When a house stops being home

Valerie, Rachel, Nancy and Victoria all suffered abuse at the hands of their partners.

They are among the estimated 1.9 million men and women who experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the year ending in March 2017. Abuse in all forms - mental and physical - can come from partners, siblings, parents or children.

These four women reflect on the experience of being unsafe in their own homes.


I used to have a daily routine - wake up early in the morning around 05:00 and get everything ready before he woke up. I remember spending so much time making the house perfect for him.

I have been married twice and in both of these relationships I experienced control, abuse and violence.

One day, I was burnt by the edge of an iron for leaving a crease in my first husband's shirt.

I was pushed down the stairs by my second husband and left unconscious while he went to work. I have too many - far too many - scars to count.

I didn’t have an easy escape, especially having children. I couldn't just walk out and buy another house. I felt worthless.

I felt that I wasn’t worth having friends or socialising, so I didn’t. I was very confident and popular as a teenager. That all went very quickly. I became a shadow of who I used to be.

Domestic abuse happens over time. [Your partner] chips away at you to the point that you feel so worthless that you think that you deserve what you’re getting. You’ve been moulded into what they want you to be. You feel that they are all you have.

People can’t comprehend how someone would let themselves be treated that badly, and allow the abuser to get away with it. The mind control is years in the making.

I know that I’m strong because I’m still here. I wear my scars with pride. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done or what I have been through.


One of the most hurtful things was that people around me - members of the Orthodox Jewish community - saw him being abusive toward me. But they never stuck up for me. They never asked me and my kids if we were OK.

Towards the end of our marriage, I used to sleep in another room. I was so scared that I would not even lie down. I just sat on the sofa all night. But even then he would insist on sex. I couldn’t say no. I would have to go into his bedroom.

I would get up, go to the shower, scrub myself down and pretend that it wasn’t happening… and carry on day after day.

Even though I have moved house, there are things that still affect me. His control is so ingrained in my head that I still do things in the way he wanted me to.

Everything was controlled by him. Tins in the cupboard had to have the labels forward. Straight. Everything at right angles. Everything perfect.

After 17 years, I stopped feeling ashamed. I suddenly realised that my voice matters. That is what gave me strength, and made me see myself no longer as a victim, but as a survivor.


At first I thought it was nice that he would always come and meet me, or always text me when I was out with other people. Further on during my pregnancy, I can remember being pushed. I brushed it off as nothing. I didn’t see the signs.

Then the pushes became hits. I still didn’t do anything about it. I don’t think I knew what to do. I’d never been in that position before - no-one had ever hit me. I didn’t really realise it was abuse.

I will never forget the very last time he was abusive towards me. He was so much more abusive than he’d ever been – hitting me, slapping me, pushing me, head-butting me – and at the very end, he got a meat cleaver and held it against my throat.

I ran out into the street and hid in a pub toilet. He followed me, but there were two exits. I ended up running all the way home and I thought I was safe. But then he came back. I had a dog-flap and he forced his way through, so then I had to call the police.

It’s not something that you ever forget about or get better from. You just learn to deal with it and try to push things aside and live normally.

Afterwards, I didn’t like to be alone with men, although I know they’re not all the same. I could have gone on and met someone else, but I’d just rather not be in that position again.


I’ve suffered domestic abuse by two different people. All the years that I was in those relationships, I felt worthless and isolated. They brainwashed me, controlled me, and broke me down. I felt like it was all my fault.

My ex-husband got a claw hammer and smashed the house up - doors, windows - and then turned on me and my son.

We went into my son’s room and I put my body over him to protect him.

My ex was aiming the hammer at my head. My 11-year-old son punched him to get him off me. That sticks with me, how my son basically saved my life.

When I came out of hospital, I was going to kill myself. I got this message from my son:

"Please Mum, come home. I need you."

That is what did it. I knew I needed to get help. I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for my son.

Until this day, I need to have therapy because I have nightmares and flashbacks. I wish I could sleep and not be scared to shut my eyes because of what I’m going to see.