'My husband abused me for ten years - and HE won custody of our children'
- Type of protection : Granting release
- Category: Court Ordered Abuse
- Created: Thursday, 03 October 2019 17:40
- Written by Emily White - Lincolnshire Live UK
'I was told by countless institutions that I wouldn't lose my children - but I did'.
A woman who suffered domestic abuse for over a decade before fleeing her home has said there needs to be 'more transparency' in family courts to protect victims of domestic violence.
Emma Swann*, 40, fled from her family home, with her two daughters aged 9 and 10, to Sleaford in February last year after suffering from emotional, financial and psychological abuse that lasted for 12 years.
She married her husband in 2006 aged 26 and described how, looking back, all the warning signs were there from the beginning.
She said: "Almost from the beginning, my husband was financially, emotionally and psychologically abusive, and in last few years of our marriage he became physically abusive.
"For many years I tried to ignore what was happening. I thought that if I loved him enough, he would change.
"I wasn't allowed to have my name on the mortgage or on any of the property deeds for the house. He convinced me that I was mentally unstable and had mental health issues to the point where I was on antidepressants.
"He would throw things at me and abuse the animals in front of me until I cried. Often he'd say little things that at the time I didn't think anything of, like he'd tell me that his mum had said I'd really pulled myself out of the gutter and that I don't appear working class anymore because he was privately educated and thought I was beneath him.
"He would make me sign 'contracts' to say that I wouldn't do certain things like watch certain things on TV like soap operas, I had to sign that I wouldn't contact my family after he stopped me from seeing my family in 2012, that if we ever split that I wouldn't fight for the house.
"I was made to sign contracts saying I wouldn't show too much affection in public, that I wouldn't speak to his friends unless spoken to first. He would then tell me that if I didn't abide by these contracts I would never see my children again.
"I was terrified that if I ever broke any of these contracts he would take my children away."
Emma made several attempts to leave her husband over the decade they were together, but struggled to accept that what she was experiencing was abuse.
"I remember talking to a woman who went to my children's school and explaining to her what was happening to me. It wasn't until she listened and she told me that what was happening was abuse, that I started to believe it."
'I was told by countless institutions that I wouldn't lose my children - but I did'
Emma made contact with Women's Aid and the police who advised her to leave the family home.
Three days after she fled with her two children, Emma received a phone call from her solicitor advising her that her abuser had been granted, a prohibited steps order stating that Emma was mentally unstable, a danger to her children and a drug addict.
"At the time I was living in my parents' spare room, after only just fleeing. He was accusing me of being a drug addict, a prostitute. I was completely broken down and he knew that. I had nothing left to fight with," said Emma.
"When I made the decision to flee, I was told by countless institutions, the police told me to flee, women's aid told me to flee and they all told me that I wouldn't lose my children, but I did.
"Perhaps an elegant way to put it might be that my children have paid for my safety and my freedom.
In court, Emma was told that her decade long ordeal of abuse was not relevant to the case and was congratulated by a CAFCASS case worker for taking the brunt of the abuse before she made the recommendation that the children should live with their father.
'My children aren't scared of their father. They know I was abused and that 'Daddy wasn't very nice to Mummy.'
Emma's diagnosis of PTSD following the abuse was also used against her in court. She was forced to take part in rigorous drugs testing in order to disprove the accusations made by her abuser.
"The court accepted that he had abused me, but because he had never abused the children they deemed it safe for them to stay with him.
"The problem I had was I had left the home. He was in a very well paid job, financially had everything because my name was never allowed on the mortgage or the house. I had left and became a single parent on a part-time wage.
"Luckily, my children aren't scared of their father. They know I was abused and that 'Daddy wasn't very nice to Mummy.'
"In the minds of the court, we are hysterically evil women who want to alienate fathers from their children. If you're a single mother you're labelled badly, if you're a single father, you're labelled as a hero.
"Even now I think, I should have just put up with it. I still hold enormous amounts of guilt for leaving. It's only now that I'm free from him that I'm able to stop thinking in his language. I'm able to see that the things he did to me weren't right."
According to figures based on freedom of information data obtained by the BBC, the number of people killed as a result of domestic violence in the UK is at a five-year high.
Data obtained from 43 police forces across England and Wales revealed that 173 people were killed in domestic violence-related homicides last year, an increased of 32 deaths on 2017.
Around three-quarters of people killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member were female and the suspects were majority male.
Earlier this year, the government introduced the domestic abuse bill into Parliament and responded to the joint committee that had previously scrutinised the draft bill.
The domestic abuse bill would place a legal duty onto councils to offer secure homes for those individuals fleeing their abusers and for their children. It also proposes creating a dedicated domestic abuse commissioner.
The bill will receive its second reading in Parliament on October 2.
Emma, alongside the campaign group #thecourtsaid, is campaigning for better protection for victims of domestic abuse under the Government's domestic abuse bill and highlights the need for more transparency in the family courts.
She said: "There will be a protest held on October 26 for the survivors of domestic abuse that have gone through the family court system.
"Many survivors are gagged from talking, the wider population have no idea how survivors are treated in the family courts and they are left unable to talk about it.
"We're all fighting for everyone's story, for those who are still unable to speak out.
"I would like to see more protection for victims of domestic abuse. I would like to see the family courts become as open as possible. When it comes to CAFCASS, there should be at least two or three case workers dealing with one case to prevent the likes of what happened to me.
"We want an independent ombudsman and domestic abuse training across the board for the social services, CAFCASS, even job centres as victim are often on benefits because they have their money taken away, or once they've fled they might end up going to the job centre for the very first time.
"I want to make sure that by the time my daughters are grown up, they are protected."
'Every survivor facing the prospect of family court has no idea what is waiting for them.'
Natalie Page is the founder of the #thecourtsaid movement and has been instrumental in orchestrating the protest that will be held in London in October.
She said: "One of the main reasons why I started this movement is that every survivor facing the prospect of family court has no idea what is waiting for them.
"Most people have a rather trusting and paternalistic view of justice and the expectation that with solid evidence they will be protected when they walk into those court rooms but this is not the case.
"On a collective level I have uncovered gross negligence in abuse cases on a national and international scale and can categorically say the the Domestic Abuse Bill proposed by the government does not go far enough to protect survivor families.
"The system is completely biased and shockingly, willfully negligent in domestic abuse cases. The presumption of contact needs to be addressed to keep children safe, to keep survivor families safe and ensure the cycle of abuse is broken."
The #thecourtsaid protest will be held in Parliament Square, London on October 26.
* Lincolnshire Live has changed Emma's name for the purposes of this article.
Source : https://www.lincolnshirelive.co.uk/news/local-news/my-husband-abused-ten-years-3382098.amp?__twitter_impression=true&fbclid=IwAR3UHVK90mi78T_eUqtjatKMSyxXd7RPuzYrdLK608mkx96zoDXIIiPykXA