Published: 06:00, 25 November 2020
| Updated: 16:14, 25 November 2020
A survivor of domestic abuse escaped after 10 years and is now leading a chain of refuges in West Kent.
Having experienced both abuse and working in the service, this is her story.
Sadie, not her real name, met her previous partner when she was 15. Seeing him as an escape from her difficult home life, they moved in together very quickly but the abuse began three months later.
It came in waves, shifting from physical, to mental, financial and more. But being so young and seeing people she knew go through the same nightmare, Sadie believed this was normal and stayed.
It was only after her partner went to prison for an unrelated petty crime that the "rose tinted sunglasses began to come off."
Sadie said: "Because I was on my own, I started to venture outside of my circle of friends and I started to go to toddler groups with my son. I was looking around at these women who were happy, unmarked and didn't have have huge bags under their eyes.
"I remember walking in one day with marks around my throat and the vicar of the church where the playgroup was held came over and asked me if I was okay. To me, it was quite a shock. I started to realize they asked me because this is not normal."
Her partner - who would even control how she dressed and what food she bought - was in and out of prison for many years, allowing small windows of freedom.
She added: "I was happier being a mum, I was happy being me. I started to feel this fire in my belly and thought 'actually, I want to stay like that.'"
After her partner was handed a long sentence, the mother-of-two had enough and started making plans. And when the police knocked at her door saying she was no longer safe, this gave her the nudge she needed to flee and take shelter in a refuge.
Soon after, she became a homelessness support worker at Look Ahead. One day she was asked to cover a shift for a domestic abuse refuge. Six years later Sadie is now the team leader of 3 Kent Domestic Abuse Service refuges.
These are her four top-tips for breaking away from an abusive relationship...
1. Be brave - you won’t regret it
Women will often make around nine to 10 attempts to leave a partner before the final move away, but Sadie insists it's worth the jump.
Since leaving she feels empowered to make her own decisions, has a fulfilling career and is able to give the best to her children.
The mother-of-two said: "I really struggled mentally as a parent in the relationship. One day I was literally rocking on the bed while my child was screaming. There was nothing wrong with him, he was just feeding off my anxiety and stress.
"I really do enjoy parenting much more. They are fantastic now, happy and doing really well at school."
The 35-year-old added: "Just because you've been in this situation it doesn't have to impact the rest of your life."
2. Find support and accept help
There are a range of charities, local authority services and places to go for information if you need it. Some helpful numbers are at the bottom of this story.
Domestic abuse services can help with a range of worries you may have about leaving.
For example, if your partner controls your money KDAS could help you sign onto universal credit, there are refuges if you need a place to stay and if you are afraid of taking children away from their parent there are ways to set up meetings safely.
If you are unsure whether your relationship is abusive but don't want to call a helpline, Sadie recommends the Bright Skies app which has a checklist you can go through privately.
3. Prepare a leaving pack and find a friend
Collect all important documents together for yourself and any children; passports, health books, birth certificates, hospital appointments, prescriptions and emergency phone numbers.
Leave this pack with a trusted friend, family member or independent domestic violence advisor to pick up after you leave so it is there ready.
The West Kent abuse advisor added: "Have a plan. Because if you walk out that door, you can't go back. It's too dangerous. It is quite overwhelming. So make sure to have a trusted person."
It's also important to tell this person when you plan to leave and when you reach a safe place in case anything happens along the way.
4. Self care
Especially in a traumatic situation like this, it's important to look after yourself - walk in the park, run a bath, meditate or listen to music. Self care and healing will be an important part of leaving.
Sadie has worked for many years to make abuse services focus on victim's needs so they regain a sense of control, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and engage with their own interests.
She added: "Choice and control is very important because you are stripped of it all, it doesn't matter what kind of abuse it was. We need to reverse that. Victims need to tell us what they want out of life and we just help them to get there."
The latest ONS data shows 36,235 domestic abuse-related crimes were recorded by Kent Police in the year ending March 2019, the third highest rate in England and Wales.
With instances of domestic abuse rising in Kent during lockdown - for men as well as women - it's more important than ever to get informed on the issue.
Today is White Ribbon Day, a global campaign to end violence against women. It is also the first day of the United Nation's 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
During this time, the Kent based 'Domestic Abuse: It’s Everybody’s Business' conference will be running for free online for anyone who wants to learn more.
It will include practical information and advice for workplaces, safety action planning, creating environments focused on the needs of a person experiencing abuse and more.
A range of guest speakers will be attending, including Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury; Nicole Jacobs, designate domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales; Deborah Cartwright, head of Oasis Domestic Abuse Service; Chris Hampson, head of Look Ahead and many more.
The 16 virtual sessions can be watched live or caught up with online and will last between 15 to 75 minutes.
For more information on the event run by Kent Integrated Domestic Abuse Services, click here.
To contact a Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) service call 03330 104660. Or call the Victim Support helpline on 0808 168 9111.