‘I was his punching bag’ - Victims say lockdown made domestic abuse ‘100 times worse’
- Credit: Laura Dodsworth
Two women who suffered from “the worst kind of physical and mental trauma” during lockdown have opened up about their experiences - and how they escaped the torment of their abusers.
For one Norwich woman in her 40s, who asked to be referred to as Godsave, the pain of lockdown nearly drove her to suicide. But it also encouraged her to get away from her abuser once and for all.
She said: “My partner has beat me for two years now, since we got married. But it got worse during lockdown.
“He is an alcoholic, and is always looking for trouble. The only time he doesn’t drink is when he’s asleep.
“As an agency worker, he had no shifts and no money when lockdown began. I work in healthcare, but because I have compromised immunity I needed to stay home for a while.
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“We were trapped there together.
“I’d get beaten every time he drank, and beaten if I didn’t give him money for drink. Sometimes it was so bad I’d sleep in the car because there were no hotels open.
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“When he was sober, he didn’t touch me. He was very quiet. But when he was drunk, he’d drag me off the bed, pull my legs up and rape me. It was horrible.
“I suffered the worst kind of psychological and mental trauma. He abused me in every single way.
“He turned knives on me, locked me in the house and stopped me from going out.
“I thought - this man is going to kill me. I am going to die.”
MORE: How domestic abuse reports rose 300pc in lockdownBy the time April arrived Godsave had been put in touch with Leeway - a Norfolk domestic abuse charity offering support and safehouses - after police explained she needed urgent protection.
She said: “I didn’t call the police on my husband, because I am here on a spousal visa and he threatened to expose me and have me deported.
“But the police came to our house for an unrelated reason, and when they did, they saw that I was my husband’s punching bag.
“I was reluctant, but I had to accept help because my life was at risk.”
Godsave said Leeway moved her into temporary accommodation. She stayed in various places in the East of England between April and July but is eventually back in Norwich in a privately rented flat.
“I feel safe now”, she said. “I’ve applied for a new visa and I’m back at work.
“He is subject to a non-molestation order, and if he touches me, or anyone attacks me on his behalf, he will be in serious trouble.
“Leeway helped me so much. It is because of them I feel at peace.
“I would say to any woman who, like me, had just been enduring things up until lockdown, pay attention to the signs of abuse you notice when trapped inside with someone.”
Lily (not her real name), in her 20s, also suffered extreme levels of abuse during lockdown. Unlike Godsave, no authorities were involved.
Lily said: “Looking back, I should have reached out for help. But I’m used to dealing with things myself because it gives me a sense of worth.
“In the end, I managed to leave the relationship and seek my own therapy.
“But this is what I’d say to other women: ring the police every day until someone listens to you. Ring friends, family or a charity any chance you get. The sooner you take action the better.”
For Lily, the abuse was pre-existing but became “100 times worse” during lockdown.
She said: “I am a nurse, so I woke up early every morning throughout the pandemic. My partner had lost his job and was resentful.
“He said one day ‘I’d regret waking him up constantly’, and the next morning awoke to him having sex with me while I was asleep.
“I felt disgusting, worthless and vulnerable. I was so scared I had to go to my dad’s in King’s Lynn, but being a fool, I returned to my boyfriend after he showed behaviours of regret.
“When I went back things got worse. He locked me in the house on three different occasions, and over the course of lockdown I went a week without eating because he hid my keys and then went out and bought food for himself and ate it in front of me. I completely lost my apetite and still feel guilt when I see food in front of me.
“He cheated on me throughout lockdown with multiple girls and caught an STD. He said I should have one too and beat and sexually assaulted me.
“During that assault he gave me chlamydia and I fell pregnant. He then demanded I ‘get rid of it’ or said he’d do it himself.”
In Lily’s case, it too was a matter of building up the courage to leave or committing suicide.
She said: “I couldn’t be happier now that I’m out of that relationship. I started therapy last week as I’m still in a dark place, but it’s the beginning of me becoming me again.”
Has lockdown encouraged women to leave abusive relationships?
Tracy Mahoney, chief executive of Norfolk’s Pandora Project which supports victims of abuse, said lockdown had forced people to confront violent relationships and seek help - leading to an increase in referrals as lockdown has eased.“Many of the women we’ve received calls from have actually lived with a partner for many years,” she said.
“But it wasn’t until the pressure of lockdown that they discovered just how abusive and manipulative they can be. One of our clients told us that it had been ‘hell on earth’”.
According to trauma support charity Victim Support - which deals with all kinds of trauma - one in every five calls to their helpline over lockdown related specifically to domestic abuse, and 74pc of these were women.
At the county level, domestic abuse charity Leeway saw 3,689 people contact their support service between March 23 and August 31 this year - up from 830 people last year.But Valerie Wise, contract manager at Victim Support, said that the true number of sufferers could be much higher.
She said: “We’ve found that many victims of abuse didn’t realise they could still contact the police for help during lockdown, or felt it simply wasn’t safe to do so.
“As lockdown has eased, victims are more willing to report crimes and access support.
“We expect the number of calls to rise in the coming months for this reason.”
* We have changed the names of the women upon request to protect their identity