Living in fear ...

Fylde coast Women's Aid.  Service manager Tina Hibbard.

Fylde coast Women's Aid. Service manager Tina Hibbard.

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Sam and Trish could be anyone.

The good news is they are now their own women... playing their part in helping the organisation which helped them escape violence.

Blackpool has the highest rate of domestic violence in Lancashire; more than 500 incidents of abuse reported to resort police each month, from verbal to physical violence.

It spans every class. “Teachers, solicitors, professionals – we see it all here,” says Tina Hibbard, service manager of Bispham-based Fylde Coast Women’s Aid for five years.

Now the group is fighting to raise funds and awareness. On November 22, it hosts a free roadshow at Blackpool FC Hotel as part of its strategy to relaunch services and show help doesn’t end when a woman in crisis leaves a refuge.

Sam and Trish will hammer home the message many women suffer in silence for years until calling for help.

Two women a week die as a result of domestic violence. There have been many fatalities on the Fylde coast in recent years. Some of the families involved already assist the campaign.

It will include domestic violence in all forms – with forced marriage and honour based abuse, new stalking legislation and homicide reviews and reforms to permit 16 to 18 year olds to report domestic violence.

Women’s aid manager Tina adds: “Domestic abuse has a long term effect. Women need support to rebuild lives, function on a day to day basis, they may be very isolated because they haven’t seen friends or family, been controlled financially, lack confidence.

“We will never refuse a woman in crisis who needs safe accommodation and there are arguments for extending that particularly for those with multiple issues such as alcohol dependency because they are self medicating.

“We see them come out the other end and become independent. It is getting better because of the level of intervention we offer and support. We don’t just take them from refuge to new home and leave them to it.

“Some go back and soon realise it’s a big mistake.

“But our battle is for funds, we continuously look for money, it is stressful, hard work, because we have bills to pay and service users who can’t afford to miss out on support.

“We have secure funding for 12 months. We need more. We want to expand, extend. We have been secretive about what we do for too long. We need agencies to know about all the services we offer. And the need for us.

“ Just when you think you have seen it all, and almost become de-sensitised, something shocks you anew. The other day an outreach worker told me a woman had wallpapered over her windows because her ex was outside watching her.

“Imagine living with that kind of fear.”

Sam and Trish, 26, who is pregnant, both live locally – and in fear of abusive ex partners.

They have even gone back for more – and they are no fools. Both are intelligent, articulate, have held down good jobs, homes, cars.

That was before years of conditioning by manipulative, controlling and violent men made them believe they had brought the verbal abuse, battering, bruising, and internal scars no one sees, upon themselves.

Now they know better.

Both had the courage to leave, thanks to support from Fylde Coast Women’s Aid which runs refuges and offers emotional, physical and practical support.

Independent domestic violence advisor Sarah Baugh:

“The police refer at the point of crisis. In my role I go out and meet a woman, look at safety issues, look at where he is, she is, does she need a refuge, to move out the area, get an injunction, report it to police, manage that crisis point.

“In Sam’s case there were threats to burn the house down so the fire service came and installed fire safety stuff as there was an arson threat, the council came and cleared things from the side of the house which was a fire risk, cctv was installed for some weeks.

“She had heightened high vis response from the services so it was frustrating – there is now a restraining order in place, the family has changed their names, I think they may well reconsider staying in the same place. But it’s her decision.

“Her progress is fantastic. Once he’d gone to prison we referred her to our outreach longer term support programme. It’s a step down from crisis intervention.

“It is really rewarding. You are instantly making people safer. There’s no better feeling.”

For Sam there’s no going back:

Not this time. She was married to a man behind bars for drug offences. He evaded police for six months.

In spite of a near constant police presence by his former wife’s home he got close enough to observe precisely what she was wearing, where she was going and ensured she knew – he called and texted her.

“I’m going to kill you,” he wrote. “I’m going to make your whole family pay.”

His reign of terror forced his mother-in-law and brothers-in-law under Sam’s roof for months. “They felt safer with me because I had police protection.”

It didn’t stop her 65-year-old mother being terrorised or her brothers’ homes and work vans being trashed.

It didn’t stop Sam visiting her 72-year-old dying father and leaving to find her car tyres had been slashed or on a later occasion her vehicle daubed with yellow paint.

Her five-year-old daughter at her side knew it was “daddy’s fault” although she protested otherwise.

The little girl had already taken a call from her dad. “Don’t go to sleep tonight, darling. Daddy’s going to burn your house down.”

“She started wetting the bed again after that,” says Sam.

The little girl tried to stop her father. “‘Stop it, daddy,’ she would cry but he hardly ever noticed her, and if he did he would say ‘this is mummy’s fault, she is making me do this.’”

Sam is one of countless women with cause to thank Fylde Coast Women’s Aid.

“I certainly wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I couldn’t have spoken to you weeks ago without crying. I was in a ball when they first saw me – just crying.”

Sam had a crush on her oppressor since childhood and couldn’t believe her luck when he sought her out when his marriage broke up. She learned later that he had pleaded guilty to a charge of harassing his ex wife.

Sam says she was “too much in love to notice” their relationship was a ticking timebomb. “He had previous (form)... but I wouldn’t have listened to any warnings from his ex-wife; I’d have put it down to jealousy.

“He would ring me constantly and I’d panic to pick up on time because he would have a go at me otherwise.

“Where are you? He’d turn up minutes later – surprise, he’d say.

“He wasn’t just checking on me but actually following me.

“It happened when I went to my mum’s – way out of the area.

“Why is he like this? she asked.

“She gave me a laptop and when something went wrong with it he kept banging me on the head with it. Tell. Your. Mum. To. Get. You. Something. Decent. Next. Time.

And I was overcome with fear.

“One day I didn’t tell him where I was because I was almost home and having a joke.

“But he wasn’t laughing, not when I got home, and unloaded the car, and our child, and the shopping.

“He just stood there – and then he kicked off.”

Threats followed.

“We’d watch telly and he’d suddenly say if you do anything I’ll make you pay, you know, you and your family.”

And he did. Police referred her to women’s aid. “They were great. I had a panic alarm, police outside, driving past – the works.

“But it didn’t stop him getting to me. I told one officer you don’t know what he’s like, and he said, we do, we know, but you must help us help you, call us. And I did. I got a text message – he was going to murder me. I broke down and called them.”

He was sent down for drug offences. “I thought my troubles were over. But I was in denial. I couldn’t sleep, I was crying all the time.”

She went to a women’s aid session. “They weren’t judgemental, or all ‘poor you, why didn’t you leave?’ they just knew. They understood.

“I dread him coming out as but this is my home, I bought it, I did all the work within it, why should I be the one to move?

“He’s taken too much from my family.

“My older daughter wants nothing to do with him. She changed her surname to mine on her school books, bags, uniform – that’s how much he hurt her.”

Trish’s tale 
is also of 
twisted love:

“My partner was controlling in a different way. I’ve been on and off with him for five and half years now. I’ve been pregnant to him twice but I got away from him three times, and not just for a few days, last time was for a year. I thought he had changed. I thought my daughter needed her daddy.

She used to go round supermarkets and ask is that my daddy? So I went back and he said he wanted another baby and he didn’t want to drink anymore – and I fell pregnant straight away.

And then he started to drink.

“I still fight the impulse to go back to him. I’m not sure if it’s love or just needing to know why he spoiled it all for us.

He was much older than me, 14 years. He came and whisked me off my feet, everything was perfect, I thought he’d look after me. He was brilliant with my son who’s disabled.

“He wanted me to get pregnant but when I did he fell drinking – and then the drink came and he’d get paranoid.

“He’d call me a slag. He grabbed me off a stool in the kitchen, dragged me to the floor and said I’m going to kill you, slag, he’d never remember next day.

“And my daughter, she’s only three, and she doesn’t want her mummy to hurt, she saw it happen three months ago and it breaks my heart.”

The experience is still “too raw” for Trish, who has been living in a refuge for three months with her two children – and has another on the way.

“I went back for my clothes for work, and he was hiding, and next minute he’s got me by the ankles – and I’m 10 weeks pregnant – and he’s flipped me to the floor and then he’s dragging me by my legs down the stairs, and I was rolling, and he was pulling, and I got my phone out of my pocket to call for help and he stamped on my hand, and threw the phone in the front room. He then ripped my jacket, kicked me in the stomach, and put my foot on my cheek and said look what you’re making me do.

“So I needed to break the chain. And Women’s Aid were there for me.

“I personally think I will never get over it.”