Domestic violence has surged under lockdown and charities are struggling to cope with a 60 per cent increase in emergency calls. [Figure is from Dr Hans Kluge, director of WHO’s European region]
Survivor Abi Blake, from Knutsford, Cheshire, was left permanently disabled after being horrifically beaten by her ex partner, Sebastian Swamy, 43, whilst their baby slept in the next room.
As the mother-of-two struggled to rebuild her life, unable initially to carry out every day tasks, she received the bombshell news that Swamy was granted early release from prison less than six months after he was sentenced to three years and four months.
Local charity Cheshire Without Abuse helped Abi, 43, negotiate the terms of Telecommunications Manager Swamy’s release so he could be tagged and she could go into hiding with her children to ensure their safety until he reached his approved location in August last year.
CWA have since helped Abi and her two young boys piece together a future, with counselling, group therapies, family days, clothing, toys and a sense of community she is eternally grateful for.
Abi has now trained as a volunteer herself to help other victims and their children in desperate need.
Here Abi tells why it is more important than ever in lockdown that those in desperate need are able to access vital support.
“Lockdown provides the ideal environment for a perpetrator. They often try to isolate their victim from family and friends. We are all isolated now. The victim can be under constant surveillance, their technology monitored, unable to leave the house, without the same opportunities of a brief escape, without questions about physical injuries, without any support around you. The prospects of escape are clearly difficult and support groups much harder to access. Add in lockdown stress and anxiety. It’s a terrifying prospect.”
Have you found there’s a stereotype of a domestic violence victim?
Yes I’m not sure why but people often think female, submissive, downtrodden, poorly educated, from a deprived background. I don’t fit that bill. I was a confident, outspoken, educated career girl from an affluent town in Cheshire. Abuse does not discriminate, it happens everywhere. Male, female, in the LGBT community, all ethnicities, social economic backgrounds, professions and ages.
What advise would you give someone physically attacked by a partner for the first time?
Run for the hills – fast! Seek support, do not go back.
The first time my partner attacked me, he apologized the following day, sobbed, and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Before then he’d been so charming, well spoken, I thought he deserved a second chance. But the violence escalated to almost weekly beatings.
If it happens once it will happen again, and children witnessing abuse are in huge danger physically and emotionally. No child should ever be frightened for their life or that of their mother or father.
What toll did the abuse take on your mental health?
It slowly chipped away at me. I stopped seeing everyone I loved. My best friend saw the bruises, the hand prints, she told me to leave. I lied constantly, saying I slipped, I fell. I lost touch with my mum. She hated him and could see he was destroying me. But I felt so damaged, like a war victim, I lost all my confidence. I desperately wanted him to change.
What happened on the night of the final attack?
I suffered a permanently damaged spinal cord, punctured lung and cracked ribs after he repeatedly stamped on me and punched me in the neck. All I kept thinking was our one year old son was asleep next door. The pain was so excruciating I thought I was dying.
He snatched my mobile phone and locked himself in a bedroom.
Mercifully I had a massive surge of adrenalin and dragged myself outside and begged a couple walking by to call an ambulance.
A neuro surgeon had to make an incision in my neck to carry out emergency surgery on my damaged vertebrae. It took months before I was able to walk, brush my teeth, swallow, bathe and care for my toddler. I have permanent damage to my neck, fingers and hands and there’s so much I can’t do, like chop vegetables and go on fairground rides with the boys. But when you have stared death in the face you are grateful to be alive.
How did you become involved with CWA?
After I left hospital I was referred to CWA as part of a multi agency support programme. I was very nervous at first and thought nobody would understand what I had been through. I thought it was all my fault. I was at my lowest ebb, both emotionally and physically but knew that I had to do everything in my power to help myself for my boys. It was the best decision I made. I met lots of women who had been through horrendous abuse like me. Looking round the room I could see how very different we all were, from all walks of life, yet going through the same thing. Nobody judges. It’s like a community of understanding.
What difference has CWA made to your life?
I owe them everything. They showed me a future when I was utterly desperate. They have rehabilitated my abused mind. I’ve had a fun Christmas Day at the centre where my children played with other children who have been through terrible trauma like them. I set up a Beauty Room so other victims can train to be beauticians and pass their exams.
How important is it that children from an abusive home get support?
It’s crucial. Some children see and hear things no adult should have to cope with. They need intensive therapy to try and work through such an ordeal. We’ve seen instances where children have become perpetrators because they have seen daddy angry and abusing mummy. Abuse has become their normal. Children are our future and we cannot allow the pattern to continue.
How are your children now?
My children are my everything. My eldest boy was just eight when I was attacked. Overnight he became my carer, helping push his baby brother’s pram, doing up my buttons, opening packets of bread. The first time I took him out after the attack I was struggling to make it up some steps in a shopping centre. I was getting upset. But he turned to me and said: ‘Don’t worry mummy. We will climb this mountain together.” I knew then I could never ever give up and I owed it to all the other families suffering domestic violence to speak up to encourage them to get help before it’s too late.