“If my story and my family’s story could help just one person then I think it's worth telling.”
When she heard about Mothers’ Union’s active campaigning against gender-based violence, and learnt through local members about the international awareness every autumn 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, Mary (pseudonym) contacted Mothers’ Union to ask how she could help with the activities in her local area in Scotland. She took the very brave decision to share her story, to raise awareness of the isolation, secrecy and entrapment that children face living with domestic violence and abuse.
"I was brought up with my brothers in a home where we and our mum were victims of severe domestic abuse. My mum never left my dad and we all suffered greatly because of this. People see the physical side but don't understand why women stay with abusive spouses: it’s because they are worn down, have low self-esteem and become a shadow of themselves.
My mum was a deputy head teacher in primary school, a smart woman; and years later after she died I spoke to her friends. I was floored they all knew and said nothing. There is a taboo about talking about these issues. When I was 10, mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and was told she had six months to live. Mum died when I was 14 years old. My older brother was 16 and my younger brother just six years old. I firmly believe prayer and a knowledge of the situation she’d be leaving us in kept her going another three years. During that time dad was involved in a serious road accident and was in hospital for over a year – it was the most peaceful time of our childhood. Permanently disabled when he did finally come home, dad still managed to bully all of us and to physically beat me. Beatings were for the tiniest of mistakes; for me not managing my maths, not putting enough sugar in his tea, curtains not being pulled so the amount of fabric was the same on both sides, not hearing him the first time he called.
Life got so bad at home I ran away from home and took my father to court to try to get custody of my little brother, but I didn’t win. My father was clever and extremely articulate. The police and social workers told me my case was hopeless as our background – nice family, big house etc. - made it unbelievable. I want people to understand and be aware that domestic abuse affects people of all backgrounds.
On dark days it's easy to think when you're in a domestic violence situation you can't change it - you've got nowhere to go, no money, no one to turn to. But you can move on from domestic violence. Life can be turned round and God is always there in the darkest, scariest days. When I felt the world was moving and I was not, I'd say a prayer and I felt God near me. There was that amazing day he gave me strength to leave and challenge my abuser, that day my life began; but tragically and sadly I lost contact with my young brother in the process. That is my deepest regret because I was like his mummy, but I know I would not have survived another day of living in that situation.
When I was in my thirties I was admitted to hospital with a severe infection. A routine chest x-ray was taken and everything came back when the consultant asked me if I’d been in a car accident, because I had multiple rib fractures. He could see at least seventeen fractures, and they seemed old. I said that it wasn’t a car accident, it was my father. He patted my arm, nodded and left. That day I decided that when I was well I was going to go back to court. Unbelievably my dad died two days after this, whilst I was still in hospital, and I felt cheated that I’d had no justice. But now I believe that this was God’s way of saying to me: you’re free now. No more wasted time with court battles because your family know the truth. I never let my children meet my father and I’m lucky today to have a wonderful husband and three wonderful children.
I can’t say I’ve come through unscathed – my family was torn apart by abuse – but out of my siblings and I, I’m the most fortunate, despite being the only one who was physically abused. I feel God has been so close to me. I never stopped believing He has something better planned for me and that’s what’s brought me through".
If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in Mary's story use our downloadable Domestic Abuse leaflet.
*Some details have been changed to protect Mary and her family.