Your stories

Meet the brave and inspirational women who helped their friends to break free of abuse or have survived violence themselves.

They're sharing their stories, and their strength, to help you to speak out and reach out to your friends.

  • Fiona Bruce

    News journalist, presenter and Refuge patron: tells Louise's story

    I first met Louise when we were at sixth form together. She was lively and daring, one of the most outgoing people I knew, and we became close friends. After university we lived together, and that was when she started seeing Nick*. I didn't think much of him and after a short time the two of them stopped socialising with the rest of our group of friends. When she told me they were getting married, I felt uneasy, but thought it was my duty as a good friend to support her.

    Nick did nothing to ease my worry when, during his wedding speech, he claimed that Louise had been out of control before they met and that he had managed to tame her. I loved Louise for her confidence and exuberance, and the thought of anyone dampening her spirit was deeply upsetting. It was years before I found out that I was right to be worried. Louise remembers her wedding day as the first time she thought she might have made a mistake. After they were married, and the first time he got her alone in the car, he started shouting at her. She had never seen him behave so aggressively before.

    For four years Louise suffered in silence as the abuse turned from emotional control to physical violence. She thought things might get better when they had children, but the abuse only got worse. Eventually, she worked up enough courage to tell me about some of the things that had been going on.

    I was stunned that strong, confident Louise could be a victim of domestic violence - but I suppose it's not surprising when as many as one in four women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. The truth is we will all know someone who is experiencing domestic violence - we just might not know it yet.

    With Louise I felt like I had let her down by not realising it had been happening. On the inside I wanted to shout at her to get out and leave him - but that wouldn't have helped. If I reacted angrily towards her it would only have turned her against me, and given her one less person she could open up to. I had to be calm and supportive, as difficult as that sometimes was. All I wanted was for her to be safe.

    I made sure she knew she had options, but I didn't tell her what choice to make.

    Louise tried to leave Nick three times before she finally made up her mind to leave for good. It was heartbreaking to see her go back every time, but I had to accept that she needed to leave in her own time. When she left for the final time I convinced her to speak to Refuge. They helped her to rebuild her confidence and accept that none of what happened to her was her fault.

    I know how difficult it is to watch a friend go through hell and feel like you can't do anything about it. But I realised that there were things I could do to help. I tried to be a supportive listener, I made sure I never blamed her for the abuse, and I helped her to access support from Refuge.

    I am so proud of Louise for her immense strength and courage and for managing to rebuild her and her children's lives after so many years of control and fear.

    I'm so grateful that I was able to help my friend.

    * names have been changed

  • Jo Thorn's story

    Domestic violence survivor shares her story and how she helps others

    I was surrounded by violence during my childhood. My father was violent towards my mother and my brother was always violent towards me. I was sexually abused and ended up with a violent partner. You'd think of all people, I would have been able to recognise the signs of abuse and make it stop. But it's never that easy.

    I met my ex-partner David* when I was 20. At first he showed no signs of what was to come - in fact he was very laid back. Gradually though he became more controlling and aggressive. He constantly told me I was fat and lazy. It was so demoralising. The weight piled on and I started to believe his words. He would throw things at the wall if dinner wasn't ready in time.

    The worst was yet to come. In 1993 I became pregnant with our first child. I woke up bleeding one day and was rushed to hospital. Nobody could get hold of David. Alone in hospital on Christmas Day I lost my baby.

    David wanted to try for another child immediately but the doctors advised against it. He insisted, despite the fact that I was still in pain and grieving. I fell pregnant straight away. Everyone one was over the moon. Everyone except me.

    David then got a job in Bristol. I was thrilled. Not because of his new career prospects, but for the respite from abuse and some time so I could finally mourn.

    But his new job actually made things 100 times worse. He started demanding his food was ready the minute he arrived home from work and would be agitated and aggressive if it wasn't. One night when he came in from work I asked him not to go out so we could spend some time together. He ignored me and that night as we lay in bed he kicked me on the legs over and over again. When I woke up my legs were in agony. When my mum saw the marks she asked what had happened. I lied. It was then that I realised I was doing exactly what mum used to do when dad beat her - cover for him. But even though I knew it was wrong I didn't want my child to grow up without a father. I'd become so withdrawn and nervous and I no longer had any confidence to start life again. I thought I was helpless and didn't think I'd survive without him.

    The violence just kept getting worse. Looking back now, I can see that he was very clever. He'd always hit me where people wouldn't see – he would rarely hit my face. It was always kicks and punches which would be hidden by clothes.

    When I was eight months pregnant he pushed me out of the bed and I fell on the floor. "Get out of the bed you fat pig. Sleep on the chair", he told me. So I slept in a small, single arm chair at the end of the bed with a fleece blanket until the night I went into labour.

    "You're useless, nobody else would want you, you're no good," he told me every day after my son was born. Every time we fell out, he'd threaten to leave me and make me feel guilty about our son growing up without a dad. So I'd always give in.

    That's why the support of a friend or loved one is so important. Friends can be the strength you need when you feel like you have lost everything else. They can help you realise it’s not your fault, that you don't deserve it, no matter how much he tells you that you do. My friends felt guilty that they never noticed and that they never helped. But back then people didn't speak about domestic violence.

    Today things are changing but there's still so much that needs to be done. More people need to speak out against domestic violence. More people need to be aware that someone they love might be suffering in silence, because the reality is that one in four women will experience abuse at some point in their life.

    It was a week before my son's first birthday, I finally found the strength to leave. And it was then that I benefited from the support of my friends and family and gradually built a new life for me and my son.

    I've been in a happy, stable relationship for six years and now run my own successful Avon business. My life coundn't be more different. I would urge anyone who thinks a friend might be experiencing domestic violence to access information and support - there is help available, you just have to reach out and ask.

    * names have been changed

  • Rebecca

    Whose sister experienced domestic violence, tells her story

    My sister met her ex-boyfriend when she was 16 and they were on and off for more than 10 years. My brothers thought he was a great guy. My parents thought he was nice too - he was a real charmer. I always thought he was quite enigmatic - I could see why she liked him.

    But a few years into the relationship she started to mention things that worried me a bit. She said that they were arguing a lot and that he would get really jealous when she went out with her friends - he was constantly questioning her about where she was going and who she was with. He would even tell her what to wear and how to do her hair. She told me that he sometimes called her names and was always putting her down. I hated hearing how he was treating my sister, but I didn't know that all of these things were signs of domestic violence. I can even remember her turning up at my parents' house one day with a black eye. She said she had fallen and hit her face on the corner of a table. I had a feeling that she wasn’t being completely honest, but I didn’t dwell on it.

    A year or so ago she decided that she couldn’t live with him any more and moved out to live with some friends. She told me he was too controlling and that she needed her space, but she continued to see him. I was frustrated that she kept seeing him when he clearly wasn’t treating her as well as she deserved. But she said she loved him and that she couldn’t live without him. I had to accept it was her choice. I still didn’t realise that she was being controlled and manipulated by him.

    We finally found out exactly what was going on when he turned up at her flat one night and started yelling at her. Her housemates came into the living room and saw him throw a phone at her. Then he grabbed her wrist and twisted it until it broke. The break was so bad she ended up needing a metal pin in it. Her housemates had seen it all so she couldn’t hide it any more.

    After that, it all came out. She admitted to me that he had been hitting her for years. He had done some horrible things to her. I was so angry - at both of them. At him for hurting her and at her for putting up with it for so long. I was angry at myself too. I felt like I should have done more to help her escape. In some ways it made me feel more distant from her. We were such a close family and she had been keeping this a secret from us for so long. It was such a mixture of emotions.

    But now I have a better understanding of how hard it was for her. She met him when she was so young and she really fell in love with him. She didn’t realise that she deserved better. And I think she was ashamed. Our grandmother had escaped domestic violence, so mum had brought us up to know that it was wrong. She was worried because we’re a close family, and we’re protective of her because she’s the youngest. She thought we would try to force her to leave him. And she was right - we probably would have tried to make her break up with him.

    I wish I had recognised earlier that it was domestic violence - then maybe I could have helped her to leave him. But I know that she had to make that decision herself. I’m just glad we were there to help her report the attack to the police and support her through the court case. We were so proud of her for standing up to him in court. He was found guilty of assaulting her and now he has a criminal record. Together we helped my sister rebuild her life. She’s so happy now. She’s living abroad and has a lovely new boyfriend.

    Sadly, there are so many women in this country who are not as lucky as my sister. I was shocked when I learnt that two women are killed every week in England and Wales because of domestic violence. I really believe that Refuge and Avon’s 1in4women campaign will be a godsend for families and friends who are worried about people they love - like I was. It will help them to recognise the signs of domestic abuse - and, crucially, it will help them to support someone who might be suffering in silence.

  • Claire Calver

    Survivor of domestic violence, speaks out about the support she gives victims of domestic violence

    When Justine met her ex she was over the moon. She felt like she had her fairytale ending - a man who was a good father figure for her young daughter, attentive, charming and understanding of everything she had been through. Perfect in fact. But I had a bad feeling about him, which I initially put down to my own paranoia – it was easy to be suspicious and wary after being with someone abusive.

    Justine's boyfriend seemed very keen to rush their relationship along. Within a few months they had moved in together and not long after that he proposed to her. I remembered my abusive ex-partner behaving the same way and I started to become concerned for Justine.

    There were other warning signs that I recognised. She stopped talking about seeing her own friends or family - everything was about him and what he wanted. She was becoming more and more isolated. She told me about how he would ignore her and her daughter to deliberately hurt her feelings. It sounded like he was playing mind games and abusing her emotionally – she was walking on eggshells trying not to upset him. I'd ask her, "Do you think it’s right that he treats you this way?" and I suggested she read some of the support books that had helped me when I was escaping abuse.

    However, it wasn't that easy for her to accept what was happening. Thanks to his emotional torture, her self-esteem and confidence had completely broken down – she'd lost all her strength. I remember noticing that she had lost weight and that her clothes looked big and baggy. When I brought this up she said she didn't deserve new clothes. "You do deserve it" I told her, trying to counteract the messages she was getting from him.

    He used sexual abuse as well as emotional abuse to control Justine. She told me how he would make her do things in bed that he knew she didn’t want to do – her self-confidence was so low that she went along with it out of desperation to please him. She felt like she was lucky to have him and that no matter how bad things got she’d stick with it because she thought no one else would ever want her.

    It would have been wrong to tell her what to do. Having gone through domestic violence myself I knew that all I could do was to support her, encourage her to think about what was happening and show her that she had choices. I needed to give her the space and time to make her own decisions.

    Eventually she did acknowledge that she was being abused, but even then she decided not to leave him. I reminded her that she was strong enough to live her own life and that she didn’t deserve to be treated this way. She still felt deeply confused. One day she would tell me she had decided to leave, the next she would change her mind – he always had a trick up his sleeve to make sure she stayed.

    She was also worried about her daughter. The relationship with her ex had given her daughter stability and a father figure. Justine was hesitant to put her child through more upheaval, to move home and change schools again and take away from her the person she’d started calling “daddy”. I asked her to think about what was better for her daughter’s welfare in the long run. Was it making her daughter happy to see her mum always being unhappy?

    It was really difficult to watch Justine struggling to come to a decision. All I wanted was for her and her little girl to be safe. As she became more determined to leave I helped her to plan a safe escape. I encouraged her to put some money aside in a personal account and I suggested that she keep some of her things at her mum’s house. I also reminded her to wait until he wasn’t around before leaving, so that he couldn’t hurt her.

    When Justine eventually left she managed to get a flat quite quickly. But he wouldn’t leave her alone and he eventually convinced her to keep seeing him. It was frustrating to see that he still had some power over her, but all I could do was keep supporting her. It didn’t take much longer for Justine to realise the emotional abuse was never going to end and she bravely cut ties with him completely.

    A few months on she’s so much happier. She's started seeing her friends and family again and she lets herself have little luxuries like new clothes, make up and haircuts and her daughter is thriving at her new school. Justine has turned her life around and now has a fairytale ending that she’s responsible for creating.

Know the signs

There's no simple way to know whether your friend is experiencing domestic violence, but there are signs that you can look out for.

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Know the facts

Domestic violence is not about a row “going wrong” or someone “losing control”. On the contrary, domestic violence is all about control.

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Know how to help

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