A portrait of Alex, the contributor who suffered physical and mental abuse from his girfriendBBC Three / Century Films

I stayed with my abusive girlfriend out of fear she would kill me

Alex's partner was the first woman jailed for coercive and controlling behaviour in the UK. Now he's trying to fight the stigma around male domestic abuse

Warning: some upsetting content

Alex Skeel, 22

I’ll never forget the moment that my girlfriend, Jordan, first poured scalding water over me. She’d backed me into the corner of a room in the home we shared in Bedfordshire, holding a boiling kettle. We’d been together for three years, and what had started with small things – her telling me not to wear the colour grey or that she didn’t like my hairstyle – had turned into a nine-month campaign of physical abuse. I was very scared of her.

I can still see that first tiny drop of water falling onto my skin. It all happened in slow motion. Afterwards, my skin was curdling. The pain was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I begged her to let me get in a bath filled with cold water – it was the only thing I could think of that would stop the burning. She allowed me to get in, and the relief was instant. You can't imagine how incredible it feels to sink your body into freezing water after that. It’s the nicest feeling in the world. Then she told me I had to get out – or she’d do it all over again.

If I started moaning, saying that it hurt, she’d say, "Get back in the bath, then." Then she’d do exactly the same thing and make me get out. It was all about the mind games with her. She wanted control over all aspects of my life. I remember lying in the bath with no clothes on. It looked like I was in an oven, cooking. My skin was peeling off. It was absolutely horrible.

A still from the abused by my girlfriend documentary showing shadows of a couple through windowBBC Three / Century Films

The latest figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales show that, in the year ending March 2018, an estimated two million adults aged 16-59 years had experienced domestic abuse in the last year – of that number, over one-third were estimated to be men.

It’s also estimated that one in five teenagers have been physically abused by their girlfriend or boyfriend. And it’s happening to men much more than most people are aware of. Police in England and Wales recorded almost 150,000 incidents of domestic abuse against men in 2017 – more than double the number reported in 2012. According to one charity, fewer than 1% of domestic abuse refuge beds in England are allocated to men, with none at all in London.

Alex and JordanBBC Three / Century Films
Alex (right) with his girlfriend Jordan

Jordan Worth and I were 16 when we met at college in 2012. She did really well at school and she got a place at the University of Hertfordshire to study fine art. She wanted to become a teacher. In those first months, everything was fine. We had a really nice time together and did normal things, like watch films and go for walks together. It was new for me to tell my friends I had a girlfriend. They’d say, "Oh, what did you do at the weekend?" and I’d be able to say that I’d been with her.

Then, a few months in, a couple of strange things happened. At the time, it just seemed like attention-seeking behaviour. My mum and dad had paid for us to go to London to watch The Lion King and, out of nowhere, Jordan just disappeared. We were all looking for her for quite a while, and then, much later, we found her in the reception area, laughing her head off. It was all a bit weird. In hindsight, I think it was her way of getting me to panic and worry about her, in order to get a hold of me.

But before long, Jordan had completely isolated me from my friends and family – she stopped me from seeing them and even took over my Facebook account – a classic tactic of domestic abuse. I had nobody to turn to.

Behind the windowBBC Three / Century Films
Alex celebrates his 18th birthday with mum and twin brother Luke

She started to deny me food, which meant I lost a lot of weight. I’d try and challenge her behaviour, but she’d turn it on me and find a way to make me the problem. I’d know it wasn’t my fault, but she’d keep convincing me. You end up thinking, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ Then you do something differently and they moan at you for being different. When she was telling me, "I don’t like the colour grey," or "I don’t like those shoes," I’d think, "Okay, I won’t wear them," because I wanted to impress her. But, in reality, she was moulding me into who she wanted me to be. It undermines your confidence. And you’re fighting a battle that you’ll never win. It’s so frustrating.

We had two kids together and I just kept hoping that something would change. The children were babies, but, of course, they must have seen what was happening and, while she didn’t hurt them directly, my fear was always that if I left, she’d turn her abuse on them. So I stayed.

Of course, there were some genuinely good times with Jordan - moments when I felt happy, when we laughed and had fun together. It wasn't a nightmare all the time. And I really wanted to try and make a go of the relationship. I loved her, after all.

It took 18 months for the mental abuse to turn physical. It began when she started sleeping with a glass bottle next to her. She was accusing me of doing things with other girls, talking to them or messaging, which was completely untrue. She kept saying that she’d had messages from people but, much later, I found out that she’d been making it up. Then she’d wait until I’d fallen asleep and smack me on the head with the bottle. She’d demand, "What are you thinking about?"

An x-ray of Alex's mouth showing his broken teethBBC Three / Century Films
An x-ray of Alex's mouth showing his broken teeth

After a while, it got to the point where it didn’t hurt anymore. I was so used to the pain, I didn’t even feel it. So she’d ramp it up to the next level and find a worse way of hurting me. After the bottle, it was a hammer. After that, it was anything she could find to smack me with.

One time, it was a laptop charger. She wrapped the cord around her wrist but with a bit of slack, and swung the metal plug end at my head. Blood started gushing out. It was pouring onto the floor. I cried, "Please will you help me?" and watched Jordan as she walked up the stairs, laughing. She said, "Why don’t you just go and die? No one cares about you."

Eventually, Jordan started with knives. She’d slash at me. One time, she just missed a major artery in my wrist. After that, it was boiling water. I had third-degree burns. Whenever I got used to the pain, she’d go a level up. The level after boiling water would have been death.

The kettle Jordan used in their flatBBC Three / Century Films

Of course, I was scared of Jordan and what she would do. I felt that, if I’d said anything, she could have killed me. I’d go to hospital and say I’d tripped and hit my head or that very hot water from the shower burned me. A neighbour called the police a few times when they heard shouting, and I’d make excuses for Jordan and lie. It wasn’t nice, but I did it to save my life. I had black eyes and all sorts. She’d put her makeup on me, because she wanted to cover up what she’d done.

I could feel my body shutting down. I’d lost five stone in weight. Afterwards, doctors told me that I’d been 10 days from death because I’d been denied food for so long and my injuries were so bad. It all came to an end in 2018, when a police officer came round to the house to follow up their previous visit and questioned me. All the horrible truth came out. My injuries were so severe by that point, and I was so gaunt after all the weight loss. I’d denied everything up until that point. But I couldn’t go on any longer.

Police bodycam footageBBC Three / Century Films
Police bodycam footage following a call made by a neighbour that shows Alex in a state of physical and mental distress

If the police hadn’t intervened at that precise moment, I’d be in the ground. There’s no doubt about it. I was fortunate enough – I say fortunate – that I had so many injuries and the evidence was really strong, so it tied everything together, which helped put her away.

Jordan’s motivation, I think, was pure jealousy. I’d been very close to my family, and had brilliant friends, and she distanced me from all that. She took me away from everything I ever had. I remember once she said to me, "I want to ruin your life."

While one in six men will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, only one in 20 will ever seek any help

Jordan was never sorry. Even when the police came round to question her. She looks as guilty as anything in the police footage, but I think she cared more about being caught than what she’d done to me. She pleaded guilty in court, I believe, to get a lighter sentence.

Jordan is questioned by policeBBC Three / Century Films
Jordan being questioned by police

I don’t know how Jordan justified this kind of behaviour to herself. I think people who commit domestic abuse do it because they get a kick out of it. It’s like a drug, an addiction. And the more they do it, the more they think they can get away with it – and it gets worse and worse and worse. It’s like they’re in heaven and you’re in hell. They’re getting what they really, really want. That complete control. And you’re getting everything you never wanted in your life and worse. Until they get found out. And then it’s a massive shock to them.

I’d heard of male domestic abuse before I met Jordan. I knew what she was doing. I knew it was really, really bad. But I didn’t know what to do. During it all, I wouldn’t have been able to name a charge she could be arrested for, because I didn’t have a clue, ever.

I never hurried to get out of this situation, as funny as that sounds. There was no way I was going to be able to get out of it. I literally had nothing. And, obviously, we had two children together. I just hoped it would stop. If I got hit one time less it was a great day. It was that simple.

My concern was with the kids, that they were alright. You can never tell someone to leave that kind of situation. That’s the worst thing. You need to just say, "Look, if you ever need to talk with me, I’m here."

Alex with baby IrisBBC Three / Century Films
Alex reunited with baby Iris after being discharged from hospital

Jordan was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison in April 2018. She admitted to controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, wounding with intent and causing grievous bodily harm. When I heard the news, I didn’t even react. I don’t tend to get bothered by things now. If my football team wins, I used to go crazy, but now I’m more or less ‘job done’. I think that’s because of the trauma I went through. When the verdict came, I was like, "That’s justice then." Afterwards, I felt a lot of relief - a massive weight off my shoulders. As soon as I knew she was in that van on her way to prison, for the first time in five years, I could look over my shoulder and not have a single worry cross my mind.

The children don’t really know what’s going on. I’ve kept a lot of the information, the court documents etc, for them to read when they’re older. When they’re mature enough to understand it, I’ll explain it to them. As long as they say to me one day, "You’ve done a good job, Dad," that’s all I care about.

Jordan was the first woman in the UK to go to prison for coercive and controlling behaviour. It shows it’s being taken seriously. There’s a lot of stigma that prevents men from speaking out and often police don’t take violence against men seriously. Men are often left out of domestic abuse campaigns. It’s wrong. What has gender got to do with it?

I’m not stupid enough to think that everyone’s going to be like Jordan. But I’m not ready for another relationship right now. I just want to enjoy the things I used to enjoy as a child, because Jordan took everything away from me and destroyed it, like football trophies, tickets for football matches, possessions, all ruined. I’ve got to try to build that back up, which I have done, with the help of male domestic abuse charities. In the future, I’d like to open a refuge for men who’ve been abused.

A trinket with the word 'home sweet home' hangs from a door in Alex's family homeBBC Three / Century Films

I sometimes think the main reason I’m alive is to raise awareness. Why didn’t the knife go in the wrong place? Why wasn’t I hit in the wrong place? I never had a fractured skull and I was hit thousands of times. That just amazes me. Why not? There must be a reason for it. The reason is to help people. I only hope that things get better for other victims.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, information about help and support is available here.

As told to Sophie Haydock

This article was originally published on 15 February 2019.