Dorset Police and its partners are encouraging victims of domestic abuse to come forward and seek help from specialist organisations and networks.
Domestic abuse can be reported directly to the police or through various partner agencies who offer guidance and support. It is important that victims don’t suffer in silence; the cycle of abuse and honour-based violence can only be broken if it is reported or if the victim seeks help.
This is the story of one woman who found the strength to do just that:
Sandie Marie ran away from home aged 17 to be with her boyfriend. Two months into the relationship he slapped her around the face. For the next six months the violence escalated to sexual and daily physical abuse which left her hospitalised six times. He controlled her money and kept her cut off from her family and friends.
Speaking of her ordeal, Sandie said: “I left him knowing that if I didn’t leave he would have eventually murdered me. When I left I contacted the police who took photographs of my extensive injuries. I was covered in bruises, had a fractured jaw in two places and was emaciated.”
Sandie went on to marry and have children, but later divorced. After her marriage ended she entered into another relationship. All was well in the first few months and the couple decided to live together. Their relationship changed from that point. There was no physical violence, but Sandie suffered emotional abuse. Her partner controlled and manipulated everything including all her finances. He also controlled when she saw her friends and family.
Sandie continued: “The stress quickly had an adverse impact on my health; I fell ill and had to give up a successful career. I left this relationship to save my own life. This time it would have been at my own hands as I contemplated suicide. Initially I received no support other than from my family. For months after I left I was stalked by my ex-partner. This came to a head one day when he attempted to drive his car into me at a junction. I then contacted the police who put me in touch with local Outreach services.
“The Outreach worker talked to me about going into a refuge. This was a shock to me as this was not what I expected. I felt very raw. At first I didn’t want to talk about my situation with the refuge staff and did not want to engage with them. Many women are afraid of the services that are there to help them and enter into a phase of denial. Women and children used to arrive with nothing, feeling low and disconnected. I later saw the opportunity to treat my time in refuge as an opportunity to take time out, concentrate on myself and use it as a retreat. I read positive life changing information and took courses offered to me.
“At no point did I ever consider leaving the refuge and going back. A switch goes off emotionally.
“Refuges are nice places where you feel taken care of, protected and safe.”
After Sandie left the refuge she was offered a place on a pattern changing course. These sessions take place over 14 weeks and are designed to help women change their thoughts, feelings and emotions in the hope that they will not enter into abusive relationships in the future.
Sandie said: “You are not responsible for another person’s abusive actions towards you. If you have self-worth and self-belief you are less likely to attract an abusive partner. You attract people who think the same about you as you feel about yourself.
“My responsibility to myself was to leave the first time I was slapped across the face all those years ago.”
Following the end of the pattern changing course and her time in refuge, Sandie felt that there should be ongoing support. Three years ago she started a survivors’ group for which she has received a community safety award. In her group she teaches positivity processes and relaxation techniques to help build confidence and banish negativity.
Police & Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “Policing isn’t just about picking up the pieces and reacting to issues, it’s about being pro-active as well. Everyone has a role to play in recognising the harm that living with domestic abuse has on victims and their families. The Force and I, along with our partners, are committed to breaking the cycles of abuse.
“Domestic abuse can be in many forms – not just physical harm, but intimidation through controlling behaviour, harassment and threats. What we would like people to do is talk to us or, if they can’t talk to us, then talk to someone. Abuse is something you do not have to put up with. There is a lot of help available, not only from Dorset Police, but 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline on 0808 2000 247.”
Sandie Marie has a message for men and women currently suffering domestic abuse: “There is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Seek your freedom when the time is right for you. Outreach workers can help you to put a plan in place to leave an abusive relationship and provide you with somewhere to go.
“To anyone who is afraid to speak out I would say; the truth will always set you free. Always tell the truth because it never changes. Be honest with yourself first and foremost. Help is out there.”
Detective Superintendent Andy Clowser, Head of Public Protection at Dorset Police, said: “We work extremely hard with our partners to support victims of domestic abuse and to bring those responsible to justice. I have specially trained and experienced officers and police staff to respond to and investigate domestic abuse and to provide the best possible support and protection to victims and their families. It is really important that victims know there is a wide range of support available to them, not just through the police but through organisations that include the local authorities and a number of charities.
“I would strongly encourage anyone suffering domestic abuse to come forward and report it so that action can be taken to keep them safe.”
Det Supt Andy Clowser warns offenders: “We will seek you out and you will be held accountable for your actions.”
For more information on support services available throughout Dorset visit www.dorsetforyou.com/dvahelp