Guest post: Domestic abuse - "I am a real-life Helen" (Warning: upsetting content)
(Trigger warning: upsetting content) Mandy Thomas describes the physical and mental abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-partner, and says The Archers storyline is vital in raising awareness about the reality of domestic abuse
Survivor Ambassador, Women's Aid
Posted on: Mon 04-Apr-16 16:41:54
(61 comments )
Domestic abuse isn't just physical violence; it is mental abuse. It is coercive control that creates an invisible prison for the abused. This is what we have been hearing on The Archers – the slow, insidious mental torture that Rob has been inflicting on Helen. I am a real life Helen.
As a Survivor Ambassador for Women's Aid, I met with Louiza, who plays Helen, to help her understand and convey Helen's experience of coercive control and domestic abuse. I am very proud of the impact it has had. It is vital that domestic abuse is portrayed clearly, in all its ugliness – and The Archers has not shied away from that. It does not matter if people are uncomfortable when they listen to it; they need to understand the painful reality of domestic abuse, and how coercive control can envelop a victim, crushing her spirit.
I suffered every kind of abuse imaginable at the hands of my ex, including horrific physical attacks. My eldest son saw his father take a blow torch to me. I had already been subjected to eight hours of torture: punched, glassed, and knifed. For the next four days I was left to lie in my blood - not allowed to wash or leave the bedroom. Raped when it suited him, even as I was swollen black and blue. I was drifting in and out of consciousness until a policeman appeared on a ladder banging on the window, calling my name.
The mental side of domestic abuse is another dark story. Many have their souls and minds broken – as has happened to Helen – even when the physical wounds have healed. My children gave me strength, and this riled my ex. In the periods when he left us alone throughout the years the house was filled with laughter. We were creative with art and music, expression and freedom.
It is vital that domestic abuse is portrayed clearly, in all its ugliness – and The Archers has not shied away from that. It does not matter if people are uncomfortable when they listen to it; they need to understand the painful reality of domestic abuse.
But he came back, time and time again. We were forced into refuges; we had to change our names. I have buried two sons because of him. One was lost to a violent physical assault when I was pregnant. My eldest son, Daniel, committed suicide. After his father was released early from prison, Daniel screamed at the police, saying we "couldn't keep running to be killed in the end". The fear of his father coming back to find us was too much for Daniel to bear. That is a huge part of coercive control – the terror of what might happen. Coercive control, and the mental anguish, and the terror, took Daniel from me. The pressure of living in a climate of fear was too much for my son. The injustice of it is a spike in my heart.
My mission - my reason for surviving now - is to gather enough people together to stand up for change, to unite our voices. To campaign for strong sentences for perpetrators of domestic abuse. To make people understand that a relationship ending does not mean the abuse is over. To make people see the realities of domestic abuse – that it's not just physical violence. My physical wounds have healed but the mental scarring is permanent. This is undoubtedly what it will be like for Helen, too.
I speak out about my experience for Women's Aid in the hope of saving as many lives as I can. They helped us over the years with advice and support, and providing a safe haven. They were a vital lifeline - hanging by a thread because of huge funding cuts to domestic abuse services, and a lack of value placed on them.
I don't know where I would be now without Women's Aid. That is why I am raising funds for them so that they can continue their lifesaving work with women and children, and why I am asking everyone who has been moved by the storyline to please donate whatever you can to Women’s Aid through my fundraising page.
If I have helped just one woman to think “I am like Helen, and I need help,” when she listened to The Archers, then I am happy. I want all women living with an abusive partner out there to know – you are not alone. Women's Aid will help you. We believe you.
Mandy Thomas is a Survivor Ambassador for Women's Aid and author of You Can't Run, a memoir detailing her experience of domestic abuse.
By Mandy Thomas
Oh my. He was a monster. I'm so sorry for the loss of your two children.
Thank you for sharing your story and articulating so well the horror of Domestic Violence. WA wasn't there when my mum was first married, she was never mashed to a pulp. She was however hit and threatened and bullied; so were we as children. The consequences have been horrible, and still at 50 I feel staggeringly isolated, despite spending my entire adulthood seeing endless mental health doctors and psychologists. I have only recently got in touch with WA. It has taken a long time. My mum retreated into Alzheimer's. I think Helen's story has raised a lot of uncomfortable truths. Thank you.
Thank you Mandy for what you do. I am so sorry you and your sons had to go through all this. My sister was killed by her boyfriend just before her 21st birthday so it really means a lot to me that you are sharing your story.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and the work you do.
I have no personal experience of domestic abuse thank god, but I'm aware that it could happen to anyone, and that Womens Aid is a vital lifeline for many. I'm so impressed by your resilience, and saddened by your experiences. Wishing you strength,
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Mandy, I am in awe of your strength and dignity. I hope your words reach far and wide.
RIP to your boys.
Thank you, Mandy. I can't imagine what you've suffered, but for you to have the strength to try to prevent the same from happening to other people is truly laudable.
Well done Mandy and great work you are doing.
I'm so sorry that you lost two beautiful boys to that despicable excuse of a human being. I'm sure both boys would be very proud of their Mumxxx
I'm not sure if you can answer this, but I wondered what you thought about the story line development in The Archers, where Helen stabs Rob?
What an outstanding blogpost. Thank you for sharing this. how sad to read about the loss of your children. I am sorry for what you have experienced, it is horrifying. Utterly, utterly awful.
I have no idea how you have managed to direct your focus towards helping others, but I think you are amazing.
It's so important that the issue of DV is better understood so thank you for being brave enough to tell your story and I'm so very sorry for your losses.
I'm a survivor and I know that if I told my story to friends no one would believe it had happened to me (I was living quite a way from my home town). It can happen to anyone and stories which help victims to recognise their situation for what it is and friends to recognise what their friend is going through are vital
You are so incredibly brave to have told your story and helped others in this horrendous situation. I'm so sorry for the loss of your dc.
I'm a former employee of Women's Aid and an avid Archers listener. I have been so impressed by the storyline and the menace that was conveyed. For listeners to witness Helen's erosion as a person has been so well depicted. At times I've had to turn the radio off. Talking about DV is so important and portraying it so accurately and vividly has really helped to help people understand its horror and the fact it can happen to anyone.
Your input to the storyline is the most important of all. Thank you for being an ambassador and speaking up. I am so sorry for the loss of your two children, inadequate words to express your loss and grief no doubt.
With very best wishes
Thank you very much Mandy. As a male I know we have a lot to answer for and I can’t understand for one minute why some men think domestic abuse is acceptable.
I read a few years ago that each generation gets smarter, better looking and less violent. Lets hope that domestic violence becomes a historical relic soon.
Wow, what a dreadful ordeal you all suffered and I'm so sorry about your boys.
I was beaten senseless form aged 17 to 21 by my partner and father of my two eldest children.
Like you I used to leave but he literally wouldn't leave me alone and thirty years ago the police were bloody useless.
I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he would have killed me.
After he beat me up badly when six months pregnant with my second child I went into labour and had him 3 months early. He was very poorly and has recently had a kidney transplant due to complications form his birth 30 years ago.
That was the last time I took him back but far from the last time he beat me, including 5 days after my section.
It was the Samaritans who got me help in the end via a volunteer agency who supported me to get injunctions and move house.
My life has been wonderful since but if I think too hard it comes back and bites me.
I think that we take them back because we are so isolated by them and so have nobody else to share our pain with.
I too speak openly about my experiences in the hope that it may increase awareness and help other victims.
Could any one tell me if Women's Aid will also help men who suffer domestic abuse? Where else could a man get the kind of advice a woman could get from Women's Aid, so that he knows he isn't going mad?
You poor poor woman, Mandy. And Ledkr too. No words, really. I'm just so very sorry/angry/sad that this happens to anyone.
I'm so sorry Mandy and for the loss of your two sons.
So sorry, Mandy. I've also been through DV but I managed to escape, eventually.
I know it's so hard to leave and when you do leave they come and find you and beat you all over again, robbing you of everything you've built up.
We need more understanding and more funding... Harsher punishments too. Not to mention support for children affected so the cycle doesn't repeat itself all over again.
So very very sorry you lost your boys.
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