Attempted murder, torment and rape - the  stories of domestic abuse survivors

'I didn't feel like a woman, I didn't feel human'

"I was playing with my daughter on the bed and he came in from the kitchen with a plastic bag. He put it in my face so I couldn't breathe.

"He said he had to kill me in this way.

"I didn't react this time because I wanted to die."

Those are the words of a woman who fled with her baby from the fear, pain and trauma inflicted by her husband.

She sought safety at a refuge in Surrey.

Reigate & Banstead Women's Aid (RBWA) runs one of the country's 305 refuges which harbours vulnerable women and children fleeing from domestic abuse.

According to the latest statistics 24,000 women in Surrey have suffered domestic abuse, however unreported figures could be as high as 35,000.

Two women in the UK are killed by their partner - every week.

Three women in abusive relationships commit suicide - every week.

Despite life saving work in healing survivors who have been emotionally and physically abused, refuges are fighting an uphill battle.

According to Women's Aid, in just one day in 2017, 94 women and 90 children were turned away from refuges.

60% of referrals were declined in 2016/17 due to lack of space.

Last year seven refuges closed nationwide.

These are the brave and heartbreaking accounts of four women who have survived murder attempts, rape, manipulation and suicidal thoughts - at the brutal hands of their tormentors. 

*Fake names have been used to protect interviewees' identity

Credit: Isabel Dobinson


Mother and refuge resident who travelled to England for a new life

Linah holds her seven-month old baby close to her chest. They share the same large, deep brown eyes.

The pair arrived at the refuge after enduring months of unimaginable abuse from the man she believed loved them.

Through defiant tears, she shared her story.

Linah left her family, friends and home country to join her husband in England while she was six months pregnant. 

But one week into their new living arrangements, it became clear the man she chose to spend the rest of her life with was not who she thought he was.

"He pushed me down while I was pregnant and he told me to take my clothes and leave. I wanted to go but I couldn't - I was heavily pregnant. He said I had to play by his rules," she said.

"I couldn't change anything in the house - he said I was a guest, I couldn't eat when I wanted, if I wanted to go out I had to have his permission and I couldn't call my family."

When Linah went into labour he refused to take her until the last moment because he didn't want to waste money on a taxi. While she gave birth he shouted at her to 'go faster' because he was tired of waiting.

Despite spending five days in hospital and losing a lot of blood, when Linah returned she was forced to clean the house and go to work, just 15 days after giving birth.

In the following months, he became more aggressive.

He forced Linah to buy some "sexy clothes" before raping her.

"I tried to stop him but he wanted it. I couldn't do anything in this situation," she said.

"The next day he said I was imagining it and no one would believe me. He said if I told someone he would make me go back to my country.

"Another time I woke up early, he was behind the door," she continued through tears. 

"He pushed me on the bed and he raped me. He did anal sex which is not allowed in my religion, it was very painful. 

"You don't feel like you are a woman or a human. This was the worse thing. I bled a lot and I couldn't sleep properly. I tried to stop him but I couldn't."

Then the violence extended to their child. When the baby couldn't sleep he would react with slaps and shoves. When Linah tried to stop him, he would slap her away, kick her and refuse to allow her to hold or even touch her child.

On several occasions Linah considered taking her own life, but the thought of her baby stopped her.

Nine months after she came to England, his anger escalated into attempted murder.

"I was playing with my daughter on the bed and he came in from the kitchen with a plastic bag and he put it in my face so I couldn't breathe. 

"He said he had to kill me in this way. I didn't react this time because I wanted to die."

One night Linah was brave enough to call the police and her husband was arrested.

Days later she arrived in Surrey with her baby. She now receives counselling, takes anti-depressants and receives support with her visa and bank accounts.

When asked what her hopes are for the future, she said: "I want to be independent and help my child with their studies, to become a good person and to be strong.

"I will be their mum and dad at the same time. I will give them everything.

"I feel strong now. Without this place, I think I could have died."

Credit: Isabel Dobinsno


Refuge resident who fled the torment of her ex partner with her children

Within three days of agreeing to pack a suitcase and flee with her children, Georgia arrived in Surrey.

But her story begins six years earlier. Six long years of torment, manipulation, rape and death threats from her former partner.

Despite the pair breaking up four years ago, the father of two of her children continued to dictate every aspect of her life - from what she wore to who she allowed in her house.

"We were always on eggshells, we couldn't go out because he kept on watching and following me. He would take the kids off for a night just to reduce me to tears and to be in control again," she said.

"He isolated me from my family and friends so I became dependent on him."

Despite previously experiencing the trauma of a miscarriage, when Georgia discovered she was bleeding while pregnant, he would still "hound" her for sex.

"I could have lost my baby but he went on and on. 

"If I went out with my friends and he was looking after the children, I would have to sleep with him," she continued.

"I was getting drunk because I knew what was waiting for me. He wouldn't sleep with me once, he would go at me three to four times and also the next day. 

"I didn't realise it was rape. He made me think it was normal to be like that and the woman should always do it when the chap wanted to. 

"I found myself dragging all day, he would make me feel dirty and used. If I didn't do what he wanted in the bedroom, he'd hurt me."

It soon became clear it wasn't only Georgia who was suffering at the brutal hands of her former partner. 

"When I fell pregnant with my youngest children, his attitude changed towards my eldest. 

"He started bullying him, my boy was always to blame.  It got worse for him and he made him feel like an outsider. He drove a wedge between the siblings and their relationship disintegrated. It was sad to watch it go downhill."

Georgia was taking numerous tablets to help her with depression, insomnia, and anxiety.

"I was trying to be a mum and work and keep things as normal as we could but it wasn't. 

"It wasn't a life we were living.

Since coming to the refuge in Surrey, Georgia has "completely different children."

"It's like a welcoming family and I feel the weight off my shoulders. We can walk down the street without being watched, we can go to the park with the kids, it's so much freedom. 

"I can put the key in the door and know I'm safe.

"I've stopped taking all of the tablets apart from anti-depressants, I'm sleeping better, I'm eating more because I'm able to feel hunger. 

"I feel like I can get to know my children again. We are bonding, healing and getting better again."

Credit: Isabel Dobinson


Survivor and services manager of RBWA

Emma  has worked at RBWA for almost five years. She is a domestic abuse survivor and has bravely agreed to be identified.

The services manager spent six years in an on-off relationship with her former boyfriend, who emotionally and physically abused her.

She only began sharing her story one year ago.

"I used to think, why would these women go back, I would never stay with someone who hit me, I'd never let someone treat me that way - and then I found myself in an abusive relationship," she said.

"Whenever he did anything, like crash my car or smash my phone I would leave and his attempts to get me back would be to try to commit suicide. 

"He slashed his wrists, he overdosed with so much drugs and alcohol that he was on a heart monitor. That was after he sexually abused me and I left.

"He ended up doing that, so I went back to him."

Emma was pressured into living with him after he fell out with his family. Six weeks later she tried to run away.

"I packed my stuff to leave, I thought it was safe but he came back in the morning. Luckily one of his friends came back with him because I don't think I would have got out alive. 

"He smashed a glass candle over my head, smashed my phone, he dragged me out of the bed where I was in to the floor, was kicking me while I had my hands pulled over my head as I was rolled up in a ball. 

"He smashed the walls and luckily his friend heard me screaming. He held my ex against the wall and I got out.

"There were times I believed he could kill me but on that occasion I knew I had come very close to my own death.

"A week later he hung himself and succeeded."

Over the years Emma has written poetry to help recover from the trauma

The most recent of which reflects the confusion she felt when she came to the realisation that her former boyfriend raped and sexually abused her.

This was the first time she read her poem aloud. 

*A fake name was used during the below recording.

Emma moved house after receiving death threats and attacks from his family and friends. She went onto work as a play therapist and then services manager for RBWA.

"I knew there would be a risk in working in a refuge, it would either make or break me," Emma said.

"Up until June last year when we had sexual abuse training here, I didn't and wasn't able to identify it was rape with my partner. It was a light bulb moment in my recovery. 

"I still thought I was responsible for his death. It made me go from a victim to a survivor.

"The journey is gruelling. There were times I was suicidal myself because I couldn't cope with the overwhelming feelings of guilt and blame and confusion of how I could say I loved somebody who was doing such horrendous things to me.

"I suffered physical abuse but for me, the emotional abuse is what scarred me. My bruises healed but the extreme pain I was left with being emotionally abused and controlled, it was like someone else was in my body. 

"Those thoughts and feelings have given me post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety - things I never suffered with before.

"I can't put it into words how rewarding it is to make a difference here, I now help hundreds of women and children. It's empowering.

"I am very proud to work in this refuge. We all have so much love for this job."


Survivor who coped with years of emotional abuse on her own

Marie suffers from post traumatic stress disorder after her husband stabbed her in the stomach while she slept in her bed.

That moment followed years of fear,  intimidation and exhaustion of trying to hide her pain.

Marie dealt with the trauma on her own and did not seek sanctuary in a refuge.

This is her story, written in her own words.

"I hate the word victim, it's not what I was, it's not what I am. If there is a word to describe me in the tougher years of my life, I prefer survivor," she wrote.

"One moment I was a young woman with a career I loved, a wide circle of friends and a supportive family and slowly I became someone I didn't recognise, bit by bit, without really noticing until one day I almost did something so dreadful, I scared myself.

"My husband was a high-functioning alcoholic. He called himself a 'social drinker'."

As time went on, a pattern emerged. He would become "furious about the smallest thing" only hours before Marie planned to meet friends, or go to the cinema. This would result in her cancelling plans and then came his false apologies and promises.

He was often admitted to hospital due to his alcohol intake and not long after he made an allegation of domestic abuse against her, he collapsed.

"I knew he would die without medical assistance," she continued. 

"And a thought popped into my head; all I had to do was walk away. Just close the door and go downstairs, it would be over by morning. All my problems would be over. 

"I was appalled. How low had I fallen that this thought could even occur to me? My humanity had vanished. It was the lowest moment of my life."

After calling an ambulance and visiting him in hospital, Marie told her husband the marriage was over but despite pleading with hospital staff not to send him home, he ended up staying on her sofa.

Police officers were called to Marie's house to have a 'quiet word' with her husband.

"That night my husband stabbed me," she wrote.

"He announced on Facebook that he was 'finally going to kill the b****' then he came into my room when I was in bed and stabbed me in the stomach with a kitchen knife. 

"Thankfully the knife wasn't our sharpest, the duvet was quite thick and my injuries not as serious as they could have been."

Marie first discovered his conviction had been reduced from attempted murder to actual bodily harm when she was at work.

"No one had even mentioned he was challenging his conviction I found out when a report from court was sent by a freelance reporter to the newsroom," she continued.

"They call it gaslighting, the sort of abuse I endured during my marriage. It's a difficult one as it often leaves no visible wounds, no absolute proof to take to a police officer or a court. 

"But it doesn't make it any less real, less debilitating. I was diagnosed with PTSD after my marriage ended – and I'm one of the lucky ones.

"For some time I felt let down by all the professionals I approached for help – my GP, hospital staff, the police, the courts, Victim Support but I know there have been dramatic improvements in the last few years.

"Hopefully this means there are fewer casualties, fewer victims and more people like me. Because I'm a survivor."

Credit: Wales Online

Seeking sanctuary 

Reigate & Banstead Women's Aid (RBWA) is one of only three refuges in Surrey.

Five out of seven RBWA staff members are survivors of domestic abuse.

"This helps as we have that empathy and understanding," Emma said. 

"We are long standing staff and we are all very passionate about what we do. We want to make a difference and we go above and beyond.

"It can be emotionally draining at times, it can be challenging. There are emotions you are not meant to take home with you but sometimes you do because you hear what a child has been through or a story from a mum. 

"I think I have heard the worst and then a new family comes in and I think, how is it possible some person has inflicted that much pain and trauma onto a vulnerable woman or child?"

RBWA offers a safe space for 11 women and up to 24 children who move on to temporary accommodation after staying at the refuge for six months.

"We have the care and support given to the mum by our advocates which is help with benefits, housing, access to GPs, counselling the freedom programme which looks to break the cycle of domestic abuse such as the warning signs of a perpetrator," said Emma.

"Then there is the care given to the children such as getting them into local schools, nursery places, support groups, courses mums might need to go on, we celebrate occasions such as birthdays and organise family trips out."

"The women are usually really shocked at how homely it is. There's a lot of stigma and lack of understanding. They think refuges are dark and dingy places but when they arrive they're shocked at how beautiful it is.

"When they first come their rooms are set up with brand new bedding, pots and pans, toothbrushes - basic necessities to start their life here. 

"They have left everything they own, their home, they usually arrive with the clothes they have on. We try and keep it bright and welcoming so they can feel safe."

Warning signs

"Trust your gut," said Emma.

"It is recognising there are two sides to a person - one moment you have this one person who is amazing and says he will love you and protect you and then the next minute they are smashing your phone because a male friend has texted you.

"And anything controlling - from what you are wearing to who you are seeing.

"Patterns like if you aren't seeing your friends as regularly, you're not speaking to your family as much and the perpetrator is saying they don't like that person for whatever reason.

"It can happen to anyone, there's not a particular type of woman that domestic abuse affects," she continued.

"We've had wives of doctors, we've had lawyers, solicitors, we have had high paid professionals that have still fallen into the trap of an abusive relationship cycle."

"People who view domestic abuse as simply physical couldn't be further from the truth."

In 2015, coercive control - a form of emotional abuse, was legally branded as a crime but Emma thinks there's still a long way to go

"People still think domestic abuse doesn't happen in Surrey," said Emma.

"A lot of people don't feel comfortable to come forward about it and that's partly due to the shockingly low sentences perpetrators receive."

Surrey Police has launched a campaign to 'Break The Silence On Domestic Abuse'.

The force has publicised advice on social media to raise awareness of the warning signs and where you can seek guidance if you fall into in an abusive relationship.

"Domestic abuse is sadly more widespread than most of us would care to think," a spokesman said.

"Familiarise yourself with some of the signs of domestic abuse. These are certainly not always physical, but include financial, emotional and psychological coercion.

"Reach out to help if you think a family or friend might need it. Just listening, acknowledging and supporting someone will be a lifeline to them.

"Support them to seek help. Be mindful though, that, hard though it is to understand, a victim probably still loves their abuser. 

"It could be very difficult for them to take the first step so please be patient."

Click here for more advice and information from the police. 

Funding and closures

Despite the alarming statistics, there are only 305 refuges in the UK.

When a space becomes available at the refuge, RBWA advertise it on a national database so women fleeing domestic abuse from across the country can request a room.

"Since 2010 a fifth of refuges have closed and we got to the point when we were struggling to stay open," said Emma.

"No one seems to realise the importance of maintaining refuges even when the statistics are there.

"We are inundated with phone calls. 

"We had eight phone calls for one space, we could only accept one - that means seven women had to stay in that abusive situation."

Funds for refuges are provided by a range of donors, including the county council, police and crime commissioner and sponsors - including Community Foundation for Surrey (CFS).

"The Community Foundation for Surrey is a philanthropic grant funding organisation supporting hundreds of charities and local groups across the county each year," said Joe Crome, Director of Philanthropy for CFS.

"We're proud to have awarded a grant of £8,000 in 2018 to RBWA for their vital work supporting women and children fleeing abuse – in the words of its chief executive Charlotte Kneer, they help people who have "left their lives behind".

"Our 2017 research publication Surrey Uncovered demonstrated that an estimated 24,000 women in Surrey have suffered domestic abuse, and figures within the 2018 Surrey Against Domestic Abuse strategy show it could be as high as 35,000.

"Refuges and projects to support these victims are vital, and we are pleased to support a number of groups like this across Surrey every year, including refuges, counselling and other activities."

To help RBWA continue its life saving work you can donate here or nominate the charity for the Tandridge Lottery here.