‘Punched so hard I couldn’t remember my name’

Domestic violence
Domestic violence
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The turning point came when Debbie was on the floor, one hand grasping on to her young daughter, the other clawing at her partner’s leg to stop him kicking her in the face with his steel toecap boot.

It was broad daylight. The middle of the street.

Things like this had happened before.

Between the ages of 18 and 46 Debbie was in four violent relationships.

“When I was 24 I was punched in the head so hard I couldn’t remember my own name,” she says matter-of-factly, without emotion.

“They asked me in hospital and I couldn’t even remember I was called Debbie. I didn’t know what day it was either.

“His fist had hit me so hard I was severely concussed. They examined me in hospital and they knew what had happened, they knew I was with a partner who was beating me.

“But I didn’t make a complaint and I stayed with him. Why? You know it isn’t right, you know it’s wrong to have a man who is supposed to love you punching and kicking you.

“But you don’t leave because you just think that’s how it is. If you aren’t educated any other different way...there was nothing to make me think it wasn’t acceptable.”

That might look odd written here in black and white but not when one takes into account Debbie’s background.

Her grandmother was beaten by her partner. So was her mum. Debbie remembers the house regularly being smashed up.

“Christmas was the worst – a time when we should have been happy – because we knew it would end the same way,” says Debbie.

“They would argue and my dad would start punching her across the room and then he would trash the lounge. The tree would always get thrown across the room, every year without fail.

“My mum and dad fought all the time. I’ve seen my dad punching the window trying to get in.

“That was my life as a child so I just accepted it as normal, that was how it was.”

It is an horrific story.

But sadly, not an uncommon one.

Today Debbie has agreed to speak to The Gazette as part of efforts to highlight the growing problem of domestic violence on the Fylde coast.

Police responded to more than 1,300 domestic incidents in just three months at the end of last year (October-December).

Tina Hibbard, of Bispham-based Fylde Coast Women’s Aid, says the issue is undoubtedly getting worse.

“We are absolutely stretched to the limit,” she says.

“On average we get 20 new referrals every day. The problem in Blackpool is on a par with the big cities, like Manchester or Birmingham.

“We could double the size of this office, double the number of people working here, and we would still have enough referrals to keep us busy.

“As it every single member of our team has to work flat out. The referrals are piled high on their desks and we are just lucky we have such a dedicated and hard-working staff. That’s what keeps us going.”

Fylde Coast Women’s Aid is the first port of call for women and children who are suffering domestic abuse.

It provides a range of services, including refuge accommodation – safe housing for those in crisis who need to flee a domestic abuse situation.

“We have three houses across the Fylde coast, the biggest one is in Blackpool and is for five families,” explains Tina.

And it is stories like Debbie’s which show why these services are so vital.

At the age of 18 she had her first proper relationship with a man.

It was violent but, with nothing to compare it to, not aware there was such a thing as a happy, loving relationship, she didn’t complain or think she was in an abnormal situation.

She had another violent relationship at 24, a third aged 27, and another at the age of 38.

Then came that moment, about to be booted in the face by her partner, in the middle of the street in front of her seven-year-old daughter, when something stirred inside.

“He was screaming at me and I was on all fours, like a dog,” she said.

“I was grabbing on to his jean leg because I didn’t want that steel toecap going into my face. My nose was an inch away from it,

“I looked at my little girl and I could see the trauma in her face. It haunts me to this day.

“Her eyes were blank, with tears streaming down her face. She was my little girl and she couldn’t help me.

“That is how emotionally detrimental it is to children and I just looked at her and I thought I have got to get help.

“I suppose the truth is I got help for her, not myself. I got help because I wanted her life to be different.”

Debbie called Fylde Coast Women’s Aid, an organisation she knew about through spotting a leaflet left in a shop.

“It was the first time I had ever called anyone for help and it was extremely hard to do. But the people on the end of that helpline were amazing, just amazing, and I can’t credit them enough for what they did.”

Maybe there was guilt involved in making the phone call too.

Debbie has another older daughter. She saw her mum being beaten. Aged 29 now, she has already been in three violent relationships herself.

“She is actually the fourth generation of domestic violence and the guilt eats me up because I know it’s my fault. It has happened because he saw me getting punched and thought it was normal,” explains Debbie.

“I’ll be honest, we have a strained relationship now.

“The damage is done with her. I can’t do anything about that, except talk to her a lot and put my arm around her and say it is wrong, you deserve better.

“My youngest ... I just thank god that she won’t entertain the idea at all. She knows straightaway it is unacceptable.”

The statistics on domestic violence in Blackpool don’t make pretty reading. As with unemployment, drugs, poverty and homelessness, the number of women suffering physical and mental abuse at the hands of their partner is huge compared to other towns.

Thanks to Fylde Coast Women’s Aid, Debbie is no longer one of the statistics – but she is still a work in progress and paints a vivid and harrowing picture of what it is like to be trapped in a cycle of despair.

“It brought on severe mental health issues with depression towards the end. I felt a great sadness within my heart -–and a lot of guilt because of my eldest child,” she explains.

“You very quickly become isolated. Abusive men isolate you and in the end your friends are so upset, they stay away. It is too upsetting, so they pull away from you, and then you are isolated even more. In the end the only company you have is your abuser and four walls.

“You mentally disintegrate, that’s how it is. You just think you’re not worth anything else, that that’s your lot, this is how it is. So you stay.

“If ever the police were called, it was ‘oh it’s a domestic’. They’re not like that now. The police are on the ball.

“But back then you just accepted it. That was how it was.

“It was a culture, so I just stayed with those type of people, those type of men. That’s all I can explain it with. I didn’t think I was worth any other type of man. I didn’t think any other type of man would want someone like me. I felt totally worthless.

“I worked in a shop – until my health went – and I became a brilliant actress. I learned to act, to smile. I was devastated inside but I just put on a smile. It wasn’t so much living a lie – I was just living two lives.”

Debbie says the best thing she has done in her life is seek help.

“People have a downer on Blackpool and think there is no hope, but there is help and it does work,” she said.

“I’m learning to feel proud of myself now. I wouldn’t say I feel 100 per cent proud but I am learning, I am learning to like myself, to be good to myself and to be proud of myself. Every day I am getting stronger.”

There may even come a day when she regains her faith in men enough to begin another relationship.

“Not yet though because I need time to heal and I have to put my little girl’s healing process first,” she said.

“But I am hopeful, whereas at one point I had no hope. Now I hope that one day I will meet Mr Right.

“But right now life is good. I have a lot more confidence, a lot more self-worth and self-respect, and my little girl has a smile on her face and is doing well at school

“There isn’t a door slammed in my house. I won’t have it. There isn’t a voice raised. It isn’t acceptable.

“There isn’t any fear in my daughter’s eyes any more and that is the best feeling of all.”


The official view on the scale of domestic abuse on the Fylde coast – and what the authorities are doing to help