To the Men in My Life: Why I’m supporting White Ribbon Day on November 25th and Why I Ask That You Do, Too
If you’ve not heard of White Ribbon — the UK campaign that aims to end male violence against women — then I urge you to check it out.
Founded in 2005 the charity works predominantly with men and boys to challenge cultures and behaviours that can lead to violence against women and girls.
By working directly at the cause, White Ribbon encourages and educates men and boys to call out sexist, violent and inappropriate behaviour and promote a culture of equality and respect.
White Ribbon Day on November 25th is a poignant awareness day that serves as a reminder to everyone; we all need to do our bit to stamp out violence against women and girls in our society.
The White Ribbon campaign is something that deeply resonates with me. Although Mr C and I have been happily married for fourteen years, and he is probably the biggest supporter of all my craziness (of which there is a lot!), married life for me was not always as happy and stable.
Sixteen years ago, in 2002, I was the victim of a violent attack at the hands of my ex-husband. For the purposes of anonymity, let’s call him Tom.
White Ribbon recently asked the journalists and bloggers on their supporter list to write about what the campaign means to them.
For the first time, I find myself publicly sharing my story in the hope that it might inspire just one more person to speak up and save a life.
Trigger warning: If you are triggered by personal stories of domestic abuse, please stop reading here.
My experience with domestic violence
Tom and I met at school. We were in the sixth form together, and we were the best of friends. He was the cool ’90s indie kid, all floppy hair and massive Doc Martens, and of course, I had a massive crush. That was as far as it went — I dropped out of school and got a job, he didn’t and went to University.
For two years Tom and I barely spoke; this was before Facebook was a thing, and neither of us had mobile phones — I know, what a shocker! We caught up occasionally when he was in town, and then went back to our separate lives.
In 1999, I had a bad breakup from a weird relationship and needed an old friend to cry on, so I made contact with Tom. That weekend I hopped on a train to visit him at his university digs. I called my mother to let her know where I was going — you know, in case I ended up in a body bag on the side of the road. She told me that she knew then Tom and I would get married. I often wondered if she had magical powers.
So we did. Get married that is. A few days after I returned from seeing Tom, he turned up at my door with his overnight bag. He moved in, and within 18 months, we were married. Whirlwind romance. It was as simple as that. We were both 22 years old.
The beginning of the end
The thing is, I quickly realised that Tom had two massive flaws: he drank too much, and he had a foul temper. This, coupled with his job as a chef, was quite literally a recipe for disaster.
In our short-lived marriage, there were blaring red beacons that lit up the night sky spelling ‘run away and never look back’ — I should have listened to my instincts, but the trouble was, I loved Tom as I had never before loved another human being. So, I chose to ignore every warning sign there was.
Tom and I were married for just two years.
In that time I was a victim before I even knew I was a victim.
I was sexually assaulted by Tom more than once. Before him, I’d had a few longer-term boyfriends. One weird. One I met about 20 years too early who’d have made the perfect husband in my 30s (were it not for Mr C, of course!). So, I hadn’t had a huge amount of experience with sex. I was married at 22, so I guess I didn’t give myself enough time. And even as an intelligent human being, I did not recognise sexual abuse for what it was.
And it was not okay.
During our relationship, Tom’s temper grew worse. And it seemed the more I accepted it, the more normal it became for us.
He punched a hole in our front door. He picked me up and threw me on to the sofa. He chucked a hot plate of someone else’s dinner at me in public when we worked in a bar together. He humiliated me in front of my friends and family. He told me I was fat (I really, really wasn’t). He gave my favourite pair of boots to a charity shop because an ex-boyfriend had bought them for me. He punched and broke the wing mirror of someone else’s car. And these are just a few of the things I remember.
And, if I ever questioned that he might be drinking too much, he’d storm out of the house and leave me alone and worried for hours.
I was afraid of him and terrified of telling anyone what our marriage had become.
The end of the end
The day our marriage ended will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life. Tom and I had a child together. I fell pregnant about a year after we married, and our daughter was born the following April. A beautiful, intelligent, creative child that now, at 16, is growing into an incredible adult that will have a significant impact on the world around her. But, in July 2002, she was just ten weeks old.
Two weeks after our second wedding anniversary Tom and I got into a fight. He’d been drinking and told me that he was going to leave.
I lost it. We were in the bedroom, and I shouted at him for being a coward and grabbed his hand as he reached for his bags. He spun and gripped my wrist, backing me into the door. He told me to back off. But I’d had enough. I stood my ground and told him to go fuck himself.
I can’t be too sure what happened next. A therapist once told me that it’s likely I will never get back the full memory of that night. All I know is that I was on the bathroom floor with two thoughts in my mind as I covered my head with my arms: the first was how I was going to make it down the stairs to my daughter, and the second was to cover my eyes, so he didn’t split my contact lenses.
In the aftermath, my friends found chunks of my hair on the stairs with the roots still attached. Tom had also kicked in the junction box for the landline in the house — for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why, but the police told me later it was so I couldn’t call for help.
I somehow managed to break free, grab my daughter from the front room where I’d left her in the car seat and run from the house before Tom could catch up with me. As I slammed the car door shut, something made me stop. I caught a glimpse of metal through the window. Locking my daughter in the car, I walked back into the house. Tom was standing in our living room holding one of his chef’s knives. We just stared at each other for a moment, and then he told me that if I left with our daughter, he was going to kill himself.
She was all I could think of. So I slowly turned and walked back to the car. Shaking and crying I drove hell for leather to the petrol station at the bottom of our street.
I was in luck that day. The petrol station had just been robbed. I kid you not. The police were already inside. Like a woman possessed, I screeched to a halt and shouted at a random guy that was fuelling up to stay with my car and look after my baby. I must have scared the living crap out of him because he was still there, rocking the car seat back and forth by the time I came back with a policewoman.
I drove myself and the policewoman to the station, and it was there that she made me face myself in the mirror in the officer’s dressing room.
There was blood all over my face, bruises up my arms and my hair and clothes looked like I’d stepped on to the set of a zombie movie. The officer told me that she thought I had been in a severe road accident. I’ve had a road accident before, and let me tell you; I would rather have that pain a hundred times over than ever repeat the experience I had at the hands of Tom.
A friend came and collected me from the police station. She took one look at me and burst into tears. Later that night, after I was interviewed by the police, a few of my friends drove me and my daughter to my parent’s house in Shropshire.
Picking up the pieces
What happened after that was a mess. I did not press charges. This was a time before Clare’s Law, and before the police had any real power to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence. If I had my time again, I would not make the same mistake.
Tom changed me forever.
He made me harder and less tolerant for a very long time. I lost so many friends who did not believe he was capable of such violence. Including a friend that I’d been close to since I was nine years old. I moved away so neither myself or my daughter could accidentally bump into Tom in the street. He made me fiercely protective over both of my daughters — Mr C and I had another beautiful girl in 2006.
To this day I have no tolerance for violence.
Mr C was my friend and, if you believe in that sort of thing, he was my knight in shining armour back then. He still is, of course. It took me a long time to appreciate him for who he is, even long after we were married. But someone who knows the darkest parts of you and loves you regardless, without judgment or prejudice, that’s who you need in your corner.
It took me years to believe that what happened with Tom was not my fault.
The effect on the rest of my life
This is not my full story, but it’s as much as my heart will let me part with. So much more happened during this time, and since. My divorce from Tom was horrible. He did not hold up any relationship with our daughter. And it took Mr C and I 11 years to get consent from Tom for a step-parent adoption.
Tom remarried and re-divorced. I don’t know the circumstances, but it makes me wish even harder that I’d been brave enough to press charges. Our daughter has a step-sister that she will probably never meet.
Around two years ago I had a Facebook message from Tom in the form of what I think was an apology. Or the closest thing I will ever have. He’d finally admitted to his drinking problem and was going through AA.
I’m told one of the steps of AA is to apologise for your past mistakes. So I guess this was why he reached out. He also said that he wanted to write to our daughter and apologise for never being there. I agreed that he could. I’ve kept nothing from her; she has always known about Tom.
Several days later, another message on Facebook. He can’t find the words, so would I mind telling her for him. I closed the message without replying and blocked him from ever contacting me again.
A plea to the men in my life
To the men in my life and those who might be reading this right now, I ask for one thing.
From White Ribbon day on November 25th until December 12th, men will pledge 16 days of action across their communities. During this time, please wear a white ribbon, and pledge never ever to commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women.