My vision of ending an abusive relationship was that the fog would clear and he would no longer have any impact or control over my life.
It took 10 years of sporadic physical and emotional abuse and two years of counselling from a specialist domestic abuse worker before my fog cleared and I built the strength to leave. Walking away is the best thing I did, nevertheless, in my opinion, there is potential for the fog to return at times so we need to be proactive in preventing it and supporting women, like me, disperse it when it does.
At the time I left, my main priority was to get away from him and maintain as "normal" life as possible for my children. I left the marital home, hastily, with my children to stay with my parents. That's when it hit me - I still shared one connection with him, our precious children.
Rightly or wrongly, I felt "normality" for our children meant they should still spend time with their dad, but, it wasn't long before he started to dictate contact arrangements. That is when the fog began to descend again. To disperse it I secured a non-molestation, prohibited steps and contact arrangements order. Our solicitors agreed to the children having regular contact with their father and this was accepted by the court. Nonetheless, the fog still lingers in my head at differing levels and intensities each time contact occurs, replaying memories of his intimidation, threats and abuse. Worrying about what the children are witnessing, hearing or being subjected too.
Last year my fears were realised and the fog thickened when the children disclosed to my parents that they had seen him strangle his current partner. Why wasn't I prepared for this? What was I to do? Where could I turn? My parents contacted NSPCC, who advised them to contact Social Services. The children were allocated their first Social Worker and I made an appointment with my solicitor to discuss contact arrangements.
During the court proceedings and dealings with Social Services the fog was persistent and difficult to navigate. I didn't know where the support was coming from or who I was going to bump into next. The case was allocated two different judges and two different social workers and I didn't know what decision was going to be made to protect the physical and emotional well-being of my children. I pushed for some support for my children during this time, although none came. I was lost in the fog.
Following the court proceedings, the fog deteriorated into a smog when the contact arrangements returned to how they had been in the first place. A result, I feel, of a lack of insight by solicitors, social services and judges into the mind and manipulation of a typical domestic abuser.
I remain positive because I am a survivor, but for me, the fog will continue to linger at various levels and intensities until my children are able to express themselves freely and truthfully and are also free from the demons of the fog. Because of my experience I advocate the following:
1. The following professionals should receive specialist domestic abuse training:
• Solicitors, barristers and police so they can provide better information and communication about legal proceedings relating to housing and contact arrangements.
• Social workers and judges so they have the required understanding, knowledge and attitudes to make decisions on contact arrangements when domestic abuse is an element of the case.
• Childcare professionals e.g. teachers, nursery nurses and childminders so they have required knowledge to seek timely and appropriate support for children who are witness to domestic abuse.
2. The courts should provide greater opportunities for children and young people to express their views about contact with their fathers and this should be timely and consistent.