Escaping my abusive relationship

Tara*, now 26, endured years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of her boyfriend whilst at university. She tells The Mix why nobody should suffer in silence.

True Stories

girl at platform

It can take a lot of strength to leave

I met my ex in halls during my first term at uni. He was pretty loud and the life and soul of the party. We became friends and got together over the summer break after that first year.

We’d been going out for a few months when he hit me for the first time. I was waiting while he ordered a takeaway and a guy I vaguely knew asked for a light. He stormed off. He threw my food on the ground and screamed that he wasn’t going to put up with that. I didn’t know what was wrong.

When I got home he was in my room, crying. “We’re both drunk,” I said. “Let’s talk in the morning.” He jumped up, threw me on the floor and raised his fist to punch me. My flatmates heard me screaming and came and pulled him off me. Afterwards, he said he didn’t remember.

Looking back, I can see warning signs in his behaviour. He was controlling and jealous. He humiliated another guy who liked me. When I refused to stop seeing a couple of male friends, he threatened to jump out the window. He said my friends were jealous and wanted to split us up.

Coping alone

Over the next three years, he was regularly violent. He always claimed he didn’t remember or said it was my fault because I deliberately pushed his buttons. He would say I’d made it up or I bruised easily. He said I was worthless and no-one cared what happened to me. I had so little self-esteem left, I couldn’t see how wrong he was.

I’d lost contact with my old friends and my new flatmates didn’t seem to see a problem. Sometimes they’d move the furniture back into place without asking what had happened. The more I was left to cope alone, the more I believed it was my fault. When nobody else thinks there’s a problem, you start to wonder if you’re going insane.

When I tried to talk about it, people assumed I was exaggerating so I didn’t show them the bruises. I called the police once and so did the neighbours, but everyone thought I was making a fuss over nothing.

Sometimes I didn’t get out of bed for days because I was bruised or aching, but he never marked me anywhere I couldn’t cover up. I missed a lot of uni and couldn’t concentrate – they threatened to throw me out over my attendance.

Feeling stronger

He’d set tests, like going to bed during a party and hitting me afterwards if I didn’t follow him straightaway. He broke my hand by slamming a door against it and tried to push me out of our bedroom window, five storeys up. Once I woke up in pain and realised he’d punched me in my sleep.

Then I found the Women’s Aid website and recognised our relationship in some of the stories there. I finally realised I wasn’t wrong to think he was the one to blame. I started to feel stronger and eventually told him it was over. He took it surprisingly well but we had to stay in the same flat for a bit because of the lease. That’s when he finally got arrested – for trying to strangle me.

I remember he threw me across the living room and I banged my head on the windowsill. He sat on top of me, lit a cigarette and blew smoke in my face. He started burning my jumper with the cigarette and laughing. Then his hands were round my throat, squeezing. I thought he was finally going to kill me.

I don’t know what made him stop but he did. He was smashing the room up and I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in. Realising I had my mobile, he tried to unscrew the handle. It didn’t work so he called the police himself.

Trust issues

When they arrived, he said he didn’t mean to hurt me, I’d pushed him over the edge. He said we were a couple and I’d got drunk and gone off with someone else. I tried to explain I hadn’t been out, I came home from work and watched TV, but the police officer didn’t seem to believe me. I asked her to call my work to see when I left, but she refused.

Someone on her radio asked if there were marks and she said no – without checking. They couldn’t find a record of the previous times the police were called. He admitted putting his hands round my throat so they arrested him. All he got was a £200 fine and probation.

I stayed in the flat because I had nowhere else to go. I felt alienated from my friends because every single person I knew let this carry on and did nothing to help me. After he paid the fine, he came to the flat for the last time. He said I meant nothing to him and nobody believed me. Every word he said was true and that is hard to live with.

I find it hard to trust people now. I’ve never forgiven my friends for turning a blind eye and I wish they hadn’t encouraged him to drink loads. Everyone drinks at uni but you need to be aware of how people behave when they’re drunk. It’s hard to accept your mate may be hitting their partner, but couples shouldn’t just be left to sort things out themselves.

*Name has been changed

As told to Anne Wollenberg

Photo of girl leaving by Shutterstock

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015