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Invisible Scars - A Conversation With a Victim of Domestic Abuse

17/03/2014 13:14 GMT | Updated 15/05/2014 10:59 BST

"The scars don't have to be visible to hurt" says 34-year-old Milly as she reflects on life with an abusive husband.

"I went on The Freedom program assuming I will be surrounded by abused women with black eyes but they were all like me, scarred on the inside" she recalls. "They showed us a picture of a "good man" and "a bad man", I looked at the characteristics of the "bad man" and was shocked to recognise my husband. I ticked so many of the boxes; him telling me what to wear, obsessively watching my every move, asking 101 questions every time I stepped out of the house, never taking no for an answer."

The realisation that she was blind to the degrading reality for so many years proved particularly troubling, "how could I not see the abuse going on in my own life?" she asks in dismay, "I was in my own little bubble, had the kids, I guess because he stopped hitting me I thought the abuse had stopped".

Just separated from a sexually and emotionally abusive husband, Milly took local authority's advice and attended The Freedom program, a course that goes beyond empowering victims to also help perpetrators better understand abusive behaviour, thus breaking the painfully destructive cycle.

Milly tells me how her husband would skilfully use disguising flattery to maintain control, "he would not let me wear jeans" she explains, "but he wouldn't say I forbid you, instead, it would be softly worded and spoken, more like "you know I don't like you wearing jeans, Princess" or "it makes you look fat, Princess"

Through the Freedom program Milly recognized "the bully" and the methods used by such men to exercise control over others.

"He wouldn't let me go out with my family and friends but again, in a crafty way, he would wait until I get to my parent's house or a friend's and call with some silly excuse about him needing something urgently from the house and I would have to go and fetch what turned out to be a false alarm. He would just suck the joy out of any outing by interrogating me about who I was with, where I went, what we did until you just didn't feel like going anywhere anymore"

"What has actually brought the relationship to an end?" I ask

"He first hit me when I was pregnant with our first child and I didn't do what he told me. We split up but when we got back together my dad warned him that he will have my father to reckon with if he did this again, he didn't hit me again until years later when my father was dying and I spent a few agonising days with him in hospital, literally watching my hero dad fade away. Heartbroken, I called my husband to ask that he would bring the children to the hospital so they can say goodbye to granddad. He got them alright but for some bizarre reason told them they were going on a fun surprise outing, they got to the hospital all confused and baffled. My oldest managed to tell my dad he loved him and he replied with "I love you too son" before he passed away. I was devastated. I somehow made it home, sorted out the children and went to bed in tears. He came wanting sex, I made it clear that I didn't want sex that night but he would not take no for an answer.

I found the courage to confront him the next morning and said "you really hurt me last night" when he grabbed me by the throat ready to hit me when our teenage son appeared from behind him and stopped him. My husband turned around and struck my boy, that was the point of no return for me, seeing my son on the floor, hurt."

Looking back now, Milly can see the sexual exploitation clearly, "I see now that he forced himself on me but at the time I just thought he had a stronger sex drive than me"

A few years on, Milly still catches herself doing things the way her former husband liked them done. "I can now see the extent to which I adjusted myself over the years to accommodate him, I even had to watch myself during the school run and not chat to other mums because I knew he would quiz me about it..I remember we were at a party once and I was dancing. He came to me and said I should stop because "everyone's laughing at you", I never danced again. it was eighteen months after he left that I went dancing for the first time".

Freedom showed Milly how to "gain back self respect" and assert herself. "This could never happen to me now" she says with confidence as she remembers a much loved childhood clown she has kept but "he just didn't like it and through away, I just went along with it at the time but now I wouldn't tolerate the slightest hint of controlling behaviour, I would never let a hurtful remark slide by now because I have learnt that the line between that and full on abuse is very thin".