Leeds domestic abuse survivor jumped from moving car after being stabbed and hit with bat
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This was the reality of daily life for ‘Susan’, a domestic abuse survivor who today shares her story with the Yorkshire Evening Post in the hope that it might save someone else from suffering anything like the 12 years of violence she endured at the hands of her husband.
Her story is the first in a week-long series of articles in support of the No Excuse for Abuse campaign, backed by Leeds Rhinos Foundation and Inspire North as part of efforts to educated the public about how to spot and report the signs of domestic abuse.
It comes as charities, support services and the authorities voice concern amid a global surge in domestic abuse reports during the coronavirus lockdown.
The violence Susan experienced became so bad that she finally made an escape from her abuser by jumping out of a moving car.
She had been reluctant to leave before because, like so many victims, she was frightened that her partner would find her and it would somehow make everything worse.
It was while she was being driven to a secluded spot, where she feared he was going to kill her, that Susan made a break for it.
“He tried to take me to a secluded area and tried to kill me,” she said. “I jumped out of the car. I thought if I don’t get out, I will not survive.
“It was on a big roundabout and I ran up to somebody’s car and asked them to take me to the refuge”.
Susan had heard about the refuge before. It is not based in Leeds, but was newly opened and represented a place where she could find safety and support.
Her partner was pursuing the stranger’s car for the entire journey - but she made it there, with only the clothes she was wearing that day.
Susan never returned home and left behind everything she had possessed in her previous life, from clothes to family photographs. She had to rely on clothes donations in those early days.
It was a series of court orders that kept her then husband away for good - but it was the work of Inspire North, an organisation based in Seacroft, that helped Susan to get her life back on track.
She said: “Even when I was there getting the support, I was still in fear and thinking ‘will I ever be free?’ I honestly did not think I would be alive or survive or get rid of it. Because you are under that much control, you don’t think it is possible your life will change.
“I never thought in a million years I will have my life back or be the person that I was. They put so much into re-building you and I can’t thank them enough.”
Susan’s husband had jumped on her face during one of the worst attacks, leaving her unrecognisable. He would not let her go to hospital but paid to hide her away in a hotel until the injuries had healed.
He used to hit her with a baseball bat, he stabbed her and he deprived her of sleep by waking her up during the night or throwing water over her. He had even forced her into marriage, taking her to Gretna Green nine years into their 12-year relationship.
He would tell her it was her fault, saying she made him to it or she made him lose his temper.
Susan says people knew what was going on but were too scared to confront him. The police did not deal with domestic abuse in the way they do today, with controlling and coercive behaviour now a criminal offence in its own right.
In a bid to make their life look normal, Susan was allowed one social outing a week - Sunday lunch at her parents.
She had tried on those visits to escape into the woods and hid in bushes - but her husband would find her though and take her back home.
“There was a point where I had nobody to go to,” Susan said. “Everyone was scared, they didn’t want any trouble.
“I realised there was not a lot the police could do. Even when they were called, they would not do much. It was a lot different then, they would say ‘it’s domestic, don’t get involved’.”
A report by the Home Office says that calls to domestic abuse helplines have increased markedly since the lockdown began two months ago.
Evidence suggests incidents of abuse are becoming more complex and serious, with higher levels of physical violence and coercive control.
The Counting Dead Women project has calculated that there were at least sixteen domestic abuse killings of women and children between March 23 - the day the UK lockdown began - and April 12.
Susan’s decision to jump out of the car in that moment of fear at becoming another statistic took her to the refuge where she started the long process to rebuilding her life. But even when she was safe there, she found it hard to settle.
She said: “Scars heal don’t they but what is broken inside you - that takes some rebuilding. And when you go through it with your independent domestic violence advisor, there is a lot of abuse that you don’t even know is abuse.”
Susan now works with Inspire North to help other women that have fled domestic abuse. She is in a loving relationship with a man who knows about her ordeal, but issues stemming from the violence she experienced still linger.
“I had been single for eight years and it was the last thing I was interested in,” she said. “It took me a long time to trust anybody on that level but I have found Mr Right and he does exist.
“He is such a nice guy but it is still on the back of your mind. We were messing around and he poked me in the ribs. I thought it was a knife and I had been stabbed. He could see in my face I had a flashback in that instant.
“Little things do come back and that is a work in progress but the last couple of years have been fantastic.”
Scale of the issue
A report presented to Leeds City Council in September stated that domestic violence and abuse made up 27.5 per cent of all violent crime in the city during 2018. It represented 10.3 per cent of all sexual violence and 11.5 per cent of all criminal damage offences.
Earlier this month, the Yorkshire Evening Post spoke to Leeds Women’s Aid chief executive Nik Peasgood as the charity reported a 50 per cent increase in calls to its domestic violence helpline. However, she said she was concerned that this was just “the tip of the iceberg” as the offense is widely under-reported.
She said: “There was a 50 per cent increase to the helpline compared to when lockdown started and there has been an increase in requests for refuge provision.
“The majority of women that are experiencing violent abuse are not getting in touch. There is no way we can be working with everyone. It is the tip of the iceberg and we are very concerned that some women are not making contact at all."
And the effect of domestic violence does not stop with the victim.
Further figures show that, on average, 3,000 referrals made to the Children’s Social Work Service in Leeds each year will have domestic violence listed as the primary reason for help being needed. They account for the equivalent of around 30 per cent of all referrals.
Analysis of babies who had entered care in Leeds in 2013 and 2014 showed that domestic violence was present in 60 per cent of cases, with a further 10 per cent where there was historic domestic violence in the family.
Similar figures for adolescents entering care in Leeds in 2015 revealed that there was domestic violence within the family in 47 per cent of cases, and physical assaults between parents and young people in 74 per cent of them.