Dee shares her experiences of teenage domestic abuse.
I met him on my first day of college when I was 16. We got on very well and became good friends. He asked me out a couple of months later and we became inseparable. We always had a couple of hours to wait for our buses home after college, so we’d spend time in a cafe drinking hot chocolate. He liked the fruit machines and borrowed money off me so as he could keep playing. “You can have it back when I get paid,” he’d say, but I rarely did. He often teased me; he would laugh at me in front of our friends when my hair was messed up by the wind. He’d point out my mistakes if I got something wrong. He’d be quick to tease me about what I was wearing, and kindly suggest what I should wear instead. But all that just meant he liked me, right? Isn’t that what we tell girls from a young age while they’re getting their pigtails pulled in the playground?
We had been together for a couple of months when I decided I would lose my virginity to him. A lot of my friends said the first time would hurt and often told me their horror stories, but I was in love, so it didn’t hurt me. What we had must have been real.
I don’t remember if he hit me before or after that night – the mind can be very good at blocking out trauma – but I know that by the time he did, I was completely under his spell and detached from my friends and family.
I had awful problems with my periods and would spend days on end each month in agony and bleeding heavily. My GP advised I go on the Pill. That – combined with the fact I was still physically immature no matter how grown up I thought I was – meant that my body changed rapidly; my boobs grew overnight and I suddenly had hips. Boyfriend liked my new breasts but wasn’t so keen on the ‘love handles’. I was a size 8 but he often tugged on my hips and teased me for being so fat. When he found out I was making myself sick, he confirmed it was a good way to keep off the extra pounds.
I was at his house the day my brother had been to hospital for his test results; he’d had a lot of back pain. Mum told me on the phone that the doctors had found a tumour, but they weren’t 100% sure it was cancerous. I was; I knew straight away – and that he wouldn’t recover. I cried and cried. Boyfriend hugged me and then sighed: “We’re still going out, yeah?” He watched over me as I reapplied my make up and got frustrated when I cried again. I tried to tell my friends that night. They were drunk and having fun so didn’t seem to be listening. Boyfriend often told me that people didn’t want me talking all the time and boring them.
Like many teenagers, I didn’t have an especially brilliant relationship with my parents. We didn’t hate each other – far from it – but we’d often clash. With Mum recovering from breast cancer and my brother having treatment for his cancer, it was a really challenging time, and I often felt disconnected from my family. I couldn’t talk to them about anything; as Boyfriend said, why would they want to hear about my pathetic so-called problems when they had real things to worry about?
When he hit me, it would be somewhere hidden, where no one would see the bruises. It was always my fault. He would often taunt me, saying the most awful things. He’d push me or poke me over and over until I’d snap and lash out at him. With me striking him first, it was my fault when he’d hit me back; I deserved it. I always deserved it. He once hit me in the jaw and it bruised. My friend asked me what had happened. I was exhausted of lying all the time by then, so I simply told her he’d hit me. The next day she told me she’d asked him about it and he told her I hit him first. She said I shouldn’t have done that; he agreed later on when he punished me for telling my friends lies about him. It was all my fault.
He regularly finished with me because of my long list of faults, before changing his mind almost immediately and taking me back. When we split up for good he insisted that we should remain friends and spend lots of time together. He would still sleep with me and imply that we could get back together once I was a better person. The goal posts moved constantly.
We weren’t together but were at the same party one night. He was really drunk and no one seemed bothered that he was slumped outside. His friend gave me his car keys and I helped Now-Ex-Boyfriend into the back seat. I didn’t know what to do so sat with him and tried to keep him awake; what if he passed out? He took the keys from me and locked the doors. By the time I got out of the car I was in agony; my lip was bleeding and my head was pounding; already covered in lumps from his punches and repeatedly slamming my head into the door. I wanted to go home but was stuck; I was 20 miles from home, in the middle of nowhere, with no mobile phone. I eventually returned to the party and bumped into one of our friends who asked what the hell had happened to me. I told him. He laughed. It was all my fault. I was so ashamed. I couldn’t tell anyone else what had happened so told them I’d had a fight with a girl. When we left the party, I told two of my friends the truth. I stayed the night with them and the next day they interrogated me, asking why I lied to them, what I did to make him do that. It was all my fault.
I asked the few people who knew not to tell anyone. I remember the hatred and disgust in people’s eyes at college and the insults as I walked through the corridors because I was spreading lies about him. I had only told a handful of people. I felt like everyone hated me and everyone was judging me. It was all my fault.
He owed me money and had some of my clothes. I rang him to ask for them back and we argued. I was an embarrassment and a burden to everyone – especially my family – he told me. He told me how worthless I was and that no one liked me. He told me nasty things that my friends had said about me and I believed every word. I was better off out of everyone’s life; I was ruining everything. Everything was going wrong because of me. He told me I was better off dead. It was all my fault.
I couldn’t take any more. I wanted it all to go away. I had a bottle of vodka under my bed and I began swigging from it as I cried. With my head fuzzy from alcohol and upset, I gathered all of the pills I could find in my bedroom and the bathroom and washed them all down with the rest of my vodka. My mum took me to hospital. The doctor who saw me told me I was a “very silly little girl.” It was all my fault.
That was nearly 15 years ago. Today I am safe and loved by my family, who I am closer to than ever. I am in a wonderful and rewarding relationship with a fantastic man whom I love dearly. I still can’t bear to be shouted at or have my personal space invaded, and I experience bouts of anxiety and depression. But I can honestly say I have never been happier; I am confident and self-assured, and I have many passions in life. I smile and laugh every single day and it feels amazing. I’m learning new things all the time and don’t know it all, but I am 100% positive that what he did wasn’t my fault and I didn’t deserve it. I don’t regret going out with him; my experiences have made me who I am and helped me make better choices later on.
When I was a teenager, there didn’t seem to be any understanding or support for what I was experiencing. A couple of years ago I worked for West Mercia Women’s Aid and saw their fantastic CRUSH Project offering workshops and sessions in school to teenagers, educating them about safe and healthy relationships. It’s terrifying how few young people understand how important respect and consent is. It’s even more terrifying that the House of Lords recently voted against the mandatory teaching consent in schools. CRUSH has gone national now and I hope that the project, combined with parenting and a new wave of feminism, will help young people realise that if they experience ill-treatment in their relationships, it is not their fault and they don’t deserve it.
As a society we regularly ask questions of those who fall victim to domestic abuse. “What did she do to deserve that?” “Why does she put up with that?” “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” As a society we can help to put an end to abuse. We need to stop questioning the behaviour of the victim. We can help to end abuse by asking – and answering – “Why do we blame victims?” “Why does he feel entitled to do that?” “Why doesn’t he just stop?”
I have discussed male on female abuse as that is what I have first hand experience of, but anyone can experience domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age or status. Teenage girls are most at risk. It isn’t always partner on partner; children, siblings, parents and relatives can experience abuse.
Men who are experiencing or perpetrating abuse can contact Respect.
Broken Rainbow offers support to those in LGBTQ relationships.