A young Derbyshire woman has begged people experiencing domestic abuse to seek help so that they don’t have to suffer alone.
Stephanie, 22, endured months of mental and physical abuse from her ex-partner and didn’t know about the support available to her.
She said: “I thought it was normal. You get hit, you get strangled, you get pinned up against a wall, you wake up with bruises. Then I realised it wasn’t normal.
“I didn’t know there was help out there, I didn’t know that people could help; I was hidden away from all of that.”
Now, with support from her landlord Futures Housing Group, Derbyshire Domestic Abuse helpline, Derbyshire WISH, her local Jobcentre, her GP and her friends, Stephanie is getting her life back together.
“Seek the help, that’s all I beg,” she said.
“Don’t try and hide it, tell people. Just try and get yourself away to tell someone so that they can help too. It’s been a massive battle to try and sort through it all and I just wish I’d had help sooner.”
He was a bully
Stephanie met her ex-partner at school but didn’t begin a relationship until years later. It wasn’t until they moved in together that Stephanie’s nightmare unfolded.
“It all changed as soon as we got the flat together. He started getting violent and I didn’t know what help was out there,” she said.
“He started getting sexually abusive. I thought what he was doing to me was normal. Something just flipped in him and I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t know what had made him act like that towards me. He just showed himself as a bully.”
Escaping the abuse
Stephanie reached a desperate breaking point and decided to take action. She began by calling the Derbyshire Domestic Abuse helpline and was then referred to Derbyshire WISH who are a supported housing project. They can provide emergency, short term refuge to those fleeing Domestic Abuse but they can also offer practical/emotional support to those who wish to remain in their home.
She added: “My mates told me that there was a helpline and I called them to see what they could do.
“Futures helped me by putting the tenancy into my name, and only my name so I could stay in the flat and they arranged for the locks to be changed. I’m grateful to Futures for helping me keep my flat because he wanted to take it, he wanted to take everything.”
Taking the first steps to escaping the abuse was frightening, says Stephanie, but she found the support helped her deal with her initial fears.
“It was very scary speaking to people about it and opening up to a total stranger because I’m not used to it,” she said.
“(The support) was so good with helping me through it and calming me down whilst I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t have wished for better help.”
With support from Futures, Stephanie has been enrolled onto the Freedom Programme, a charity which helps domestic abuse survivors deal with their experiences.
The programme helps survivors understand what has happened to them, why it has happened and how to prevent it from happening again.
Stephanie added: “I am an emotional wreck and I’m getting help for my mental health as well.
“I’m also getting therapy to help me cope with day to day things and not have flashbacks. I’ve got PTSD, anxiety and depression and I want to learn how to cope. I want to go into Nottingham on my own; go for walks. The most I do is literally to the shop – that’s the only distance I will do. I have to brace myself to go any further because I think I might run into him.
“The wounds aren’t as fresh, but it still feels raw. Every room I go into reminds me of him.”
Spotting the signs
Stephanie says that spotting the signs of an abusive relationship can be hard but small things like the victim using any excuse to not be near the other person or staying close to an exit could be tell-tale signs.
Stephanie’s advice for anyone who suspects that someone they know is being abused is to try and find some time alone with the victim to get them to open up.
Futures Housing Group, which manages around 10,000 homes across the east Midlands, is part of the Make a Stand campaign, which is calling for organisations to make commitments to supporting people who are experiencing domestic abuse.
Futures Neighbourhoods Officer Faye White, who is leading on Make a Stand for the organisation, said: “Sadly, there are lots more people out there just like Stephanie who just don’t know where to turn. Abuse is not normal and no-one should accept it.
“We are committed to supporting our customers and our staff who are experiencing domestic abuse. We encourage people to contact us should they need any advice or just someone to listen to so that the right support can be found.
“Our dedicated email inbox has been set up so that those who need our help can write to us if they’d prefer.”
If you are experiencing domestic abuse of any kind, or know someone who is, email firstname.lastname@example.org.