‘It started with name-calling and belittling’ - domestic abuse victim speaks out over years of living with violent husband
- Credit: PA
It was when Caitlin's husband started to be aggressive towards his children and her that she realised something was wrong.
Soon she was stopped from making phone calls and having her own money - as the man she had fallen in love with as a teenager showed his ugly side.
But after he subjected her to both physical and sexual abuse for six years, she managed to pluck up the courage to ask her family for help in leaving him.
Today Caitlin (not her real name) shares her story - as Norfolk County Council announced it has trained 500 people across frontline positions to help people suffering from abuse.
Caitlin was 18 when she started a relationship with a 30-year old man whom she described as 'everything I wanted'.
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Within a few months they were married and she took on the role of stepmother to his two children.
'Soon after we got married it was a slippery slope,' she said.
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'It started with name-calling and belittling. The emotional and verbal sides were the worst, they cut deeper than anything else.
'I never stood up to him. He was a lot bigger than me physically and mentally. He would say things that would take the wind out of me. I would make excuses for him, like he was tired or he'd had a bad day.
'I started doubting myself about things he said I'd said, which would make me think I was going crazy.
'Once you start doubting yourself you don't trust other people either, but you believe that what he is saying must be the truth.'
Caitlin said the domestic abuse developed into serious assaults during which he would hit her, spit on her, and make her feel worthless and empty.
The abuse continued until her husband strangled her in front of the children, which sparked her strength to call her family so they could come and take her away.
'All I remember was waking up on the floor and deciding that was enough,' she said.
'It was hard. Leaving the children was hard. Even to this day I feel extremely guilty.'
Caitlin added: 'I felt ashamed because I didn't want to admit that the person - who I had begged my mum and dad to accept - was abusing me.'
She has since moved on with her life and is now in a stable and happy relationship, and she is urging victims of domestic abuse to either call 999 or get help from family or friends.
Her advice to anyone enduring abuse is clear: 'You need to believe it's not your fault,' she said.
'When it's safe to do so, phone a helpline or speak to a friend or family member you can trust. I didn't think I was strong enough to seek help or speak up but actually I was. Once we are being held and supported by people it's an open road.'
The 500 champions, who are jointly funded by Norfolk County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner, are part of a drive to tackle domestic abuse.
As well as helping affected people, the champions are also trained to spot signs of someone suffering domestic abuse.
Caitlin has written a book about her experiences called 'Love Didn't Hurt You – Know the Signs of Domestic Abuse', which is available as an ebook or paperback via her website.