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'I was dead inside' - what Christmas is like for victims of domestic abuse

PUBLISHED: 15:41 24 December 2019 | UPDATED: 15:51 24 December 2019

Victims of domestic abuse in Norfolk share their stories of suffering during Christmas. Pictured is a film by Norwich domestic abuse charity Leeway. Picture: Leeway

Victims of domestic abuse in Norfolk share their stories of suffering during Christmas. Pictured is a film by Norwich domestic abuse charity Leeway. Picture: Leeway

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For Caroline*, there were two occasions she feared the most - the football World Cup and Christmas.

Domestic violence support charity shop Dawn's New Horizon, in Cannerby Lane, Sprowston. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDomestic violence support charity shop Dawn's New Horizon, in Cannerby Lane, Sprowston. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

It meant facing increased paranoia of "getting things wrong" and suffering physical and emotional torture from her husband.

Caroline, 50, Norwich, suffered domestic by her ex-partner for four years before their divorce.

"When we had friends and family over for Christmas I tried to make them stay longer," she said. "You don't want to be alone.

"Football and Christmas were the worst times for me - that's when he would be drinking.

Dawn's New Horizon Domestic abuse help centre and charity shop Pictures: ArchantDawn's New Horizon Domestic abuse help centre and charity shop Pictures: Archant

"I was given a certain amount of money to buy gifts for my mum but I wasn't allowed to buy gifts for my friends."

She has since remarried and is living happily.

Another 53-year-old Norwich woman has described her Christmas morning while living with an abusive partner, which she said would begin with a screaming match while her daughter hid in her bedroom.

One year, she was dragged out of bed by her hair to start cooking early in the morning before his family arrived at 1pm.

Mandy Proctor, chief executive of Leeway, the charity providing support to those experiencing domestic abuse.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYMandy Proctor, chief executive of Leeway, the charity providing support to those experiencing domestic abuse. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"You can't enjoy your food, you're sat their with cuts and bruises," she said.

"It was awful, he always controlled the money that I had - he'd give me £10 to buy all of the family presents," she said.

On one rare occasion, she said she was allowed to go out to a work Christmas party - but her abusive partner waited outside the pub and watched her every move.

"I could see him through the window," she said. "I was very nervous, I had to be careful who I spoke to, it was horrible.

Leeway, the Norwich-based charity which provides support to those experiencing domestic abuse. Picture: LeewayLeeway, the Norwich-based charity which provides support to those experiencing domestic abuse. Picture: Leeway

"He chose what I wore and how I did my make-up, people around me knew that my persona had changed."

There were 3,600 domestic abuse-related arrests in Norfolk in the year leading to March 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.

But 56pc of domestic abuse reports ended with the victim not supporting further action.

And some victims at safe houses will be spending Christmas miles away from their loved ones, unable to visit family and friends for fear of their safety and that of their children.

The seven refuges in Norfolk, run by domestic abuse charity Leeway, have enough room for 55 women and 76 children - and they are normally full, a spokesman said.

Emma*, 50, from Norwich, fled to a safe house after leaving her abusive partner five years ago.

She suffered a decade of abuse in the 24-year marriage.

"Was Christmas the worst time of year? When you are in an abusive relationship, there is never a good time," she said. "Every day is fear.

"He did attack me once in front of his mother and aunt but mostly it was more subtle - put downs, everyone laughing at how useless I was at this or that aspect of Christmas.

"I was used to it, numb. For years I never really felt anything, I was dead inside.

"I was with him for two decades but in all that time we never spent Christmas with my family, only with his - this adds to the pressure because there are witnesses to your humiliation, you feel so small."

Emma was eventually able to escape the marriage for the sake of her children.

Leeway runs a Christmas appeal every year to collect donations for the women and children living in refuges.

Mandy Proctor, chief executive, said: "Many of the women and children who stay at our refuges arrive with very little or nothing, so the smallest gift makes all the difference to them.

"I would like to thank everyone that has supported the appeal, it really does make a massive difference no matter how big or small."

Dawn's New Horizon, in Cannerby Lane, provides victims with a support network, including a drop-in service and a 24-hour phone line with links to police and social services.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/DNHNorwich

To donate to the Leeway Christmas appeal, visit: leewaysupport.org/blog/leeway-christmas-appeal-2019

*Names changed

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