Women who’ve experienced domestic abuse have praised MP Rosie Duffield for sharing her own story of coercive control, saying it made them feel less alone.
In what has been described as one of the most powerful speeches delivered in the House Of Commons in recent years, Duffield made the brave decision to share her experience on Wednesday, during a debate on the Domestic Abuse bill, urging others affected to seek help. Her speech emphasised that abuse rarely follows “the same images and stereotypes on TV”.
“Domestic violence has many faces and the faces of those who survive are varied too,” she said. “When they ask you out they don’t present their rage and they don’t tell you that they like the idea of strong, independent, successful women, but not the reality. They don’t threaten, criticise, control, yell or exert their physical strength in increasingly frightening ways. Not yet. Not at the start.”
Duffield detailed how a former partner’s behaviour oscillated between loving and threatening – but escalated to the stage where she was afraid to go home.
“Every day is emotionally exhausting, working in a job that you love but putting on a brave face and pretending all is good, fine, wonderful in fact,” she said.
Rebecca*, who left her partner three weeks before their wedding, tells HuffPost UK that she was moved to tears by Duffield’s speech.
“It was so hauntingly familiar to my own story of being in an abusive relationship. Similarly, my ex was charming, loving and seemingly everything I ever wanted, he introduced me to his family almost immediately and told me he loved me, and asked me to move in with him,” she recalls.
“Over time we became engaged, but my relationship became increasingly toxic, until I was a depressed, anxious shell of the bubbly woman I once was. Towards the end, he gaslighted me, belittled me and started to become physically violent.”
Since leaving her ex, Rebecca has experienced self-doubt, even starting to believe she’d imagined the entire ordeal. “Rosie made me realise it wasn’t in my head, I wasn’t alone, which is something victims definitely need to hear,” she says.
“I think the speech will help other people recognise that what they're experiencing is not normal.”
Michelle* also recognised elements from a previous relationship in Duffield’s speech. Having three young children under 10 made it hard to leave her partner, she tells HuffPost UK.
“You also condemn yourself and your children to a much lower standard of living and you lose out financially, especially when your ex pleads poverty and works for cash,” she says. “And having spent years putting on a brave face, it’s sometimes difficult to be believed.
“The angrier you get, the more you come across as the problem. The scars run deep and listening to that speech brings many feelings back to the surface. I think I’ve moved on, but I don’t think I’ll ever totally recover.
“I think the speech Rosie Duffield made will help other people recognise that what they’re experiencing is not normal and it’s not your fault.”
For Emma*, hearing Duffield’s personal account in such a public space as the House of Commons made her feel “validated”. She says whenever she discloses that she had an abusive partner, she is asked: “Did he hit you?”
“It lets me know I’m not alone in recovering from the nightmare of being with a charming, dangerous and abusive partner.”
“By all external appearances I am a strong, successful and independent woman. Five years ago I was overwhelmed by a charming man who made me his world. It consumed me. And in a few months he called me a slut and manipulated me to isolate myself,” she says.
“He was secretive and obsessive. Blamed, belittled and berated me one minute then called me honey and sweetie the next.” Emma likens leaving an abusive relationship to “breaking an addiction”.
“Rosie speaks truth and it’s reassuring, raises awareness and lets me know I’m not alone in recovering from the nightmare of being with a charming, dangerous and abusive partner.”
Duffield’s point that abuse can happen to anyone resonated with Heather*. “I am a middle class professional. We lived in a beautiful home and owned another property. We had new cars. We were also massively in debt,” she says.
Her ex-partner became emotionally abusive within two weeks of their marriage, but it took a further 17 years – and a physical assault in front of her children – for her to leave. “I call myself a survivor not a victim. I get angry when people judge women for staying in these types of situations.” she says.
“He told me he would give me the fight of my life if I left. And he did.”
“I call myself a survivor not a victim.”
Hearing Duffield’s speech transported her to times of “private and public humiliation”, such as the time her husband shouted at her in Ikea because she wasn’t “staying by his side”. “I said I wanted to leave so he put the kids in the car and then locked me out. Driving slowly through the carpark, he wound the window down and said he would only let me in if I ‘behaved’.”
“Now I try to empower women to qualify in a vocational profession so that they will always be able to earn money of their own and not be reliant on their partner, whether male or female, to live.”
Having survived an emotionally abusive relationship, Kate* says she “related to a lot of” the speech.
“It was a really lonely, scary and confusing time in my life. I didn’t see it coming. We loved each other, we built dreams together,” she says. “In the beginning everything seemed rosy, mostly. But then he began to say I was wrong for saying this or doing that. Sometimes he would fly into a rage and shout at me, other times he’d be fine. His behaviour was so unpredictable.”
Her partner’s behaviour became increasingly unpredictable and when they eventually split, she “had never felt more alone or broken”.
“I was scared to go outside, I shut myself off. Seeing adverts or social media updates with happy couples, happy families reminded me of the life I felt would never come my way again.”
Now, Kate has founded a charity to help other survivors of abuse. “Today, I feel happy and confident again. My friends and family tell me they’ve got ‘the old Kate back’. For anyone experiencing this, please know that things can get better and there is support out there. You do not have to go through this alone.”
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of speakers.
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
- The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership by Women’s Aid and Refuge): 0808 2000 247
- In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
- In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
- mypickle.org provides a community and resources for those who need it.
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
- Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
- Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321