International Women's Day: Leighann's story
As the Government announces its plans to tackle domestic abuse, we hear one woman's story of survival
On International Women's Day, and as the Government announces plans to unveil the first ever statutory definition to recognise the many kinds of abuse suffered – from psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional - we hear one woman's story of physical and emotional abuse, and of survival.
Leighann* is 32 years old, from north London and, after suffering years of domestic abuse, is currently living in a women's refuge. This is her story, as told to DIVA in her own words.
I often had to guess what she wanted from me. I tried to do everything to make her happy, but it was impossible. I suffer from depression, anxiety, and from insomnia, something which got worse in my mid-twenties. She, my mum, was always questioning things...
“You're lazy, get up!”
"Why are going to sleep at this time?"
"Oh, you're just lazy!”
A year or so ago, I was living with a friend, but there was a problem with mould in her house. At that time I wasn't talking to mum - she'd kicked me out several times, always for some small reason - and so here I was, living with a friend, but needing to move out - and quickly.
I didn't have the money to move into a place of my own, or even shared accommodation, and so I decided to call my mum.
We started talking and she was really, really nice. She was excited to hear from me, and I remember thinking, “Mum's changed… I'm finally getting the love that I wanted. Finally.”
She invited me for Christmas dinner and I asked her if I could move back home. I desperately needed to, and thankfully, she said okay. She gave me stipulations; I would pay £80 a month plus the electric and water bills. At the time, I was just moving to a new job, and thought, “Okay, that's fair”.
Time passed and the job I’d been doing - a delivery job - started to affect my health and eventually I had to leave. I told mum, and though I didn't specifically say to her that I wasn't going to be able to afford all of the bills, she knew that I wasn’t going to be working... I was just terrified of saying the wrong thing to this woman.
For a while, I was able to keep paying the £80 we’d agreed on until, in December of 2016, came an electric bill stamped "LATE".
It was a very small bill which I'd actually paid, but before I’d had chance to, it had already registered as a late payment - and so the letter came.
"Why haven't you paid this?" My mum stormed into my room.
That was one of the things that she did often - my door could be ajar, but if I closed it, it was an issue. So it was always open. Privacy was non-existent.
I explained to her that I had paid the bill, but soon after that, I told her I couldn't afford to pay any more. And so she ignored me.
I would say, “Good morning” or, “Hello”, but it was like I wasn’t there.
Then she took the rings off the cooker so I couldn't cook food.
Then she unplugged the washing machine.
I was so scared of the consequences of plugging the washing machine back in, but it got to the point where I couldn’t keep going out to wash my clothes or asking other people to. So I plugged it in, and it continued.
She would throw out or eat my food, but would never throw away her stuff. She would wash her dishes and leave mine. She’d slam doors. She'd slam doors really, really badly… I had two cats and she wouldn't feed them, or help look after them.
I identify as a lesbian, and remember one time talking to some friends about my sexuality over the phone. It was just a general conversation really, but when it had finished, I came out of my room and the Mother's Day present I had bought and given to her was outside my door. I didn't understand why, but the only thing I could think of was that I was talking to my friends about my sexuality - and she’d been listening in.
She changed the wifi password.
I was able to get the new one by using our shared computer, but when she realised I had, she changed it again and told my cousin that I'd gone into her bag to get it - which I hadn’t. It was then that I decided to finally confront her.
“What is this over? Why do you hate me like so much?” I asked her.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up...” came her reply.
I remembering thinking, "You telling me to shut up is not going to solve anything…"
Then she started punching me in my head.
“Why are you punching me?” I asked her. I was just in so much shock.
Then she started screaming. “Get away from me, get away from me!”, and she was pushing me, and shoving me, and started hitting me with an over-the-door hanger, the type that you hang your coats on.
I remember thinking, "I can't hit her back, I’m a lot stronger than her, I don't know what I could do."
I was just trying to get away from her.
I was just so scared.
After the incident, I called the police and told them what had happened. I told them about the bill, the money - everything. “Oh, it's just a domestic dispute”, was their response. Adding that if I was to pursue things any further, there was a chance that I could be arrested.
I didn’t know where to turn.
After my mum left the house, my cousin came over. “You know you're both to blame”, she told me matter-of-factly. “No, I'm not to blame, I didn't do anything”, I kept telling her.
My mum was very good at being one person in front me, and a different one in front of everyone else. With partners too. She was always nice to me in front of them, but when they weren't around everything just went back to normal.
Funnily enough, I really held onto those times because I wanted my mum to like me. I wanted her to love me.
But I couldn't hold on to her anymore.
For anyone who relates to my story...
You are not alone. Even though I felt very alone, there is help out there. The LGBTQ+ anti-violence charity Galop was the place that helped me as a first point of call. Even to this day, I still appreciate everything they've done for me and. Even just how they treat me as a person.
Secondly, do not give up. Keep going and keep asking for help. If you think that something's not right, read up on it. Get advice from professional organisation like Galop, or Stonewall, or others (they are out there).
Don't suffer. I don't want anyone else to ever suffer.
Leighann’s case with Galop has now been closed, though she is still in regular contact with them. She’s currently in a women’s refuge, and is waiting to move on, and back into a space of her own. Right now, she's focusing on sharing her story so that others can know that they're not alone. In the future, Leighann hopes to make a career for herself in empowerment and coaching so that she can help other survivors of domestic abuse.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.
Galop: LGBT+ anti-violence charity
Galop leads the Domestic Abuse Partnership to provide services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people whose needs are not being met by mainstream organisations. Galop also runs the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline, funded by the Home Office, which is open to anyone in the country who would like to anonymously get advice about domestic abuse. Further information about both services can be found here: galop.org.uk/domesticabuse. To contact the helpline call 0800 999 5428.
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