David Stokes of Hinkley, a town 7 miles from me, killed his sons Mathew and Adam and himself yesterday. He also tried to kill his wife Sally who survived with serious head injuries. He'd barricaded them in the house for 5 hours before it came to a tragic conclusion. The married couple had separated but were living together for the sake of the children, but she had asked for a divorce. Comments about how lovely they seemed, how normal they were and "you never know what goes on behind closed doors" were rife.
I cannot imagine the terror that they all experienced in those 5 hours. I cried for the children who would never know a full life and for a woman who will never be able to live a normal life ever again. But what is more concerning for me is that this happened at all. I don't claim to be a specialist in domestic violence or emotional abuse but do these things just happen as a one-off extraordinary event, or is there behaviour and history leading up to it? I think the later may be true. And it is hidden.
Violence against women and girls is a hot topic, but abuse is still common and concealed. There are criminal and civil laws protecting victims, including men, people in same sex relationships, honour based violence etc. but silence, fear and shame still play a huge part in speaking out and getting help.
And for me how mental health plays into this is massive. Not only can a victim become mentally ill as a result of abuse, but if you were already unwell, the results can be catastrophic. Self esteem is shattered, anxiety is increased, stress and fear are your constant companions, and experiencing mind games and manipulation makes you question your sanity. You may also be denied access to medication and specialist support. Also the internal dialogue of "Maybe it isn't as bad as I think", or "it's just a phase", or "He's not like it with anyone else and they all think he's a great bloke" bounce around like accusatory tennis balls telling you you are making a big deal about it. There is also the bare faced lies you tell because if you do tell the truth you might get your face punched in.
My own experience thankfully didn't result in the loss of life but did result in me trying to top myself twice, the second time very nearly successfully. I was 18 and it lasted nearly 3 years. I didn't have insight into my mental health at the time but I knew things were not right. Also domestic violence wasn't illegal at that point. Even now very few people know the extent of my experience and what I endured. Some of the friends who were around at that time knew he was bad news. A few warned me (Who I dismissed as I din't want to listen or believe at the time), some saw things but I played it down, but eventually I made a break for it. I was homeless, penniless, owned only enough clothes to fit in a kit bag and was broken mentally and emotionally. He was skilled at his craft and I was at a complete loss to cope with what happened. I have a pretty unshakeable belief that people are essentially good. I want to believe that all people are capable of love and compassion. In this situation it was my undoing.
The timeline of behaviours went like this:
Drip fed criticism and undermining of self esteem
Manipulation of the truth and lying
Constantly comparing me to others and saying I came up short
Questioning my mental and emotional health when I challenged
Explosive outbursts and shouting
Smashing things up around me and throwing things around or at me
Trying to separate me from friends and family
Pushing and shoving and threatening
Telling lies about me to others
Physical assault, usually punching in arms, kicking in stomach, restraining. Very rarely face as it shows. Usually behind closed doors. By the way when you get punched you do see stars.
Sexual assault/rape and drugging me
Smashing my head against a wall in public outside a busy restaurant
Threatening to kill me whilst pinned with a large hunting knife at my throat
My behaviour throughout this time was not fabulous, but looking on this list now, if a bloke even went to the first sentence I'd be kicking off. Writing this is actually very hard. It was 25 years ago but never leaves me. I lost myself and it has taken many years to reclaim me. I pray that Sally of Hinkley can get help and be supported into some kind of recovery. Normality will not be something that comes easily and this will never be OK for her. Also, if any of you read that list, identify with it from your past or present, do something about it. There is help available for both your mental health and domestic abuse issues. Be empowered, be a survivor, do not let your past define you now. Despite the historical chaos and terror, rise in love and still believe in the goodness of humankind.