Sevi Kemal thought that the term ‘abuse’ might be over-used today….until she met someone who has suffered it.
According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), recorded cases of domestic abuse rose by 31% between 2013 and 2015. But what looks like a shocking increase could be down to the redefinition of domestic violence so as to include behaviour such as non-violent ‘coercive control.’
In March 2013 the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that whereas the old definition defined domestic abuse as a single act or incident, the new one would recognise that patterns of “controlling behavior” also counted as abuse, if they involved categories such as isolation, intimidation, “depriving a person of their financial independence,” or “regulating aspects of their everyday life.”
But might this wider definition lead to an avalanche of imprecise allegations that distract the Police from dealing with cases of actual violence? I thought it might be getting out of hand, until I met someone whose experience told me it’s better for every potentially abusive incident to be reported and recorded, rather than risk the consequences.
I spoke to Hallie, a 23 year old who has suffered all the forms of abuse covered by the new definition, to find out what she thinks.
“It’s important other young girls pick up on the signs of an abuser before they end up in a situation they can’t get out of like me”.
Hallie is a beautician with a petite frame, kind brown eyes and long brown hair. She curls up timidly on her sofa and starts telling me about Darren, the successful 30-year-old accountant she met two years ago.
“Darren turned my life around. He was brilliant at the start,” she explains. Hallie met Darren through a mutual friend and she says that she had never been so swept off her feet. “He worshipped the ground I walked on; would watch me fall asleep; play with my hair for hours and cater to any of my needs”.
Hallie adds that she had never been so “loved before”.
Money wasn’t an issue. When she was with Darren, she was his “princess” and he spoiled her rotten. She describes the life she had with him as “effortless, comfortable and full of love.” Hallie moved in with Darren six months after they met.
Things were fine for the first three months. But then Darren started to comment on the way she dressed, saying things like: “That’s a bit short”. His attitude was beginning to change. “First it was like once a week … he would get angry over something petty and call me a whore”. Hallie knew that this language wasn’t acceptable but felt that the good outweighed the bad. Then Darren started to get funny with Hallie whenever she was on her mobile. “He would peek over my shoulder and stare at my screen with angry eyes”. But it went from staring at her screen to snatching the phone out of her hand and trying to read her messages. Hallie had nothing to hide so she let him and decided it was ‘normal’.
The next stage was Darren having ‘issues’ with her friends: “Lindsey is a slag, you can’t go out with her”. After Lindsey he banned Hallie from going out with Lisa, then Hannah and slowly all of her friends. Hallie couldn’t go clubbing anymore. “If I wanted to go to a club he would say to me people go to clubs to look for men and I have one already so I can’t go”. So she organised lunch dates with her friends instead. But during them Darren would ring her obsessively around 15 times. “If I missed a call he wanted an explanation and would sit and question me when I got home”. Hallie still stayed with him and didn’t think he was ‘that bad.’ “Well I just believed he was a bit insecure because he loved me so much. I felt loved”.
Then Darren’s attention turned to the lunch outings. “On one occasion after I returned he completely lost it, accusing me of going out to meet boys”. Hallie looks down at the floor and speaks quietly. She lacks confidence and looks dangerously skinny, and timid.
After accusing Hallie of seeing other guys Darren – who Hallie describes as a ‘neat freak’ – chucked her belongings across the room, smashed her phone and snapped her laptop. Hallie cried herself to sleep that night beside him in the bed. “I stayed over, but I was hurt and confused, and he wasn’t abusing me because he hadn’t hit me – or so I told myself”.
She stopped going out because the repercussions just weren’t worth it. Darren became more possessive and verbally cruel. “He would have an episode at least once a day where he would scream at me and call me names, usually over something small like me questioning him or interrupting him. Then he would make it up to me and be really nice before bed.”
When she was ‘good’ he would reward her by splashing out on luxury breaks, meals and gifts like Cartier necklaces worth thousands of pounds. But when she was ‘bad’ he would break the things that she had struggled to buy herself, and not replace them. And they would always be things she really needed, like her laptop or equipment she had to use for work. He also kicked her car and dented it so that when she drove around she would feel humiliated.
Darren’s insults grew more personal. He started to attack Hallie’s appearance. “You’re putting weight on,” he would say, or, “Fix your face, you look a state.”
“Or he would compare me to models on the television saying, you’re nothing, you’re just average.” Hallie didn’t understand why Darren wanted her to feel ugly. Her self-confidence was disappearing. Asked why she didn’t leave him she says: “He was rude to me but he never hit me.” Hallie stopped going out apart from going to work and seeing her family and tried not to use her phone much around the house. But even though Hallie was obeying Darren and staying indoors he just got worse.
Then she tells me about the afternoon she put makeup on to make herself feel better and sat on the phone to her friend Lindsey. When she got off the phone Darren ran over to her, grabbed her mobile and screamed: “Why the fuck was you on the phone to that whore?” She had had enough and finally argued back. Darren then began to holler about the make-up on her face. “’It was something along the lines of: who are you trying to impress, whore?” Tired, and sick of his behavior, Hallie fired back asking him what his problem was and making the point that as he never took her anywhere anymore the makeup was just for herself. This didn’t go down well with him she explains, clutching her hands together. He called her an ungrateful whore and other vile names. Then she mumbles: “He jumped forward and struck me in the face”.
She just lay there covering her face while he attacked her. “He went insane. I had never seen him like this. I was frightened for my life… He slapped me in my face until my mouth and nose bled. I was crying and coughing up blood”. Did he stop there? “No, he dragged me by my hair to the sink and put my face under freezing cold water yelling at me to wash my blood off.” Then he hit Hallie’s head on the bathroom wall causing her to collapse into the bath where she lay unconscious.
When Hallie woke up she climbed out of the bath, dressed herself and drove to the hospital. That was the ‘wake-up call’ for Hallie and she has not seen Darren since. “It was the final straw. I couldn’t go back there again. I was terrified, and moved away.”
Hallie wants to send a message out to young girls that mental abuse is just as bad as physical abuse because it can destroy your confidence, and make you hate yourself. “Women have to be aware of the signs and leave before the abuse gets worse.” She says that when your partner starts controlling you; telling you who you can be friends with; picking what you can wear and constantly checking your phone and putting down your appearance, it is time to get out.
Asked what she thinks about the re-categorising of abuse to include behavior that stops short of violence, Hallie told me that in retrospect the emotional abuse was in some ways worse.
Although the bathroom attack put her in hospital, Hallie never reported her abuser. “When it is somebody you love abusing you, it’s overwhelming. Part of you despises them yet part of you continues to love… I didn’t want to hurt him … I just wanted to escape him”.
But although Hallie couldn’t bring herself to do it she urges victims to report abuse straight away, and at the pre-physical stage. “Psychological abuse is just as damaging or if not more damaging as physical abuse,” she argues, and is likely, as happened in her case, to lead to physical violence.