Day 7: Welsh Women's Aid, A Day in the Life (Alison Hamlington, Wrexham Domestic Abuse Service Delivery Manager)
Welsh Women’s Aid: A Day in the Life
Wrexham Domestic Abuse Service Delivery Manager
I manage Welsh Women’s Aid’s domestic abuse service in Wrexham County Borough. We offer a One Stop Shop for survivors which includes our own drop in service, Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA) service and partner agencies who come in and share their expertise with survivors, making sure the help is available, all under the one roof.
We also manage the only self-contained refuge in North Wales for women and their children who are fleeing domestic abuse, which is always busy.
I provide regular support and supervision for our staff, and represent the organisation at meetings and events. Today, I’ve blocked the whole morning out to put the finishing touches on monitoring information required for our funders. We are a small team, so on a typical day I may also be covering our drop-in service, if we are short-staffed.
This afternoon, I supported a woman who was referred to us by another organisation, who has been suffering from domestic abuse for many years. Although she divorced her violent husband many years ago, the abuse continues and she needs our support to be safe and make a new life for herself. We support women whatever their circumstances, and aim to reduce isolation by running groups like the Freedom Programme and our Friendship Forum, all available in our One Stop Shop.
I feel the 16 Days of Action campaign can only serve to support our ultimate goal of eradicating violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence against women and girls.
Stories of Hope & Survival: Day 7
For the last 6 years I have been trying to rebuild my life after leaving a relationship that left me half dead. It took me several attempts to finally make the break with the help of Women’s Aid. I eventually found the courage and strength I needed to leave, and never go back.
I wish I could go back in time and tell the woman I was back then, to stay away from the good looking dark haired man who in the beginning seemed to be everything I ever wanted. He treated me with respect and asked me so many questions about myself and my life that I thought at last I have found someone who is genuinely interested in me and I fell hook line and sinker. I would whisper in her ear ‘he is only asking you all those questions to see if he is able to get any control over you, he is a master at picking his victims and if you appear too strong he would walk away’.
He finds out what he needs to know and the reeling in begins and weeks later he has moved in. I didn’t even remember asking him to do so. His feet are under the table everything is moving so fast I haven’t had time to think properly.
He slowly starts to verbally put me down, sly comments meant to knock my self-esteem come out of the blue and leave me wondering what I did wrong. My friends are becoming less; he is all consuming, the friends I do have left he makes a pass at, so one by one I drop them. He says I only need him, why bother with them?
He stays in bed half the day and is not contributing anything to running the house and is making my life and my children’s hell. We all walk around treading on egg shells he is turning into a monster, but I still think it must be me. What am I doing so wrong? I dress nice, I clean, I cook. He doesn’t keep a job and is openly smoking drugs and getting drunk. Now he comes home and screams at me regularly. I begin to dread him coming home, but when he stays away for days I miss him so much I feel sick.
The slaps start, then trying to drown me in the sink, trying to rip my eyes out and pulling my hair. I don’t scream any more I don’t want my kids to hear. I join him in his drug taking, it masks the pain I feel inside. Eventually I am as addicted to him as much as any drug.
I move house because he says my family interfere too much in our business. I lose every bit of dignity as I watch him have affairs and boast about who he could have. I get so depressed I want to die, this man is getting more and more power, he controls everything.
I shake when I hear the gate opening not knowing what kind of mood he is in when he comes in. Sometimes he is happy and brings me chocolates and treats me well, the next he is screaming spitting at me towering over me making threats hitting the table grabbing me by the throat his eyes are mad and I know nothing will stop him. I plead, cajole and say sorry, not knowing what I have done.
Everything I love has been destroyed by this bully of a man but I now cling on, I can’t be abandoned by him, he says no one will want me any way. I am disgusting and when I now look in the mirror I see he is right. The weight has dropped off me, my hair is greasy and I am a mess. The woman I was when we met was smart, in control of her life and now I am a wreck and my warped thinking doesn’t see that it’s him who is breaking me.
I feel the bones sticking out of my bottom when I try to sit down, my cheeks are gaunt, my eyes have lost any signs of life - I am slowly dying. I smoke more and more drugs to stop me feeling anything at all and he looks at me disgust. He’s openly having affairs and telling me about them now, no longer hiding the fact that he could leave me if he wanted at any time, laughing when I cry and when I beg him to stop.
Even the animals I had were abused so much that I had them put down to save them being hurt any more. Everything I loved gone, my children left home as soon as they could and then he had nothing or no one to hold back his reign of terror. He had total control then.
I was getting weaker and weaker, I came across a leaflet with the Women’s Aid helpline number on it in a café. I rang them sobbing, please help me I cried. The woman arranged to meet, me she let me pour out years of pain I had told no one of, I was ashamed and still thought it was my fault. The woman was kind she never judged me, never looked disgusted at what I told her just listened and said we can help you - I was so relieved someone believed me at last.
I would like to say I left for good then, but I didn’t, I went back one more time. Nothing changed though, in fact it got worse after initial that honey moon period.
The seed had been planted in my brain. I remembered the woman saying we will be here for you if you ever need us again. I picked up the phone and with their support I left for good.
I am now rebuilding my life. It’s not been easy and at times it’s been very lonely but I can wear what I want, laugh, have my grandkids over and there is no more walking on egg shells. I am disabled, the stress wrecked my body, but I am here a lot wiser, having worked the Freedom Programme which Women’s Aid run. I also went into rehab and turned my life around.
There are different kinds of abusers, but all ultimately want control. I am one of the lucky ones. I got away with the tremendous support I have had from Women’s Aid.
[Name has been changed to protect identity]
Day 6: Welsh Women's Aid, A Day in the Life (Sally Hughes, Engagment & Participation Officer)
Welsh Women’s Aid: A Day in the Life
Engagement and Participation Officer
My role aims to increase participation opportunities for women and children and young people to take part in policy-making or government decision-making, service planning delivery and awareness raising. The goal is to ensure that women, children and young people who have least access and impact on decision making, are able to express their views and influence decisions.
I usually have a clear idea of what the day has in store, but at Welsh Women’s Aid flexibility is essential, as things pop up, sometimes the day brings unexpected deadlines or delights. At the moment I’m planning an exciting programme of activities and events over the coming months that will stimulate and encourage people who have experience of, or interest in domestic abuse to get involved and get their voices heard. I’m currently also working with women who have emailed stories for the 16 Days eBook.
After writing some reports for funders, putting the finishing touches to consultation events that we have organised, I then move on to finalising arrangements for printing Christmas cards designed by children using our services.
For me, the 16 Days of Action is a perfect opportunity for us to shine a light on the experiences of women and girls, I truly believe that through sharing experiences we can make change. By raising awareness of the impact of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls on people’s lives, through sharing ‘real life’ experiences, we can shift things, shaking up the status quo and making small steps towards much needed cultural change. It’s because I feel this is possible, and because I believe that even the tiniest steps are a step closer, that I love my job so much and love coming to work every day.
Stories of Hope & Survival: Day Six
12 years ago I was living at home, a hard working legal secretary and a social butterfly. Today, I am a single mum, a survivor and advocate for others.
I wasn’t brought up in a “troubled family”, I was loved, cared for and cherished. I wasn’t abused as a child, I didn’t witness abuse, I didn’t abuse. I went to school, went to college and worked hard. I wasn’t a delinquent, a trouble maker or a runaway.
The handsome stranger walked into the crowded room, our eyes met and the attraction was instant. We fell in love, set up home and lived happy ever after. At least that was my dream. With a packed social life, lots of friends, a loving family and a great job, life couldn’t have been better but then in a blink of an eye everything changed.
I became a victim of domestic abuse. Of course, I had no idea of this at the time, it was only when I became a victim that I learned to understand the complex cycle.
The abusive relationship didn’t start off physically. The abuse started subtly, with isolation and before I knew it I was seeing less and less of friends and family, in time I lost my job and stopped my driving lessons. He took away my identity, he took away my freedom, he took away who I was, all because he didn’t like me having my own independence. He just wanted me to continually rely upon him, he always wanted to control me.
When we first met he was charming, said all the right words, said the things I wanted to hear, said the things I wanted him to say, but his actions were very, very different. I was so shocked when the first slap came and I believed his false promises, how he was sorry and it would never happen again. Little did I realise that this just gave him the green light to carry on abusing me.
We can’t help who we fall in love with but I feel that if there had been more domestic abuse awareness in my sex education lessons I would have known the early warning signs and would have known that abuse is not acceptable and should not be tolerated in any relationship.
Over a three year period I suffered physical and psychological abuse. I was strangled, I was knocked out, I suffered a miscarriage, I was slapped, I was spat at, I was mentally controlled to the point where I lost all self-worth, esteem and confidence. I was a shell of my former self, a skeleton with every ounce of me sucked out by his control. I no longer thought about myself or even for myself, everything revolved around him. I wasn’t living, I was just in existence.
In November 2006 my ex-perpetrator hit me for the very last time. As I tasted blood in my mouth, I hugged my 10 month old daughter tighter and knew that this had to end here and now. She gave me the strength and courage I had been craving over the last 3 years and I knew I had to do it for her sake, for her life.
It was the weekend, I knew I had to act fast but in a way that he wouldn’t suspect I was up to anything. It was too late to do anything at that moment, but tomorrow would be the day.
I woke up early and put my daughter in her pram, I didn’t even bother dressing her, wrapped her up, made some excuse that I was just going to the shop and caught the bus to the Police station. I made a statement and there was no way in the world I was going to retract this one, my daughter was my Guardian Angel and I had to do this for her; adrenaline rushing and buzzing through my veins. Next stop, Solicitors. I was granted a non-molestation order and we were in Court that afternoon. It all happened so very quickly, like a whirlwind but I knew it was the right thing to do and now, I felt I had to do it, for my daughter’s sake.
Even though the injunction order was in place, I was still intimidated by him, he still scared me but my main focus of priority was my daughter now. She gave me the strength to not reply to his text messages, phone calls or the manipulation of his family. It was hard and difficult because not only was I a survivor I was a new mum too.
I found my local police force to be so helpful but I still wish I had spoken out sooner. I wish I had been aware of not only domestic abuse but the support that is available such as Women’s Aid and Refuge. I had support from my local Children’s Centre too which helped my daughter grow and nourish.
Since April 2009 I have raised awareness through the media, set up my own domestic abuse support group and blog about the difficult issue. I do this because it’s important for our young people, the next generation to live in a safe environment, to know the different between healthy and unhealthy relationships and more importantly, to understand that domestic abuse is a crime that should never go unreported.
Domestic abuse is a horrible ugly, vicious circle; it is rarely a one-off event increasing in severity and frequency; there is no single identifiable type of perpetrator or victim. Domestic abuse knows no boundaries; age, gender, culture, religion, rich or poor. Even famous people are affected by domestic abuse.
What I would say to anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse is to understand that it is not your fault and more importantly, speak out; speak out to someone you can trust. I wish I had.
Sam Billingham, 2014
Day 5: Welsh Women's Aid, A Day in the Life (Meg Kissack, Events & Campaigns Officer)
Welsh Women’s Aid: A Day in the Life
Campaign and Events Officer
As Campaign and Events Officer for Welsh Women’s Aid, my role involves planning our campaigns (such as the 16 days of Action to End Violence Against Women), coordinating events and encouraging people to support our work. November is an especially busy time of the year for me as it also involves planning our annual conference and activities for One Billion Rising and International Women’s Day.
My day usually starts with a scan of the news and social media to see the latest news relating to violence against women and girls. It’s imperative that, as a national organisation, we keep up to date and add our voice to current affairs and debate.
After scanning the news, it’s time to respond to the large number of messages and calls, such as contact from a supporter who would like to do a sponsored activity for us, and a bank inquiring about what they could do for us for their Make a Difference day. I am working with the Violence Against Women Action Group, which is a partnership of several different agencies across Wales. As part of another campaign, I am also looking into how services for children and young people affected by domestic abuse are funded across Wales.
An important part of my work is to support our local services to raise their profile, I offer support and advice on their social media presence and campaigning. I love the variety of work involved in my role, and enjoy visiting our members and seeing the fantastic work they’re doing on the ground. I always leave feeling really inspired and it really reminds me of just how important the work we do is. The 16 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women is such an important campaign, as it really harnesses support and voices across Wales. It is great to see such a wave of support for tackling violence against women with events planned in every corner of the UK.