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.
Wow, thanks for being brave enough to share your story. I am so sorry for what you and your children have been through.
Harsher punishments are needed for this sort of thing...without a doubt.
You are unbelievably strong and brave.
What a brave woman you are. I am so sorry to read of the loss of your two children.
Thank you for the work you do for women's aid and for the assistance you have given the scriptwriters for this important awareness raising storyline. Abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere.
You've taken your power back and you are an inspiration!
You sound like an incredible woman.
I hope your work helps other DV victims to gather the strength to move forward.
Mandy, you are so strong to tell your story to help others, I'm sure working with the Archers must have been really hard.
LivelyLizzie, my friend has had a lot of help and support from Mankind after long term abuse from his wife
Thank you for sharing your story. I find it difficult to listen or watch domestic abuse stories. I can just about read about them and interact that way. I too am a survivor. We walked the fires of hell with the aftermath. My youngsters were 15, 13, 11 and 4 when we finally left their biological one as they call him. Things got worse before they got better.
I am happily remarried today to a man whom is everything the ex isn't/wan't. The ex is still causing chaos in the world though not in this country Thank God and long may he stay where he is.
We have a story that Hollywood would love but they aren't getting. Equally the same our story would sell in magazines etc. because of the scope of it (spanning generations, the system of this country, including s.s and all their agencies etc.) It would be blood money to sell and I wouldn't do that, to my youngsters or I.
Incidently the youngsters are now all grown, happy and the 2 eldest in good stable relationships. You can break the mould for the next generation.
Like you I use all for the good. Nothing would change if people like us didn't change things by our experiences.
If any one is reading this today, read this and believe. The ex turned on our eldest son when he was 15. That was it then. Gone! No more. Don't wait for that to happen to your child.
But I hear you say, ''he would never do that'' I would have said the same once too. He did. I didn't realise I was damaging my children by staying anyway. Get out now while you can.
I came from the violent childhood that was professional middle class where all that glitters was not gold. I recreated in adult hood. Those silent screams are not always heard or realised for what they are.
Yes my health is done for, for where we have been, physically and emotionally, you can't put something back to the way it was. Though in my case as it was a lifetime of abuse, I wouldn't want my head put back to anytime before. I have no regrets accept I didn't leave sooner and at least we got away in the end.
There is life after: the aftermath doesn't go of the emotional side (and physical can be affected like mine) however you learn to manage it and on the other side there is support and freedom. Find that courage, because the other side of fear (of leaving) is freedom
Thank you for sharing, your story has really moved me. You've made such important points that I entirely agree with. The sentences are too light for perpetrators of domestic violence. I count my blessings I survived my abusive relationship but I get triggered by various things in daily life that take me right back there. Your strength in the face of such horror and loss is inspiring.
I have no first hand of domestic abuse and mumsnet has been a real eye opener for me in understanding more about it. It's also made me very thankful for the fact I don't have any direct experience, and it's also enabled me to understand friends' situations which are abusive and provide them with support, mostly listening without judgement and not trying to say 'helpful' things like 'you should just pull yourself together and leave' like I might have done before.
As a direct result of your post I have now done something I've been meaning to do for years and set up a direct debit to women's aid.
Thanks for sharing your story and giving me the prompt I needed to get this done.
I admire you for telling your story and I am so sad for you that you lost your boys. Sometimes it is hard to up and leave when you have no where to go and no money. I presume woman's aid is just in the UK? You are a very brave lady.
LivelyLizzie. There is an organization called Mankind that help male victims of domestic abuse.
Thank you for sharing your story and helping other women. You are an inspiration
Survivor here too although I'd never thought of myself as a survivor before. I was lucky not to have fallen pregnant by him and as much as I wanted a family, I did always think that if he could do that to me, what could he do to a child...
Back in the 80's the police told me that they did not get involved in domestic troubles and I was left with no help or support and ended up in a psychiatric ward for months at the age of 24. I sometimes fantasised about how I might kill him and get away with it it got so bad. I was beaten, raped, kicked out of bed (and stayed on the floor) and mentally abused, deprived of the small and simple pleasures, I couldn't go out anywhere without him, but he wouldn't go to things like my work Christmas dinner's and he'd spoil it for me whether he went or not; he pushed my family and friends away from me so that I had only him in my life as a constant until something in my head flicked on and I told him it was over. He beat me up for my sheer cheek and caused blood clots in one of my arms where I tried to keep him away from my face and head. That was in 1990 and periodically since then, he would affect me somehow - I called it him haunting me - even though he was no longer in my life. He committed suicide a few years ago and it all came flooding back big time. It has affected me for more than 30 years, but I'm still here. I do get flashbacks sometimes, but I'm a lot better on the whole and I don't talk about it, so very few people in my life actually know that I was a 'battered wife' once long ago.
I don't listen to The Archer's and I'm not sure I could have listened to the much talked about episode if I was a follower.
Mandy, I feel for you and your losses.
I too suffered years of abuse and my ex was sentenced to 4 years . What stays with me always is the self doubt in myself and the decisions I make . Without a doubt Helen the mental abuse is by far the worst . Bruises heal and cuts mend but your mind is a different matter .
After reading your post I bought your book and read it in a day. You are unbelievably strong, amazingly caring and a beautiful person inside and out.
I felt the sadness through your writing of your two boys Junior and Daniel and I can only hope that one day you let go of the guilt you feel. It is not yours to feel, that lies at your ex's feet.
You have shown and incredible braveness, as have your children to make the decision to live your lives and live them you should.
You are inspring and the injustices you suffered show that even though the system has now changed there is still massive room for improvement. I am lucky that when leaving my ex the police force in my area (Scotland) were leaps and bounds ahead of other forces where DV is concerned.
As you do - enjoy every moment with your children and your husband. You deserve every moment of the happiness you have.
Your comments towards the end of the book about you believing you were given the life you were for higher purposes reminded me a saying I heard once, "Your were given this life because you were strong enough to live it" and lived it you have, survive it you have and try to change the system so others don't have to you are.
You are not brave - you are more than that. You are you, you are strong and you are beautiful.
I truly from the bottom of my heart wish you and your family a life-time of happiness and love.
Prompted by your blog, I am now reading your book. I'm halfway through, and I have no words. Nobody should have to endure what you have endured. You are amazing.
I don't listen to the Archers but I'm aware vaguely of a domestic abuse story line.
I read your story with great sadness. To have domestic abuse inflicted on yourself is traumatic but to lose two children as a result of it is heartbreaking.
I am a victim of domestic abuse- whilst I was never physically abused by my husband at the time, he tried very hard to keep me aprisoner in our house whilst I had two young children to bring up- and threatened me with all sorts ....
My story is lengthy- my children and I were actually abducted- but the mental anguish never goes away. I am in contact with the children's father- for their sakes only- but unfortunately he STILL controls aspects of our lives...it's absolute power he craves.
I will continue to support women- and some men- who are victims of domestic abuse. It will not go away unless we make our voices heard!!
There's another side to domestic abuse that is rarely talked about. I experienced it. It was nothing compared to the above story but scary nonetheless. Imagine suddenly seeing your partner in a drunken rage beyond anything you imagined. And in all your naivety thinking that a woman has the physical strength to take the alcohol out of the hand and make the man stop abusing himself! No, that turned into my getting hurt and eventually the police showing up and them immediately focusing on how I should leave him because it will only happen again. And you know what it did . I kept pleading with people to help me because I knew that this wasn't really what it seemed. This was alcohol dependency and depression and he needed help. Help never came - just a label for both of us. To make a long story short, there was no help until he really lost it and tried to commit suicide. Then the help was sometimes cringe-worthy. I submitted myself to therapy and I committed myself to do everything I could to help my partner and to understand what was going on. By the way that was PTSD likely fueled by military service, being financially screwed, losing a parent....the list goes on. The lucky thing is that in the end all is fine. We wish we could erase those dark days. But we're solid. I only wish that I knew how there was some way to separate the truly violent from whatever you call the rest. And the reason is, I think it is so hard to get support for yourself, your partner, your kids...and if your a person in this day in age that loses it and becomes violent you're likely to be labelled and never forgiven, and if you're a women trapped with the wrong man you're not protected enough. And I have to say, given my own situation I fully became aware if my partner's intent was actually to harm me the police and the court system were actually just fuelling the fire.
So sorry to hear your experiences of domestic abuse Mandy . I worked in the field of DV support a short while and was constantly humbled by tales of courage and endurance by survivors.
Refuge Helpline: 0808 2000 247.
Most areas have an Independent Domestic Violence Advice service and if you are lucky a One Stop Shop (drop in advice) you can contact your local Victim Support,
Refuge or Women Aid or council safety unit to find out who your local service is.
I have been through dv with my current partner. he has broken my nose and knocked my front tooth out plus lots of other horrors. To be honest I don't know why I'm still with him. I love him but hate him and can never trust him again. Our daughter now nearly five was born with some problems and has had nine ops to date. I don't know if that's what set him off but from memory he was like this while I was pregnant too. Our daughter loves him so much but my other three who aren't his aren't too keen. I've been struggling a lot lately with my feelings for him. I hate how he makes me feel when he's in a mood. I feel so nervous, dicky tummy you name it. He's not done anything for a while now but it's still there for me and my older three ( 21,18, 10) give him his dues he has tried to seek help but there is nothing in our area for anger management. I've no idea what to do re our relationship but I know if I wanted him out he would not go quietly at all. Joint tenancy and fuel him with alcohol he's not scared of anyone including the police etc. Anyway reading this has givin me some sort of awakening moment and I know I need to decide what I want
SeaChelle. He won't go quietly but after suffering years of the Dickie tummy and treading on eggshells all I can say is help is out there . Your 3 children that aren't his biologically are obviously finding things hard . Could you get a residency order for the home , all the things that are needed to be obtained help is available . Whilst you may love him it's not a healthy relationship . Believe me I know I stayed for years because of our kids until he tried to stab me . I put up with it for years thinking that we were a family , I'd made my bed etc bit there are so many dv agencies out there . Go speak to them and tell them . Don't leave it like I did xx
I've been on a course and boy did it open my eyes. I had previously been in touch with my housing association and they did say it was very hard to get him off the tenancy. The course I did was through the freedom project. I was in touch with the national centre for domestic violence before I got talked round. Don't get me wrong there are good points to him but I do know deep down that he has zero respect for me. He would never talk to his mother the way he had talked to me or if his daughter was hurt when she was older I know for a fact he wouldn't stand for it. He's never worked since I met him 7 years ago. I kept him but any opportunity he puts me down. I didn't have a hard job ( no physical labour) he's very needy to be manned up if that makes sense? I had a family support worker and twice ss have been involved in ashamed to say. I've since moved to another town and in the two years I've been here I think I've called the police once or twice. But they've just took him away. He's had keys and just come back. I was shocked to see the other week when I went to see my diabetic consultant I still have a marac on my file. My problem is my son who's ten Has adhd and learning difficulties etc who gets a taxi to school they are never on time. I can't be in two places at once taking my youngest to school and picking up/dropping off of them both. I see no way out to be honest. My older two are at uni and college so maybe twice a week can be here for pick up or drop off. I really don't know what to do to be honest. I wasted 16 years with the father of my older three who was prone to dv but was no where near as bad as my partner now. I'm 44 I don't want to waste another 16 years. You only live once. Thank you for your advice x
I can't believe he tried to stab you!! What the hell man!! Why are they like this?!! I know not every man is like this but to me it seems like most are!
People will help with drop offs etc . My experience is that schools want kids there . Of you explain the difficulties they will help they don't tell ss. Please visit your local dv charity and be strong . People are here to support you and help in anyway x
Thank you Mum2fourmonsters. I don't have anyone who can take my four year old but I can give it ago! Thank you for your help and and advice xx
Mandy, you're so brave to share your story.
SeaChelle39, I hope that you take heed of the advice on here. I know it's hard but be brave for yours and your children's sakes.
I've experienced dv with my parents. Numerous times my mum left and ended up in a refuge with some or all of us 5 children until she finally threw him out after 25 years of marriage (I was 17). I didn't speak to him again for 33 years.
I then suffered with a partner for about 3 years, but thankfully got out before we had children.
As I said, be strong and I hope that you can do what's right for you and your family. Xx
I hope so too Juliemparker. I know I need too but I worry for our nearly 5 year old. She loves her daddy so much. I feel bad if i deprived her of him. And don't trust him not to run of with her. What should I do? X
Mandy, much respect for the on-going work and support you are offering, despite the dreadful losses you have borne. Please continue this work, it is so valuable. It has been 16 years now since I managed to escape the biggest bully imaginable. There was no help or support for me and like The Archers' Rob, all our friends and my family thought he was the bee's knees and they just turned their back on me. I know now that it was difficult for them too but your advice in making this story-line so real has brought about some discussions with my mum - thank you so much.
This definitely struck a chord with me, I was with my Ex for nearly 5 years with a now 16 year old daughter. He walked out for another woman on Xmas eve when DD was 2. I count myself lucky even though I suffered from black eyes, broken collar bone, broken ribs, broken fingers, and non consensual sex. He even kicked me when I was pregnant with DD and tried to set fire to the front door when I wouldn't let him in my house. I was isolated from my friends and family, he also used to do things like when I was asleep and had work in the morning, come into the bedroom and turn the light on at hourly intervals. Luckily I still managed to make it to work so managed a little bit of independance. I wasn't going to leave him as it was my house, not his but he would just keep giving me so much grief until I relented. I count myself lucky because it could have been so much worse and he could have killed me. It is lovely to not have to dread a key turning in a lock or wonder what the atmosphere is going to be like, or what is going to set him off. We have been apart now for nearly 14 years and I have a partner of nearly 8 years who is nothing like him. The police wouldn't take out an injunction against him as he hadn't "done anything" to me so I was forever looking over my shoulder. Even now I avoid places he may go to. I have been informed that he went to prison for sexual assault against the woman he left me for, 11 weeks and have also been informed he is not permitted in the town where I live so again I count myself lucky. I admire anyone who speaks out about situations like this and tries to make things better and to anyone still in an abusive relationships physical or otherwise please try and confide in someone, things will get better you can get away and have a life
Where is Mens Aid? Men suffer domestic abuse too.
I have been following the excellent story in the Archers and I think that radio was the best medium that could have been used to illustrate how domestic abuse plays out and how the manipulation works.
Manipulative people, male and female, are everywhere. People seek to control others around them in order to get what they want, to be selfish in other words.
I would like to see some more subtle examples of domestic abuse being played out on tv/radio such as how a seemingly passive female could easily control her husband by emotional blackmail etc.
When a person writes about extreme domestic abuse such as what was experienced by Mandy it makes me feel that anyone who did not experience such an extreme might not be taken seriously. There are plenty of examples out there right now of less violent, less extreme abuse which still need to be addressed.
Many times a person who is suffering domestic abuse feels that they can only go to police if they have two black eyes. And police who are usually chasing drug dealers and burglars do not seem to me to be the kind of people to deal with such a sensitive matter. Perhaps a domestic abuse victim should in fact go to the local emergency department where there ought to be a counsellor on hand to take details and refer the person on, after all, abuse makes a person ill.
As posted earlier "mens aid" is available from "mankind" although clearly an issue for men, the majority of da is towards women and the sheer physical differences mean death or serious injury is far more likely.
2 women a week are killed by a partner or ex partner.
Thank you so much for sharing this. Your story is most inspirational.
I deal with cases like yours every day. As you say, there is help out there for those that need it and it is important for everyone to be aware of and understand what DV is. I have written a few articles on this subject, that you may find useful. Feel free to take a look: www.gnlaw.co.uk/gn_law_media/news/2016/simona_obadia_revisits_the_law_on_domestic_violence
A short interview with a mum who 'thought she could handle it' - a more 'every day' story of domestic abuse youtu.be/LlTxBW_7tHI
Hello There. . . . anyone at home in Tairua, NZ ? ? Enablers of coercion control. . .
Why not ask Tairua police about the woman so desperate to escape her controlling husband she took herself and 3 children to France and placed them in a French school (better quality of course) ? Tairua police as thick as pig shit in fact bullied and threatened and further abused the woman - commissioned by husband - forcing them to return to the patriarchy of NZ well jolly hoorah for sick NZ (more on mumsnet website or direct from me).
One sick bastard in Tairua allowed to abuse more than 6 other people. Ha ha NZ must be proud ! !
@rnz_news mumsnet website re. sick NZ police sick domestic abuse www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RCEQpIot34… bastards too good for them www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RCEQpIot34
Understanding Coercive Control with Professor Evan Stark
The sad truth is that so few of the perpetrators are prosecuted. As someone who is no longer being hit I know the harsh reality of not being believed that this has happened to me. Thankfully the worst I suffered was a broken leg but I am now fighting to help my children cope as they are unaware of what went on they still love their father. I can see how they are being subjected to mental abuse but am stuck. We need more awareness of this subject and fast!
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