Domestic abuse victims reveal horror of lockdown with partners, fleeing at night and sleeping on streets to escape them

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Domestic abuse victims reveal horror of lockdown with partners, fleeing at night and sleeping on streets to escape them

WHEN the country went into lockdown last year, mum-of-three Victoria, 45, was left suicidal after being trapped at home with her violent partner.

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WHEN the country went into lockdown last year, mum-of-three Victoria, 45, was left suicidal after being trapped at home with her violent partner.

Both she and partner Colin, 50, had been furloughed when he banned her from going outside – even in the garden – hid weapons around the house and threatened to kill her.

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Three quarters of domestic violence victims have said lockdown has made it more difficult to escape their abusers (posed by model)[/caption]

She was forbidden from speaking to anyone from another household, was punched so hard during one attack she had to have a tooth removed, and was told it would be her fault if her children died of Covid.

This was the mum-of-three’s hellish reality for five months at the hands of an emotionally and physically abusive man, who used the pandemic as an ‘excuse’ to exert total control over her life.

Victoria is far from alone – one in five offences recorded by police during and immediately after the first national lockdown in England and Wales involved domestic abuse.

In the UK, police have seen a 10 per cent increase in reported cases of domestic abuse and calls to helplines have also risen sharply.

And with ongoing lockdown and uncertainty, many other victims of domestic violence are still trapped, the suffocating conditions of being stuck at home meaning they are unable to even steal a minute alone to call for help.

Olivia West – The Sun

Refuge worker Charlotte Kneer fears for the safety of many women who contact her, desperate for a place to escape to[/caption]

Here, The Sun Online investigates the terrifying impact the pandemic has had on those fearful for their lives because of domestic violence.

‘You don’t know when you hang up if that woman will be murdered’

After the first lockdown, two-thirds of women in abusive relationships reported having suffered more violence, and three-quarters said lockdown made it more difficult to escape their abusers.

Tragically, some cases have proved to be fatal, with almost 50 suspected killings thought to have occurred during the first lockdown alone.

Just days after lockdown was introduced, mum Caroline Walker and daughter Katie, 24, were knifed to death before the body of Caroline’s husband Gary was found in a house fire.

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Kelly Fitzgibbons and her young daughters were killed in a murder suicide[/caption]

On the same day, dad Robert Needham shot partner Kelly Fitzgibbons and two young daughters aged five and three before turning the gun on himself reportedly after suffering from cash stress linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

Charlotte Kneer, 50, previously experienced domestic abuse and now runs three refuges currently accommodating 19 women and 40 children.

As chief executive of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, she has witnessed the desperate lengths women have had to go to seek help over the past year.

Most who come to us are at risk of being killed if they remain in their own home”


Charlotte Kneer, Women's Aid refuge

Charlotte says: “You don’t know when you hang up if that woman is going to be murdered and most who come to us are at risk of being killed if they remain in their own home.

“Another woman was forced to flee in the middle of the night with her kids, with just the pyjamas they were wearing and nothing else.

“Isolation is something abusers will use anyway as a strategy to abuse someone, so lockdown is just the perfect opportunity handed to them on a plate to become even more violent or controlling.”

Complete suffocation and terror

Charlotte can understand the fear and isolation more than most. She was with abusive ex Wayne Prior, the father of her two daughters, now 21 and 20, for eight years.

A year into their relationship, the abuse became physical. In one incident he punched Charlotte repeatedly in the face.

Six months later he threatened to kill her, and bit a chunk out of her neck, dragging her by her hair to the kitchen to get a knife before Charlotte was able to escape.

Olivia West – The Sun

Charlotte knows what it is like to be a victim of domestic violence[/caption]

Charlotte found the courage to flee on her one-year-old daughter’s birthday in 2002, however he still continued to dictate much of her life for years after.

Finally, in 2011, Prior admitted seven counts of actual bodily harm, two counts of making threats to kill and one of common assault against the three women including Charlotte, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Her personal experience means Charlotte fears even more for those suffering similar situations in lockdown.

She says: “After each incident I’d go to bed thinking, ‘will I still be alive in the morning?’

“In lockdown, to not even have five minutes to yourself while he’s at work to access a phone to call for help – it must be complete suffocation and terror. It’s been magnified so much this year because many victims will have no relief or respite from the abuse.”

'I lived on the streets during lockdown after fleeing my abusive husband’

FOR 25-year-old Tina, being locked down 24/7 with her abusive husband Frank was so bad, she had no choice but to flee and live on the streets of London during the pandemic.

Over the course of their eight-year marriage, the 28-year-old delivery driver cut Tina off from her family and friends, constantly accused her of cheating and wouldn’t even let her have contact with her daughter, now 10.

Tina says: “In the beginning he was caring and kind. He agreed to be a father figure to my daughter,

“But after we married he controlled everything. He would accuse me of cheating, check my underwear for ‘evidence’, and I had no access to my bank account.”

Tina finally reached breaking point in lockdown last year, when they were suddenly forced to spend all day, every day together after Frank lost his job.

Tina recalls: “Not being able to go out made it so hard to cope. I was terrified and drained emotionally – it was like a double lockdown.”

She finally fled last August with nothing but her purse and a bag, and ended up sleeping rough for two weeks.

She says: “I didn’t care what happened to me – I just needed to get out. It had reached the point in lockdown that it was better being on the streets than living with him.

“While I was on the streets men would offer me money to go with them to their home, but I refused, and another woman tried to rob me but I still knew I couldn’t go back to my husband.”

While homeless, Tina became unwell, and after being treated in hospital she was referred to a Solace refuge in London, where she has been living ever since.

She says: “I feel safer now – no one should ever feel homelessness is the only option.”

‘I wasn’t even allowed in the garden for fresh air’

Victoria, 45, moved into a refuge with her three children aged between seven and 20, after fleeing from Colin, 50, last August.

Describing the moment she found out they would both be furloughed back in March, Victoria says: “I could have just died there and then. I was completely trapped – wherever I went, he would follow me. My daughter had to isolate and he said it would be my fault if she got Covid and died.

“He was so paranoid he’d get the virus he wouldn’t let me go for the daily walk and wouldn’t even let me go in the garden. We had to get food delivered rather than go to the shops, and I’d have to wipe everything down.

“It allowed him to become even more controlling, and he used Covid as an excuse to keep me trapped.”

Knives and weapons hidden around the house

Alamy

Many victims have felt even more trapped during lockdown as their partners are home more[/caption]

The couple met in 2010, and within six months Colin became controlling.

Victoria says: “He’d check up on me – where I’d been, what I’d eaten, who I’d spoken to.

“I had no confidence, didn’t see anyone and was trapped. He cut me off from most of my family and friends and call me all day every day.”

One time he held a knife to my throat and said it would be so easy for him to just slit my throat and watch me die”


Victoria*

Gradually, he became physically abusive too, beating her for trivial things, such as bringing home the wrong food order from the chicken shop. It soon escalated.

She says: “When he came to bed he’d just randomly punch me. Before long this turned into sexual abuse while I was sleeping, which I would wake up to. I didn’t even feel safe sleeping, and he once broke one of my ribs.

“He had knives and weapons hidden all over the house. One time he held a knife to my throat and said it would be so easy for him to just slit my throat and watch me die.”

‘Not knowing when lockdown would end made me suicidal’

When lockdown happened, Victoria was plunged into an even more horrific nightmare.

She says: “One night I asked if he was cooking, because until then I’d done everything, including the homeschooling. He kicked off. He threw his phone at me then pinned me against the wardrobe.

“He picked my TV up and threatened to throw it at me, only stopping when one of the kids called for us. I was shaking from head to toe, and couldn’t believe he’d gone that far.

“I felt scared, and with the pressures of being trapped in the house I felt suffocated. I lay in bed every night just thinking there’s no way out. The only option was to kill myself.”

Victoria eventually summoned the courage to contact Women’s Aid, and a support worker would secretly check in on Victoria every couple of days via email.

Victoria says: “We were waiting for him to go back to work so I could plan our escape while he was out, but the date kept being pushed back as he was furloughed again and again.

“The not-knowing and false hope that he’d go back to work were the reasons I felt suicidal. I felt I was going to be stuck there forever because he was never going to go back to work.”

‘I feel more free now in lockdown than I have in ten years’

Despite being terrified, the next time he turned physically violent, Victoria fled with the kids.

Victoria says: “He demanded to see my phone, and I refused. He followed me upstairs and punched me in the face, which later meant I had to have a tooth removed.”

At a family member’s house, the police took Victoria’s statement and arrested Colin.

Victoria says: “I was so emotional, I couldn’t stop crying. It was part relief that we were finally free, but I was also still terrified. We were fleeing for our lives.”

But refuges, like the one where Victoria was able to escape to, are under immense strain.

The number of victims turned away because of a lack of beds rocketed by a third in a year – despite the need for them being greater.

Women’s Aid Charlotte says: “Currently for every room that becomes available we have 10 women and their children trying to access it.

“It’s heartbreaking. There’s never enough spaces but we had a 150 per cent demand increase between last April and September. Having to tell a woman the space is gone is just horrendous.

“I spoke to a woman recently who’d been trying all year to get a refuge space – thank god she’s still alive.”

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For those still trapped in an abusive home, every day is living hell[/caption]


Now, despite the country still being in lockdown, Victoria feels more free than she’s felt in over ten years.

She says: “I don’t feel restricted in any way now, or trapped. I’d lived in a worse lockdown for years.

“In a way I’m glad lockdown happened because I wouldn’t have reached the breaking point needed to be able to escape, but I wish the children and I hadn’t had to go through all that.”

If you need support or are worried about someone else, call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or contact them online.

Some names have been changed to protect identity.

 

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