Charlotte Ryan 13th February 2019
My family didn’t realise I was in an abusive relationship until they saw me fighting for my life in a hospital bed.
I was one of the two million people every year in the UK who experience domestic abuse. It’s something that can affect anyone, and as it frequently takes place behind closed doors it can often go undetected. Young people in particular are vulnerable to domestic abuse, experiencing the highest rate of abuse of any age group in the UK, according to Safe Lives, a UK-based domestic abuse charity.
My relationship with my ex-boyfriend was complicated from the outset, we constantly broke up and made up, and the whole time, I was losing my identity. The emotional abuse started from day one. My ex-boyfriend, John*, convinced me he was the only person I could ever be with, and that leaving him would make me lonely. At the time, you don’t realise what’s happening, and each incident can be explained away as a mistake, or your fault entirely.
I was endlessly blaming myself and trying my best to fix my perceived wrongs. John encouraged me to feel worthless, to obsess over him, and live my life according to his whims. I thought I could face this constant emotional and verbal abuse, being called a “slut” for what I was wearing, not being allowed to socialise with my friends to assuage his jealousy, but I knew it would escalate into physical abuse, and after a few months, it did.
The first time he physically abused me, I chose to leave the relationship for good and felt I could do it. But leaving him, without the support of people close to me, made me feel so vulnerable that it was easy for John to convince me to come back.
Some people might think I’m naive for assuming anything could be okay in that relationship, but it’s easy to believe lies from someone you love
In the first few weeks after getting back together, there was some change. He drank less and controlled his anger better, but it didn’t last. In fact, the emotional abuse intensified, with him encouraging his friends to abuse me if I went out, and lying to others to make me look bad. Believing his lies, I isolated myself further from my friends and family, thinking I was a failure. I felt I had no-one to confide in, as I’d pushed everyone away — so how could I find help, when I felt no-one was going to listen to me?
Some people might think I’m naive for assuming anything could be okay in that relationship, but it’s easy to believe lies from someone you love, especially promises that he would get help. It was my first adult relationship, and even though people of any age can be affected, it’s easy to see how this could make someone more vulnerable to domestic violence. As many as 7.6% of girls aged 16-19 have been abused by a partner or ex-partner over the previous 12 months, the largest proportion among all age groups, with the next largest at 7.4% among 20-24-year-olds.
My family and friends realised something was wrong and would try to talk to me, but I just felt ashamed whenever they tried
Thankfully when it starts to take a toll on you, it soon becomes evident to others. The stress started to manifest itself physically, and I was constantly exhausted and down. My family and friends realised something was wrong and would try to talk to me, but I just felt ashamed whenever they tried, believing it was my fault this was happening to me.
After a while, I decided to leave the relationship once again.
I thought it was over for good, but I was still in contact with John, who would tell me “if you didn’t act like that and did this, I wouldn’t be like that to you”. Despite being separated, I still blamed myself for everything, but I was so emotionally exhausted by this point that I couldn’t even cry about it.
On 14 April 2018, I was on a night out with friends, when John suddenly appeared at the club. We talked, and he said again that he did love me, and he could change. So, deserting my friends — he felt they were too involved in my life decisions — I went back to his house.
Immediately after arriving at his house, his demeanour shifted dramatically. That was the night he assaulted me so badly that I had to take refuge in a bathroom and call the police to get out alive. For over 15 minutes I waited for the police to arrive with all my weight and any object I could find behind the door to stop my ex-boyfriend from continuing to assault me. When the police arrived, they arrested him immediately before coming into the bathroom to help me. Despite my heavy bleeding and disorientation, they bombarded me with questions, and took me back into the bedroom where the assault had begun. I felt unsafe even with the police there, which was compounded by the fact that John was downstairs being questioned.
His assault left me with a black eye, stitches in my left hand, and a haemorrhaged artery in my neck, which nearly cost me my life.
Once John had been taken to the police station, the police took me to the local A&E. While sitting in the back of the police car, traumatised, covered in blood and feeling vulnerable, the police compelled me to make a statement there and then, saying it would be “easier”. I felt numb and horrified — I didn’t want to speak to anyone at all in that moment, and certainly wasn’t capable of making a formal statement. I just wanted to be left alone. Soon after the police took my statement, they left me completely alone and scared on a busy Saturday evening in A&E, where I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. I received no phone number or crime reference number for the case, and before I knew it, the A&E staff hit me with a barrage of questions, as was “protocol”.
After a while, I couldn’t take any more questions and I left A&E still bleeding. I just wanted to lock myself in my room in complete darkness where I could feel safe.
The peace didn’t last for long. A couple of hours later, at about 8am, four male uniformed officers turned up again and demanded I go back to A&E to get treatment. Though they hadn’t yet got the results of the scans which would later show the haemorrhage, the doctors wanted to remove the broken glass from my hand.
Driven to hospital in a police van, I felt like a criminal.
I was still covered in blood, bruises, scratches and cuts, and in the clothes I had worn the night I was attacked. I could feel people’s eyes on me in the busy A&E waiting area, looking at the blood and my clothes, and it felt as though they were judging me — little did they know I had been attacked by someone whom I trusted and never thought would physically hurt me like this.
My ex-boyfriend’s friends started harassing me with calls and messages asking why I had reported him to the police, and telling me it was my fault — I even showed these messages to the police but they did absolutely nothing, and once again deserted me in A&E. I felt so vulnerable, regardless of my ex-boyfriend being in custody the police did little to ensure I was safe.
A few hours later, I would be back at my flat all alone in my room, where I would wake up choking on a blood clot and then bleeding heavily from my mouth. I was struggling to breathe. In the 15 minutes from waking up, I lost a pint of blood and I knew my life was at risk.
I crawled into my flatmate’s room where she quickly rang an ambulance and helped save my life. It took a response team only a few minutes to arrive, where I was rushed into intensive care and had emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. In total, I lost 52% of my blood. I was lucky to be alive.
Medical staff alerted police that I was back in the hospital and had a haemorrhage as a result of the injuries from the night before but they did nothing with this information, which could have been crucial to the case. Thankfully, through the hospital, I was able to get support from a local domestic abuse support group. I obviously needed support after this traumatic incident, but the police after this point did nothing to get in contact with me.
I tried frequently to get in contact with the police but I heard nothing back from them. I sent Witness Protection the texts and messages I received from my ex-boyfriend that he had sent in the past to help build up the case, but once again the police and the detectives turned a blind eye to this, and didn’t even use these in court.
By May, I was finally given a court date, in July. I alerted Witness Protection straight away that I could not attend as I would be on holiday, and sent them the proof of booking and flight times. Witness Protection accepted this and said a new court date would be scheduled and I would have some correspondence soon. Yet, for months I heard nothing about a new court date, until the first day I arrived on holiday. On the first day of my holiday, I received a flurry of emails, texts and voicemails from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the police and Witness Protection telling me I needed to be back in this country for the court date — the one I’d told Witness Protection I could not attend, as I would be flying back on this day.
What they’d told me about rescheduling the date clearly hadn’t happened. It was made clear to me there was no way I could not appear in court, telling me I could be subject to charges myself. I felt like I was the criminal, even though I was meant to be the victim.
I had no preparation and no time to speak to CPS or a legal advisor
Throughout my holiday, I was petrified, knowing as soon as I arrived in the UK I had to go straight to court. I had no preparation and no time to speak to CPS or a legal advisor. I arrived at Manchester airport and had to immediately rush to court. I was given barely any time at all to look at my statement, just a quick glimpse before I was bundled into the courtroom.
The questions I was asked by CPS and the defence had no relevance to the case at all and again, I was made to look like a criminal. I broke down at one point when my ex-boyfriend tried to use a personal matter against me to make me look like a liar, even though we both agreed at the time what happened was the best option for us.
The Magistrate had no sympathy at all and demanded when I was in tears to speak up and speak more clearly. I was so scared and felt so vulnerable, and it was obvious the magistrate did not care about how I was feeling at all and had no sympathy towards me.
I could hear him laughing when I was speaking and calling me a liar to his dad who was in court to support him
This was the first time I had been in a room with John since I was assaulted months earlier. Even though he was behind a screen, I felt so intimidated by his presence. I could hear him laughing when I was speaking and calling me a liar to his dad who was in court to support him and the magistrate did not ask him to be quiet.
After I gave my evidence and was cross-examined by the CPS and his defence, I left the courtroom and went home. I felt so scared, confused and horrified, endlessly questioning why his defence asked me about things that had no relevance to what happened that night.
It was clear on that day CPS were ill-equipped. It was almost as though the mountains of evidence I’d been forced to give them after the attack was irrelevant. They didn’t even have my hospital records or the body camera footage from that night — or even the images the detectives took of my injuries. It just looked like it was my word against his and, with my ex-boyfriend being so manipulative, I knew he would be found not guilty.
I fell to the floor when my domestic abuse protection officer rung me and informed me of the court’s decision
As I’d thought, he was found not guilty as there was little evidence presented to support the points of CPS and myself, and the case being somewhat complex.
I fell to the floor when my domestic abuse protection officer rung me and informed me of the court’s decision. I broke down, I felt so vulnerable and in danger — most of all I felt let down. I had even lost the restraining order I had against him. I had no protection and I knew the threatening texts from John would start again. A few days later he would indeed try to get in contact with me.
I suffered a miscarriage of justice and I was discriminated against by both the courts and CPS, because I was a young woman of 20. Due to my age and gender, it seemed to the magistrates and CPS I could not be a victim of domestic abuse and that I had brought this on myself.
I would have flashbacks to the night I was attacked and I could never get more than two hours asleep at night
If the CPS weren’t so ill-equipped on the day, my ex-boyfriend could have been found guilty.
If the police and detectives had tried to communicate with me about the case, he could have been found guilty.
It is all a matter of “what if” and that shouldn’t be the case. This was only a few months ago — it’s clear the police and courts are still failing to properly investigate domestic abuse experienced by young people, even in cases like mine which should have had a lot of evidence. John may have been found not guilty, but I knew there was nothing I could do. I had to accept it and get on with my life.
The first few months were hard — I would have flashbacks to the night I was attacked and I could never get more than two hours asleep at night. I lost a lot of weight and was down to under six stone. I felt I would never get my sense of identity back, and wanted to give up more than once. In the end though, I couldn’t allow this to define me and my future.
The pain hasn’t gone away, and I struggle to trust people and flinch at the sound of glass breaking. But I haven’t allowed him to walk back into my life, I changed my number and deleted and blocked him and his friends from every social media site.
He still tries to contact my friends asking how I am, but now they know the truth, they would never give him any information that could put me in danger. I finally feel happy that I am getting my identity back, and that I haven’t allowed it to define me.
You’ll never be able to forget what has happened but you will learn that you are not to blame
One thing I would tell anyone who is going through partner abuse or domestic abuse is to never feel shame when you want to speak about it. I wish I had spoken to someone earlier, and it could have prevented me from experiencing serious assault.
Dealing with something so traumatic and devastating takes time, both to accept what has happened and that it wasn’t your fault. You’ll never be able to forget what has happened but you will learn that you are not to blame and you’re not worthless — you’re worth so much more and deserve the best. No one can ever define who you are.
You’ll come out stronger at the end, where I am now. I am happier and I finally feel in control of my life and my sense of self, and I’ll never let anyone treat me like that again.
Charlotte Ryan 13th February 2019