Domestic violence victim: ‘Christmas became this shocking, horrible day’
As charity Women’s Aid warns that domestic violence increases over Christmas, writer Jaspreet tells Radhika Sanghani what it was like to be violently abused at the age of 22.
“My concern was that my parents can’t see this, rather than this shouldn’t have happened,” says Jaspreet. “I thought they’d be angry with me. I put concealer all over it. We had Christmas lunch with my parents. Then we went back to mine and we were drinking and watching TV. The whole day was this really surreal experience. I remember my face smarting and not wanting to touch it.”
Jaspreet is matter-of-fact as she tells me her story. It happened 20 years ago but the effects of her abusive relationship are still there. She was with Dan for nine months, and for most of those months he was physically violent and emotionally abusive. Now she is a 42-year-old award-winning writer with a 12-year-old daughter, but the memories of that Christmas will always stay with her.
“The Christmas was a big deal because it was Christmas,” she says. “He ruined Christmas. I know that sounds childish but it should be a time of love and family. Domestic abuse is really high at Christmas. It’s a time of such stress. At 22 I was still a child looking forward to it. But it became this shocking horrible day.”
Each week two women are killed by domestic violence in the UK and last year it affected 1.2 million women and 750,000 children. In the run up to Christmas domestic violence increases, although exact figures are unknown, as women try to ‘hang on’ in their relationships. according to charity Women’s Aid.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid says: “Christmas can be particularly difficult as the stresses we all can feel are particularly bad for families experiencing domestic violence. For children living in a home where there is violence, Christmas is not a time of excitement and celebration, but one of terror and trepidation, as the family comes together for an extended period of time.”
It wasn’t just that Christmas that brought Jaspreet terror and violence – it was her whole relationship with Dan. It had begun when she was studying Russian History at UCL. On weekends she worked at the London Palladium to pay her way through university, and it was there that she met Dan, a 22-year-old artist.
“He was very cool,” she says. “I wasn’t very cool. I’d been doing my degree and working and I was quite an insecure young adult – very vulnerable. I didn’t think I was very attractive. The fact that somebody very cool and edgy and good looking with an interesting life was interested was very flattering.”
The relationship quickly became very intense, and Dan started to show his manipulative side. If Jaspreet disagreed with him, he would disappear for days, ignoring her calls until she became so nervous she would question herself. He would use her cash card without asking, manipulating her into thinking she was selfish for not letting him use it, and tell her how spoilt and useless she was.
Jaspreet had been so busy working and studying that she hadn’t really made a circle of friends. She had no one to talk to about what was happening. “It was quite easy to isolate me,” she says. “I didn’t have people saying that’s not right. I think I was a very easy target. He was all consuming and I was ready to be consumed.”
It was several weeks in when the violence started. Jaspreet and Dan were arguing over something trivial in her car when he bashed her head against a window. She kicked him out of her car and didn’t speak to him for a few days. Dan apologised repeatedly, saying he didn’t know why he did it, and Jaspreet eventually forgave him.
Weeks later the couple were in bed and Jaspreet kicked Dan playfully. He dragged her out of the bed, kicking and punching her repeatedly. Neighbours heard her screams and called the police, so Dan ran away. The night was “shocking and horrible”, and Jaspreet was completely alone. She tried to talk to her flat mate about what was happening, but it made things worse.
“She withdrew from me,” says Jaspreet. “It was really hard, it made me feel even more like I have done something wrong because she hates me. She was the one person who could’ve helped me. We really need people to help and reach out because we’re not in a position to reach out ourselves.
“I had a difficult childhood myself with violence. I wasn’t a stranger to being kicked around a room so it wasn’t totally out of the world to me that somebody who claimed to love you could hurt you. I didn’t expect to be treated with respect and dignity. I just didn’t want to be frightened, which isn’t a very high expectation really.”
Jaspreet forgave Dan again when he apologised tearfully, and told her he had been sexually abused as a child. Today she no longer believes his explanation, but at the time, it won her sympathy. “You feel this huge responsibility they have told you this,” she says. “It becomes your secret too. Then there’s this thing women do about rescuing: I can rescue him, I can help him.”
The violence carried on again but Jaspreet did not recognise it as abuse. Things only changed when Dan hit Jaspreet publicly in the street and a stranger intervened. “It was the first time someone said to me, what’s happening to you is abuse,” she says. “It was the beginning of the change in my thinking. I thought, oh my god, maybe I don’t need to save him – maybe I need to save myself.”
Six weeks after Christmas, she left Dan. After a fortnight of harassment and stalking, he eventually withdrew. Jaspreet was left physically free of him, but mentally scarred by their relationship.
“I didn’t feel empowered for getting rid of him,” she says. “It made me more vulnerable and insecure. I felt ashamed that people looked down on me. I stupidly told someone at work and he was disgusted by me: ‘you probably asked for it, you have got something wrong with you’. I felt I’d deserved it in some way.”
Five years later, Jaspreet moved on and married a musician. They had a daughter together but the relationship ended and she believes her abusive relationship with Dan was to blame. “I’m so nervous with men,” she admits. “I want someone to love but I get very nervous. If that hadn’t happened I would be a different person today.
“I do think everything that happened to me really threw me off finding out who I was. I was just trying to hold myself together and trying to like myself again I suppose. It took me years to get over that.”
Now Jaspreet’s concern is her daughter. If she ever found herself in an abusive relationship, Jaspreet would intervene. “I would say get out immediately and come home and move in here,” she says firmly. “I would say, I will look after you let’s get you to a therapist. I’d be all guns blazing, let’s get it all sorted out. You’ve got to step in early because otherwise it chips away at you.”
*Jaspreet’s and Dan’s names have been changed
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