After escaping years of emotional and psychological abuse from her partner, a domestic abuse survivor has spoken about how the services available in Brighton and Hove meant that she could begin living her life again.
When she first sought help earlier this year, Anna (not her real name) had recently left her ex-partner and was on the brink of a serious breakdown.
Having experienced emotional and psychological abuse which escalated in severity over several years, during which she was bullied, intimidated and manipulated by her ex-partner, she talked about how difficult it was to recognise the abuse, because at times it was subtle, and because it wasn’t physical violence.
Anna left her ex-partner with a plan to commit suicide, but then travelled to London and from there decided to travel to Brighton where she made contact with a local rough sleeper’s team who supported her whilst she found temporary accommodation. Staff also gave her information about the Domestic Abuse Surgery, a service that that opened in January 2014.
“When I walked in to the Customer Service Centre in Hove, I went to the front desk and just asked for the surgery. They took me to wait in a quiet area and Rosie (RISE Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA)) came out to get me. I was able to just sit there and I felt very safe.
“Rosie listened to me and gave me time to process what had happened to me and what I wanted to happen next. We made a safety plan and looked at ways to ensure my ex-partner couldn’t find me, and how to manage my mental health.
“Rosie was really supportive. I needed someone who was strong and she’s given me so much care and support, it really caught me. It was better for me than speaking to a police officer, it meant that I could talk to her without it being in an ‘official’ way.”
Support from Sussex Police has also helped Anna with feeling safer on a day to day basis:
“Safety was one of the really key points. [It was about] stability and getting away from the fear of him finding out where I was.
“You’re always in control as the client. I recently had a welfare call from the police which was great, knowing there’s a tag on my address, I sleep better and feel calmer about that because I know that protection is in place.”
By continuing to see Rosie for three months, and receiving support through other RISE services including Peer Support Groups and NHS services, Anna has begun to recovery from her experience and is enjoying making a life in Brighton.
She continues to access support from RISE’s Domestic Abuse Prevention and Recovery Service, and regularly attends the Peer Support Group, which is a safe space for survivors to reflect on their experiences.
“When you’re in an abusive relationship it’s all about control, they want to control you one way or another. I don’t understand why, it’s like they want you to become a part of them, and they take a part of you away.
“The support from RISE has been brilliant. I felt so isolated: because it was psychological and emotional you don’t realise it’s abuse. Knowing that ‘yes’ it is abuse and it’s wrong meant so much.
“You have to be gentle with yourself, and I can be kind to myself now. I do little things to rebel against him, like having sugar in my tea, which he didn’t allow me to have. Or I have food in the fridge which he didn’t like. I can watch DVDs that I want to watch, it’s like undoing the control that he used to have.”
Having used these services, Anna is keen to encourage others to take up the opportunities to get help and support:
“I want to do something that can help. We can put a satellite in space, but we can’t seem to stop people being abusive to each other in relationships. It’s not until you leave that you realise how bad it was. Being in the room [at the RISE Peer Support Group] with the other girls was amazing.”
IDVA Rosie, who has been working with Anna for a number of months, said: “The surgery is very accessible: it has been carefully designed to remove the barriers that people might have to getting support. Clients can walk in off the street, they don’t need to give their details if they don’t want to and they can share as much or as little as they feel comfortable with on the day.
“Since it started in January, I have found that the approach works as the surgery is very popular, and almost everyone who’s attended has given their details and are now receiving ongoing support. I don’t think clients realise the strength they have when they choose to reach out and seek help. It is incredible to be a part of a client’s journey to finding freedom from abuse.”
Detective Sergeant Laurence Cartwright, who leads the project, said: “The Domestic Abuse Surgery is a new and different way for people who are experiencing abuse to get help. It is a safe place where you can speak informally to someone who has experience helping people.
“We understand that, when you’re in an abusive relationship, whether you’re a man or a woman, there are no easy answers. It’s our hope that a visit to the surgery might be the first step in a difficult journey towards being safer and happier.
“The police staff at the surgery are able to give advice on all aspects of the criminal justice system, as well as providing practical help to make people and their families safer.
“I’m delighted that in the months since we’ve opened almost one hundred people have used the service, and I hope that we will continue to help many more”.
The surgery is available at the Customer Service Centre at Hove Town Hall, every Wednesday morning between 9am and 12 noon.
To access the drop in, visit Hove Town Hall and ask for ‘The Surgery’ at Customer Service Centre reception.
The Surgery is open to women and men of all ages and gives people a safe space to talk through their concerns, a chance to find out more about the options available to them and access to assistance with their housing options and finances with professionals from Sussex Police, RISE and other organisations. People can also find out more about their partner’s offending history so that they can make more informed choices. Each case is considered individually and information will be shared when it could reduce the risk of someone being a victim of crime.
This initiative supports the ongoing police ‘talk to us’ campaign focussing on domestic abuse. For details and support visit call 101 or 01273 470101.
If you don’t want to talk to the police, call the RISE helpline on 01273 622822 or click here.
Information on help and support is also available at www.safeinthecity.info/getting-help
The 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline is also available on 0808 2000 247.
Sussex Police was the first police force in England to be awarded White Ribbon status in recognition of their work and ongoing commitment to tackle domestic abuse.
The organisation is committed to supporting the aims of the White Ribbon Campaign: never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women, helping and supporting everyone who is experiencing domestic abuse.
The White Ribbon is a symbol of hope for a world where people can live free from the fear of violence and abuse.