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.