might take me a day or two.
It took weeks.
There were literally hundreds of them, dating back the whole ten years we’d been together. They documented hundreds of separate incidents of abuse towards me, and abuse and neglect of the children. 200 pages and 90,000 words – longer than many novels. I’d forgotten many of them. On every page were grounds for divorce written a dozen times over.
I was able to see patterns in the data, things I hadn’t realised when I was going through it. Every three months or so, my wife became utterly awful, to the point that I was ready to leave. Things would then improve for around three weeks, and shortly after I’d changed my mind and decided to stay, another awful incident would occur. It was almost regular as clockwork, and I’d never realised it was going on – I was too focused on surviving the here and now to see the bigger picture. And the big picture was pretty damned ugly.
I read some of it to my support worker Vicki. She listened grim-faced.
‘Have you thought of showing this to the police?’ she asked.
‘I want to keep it amicable between us,’ I said.
She laughed. ‘What about any of this seems amicable to you?’
She had a point. I’d only seen my children twice in a month. My mother-in-law had been texting my parents implying that my wife had custody and I only had ‘visitation rights’ which were subject to her control. On the third day that I was scheduled to see my children, my wife’s family – because while the messages came from my wife’s email and phone, they definitely weren’t written by her anymore – cancelled it.
I started an online course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy arranged through my doctor, and when I told the therapist my story, and about the document, she told me I should consider showing it to the police. ‘It sounds like an open-and-shut case of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour to me,’ she said.
At the next session, she said she’d spoken to her supervisor, and they both thought that I should report my wife to the police, because what she’d done to me was incredibly serious and I had more than enough evidence to convict her.
I hadn’t written the document as a means of gathering evidence, and I knew I wasn’t yet in any fit state to survive the rigors of a criminal investigation, but it was nice to know I had something in my pocket that might shift things in my favour.
When I asked to see the children for more than four hours a week, my wife texted, ‘We agreed with the social worker to allow you to see the children two hours twice a week. Two times two equals four…therefore you can have them for four hours one day a week…we are all trying to work at this together…everyone has to be considered and flexible not so rigid…so far you have had everything your way…I’m just trying to be nice and think of the children…previously we are trying to deal with this in a non aggressive manner…it would be nice if you could too and not be so self-centred.’
I was the primary carer for five years, doing every bedtime and every single night feed. I weaned them off their dummies, weaned them onto solid food, potty-trained them, taught them to walk, held them through colic, through sickness, went days without sleep sometimes, and they thought me ‘self-centred’ because I wanted to see them more than four hours a week? It was ridiculous.
Throughout the relationship, my wife had threatened that if ever I left, she would take away my children using her parents. I could see it happening right in front of my eyes.
For years, I’d watched the same scenario play out through her extended family. Whenever her half-sisters’ relationships had ended, the man had been cut out entirely – no access rights, no divorce settlements. Every man who dared break up with a member of that family was crucified, even when the woman had committed adultery. Every one of these men had been labelled ‘abusive’ – that one word justifying everything my wife’s family did to them. Every one of them had eventually given up the fight and walked away, broken.
And now it was happening to me.
I contacted Sandi, my children’s social worker, and told her that I was unable to ring to speak to my wife directly for fear that she would hang up on me and then accuse me of being ‘abusive’ as they were trying to discredit me as a witness; that I did not believe my wife had the capacity or the insight to exercise her parental responsibility and make decisions on behalf of the children, especially as the messages had included the word ‘we’ instead of ‘I’; and that there had been a consistent pattern throughout my children’s lives of the maternal grandmother acting as though she owned them. I told her I was very concerned about who was currently calling the shots regarding my children, as it clearly wasn’t their mother, and asked what she was going to do about it.
Nothing, as it turned out. Absolutely nothing.
She rang me when I was with my support worker Vicki. We had it on speaker phone. ‘My wife’s family have stolen my children,’ I said. ‘They’re trying to intimidate me into walking away, like they’ve done with every other man in their lives. Manipulating and controlling my access to my children is just a continuation of the abuse, and I will never be free of it.
‘They haven’t stolen your children if your wife is with them because she has parental responsibility.’
‘My wife might be with them, but she isn’t exercising any parental responsibility,’ I said. ‘So who is making decisions about my children? Have you even spoken to her?’
‘Every time I try, her mother answers the phone.’
‘So you haven’t spoken to her?’
‘Her mother says that your wife is making the decisions.’
‘Well of course she’s going to say that! Have you even spoken to my wife? Have you spoken to her once in the past month?’
‘Every time I try, she hands the phone to her mum so she can talk for her.’
‘And what does that tell you?’ Vicki almost shouted. ‘I’ve been working with this family for ten years, and I can tell you that there is only one parent capable of looking after those children, and it’s Richard. He was the primary carer for five years. We’ve told you about the mother’s neglect and we’ve told you about her abuse, and you’ve done nothing about it.’
‘I’m not enjoying being involved with this case, you know,’ Sandi snapped.
I felt like screaming, ‘Well how the hell do you think I’m feeling!?!’
Vicki said, ‘Look, Sandi. I’ve gone on this journey with Richard, and let me tell you, it’s been eye-opening. It’s been shocking. How he’s been treated is disgusting, and all because he’s a man. I’ve been talking to people on the phone, trying to get help for him, and three times I’ve had to stop people and tell them he’s not the abuser, he’s the victim of the abuse. Three times. What are you going to do?’
‘Let me make something clear,’ said Sandi. ‘I’m the children’s social worker; I’m not Richard’s social worker. Richard’s social worker has referred him to the Domestic Abuse Pathway.’
‘But what will you do?’
‘I will try to talk to his wife,’ said Sandi. ‘If she’ll talk to me.’
‘If? You’re the children’s social worker!’
There was nothing she could or would do to help me.
So I rang my social worker and told her that I was still being abused, that my wife was limiting my contact with my children and I was struggling to cope.
‘Richard, let me stop you there,’ she interrupted. ‘Your domestic arrangements are nothing to do with me. I’ve given you the number of a helpline, so ring it. Goodbye.’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘Just wait. I rang that number. It was a woman’s helpline and they wouldn’t talk to me because I’m a man. The children’s social worker said you’ve referred me to the Domestic Abuse Pathway. What is that?’
‘It’s that number I gave you.’
‘The Domestic Abuse Pathway of Social Services is to give me the number of a women’s helpline who won’t talk to me because I’m a man?’
‘But isn’t there something the council does? Something to help people like me?’
‘My statutory obligation is to give you that phone number.’
‘You’re telling me that, as a vulnerable adult, there’s no official organisation that does anything to protect people like me from abuse?’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘there’s the police. But none of what happened to you is bad enough to involve the police.’
‘Really? Cutting off my beard with kitchen scissors wasn’t bad enough?’
‘She cut off your beard?’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘So now you’re interested. Because it’s physical abuse. Is there still nothing you can do to help me?’
‘I’ve given you that number,’ she said. ‘That’s all I can do.’
After I ended the call, I finally found a domestic abuse helpline that would actually talk to me and eventually got through. I told the man on the phone that I’d been abused, that I was traumatised, that my wife was a sociopath, that she was holding my children hostage, and that her parents were telling me when I could and could not see my own children and controlling all the communication between us despite the fact I had 50:50 Parental Responsibility.
‘Maybe they’re protecting your wife from you,’ he said.
It could’ve floored me. ‘What?’
‘Maybe her family are protecting her from you. You can’t just go around calling people sociopaths, you know.’
‘That’s quite an allegation to make.’
‘There are seven criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder. She fits all of them. My support workers think she was misdiagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder because she misrepresented herself, hid what she really was.’
‘It sounds to me like her family are trying to keep her safe from you.’
‘I’m not the abuser!’
‘Well, calling someone a sociopath is pretty bad.’
I found myself having to defend myself against him – the man on a helpline for victims of domestic abuse was trying to convince me that I was the abuser!
I said that I was thinking of going to the police as nobody else would help me.
‘You can’t go to the police,’ he said. ‘It’s not an emergency.’
‘The police are only there for emergencies and this isn’t an emergency.’
I frowned in disbelief. ‘No, the police are there to investigate crimes.’
‘But she hasn’t committed any crimes.’
‘She hasn’t committed any crimes.’
‘She cut off my beard with kitchen scissors!’
‘Well, that’s not really a crime.’
‘Yes, it is. It’s common assault.’
‘Well,’ he said. ‘If you want to do something about it, you could maybe do a private prosecution in civil court. Hire a solicitor and pay for it yourself. But you can’t involve the police because it’s nothing to do with them.’
‘How is domestic abuse nothing to do with the police?’ I wanted to reach through the phone and throttle him. ‘You’re wrong. It’s the police’s job to investigate breaches of the law and present evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘The police are only there for emergencies.’
Then he said he was only allowed to talk to me for thirty minutes, and because it was nearing his limit, could he ask me about my race, gender and sexual orientation?
I hung up on him. I felt like I was screaming, but nobody could hear me. At least, nobody was listening. My blood pressure was 154/97 with a pulse of 97. I felt like ending it.
So I picked up the phone and rang the police.
How can I be so afraid?
As a victim of abuse, you have a blind spot towards what’s really going on. What’s obvious to anybody else on the outside isn’t so clear when you’re inside an abusive relationship. Your abuser has so many holds on you – on your thoughts and your emotions, on how you see the world and your place in it – that you can’t get a handle on what’s actually happening. You live from moment to moment, crisis to crisis, thinking that if you can just get through this moment, then it’ll be better.
It’s like you’re in a dark forest, blinded by smoke. You see a tree on fire, so you tackle it, and you have a moment’s relief when the fire goes out. But then you see another tree on fire, so you go to tackle that one. Again, you rest, overjoyed that you’ve extinguished that fire. And then you see another one, and so on. You go from tree to tree putting them out, expending all your energy fighting these fires and thinking that if you put out enough of them, eventually you’ll be able to simply enjoy the forest.
It never happens. What you can’t see, because you’re right in the middle of it, is that the whole freaking forest is on fire. You lost this fight before you even started. If you were able to stop a moment, pause, reflect on it, you might realise the truth of the situation – and that’s why abusers don’t allow you any time to think. They need you to be confused; they need you in the smoke.
It wasn’t until I left my wife that I realised just how ugly our relationship had been, and how much I was afraid of her.
In my parents’ house, I found a new definition of fear. Before my wife I were living together, on five separate occasions at four separate addresses, she turned up at my place and refused to leave, and on three of these occasions subjected me to physical violence. Despite my parents’ reassurances that I was safe, I was terrified she’d turn up, and that fear only intensified when I discovered from a mutual friend that same evening that my wife knew where I’d gone because my nosy neighbours had texted her.
The next few days were hell. My startle reaction was so intense, I jumped to my feet at every sudden noise, every car driving past, every dog barking. I couldn’t turn my back to a door or a window, so I sat up against the solid wall, constantly scanning for danger. At night, I tossed and turned in bed, frequently getting up to check the doors were still locked and there were sufficient barricades between me and potential danger should I fall asleep.
I was exhausted, but my body wasn’t shutting down. The doctor prescribed me sleeping pills and doubled my anti-depressants, which caused my dreams to twist into nightmares from which I couldn’t wake. My hair fell out in clumps and I was covered in boils, my constant hypervigilance taking a massive toll on my body. I was pumped with so much adrenalin, I could only pace and pace, my heart pounding, panic setting in. I developed a nervous tic in my eyes that I’d last suffered from at school when I was being bullied.
When my parents left me alone for an hour, they came back to find me curled in a ball in the corner having a panic attack. I was smart enough to know I needed help, so I rang the doctor to ask for counselling. I was obsessing over the indignities I’d suffered, was broken and traumatised and afraid. I had no idea it would take almost two years to get treatment, and only after I was belatedly diagnosed with PTSD from what I’d been through.
I was terribly concerned for my children’s welfare, and dreaded the lies they might be told about me. My only consolation was that, if the children were being looked after by their grandmother for the time being, at least they weren’t being neglected or abused. My support worker Vicki confirmed what my cousin had told me on the phone – because my wife had Borderline Personality Disorder, Social Services were terrified of being sued, so they were treating my wife with kid gloves. They didn’t care about any of her past behaviour, any of the neglect or abuse reported by me and by Vicki, as though our opinions and evidence didn’t matter at all; they would only note her behaviour moving forward, and make a case from that.
But if my wife was good at anything, it was altering her behaviour for a short period of time – especially if people were watching. She’d done it so many times with me, giving me just enough reasons to stay whenever I wanted to leave, before reverting to type as soon as the threat was over.
‘Possession is nine-tenths of the law,’ said Vicki. ‘She’s got the children and the house, and her parents are getting her a nanny. It’s easier for Social Services to leave the children with her, and get her all the help she needs to keep them, than intervene on your behalf.’
‘But that’s not right, and it’s definitely not fair.’
‘No, it isn’t. Your wife is loving it right now, because she’s finally got her mum’s attention, but it won’t last – her mum will abandon her like she’s done so many times before. Then she’ll drop the ball, and when she does, Social Services will have enough evidence to act.’
‘So they’re rolling the dice on my children’s safety and hoping that when she messes up, it’s not so bad that it causes permanent damage?’
‘Well, that’s pretty shit. I thought it would be obvious which of us was the responsible parent.’
‘It is. But she’s got the house, and you’re living in your parents’ spare bedroom. You need to use this time to recover, build your strength back up, and find somewhere to live, so that you’re ready for your children when she drops the ball. You have to play the long game. They’ll be coming back to you.’
Her confidence reassured me. Unfortunately, she was quite wrong.
I asked her why, in all the times my wife had begged me to come back, she hadn’t once said sorry.
‘Because she doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong,’ she said.
And there lies the truth of the matter.
Even though I was the one ending it, I felt awful. I was heartbroken. I was terrified about how she might be feeling, or how she might react. I pictured her sobbing in front of my children; I pictured her distraught. Never did I picture her anything other than upset.
But then a mutual friend texted to say that my wife was furious I had left. Not sad; not remorseful; furious. She’d apparently never been so angry before.
It threw me through a loop. What the hell kind of reaction was that?
She wasn’t sad I’d left: she was angry she’d lost her favourite toy. I was a possession to her, and nothing more. And if she couldn’t have me, she’d make sure nobody could. It was about to get so much worse.
I’m begging for help
Day 42 of the Lockdown
Alone in the house without my children, waiting to be kicked out, I descended into darkness as all the memories of my wife’s abuse rose up to overwhelm me. While I was in this state, I got a text from my wife asking how I was.
‘Fine,’ I replied.
‘How’s your other self?’ she asked, and my blood ran cold.
‘What other self?’
‘The other self of you.’
She was fishing. I knew it immediately. Their only defence was to discredit me, and they were trying to get me to say something like, ‘Oh, he’s fine too,’ which they could then use to claim I had two sides to my character too – that I was the abuser.
‘I don’t understand the question,’ I replied. ‘I don’t have an “other” self. I’m just me.’
She was silent for an hour, and then texted, ‘Have you spoken to anyone today?’
‘What does he say?’
‘Supportive of what you do?’
I stared down at the phone. Supportive of what you do? What was she implying?
My body temperature dropped; I felt chilled to my core. I remembered the email her mother had sent six weeks before, the accusation that I was able to conceal my ‘true temperament’ in front of people, and that I provoked my wife into reacting in public, presumably to gain some kind of leverage over her. They were trying to set me up as the abuser, as some kind of monster engaging in a Machiavellian scheme to steal the house and steal the children.
I felt so vulnerable. I was exhausted; I hadn’t slept properly for five years; and I hadn’t had any mental space for twice that. Terror surrounded me, helplessness and loss. I thought my mind was crumbling. Every sound, I thought it was my father-in-law coming to kill me. I repeatedly checked my barricades.
I paced from room to room, anxious, on edge, listening, muscles tight, ready to spring into action. Three full days without my children – the longest we’d ever been apart.
I don’t remember if I slept – I don’t remember much of that time, in the dark, waiting. I don’t know how I survived it. Sometimes, I wonder if I did.
Day 43 of the Lockdown
On Monday, my fourth day without the children, my support worker Vicki came to see me. She was appalled by the deterioration in my mental health – I was a nervous wreck. We had to call the council, she said, to find me housing.
I rang someone on the homelessness team and told her I had just come out of an abusive relationship with my wife and I needed somewhere to live that could accommodate children.
‘Well,’ she said. ‘It’ll be a long wait.’
‘But I need to get out now,’ I said. ‘It’s my wife’s house that she owns with her dad.’
‘Have they told you to leave?’
‘Not yet,’ I said, getting distressed. ‘But they can kick me out whenever they want.’
‘Well, if you leave before they tell you to, you’ll be voluntarily making yourself homeless and go to the back of the queue. So ring back when they kick you out and we’ll see if we can do anything for you.’
I couldn’t cope. Vicki took the phone off me and said, ‘Excuse me, this is his support worker. I just want to clarify – he’s not the abuser, he’s the victim of abuse.’
‘Oh,’ said the woman on the phone – she’d simply assumed that because I was a man, I must have been the abuser. ‘Well, in that case, we’ll put him on the list. But I’m afraid it could be a few weeks.’
‘He can’t stay here, because he’s vulnerable to further abuse.’
‘Well, I’m sorry, but we have nowhere for him. He’ll just have to stay where he is.’
I wandered over to the sofa in a daze and listened as the council worker told Vicki that I had to remain in the house for at least the next month, with all the threat of abuse that might entail. I remember looking at the pictures on the wall – wedding photos, a family shot, all of us together, and smiling, and I felt I was dying.
After the phone call, Vicki asked me what I wanted to do.
‘I don’t have a choice, do I?’ I said. ‘I have to stay here until whatever happens.’
‘But are you going to be strong enough?’ she asked. ‘When she comes back and she cuddles up to you and she says she’s sorry and it won’t happen again if you’d only take her back, are you going to be strong enough to say no? Or is she going to reel you back in?’
I looked at the family photo again and I just shattered.
Crying, shivering, choking, screaming. I totally lost control. Somehow my trousers got covered in snot and tears, and despite the social distancing, Vicki came and sat beside me and stroked my back. Ten minutes or more, I was inconsolable.
‘Richard,’ she said when I’d finally regained some semblance of rationality. ‘I have never seen anyone break down like that before. In the past, I’ve raised safeguardings to protect the children – I’m going to have to raise a safeguarding to protect you. This isn’t a safe place for you anymore. She’s destroying you.’
‘I don’t want to be here anymore,’ I sobbed.
‘Here, as in alive?’
‘No, here in this house.’
‘Then let’s get you out.’
‘I’ve got nowhere to go.’
‘Well, we can either contact your parents, or you can be sectioned for your safety.’
‘Then it’ll have to be my parents.’
She rang my parents. Lockdown be damned, I needed to be removed for my own safety and welfare. They readily agreed and said they’d come to collect me.
I packed a few belongings into a bag. I didn’t have much. My clothes were crammed into an eighth of a wardrobe, stuffed right to one side where they were difficult to access and covered in mildew from the damp. Other than my laptop and a couple of books, I didn’t have much presence in that house.
My eyes fell on my wedding ring, sitting on the bedside table.
‘I’ve failed my marriage,’ I muttered.
‘Say that again. Who failed your marriage?’
‘What should I do with my wedding ring?’
‘Do you want to take it with you?’
I shook my head.
‘Then leave it.’
‘I don’t want her to find it when she comes home,’ I said. ‘I don’t want her to see it and feel bad.’
Vicki stared at me. ‘She’s taken away your children, she’s left you with no other choice than to leave, and you’re worried about what she’s feeling?’
I left it where it was.
When my parents arrived I was led to the car like a man going to his own execution. I could almost feel the neighbours twitching the curtains. I later found out that several of them texted my wife to fill her in on where I had gone.
It didn’t give me any joy to leave that house. It didn’t feel good at all.
But I was out, and I was free.
Or so I thought.