Post 10 – The final incident

On 12th February 2017, I told my former partner that I had cheated on him while abroad. On 14th February, I spent five hours in a police station, after being persuaded to go there by my parents, giving a statement in which I alleged that, in response, he had subjected me to a two hour assault in which he beat me repeatedly and broke my phone and car stereo. I told the police that he had caused cuts to my upper lip, a large split along my lower lip, bruising around my mouth, a suspected fracture to my nose and bruising and swelling to my arm and groin. I also described how he had squeezed my eyes with his thumbs, pulled my hair and repeatedly spat on my face and in my mouth.

I explained that I had thought he was going to kill me but, while I had made attempts to get away from him, blaming myself for his violence had led me to come back each time and continue apologising. At one point, I had even tried to climb into a tree to escape him but slipped out, falling one metre and bruising my lower back. I told them how he had helped me to my feet, only to lock me in his grip and punch me again.

The police officer photographed me and collected other evidence and my former partner was arrested and charged for assault and criminal damage.

Seven long months ensued, in which my former partner tried frequently to intimidate me and to convince my friends and family that I was crazy, telling them that all my injuries had come from me deliberately throwing myself seven metres out of a tree and that I had broken my own phone and car stereo. He even messaged my father multiple times to say he was concerned for my mental well-being and that I needed help. I suffered badly with PTSD, panic attacks, depression and intense anxiety and had to put my PhD on hold. I tried hard to get on with my life and went abroad to escape for a while but could never get it all out of my head. Counselling helped but I struggled on many days to achieve even simple tasks.

Finally, the case was heard at Huntingdon Magistrates’ Court on 14th September 2017. I am not including details of the trial or what has happened since in this post, but I thought it would be useful to add just a few comments for clarification in response to questions that people have asked me. (I have since published a separate article covering the trial in more detail.)

In England a victim cannot get their own lawyer in the criminal courts. They have to rely on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as the trial is technically the Crown vs the Defendant. The lawyer assigned to this case turned up ten minutes before the start of the trial, having never met or spoken to me before. This was in stark contrast to my former partner’s lawyer who he was able to choose himself and prepare with for months in advance.

Only the incident on 12th February was tried. Evidence of previous assaults (including the voice recording – which had been heard by police and supplied to the CPS un-cropped) was not considered. (In criminal trials evidence relating to incidents prior to the one in question usually cannot be used.)

The defence lawyer suggested I seemed too strong and intelligent to be a victim of domestic abuse and stated that my behaviour of running away from him and then coming back to apologise was inconsistent. This behaviour, however, is typical of someone abused (who blames themselves for what is happening to them) but this was not explained by the CPS lawyer. I was forbidden to talk about the abusive nature of the relationship prior to 12th February and so could not explain to the Court why I wouldn’t have simply tried to run away and get help.

Key pieces of evidence were, I felt, poorly presented (e.g. photos of my injuries were printed in black and white which rendered some of the bruising much less visible) or not mentioned at all (e.g. phone records) and two prosecution witnesses who had been asked to attend court were never called to give evidence.

My former partner was found guilty of criminal damage to my car but not-guilty of assaulting me. He was given a Conditional Discharge for 12 months and ordered to pay me £300 compensation, a fraction of the cost of the damage. No restraining order was put in place.

After the trial, my former partner gave interviews to several national newspapers and I received a number of abusive messages from trolls (as well as, and for which I will always be extremely grateful, lots of kind messages of support, including a statement from my new college in Cambridge). I have struggled to come to terms with what happened to me and, although I am improving, I continue to suffer from PTSD symptoms, which became worse after the trial. My former partner has remained in Cambridge, and has continued to try to convince my friends I lied about everything.

Post 9 – My fieldwork trip

(Content warning: sexual assault)

For my first couple of weeks of my trip, I was very stressed. I was scared of losing him and convinced that he would change his mind about being with me while I was away. He messaged me with all these promises of a happy future but then we had a few conversations over the phone where he again threatened to break up with me unless I continued to change. He told me again that his parents didn’t think he should be with me and that they didn’t like me.

On Christmas Eve, we had a huge argument, which began when I said I thought his parents were being unfair and that I thought it very harsh that he had gone and complained about me to them all, especially when we were meant to be getting married. He became very angry and said I deserved everything his parents had said about me and that in the circumstances they had been too nice to me. He said I was autistic and stupid and said again that he wished he had never met me and stayed with his ex. I felt so miserable, empty and worthless.

That night I went out to a club with my friend and decided I didn’t want to feel anymore. I had quite a lot to drink and, having become separate from my friend, wandered back by myself. Obviously the world felt I had not suffered enough at this point and a man followed me from the club. As I was walking down an empty street he grabbed me from behind and pushed me up against a wall. Pinning me in place he kissed me all over my face, began trying to undress me and touch me, while I struggled to get free. I tried to push him away but I was drunk and woozy, and he was taller and stronger than me. He stank – I can still smell him now. Luckily another man came along on his bike and told him to stop. He asked me where I was staying and offered to take me to my hotel. I felt nervous to trust him but also wanted to get far away from the other man so agreed. Fortunately he was kind and he took me to the hotel.

Feeling scared and shaky I rang my partner, wanting comfort after what had happened. I still believed he was good and expected sympathy. But he was furious. He shouted at me, saying I was a whore and that it was my fault because I had been drinking. He said I had effectively cheated on him and betrayed his trust, after he had worked so hard to convince himself I was worth staying with. He said I was strong enough to fight someone off and was convinced that I had clearly wanted this man’s attention. He couldn’t understand that I had been taken by surprise or that my being drunk had affected my ability to fight back. He said he was going to leave me because I had cheated. I desperately tried to get him to believe me but he refused to listen.

Whilst on the phone, I woke my dad up who came to comfort me and I ended the conversation with my former partner. In the morning, Christmas Day, I woke up to a large number of missed calls and messages from him, demanding that I speak to him. I rang him and received a torrent of abuse for around two hours, in which he called me a cunt multiple times and brought up everything from before I had left. When I tried to stand up for myself he told me he was leaving me and hung up. I was devastated but also felt a small, unexpected sense of relief. He then messaged me a little later, saying he was crazy to stay with me but that he would if I agreed to another list of things I was never allowed to say or do. He told me his parents believed I had cheated on him and thought he should leave me but that he had convinced them to give me another chance. He also made me state again that I believed he was on my side and was trying to help me. Feeling again like I needed to be with him, I agreed to everything. My parents started to question what was going on but I still felt that I couldn’t tell them.

However, something had finally woken up in me. Throughout the relationship, I had always found a way to justify his behaviour and blame myself. But I knew I had been sexually assaulted and I knew he had blamed me. I knew that it was wrong, that no one should be blamed for that. I began to resent him. I started to immerse myself in my fieldwork, enjoy time with my friends out there and started speaking to him less. As a result, he starting messaging me more and more and my phone was constantly going off. I started turning it off for periods during the day, so that I could get my work done. I still felt guilty though and a good part of me still wanted to be with him. I had such a confusing internal battle going on. I confided in my friend that he had hit me and some of the things he had said to me, all of which she said were wrong, but I still couldn’t bring myself to leave him, which she couldn’t understand. He kept insisting I call him and then would keep me on the phone for hours so I couldn’t get my work done. If I ever hung up I would get a flood of messages making me feel very guilty.

While I was away I found out he had offered to drive some friends from Cambridge to Devon in my car, without asking me if he could use it. When I questioned this, he insisted he had asked me and that I had agreed to it. He told me if I wanted him to tell our friends that I didn’t want them using my car, he would, but that they would probably be upset at having to pay for a hire car last minute, after I had supposedly offered the use of mine. I gave in, not wanting our friends to think badly of me. On New Year’s Eve I had a message from his step-mum, telling me she hoped I could sort myself out. I felt hurt and angry – I started to be more convinced that I didn’t deserve all of this.

One day he rang me and asked me to make a list of everything I thought I had done wrong in the relationship and how I could make up for it. He said he would do one too if it helped. I thought this was strange but perhaps a good idea – perhaps there was a still a chance we could put everything behind us and be happy. I agreed and wrote a list in which I apologised for a range of things including: not trusting him; being upset at his parents’ treatment of me; snapping at him; making him feel guilty for sleeping when I couldn’t; being violent by slapping him and pushing him away (the two events I mentioned previously); telling our friends he had hit me after the first two assaults; getting drunk on Christmas Eve and taking so long to accept how terrible I was. He responded with a list which included apologies for: calling me hormonal, calling me autistic and hitting me. For this last point he wrote “Hitting you: I promise I will never lay a finger on you again”. He seemed sincerely sorry for these things and told me he was going to stop drinking. I felt hopeful that maybe things were going to work.

A few days later I had messages from a friend of mine to say that my partner had become very drunk at a College event, thrown up and was screaming “Where’s Sophia, fuck that bitch”. My hopes were dashed and I decided I wanted to leave him. Out of fear of him destroying my belongings and spreading lies about me I decided to wait and do it when I got home. I tried hard to put him out of my mind, I answered his messages less frequently and started to really enjoy my time out there. He had convinced me that no one liked me, so I was surprised when people out there seemed to enjoy my company.

Towards the end of the trip I became close to a friend of mine, who I had confided in about my partner’s violence. We had a few conversations about it and he told me I should leave him and that I deserved better. I liked him, he was kind and funny and I really enjoyed having the company of a man who was kind to me. It reminded me how I used to feel with people I had been with in the past. I knew he was interested in me and, having decided I didn’t want to be controlled anymore, I slept with him. I had already decided to leave my partner as soon as I got home and I felt relieved.

When I returned home on 1st February, however, my former partner greeted me with a pile of presents, apologies and promises of change and a happy future. I felt my confidence disappear and started to feel immensely guilty about what I had done. My feelings of wanting to leave the relationship were replaced by thoughts that I was a terrible person. I slotted straight back into feeling that I had been awful, ruined this man’s life and then cheated on him. I felt very nervous, like I was returning to a cage and didn’t know what to do. One night we spoke to his Mum over Skype. It brought back all the memories of how he had turned his family against me before Christmas and I became upset after the conversation ended. He announced he was leaving me again and taking my car (I think after seeing that this had bothered me before). Once again he agreed to stay if I accepted he was nothing but a victim and that I was abusing him. At one point, he put one hand round my neck and lightly slapped my face with the other one. I felt completely controlled again and very trapped. Over the next few days I tried to keep him happy and make the relationship work but the guilt of having slept with someone else was eating at me constantly. Eleven days after I got back, I decided to tell him what I had done.

–> Post 10 – The final incident

Post 8 – Involvement of his parents

During October and November the situation carried on much the same. He was nearing the end of his PhD and became more stressed with work, for which he blamed me. He said he hadn’t worked enough during the year because we had spent too much time doing other things. He continued to offer to do things with me and then made me feel very guilty if I accepted. He made no attempt to stop drinking and I gave up asking him to. He also repeatedly told me he had been happier with his ex and regretted leaving her. When certain songs came on the radio or we looked at photos of us together he would say they reminded him of when I did things that upset him (such as driving him to harm himself) and make me feel guilty. I was always afraid to say the wrong thing and set him off, but nothing I did seemed to make him happy. I also caught him lying to me about little things and began to trust him less. Several times he threatened to commit suicide if I didn’t back down in arguments. (I now understand this is a common feature of abusive relationships.) He became even more controlling, getting cross if I was ever later home from work than I said I would be, even if we had no plans. He would get upset if I was ever on my phone at home, saying my attention should be on him. He also lectured me about not wanting sex often enough and said I wasn’t making him feel loved. In a desperate attempt to cheer myself up and make him happy, I started to focus more on planning the wedding, which only led me to feel even more trapped.

We went to my parents’ house one weekend and I snapped at him in front of them, burst into tears and ran upstairs. He acted entirely innocently and my Mum, unaware of what was going on, stood up for him. He was now succeeding in turning everyone against me. I tried to tell my Dad what he was doing but just couldn’t, I didn’t know how to explain it.

Things came to a head at the end of November. I was planning fieldwork abroad again in January, combined with a holiday with my parents in December. He had told me he wanted to join us on the holiday and be my assistant again on my fieldwork. Both my parents and I had asked him several times if he could afford to take the time off work and he said he could. I told him I had a friend who could come instead of him to do the fieldwork but he insisted he wanted to do it. So we booked the trip, my parents kindly covering the cost of the holiday part for both of us as we could not afford it.

Ten days before we were due to go, we had an argument which ended with him saying everything wrong with our relationship was my fault and that I was ruining his life. He then told me he was leaving me. When I begged him not to, he said he wasn’t going to leave me but that he was going to go to his Mum’s house and tell her everything I had been doing to him. While he was there, we had a conversation on the phone, in which he stood in front of his Mum and step-dad and loudly twisted everything I was saying (which only he could hear) into nasty things for them to hear. For example, when I tried to apologise for the things I had said in the argument, he announced that I was bringing it all up again and having a go at him. They then became cross with me and I felt completely helpless. So I decided to drive up there, to speak face to face with them, so my words could not be twisted. When I arrived, his step-dad shut the door in my face and wouldn’t let me in, but his Mum, who I had always got on well with, came to find me. The four of us then had a conversation in which it was explained to me that I was treating my partner badly. In particular, the fact that I was making him feel guilty for sleeping when I couldn’t and getting upset when he did things without me was brought up. I could see how this looked and apologised to them all. I couldn’t tell them the reasons for my behaviour.

Before I had driven up, I had spoken to his Mum on the phone and she had asked me why I had gone to my parents’ house alone for a while (after the assault in September). I said to her, “You don’t know what he did”, to which she replied, “What did he do?” I told her I couldn’t tell her, that it wasn’t mine to tell. I was hoping this would kick-start a conversation between them but I was being stupid to think he would ever tell her. While we were at her house I asked him to tell his Mum about the violence as I thought she would be able to help us. He told me “She will only think worse of you for driving me to it”. I believed him and kept quiet.

During those few days at his parents’, when we weren’t with them, he told me again and again that I had problems and had to let him and his parents help me. He said I needed to trust him, stop questioning him and that he would help me to change – that he knew what was best for me and how to achieve it. He demanded I have unquestioning blind faith in him and told me I was never allowed to be cross with him, that I should act as if I worshipped him and fully accept him as a part of me. He said I was mentally ill and that I was lucky he was staying with me, that no one would ever like me unless I changed. He told me he was a saint for being with me and that no one else would ever want me. He recited a list of things I was never allowed to say or do if I wanted him to stay with me, and explained which parts of my personality I had to change. He said if I worked hard to change he would let my behaviour go and forgive me. It was so easy for him to convince me I was terrible because I felt so guilty about having been so snappy. I didn’t recognise that it had all been in response to his attempts to control me. He told me that my Mum was poisoning me and I had to spend less time with her. He also told me he would only stay with me if I admitted to his parents that I was bullying him and that my behaviour was due to my relationship with my Mum. He insulted my Dad frequently too, saying he had brought me up badly.

I could not make sense of who was right and who wasn’t. I found myself desperately apologising for everything I could think of. I broke down multiple times with his Mum and told her I was doing everything wrong. I just couldn’t understand what was happening. I was trying so hard to convince myself and them that I was entirely in the wrong. I pushed down any feelings of him being in the wrong and told myself they were due to me being mentally unwell and that I had deserved the violence. His Mum comforted me when I told her how awful I thought I had been. She also told me that she had seen her son’s temper before and stuck up for me when he was shouting at me, but, having only heard one side of the story, continued largely to believe I was the problem. He also told me he had spoken to his Dad and step-mum and that they had tried to convince him to leave me, but that he had stood up for me. This confused me even more.

He then broke it to me that he was no longer coming on my fieldwork trip or the holiday, which his parents backed him up on, as he had told them I had forced him to agree to it. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I had asked him so many times if he was happy to come along and he had insisted it was fine. He knew I needed the extra pair of hands for my work and that it was probably too late to find anyone else. When I pointed this out he told me just to go and find someone on the street to help me. Fortunately, one of my friends agreed to take his place, which he seemed furious about (I can only assume he was hoping I wouldn’t be able to complete my work out there). The flights cost £600 to change but he refused to pay anything towards this. He also refused to pay my parents back for his holiday that they had paid for. When I tried to complain about any of this he would become furious, explain how in the wrong I was and make me state that he was the victim and that I had no right to complain about anything. He said any negative thoughts I had about him were in my head and that I was paranoid, but again, he was going to fix me. I was absolutely miserable and felt completely lost, but I felt so tied to him and too much of me believed he was trying to help me. I believed I had driven him to be nasty and now had to pay the price. Above all, I was terrified of him leaving me as felt I couldn’t exist without him.

Just before I left he told me he was broke because I had made him live in a flat where the rent was too high. In reality, we had found the flat together and both chosen it, but he convinced me I had forced him so, out of guilt, I loaned him the money to cover his rent for December. In addition I left my engagement ring with him as I did not want it to get damaged on fieldwork. I have never had either the rent money or the ring back.

–> Post 9 – My fieldwork trip

Post 7 – The voice recording

Two nights later, he became very drunk again. I was still angry and upset from being hit again and this time I decided not to let it go. I was fed up of being treated like that. As we walked home I told him I was very upset that he was drunk after he had promised to stop drinking. I also asked him to sleep on the spare mattress because I was scared of him hitting me again. He started a barrage of verbal abuse at me, which continued after we got home. He repeatedly called me a cunt, among other things, and said he wished he had stayed with his ex-girlfriend. He told me she never questioned him like I did and that she was always lovely to him. After about an hour, I decided to record him on my phone, with the thought that I could play it to him the next day and show him how nasty he was being, as sometimes he claimed he didn’t remember things he had said or done whilst drunk. The next morning, he was very apologetic again and nice and I realised that if I told him I had recorded him he would probably be furious, so I chose not to play it to him.

During the recording, he is very emotionally abusive, telling me that all unhappiness and arguments were my fault as well as his drinking and violence. The violence comes up multiple times in the conversation, and he frequently tells me to “let it go”. He pleads with me to trust him more, tells me I am ruining his life and that I was “supposed to be better” and “supposed to have learnt”. He tells me things are in my head, threatens to leave me, says that I would have to repay him for everything he has done for me and that I was a bad person. I remember wishing he would leave me and it would all be over. I was so fed up and hurt by this point and at times get annoyed with him and am sarcastic, trying to stand up for myself, but at other times drop back to being meek. I even say I’m going to leave him if he doesn’t stop drinking, but this was an empty threat. Part way through the recording he comes towards me aggressively which scares me, but then he tries to comfort me – a behaviour I have mentioned before. The recording ends with him slapping himself round the face and bursting into tears, something he frequently did to induce guilt in me.

I have decided to share this recording here. As it is very long (approx. 30 mins), has long gaps where no one is speaking and other people are mentioned frequently, I have created a shortened version (approx. 6 mins) of the most significant parts and a transcript (below) as some parts are muffled. In the first section, when I say “you hit me twice” and he replies, “yes, you put me in counselling”, he is referring to me suggesting that he go and see someone after he started being violent. He never did go.




  • Him: “Be nice for fuck’s sake. It’s not hard, it’s not hard”
  • Me: “I have been”
  • Him: “Chill out then, let me sleep in the bed, let me cuddle you, let me be happy”
  • Me: “When you drink, you get..”
  • Him: “I am fine, fuck off with it please, it’s never going to help my recovery if you won’t let it go”
  • Me: “You hit me, twice”
  • Him: “Yes, you put me in counselling, well done you, fucking let it go!”


  • Him: “I was a happy person before I met you. Now life seems shit, fuck off. You’re supposed to be better, you’re supposed to be nice, you’re supposed to have learnt. Fuck off, done”
  • Me: “I am nice”
  • Him: “You’re a f.. You can, you have the capacity to be so nice”
  • Me: “I’m lovely”
  • Him: “And lovely and kind and brilliant, so be that”
  • Me: “I am, but not when someone hits me round the head, then I get scared, then I’ll put myself first”
  • Him: “If you’ll never let that go, then we’ll never move past. If you can never let that go, then we’ll never move past it. You have to let it go.”


  • Him: “You’re just a bad, you’re just a bad person, you’re just a bad person Soph”
  • Me: “No, No I’m not”
  • Him: “Yeah you are you fucking are”
  • Me: “I’m wonderful and you waste me”
  • Him: “Fuck off you’ve wasted me”
  • Me: “You waste me”
  • Him: “Ruined my life, turn the light off and go to sleep, you utter cunt you’ve ruined my life”
  • Me: “No I didn’t”
  • Him: “Yes you did”
  • Me: “No I didn’t”
  • Him: “You bitch fuck off, fuck off”
  • Me: “See”
  • Him: “I’m sick of it, I’m sick of making all this effort for you, all of this time and love and care and affection”
  • Me: “This is you being drunk”
  • Him: “You’re just the worst fucking person ever, fuck off.”


  • Me: “Because most people are harmless when they’re drunk, you’re not, and most people..”
  • Him: “Let it go, let it go, please let it go, we can never get anywhere if you don’t put it down and stop”
  • Me: “Shhh (blanked) is next door”
  • Him: “We could be a happy couple, we could be a happy couple if you could just let that go”
  • Me: “You promised me you wouldn’t drink much”
  • Him: “I’m not! We’re getting nowhere, turn the light out, go to sleep, I’m sorry, I’m not out of control, I’m never going to touch you again, I’m never going to harm you again”
  • Me: “How the hell am I meant to believe that?”
  • Him: “You just have to make an effort, Soph, you just have to make an effort.”


  • Him: “Fuck off, trust me, please”
  • Me: “How can I when, what happened last time”
  • Him: “Put that behind you for fuck’s sake. I can’t recover, I can’t heal, I can’t get past all the shit you did to me if you keep tormenting me with the fucking guilt. Fuck, stop.”


  • Him: “Please trust me, I can never heal if you won’t trust me. Please trust me”
  • Me: “You wouldn’t have said those things to me”
  • Him: “I’ve said worse things sober, I’ve done worse things sober, I am sorry you really rile me, and the two times it happened it was because of this bullshit, that we were happy, I just want to be happy relaxed couple and you come at me with nonsense. I just want you to fucking chill out.”


  • Me: “Because you’re drunk and you promised me you wouldn’t be”
  • Him: “I’m not drunk, you cunt, I’m not drunk”
  • Me: “Why are you calling me a cunt?”
  • Him: “Because you’re being a dick”
  • Me: “I’m not”
  • Him: “Stop ruining my life Soph, please just fucking be relaxed, stop it.”


  • Him: “We were happy until you started on me, you didn’t need to start on me, you started this, everything was fine until you started it”
  • Me: “Because I’m scared and have a right to be”
  • Him: “Then drop that! Drop it and you’ll see how everything is fine!”


  • Me: “You called me a cunt”
  • Him: “Because you started on me, separate the two fucking things, if you hadn’t started on me, none of this would have happened.”


  • Him: “You’re being a.., you’ve been a dick to me all night”
  • Me: “How?”
  • Him: “Since we got back”
  • Me: “What have I done?”
  • Him: “The whole way you’ve been with me, you forced me to sleep on a separate bed”
  • Me: “I’m scared”
  • Him: “And I’m sorry, I’m never going to heal if you don’t trust me, it’s going to take a leap from you, a bit of effort.”


  • Me: “You promised me that you’d never do it again”
  • Him: “I’m not hammered, I’m not drunk”
  • Me: “You promised me..”
  • *He comes at me aggressively*
  • Me: “Don’t don’t, stay away, no no no, please no, please not again”
  • Him: “Soph, soph”
  • Me: “Please not again”
  • Him: “Soph, Soph, you’ve been doing this all day, tipsy yes, kind and caring and loving you and never wanting to lay a finger on you”
  • Me: “You called me a cunt”
  • Him: “I’m sorry, you started on me, you wound me up”
  • Me: “I didn’t”
  • Him: “I’m sorry I’m sorry I apologise unreservedly, come here, I’m sorry. I’m tipsy yes, I’m drunk yes, we had fun, we were having fun. Don’t wind me up when I’m relaxing, I’m in love with you, I care about you”
  • Me: “You can’t expect me not to be scared of you when you drink, you promised that you wouldn’t get drunk”
  • Him: “I’m not drunk, Soph I’m not drunk, I promised you I would never get out of control, I’m not out of control”
  • Me: “You called me a cunt which means you’re out of control, you only ever do that when you’re drunk, you’ve never done that sober”
  • Him: “I’ve called you cunt several times when I’m sober, it happened many many times.”


  • Him: “Because you fucking started on me, I was happy, I was trying to give you love all..”
  • Me: “Shhh”
  • *He slaps himself round the face*
  • Me: “Yeah that helps”
  • *He cries*
  • Him: “Please, just trying to give you love all fucking night”
  • *I turn recording off and went to comfort him*.

–> Post 8 – Involvement of his parents

Post 6 – The third assault on me

He never did try to stop or reduce his drinking, despite my frequent pleas. One night in September, he became very drunk towards the end of another College event. Since the first assault, I had been nervous every time he drank, which he hated, and this time was no different. When we got home he asked me what was wrong and I told him I was nervous and upset because he had promised me he would stop getting drunk. He flipped and started shouting at me that he wasn’t drunk and that I had to trust him not to hit me again. I told him I was trying to, but that it was difficult and I couldn’t help being scared when he drank. I was sitting on the side of the bed and he pushed me back onto it, then stood over me, pushing me down with his left hand tightly around my neck. As I was struggling to get free, he punched me twice in quick succession in the left side of the head, the same place as before. He then told me “you didn’t trust me not to hit you, so I ended up hitting you. This was your fault”.

I ran downstairs crying and sat on the sofa with a bag of frozen peas against my head, which was throbbing. I have never felt as alone as I did that night. I came so close to leaving him, grabbing my things and leaving. But I couldn’t think where to go and something so strong was tying me to him. I felt as though I had no choice, that even if I hated being with him, I had to stay. My confidence was gone, my ability to function on my own or make my own choices was gone. It felt a bit like being stuck in a moving car with no way to operate it. All I felt I could do was wait and see what direction my life would go in next.

In the morning my housemate came downstairs. As she had been involved in the aftermath of the first assault, she knew that he had been violent before. She told me she had heard me run downstairs crying and asked me what had happened. I panicked and said nothing as I was worried that if I told her the violence had continued, she would want to move out of the flat. But then, as she went on to make her breakfast, I felt so miserable and alone that I decided to tell her. I remember half-hoping she might make him leave or tell someone, that perhaps the relationship could end without me having to find the strength to end it. She was furious and spoke to her boyfriend, our other housemate, about it. When my partner awoke at midday, he came downstairs. He apologised to my housemate, who told him it wasn’t him he should be apologising to. In front of them, he said sorry to me, but once we were alone, he explained to me how I had to trust him more not to be violent and that my distrust was harming him and causing him to do these things. I told him that I would forgive him if he promised to stop drinking, at least for a little while, which he agreed to. I convinced my housemates that it was again my fault and that everything would be fine.

–> Post 7 – The voice recording

Post 5 – The effect of his violence on me, his worsening emotional abuse and the second assault on me

For the first few days after the assault, he was hugely apologetic and talked all about how things would be different now, how things were going to change. But then there was a shift. He began to suggest that it was indeed my fault and that I was right to blame myself. He said I had damaged him and needed to help him to heal. He changed from saying he would stop drinking to saying he wouldn’t get drunk again. He also told me that I couldn’t be annoyed with him because I had been violent first – reminding me that I had slapped him when we were away. I tried to point out the difference between the incidents – that I had slapped him while in a state of panic, after begging him to leave me alone and him repeatedly coming towards me, whereas he had strangled and punched me while holding me down so I could not escape and that before he did that, I had not been physically threatening him in anyway. But he would not listen and continued to blame me for his violence. If I ever brought it up he would tell me I was damaging him further and that I had to let it go.

That assault had a strange effect on me. I had always thought that if a man ever hit me, I would leave him. Yet here I was, still in a relationship with someone who had hit me. I felt his behaviour was unfair but believed it was, at least in part, my fault. I felt that this huge thing had happened and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I knew that if I were to tell my parents, they would convince me to leave him and I didn’t want that. I loved him, I saw the good parts in him, and thought I could fix our relationship. But the assault had made me more insecure than ever, and also very fearful. I stopped sleeping almost completely, lying awake next to him each night feeling panicky. I sometimes would ask for one of us to sleep on the spare mattress we had on the floor, which helped, but caused me to feel even more like I was ruining our relationship.

We moved into a new flat, sharing with the couple who had been involved in the first assault. I thought moving would help and that things would sort themselves out but they became worse. He was more impatient with me, always cross that I wasn’t happy and cheerful. I remember he once had a huge go at me because I didn’t get up and greet him cheerfully enough when he came home from the office one day. He continued to be extremely volatile and would often shout at me, calling me a fucker, a cunt, a hormonal crazy bitch. The smallest of things would set him off. He would often wrench my engagement ring off my finger, saying I didn’t deserve it. Sometimes he would put his hands around my neck, not enough to strangle, but enough to make me feel scared.

I began to struggle to talk to other people and didn’t know how to relate to them. I became unmotivated in my work. I felt as though a glass screen separated me from the rest of the world and interacting with people felt very fake. I remember wondering whether life was just about ticking days off until you die. I knew something was very wrong but the only person I felt I could turn to was him. He agreed that there was something wrong with me and told me he would keep me safe and I had to trust him. He said that only if I truly trusted him and stopped fighting it would I be able to be happy. He would often buy me gifts, things to make me feel happier, but then if I annoyed him he would say I didn’t deserve them. I found myself desperate to please him and annoyed at myself that I seemed incapable of it.

Feeling dependent on him made me become very clingy and needy. I found myself getting upset if he did anything without me and panicked if he was away from me, which would cause him to say I was trying to control him. My sleep became even worse, as now I felt very fearful around him. Sometimes I would get upset with him, for falling asleep when I could not, having no care for the reasons I struggled. Often he would fall asleep while I lay crying next to him. He told me it was my problem I couldn’t sleep and I shouldn’t make him feel guilty. I saw the logic in his arguments and hated myself more. He continued to be very kind and sweet when not annoyed with me and I began to need his approval and affection. (I have since learnt that dependence on an abuser is a recognised phenomenon, called Traumatic Bonding. I understand it better now, but at the time I couldn’t make any sense of what I was thinking or feeling, which rendered me helpless.)

I felt as though I was going completely mad. He continued to make me feel guilty for things I had supposedly said and done which I had no memory of. He would offer to help me with things such as the bar work I did in College, but then if I accepted, would say I made him do it and was making him behind in his own work. He started bringing me lunch and working at the desk next to me in my office most days. As my dependence became worse, I began to feel I couldn’t go to the office without him and so would ask him to come with me, which he would use as another example of me trying to control him. In attempt to convince the world that everything was fine, I continually put happy photos of us on social media and told everyone how much I adored him. I felt too ashamed to tell anyone what was happening – to be defined as not only a woman who had been hit by her partner, but as one who then continued to stay with him. Also I was convinced that if I told anyone, they would believe I had driven him to it and think badly of me.

My reactions to his behaviour started to vary. I still felt hugely angry that he had assaulted me and that he showed so little remorse for it, but I blamed myself too much to leave him. Sometimes, because I wasn’t allowed to speak about the thing that was upsetting me, I would get frustrated and angry at him for small things, such as often forgetting to do things he said he would. He would make me feel so guilty and I would apologise. I kept telling myself to just be happy, but I didn’t know how. One day he came towards me, seemingly to pin my wrists and I pushed him away. He had such a look of hurt on his face and told me he had just wanted to hug me and I instantly felt guilty. Not long after, in another argument, he grabbed the front of my t-shirt and bra and yanked so hard that he tore them. I remember feeling annoyed, but didn’t bother saying much about it and instead made another mental note to stop winding him up. He was beginning to completely take over my mind.

The second assault on me occurred when we were alone in our College MCR (common room) one day. An argument started and he pushed me onto one of the sofas, and squeezed his hands around my neck. Rather than fight back this time, I went limp and lifeless, in the hope it would make him stop quicker. This seemed to annoy him more and he started screaming in my face. When that didn’t work he started pleading, still with his hands around my neck. I didn’t know what to do, so remained still until he gave up and let go. He didn’t apologise this time.

–> Post 6 – The third assault on me

Post 4 – The first assault on me

One night in July 2016, we went to a social event at College together, and he became very drunk. Once we were back in my room, an argument started. We both got into bed but he was shouting at me. Suddenly he got on top of me, straddled me and put both hands around my neck. He squeezed hard. I remember the look on his face – one of power, defiance. He was red with anger. I tried to scream but it came out hoarse. I remember hoping someone would hear but I think no one else was in the house. I was crying and pleading with him to get off. I remember trying to push his weight off me but I couldn’t move. Then he lifted his right arm and, with his fist, punched me hard in the left side of my head, just above my ear which also got caught by the punch. I went still and he moved off me. I ran to the wardrobe and put on a hoodie and some tracksuit bottoms. He kept coming towards me and I repeatedly told him to get away from me. I kept asking him to leave but he wouldn’t. I then started trying to leave but he blocked my way. I was crying and begged him to let me go. Eventually he stepped to one side and I ran out of the door and across the road to College.

One of the porters (security staff) let me in and I ran past him crying. While running through College I rang a friend of mine who lived close by. I told her he had hit me and asked her to come and meet me. I was frantic and still crying. She came and took me back to her room, through the back entrance of the College. My head was throbbing and spinning and I couldn’t stop crying. I remember my ear feeling very hot and sore as well. As I was telling her what had happened, my phone was going off non-stop with calls and messages from him. Then her phone started going, as did the doorbell. I don’t know how he knew I had gone there but I presume he had followed me. He was still drunk and started banging on the door and shouting. My friend became scared and rang another friend of ours who lived with his girlfriend just down the road. She told him what had happened and asked him for help. He came and took my partner to his house for the night.

I tried to sleep on the floor, but my head and ear hurt so much and I was wracked with guilt for telling anyone that he had hit me. Once the initial fear had worn off, I began to blame myself again for setting him off and thought I should have been more careful not to wind him up. In the morning, I told my friend, and the girlfriend of the man who had taken my partner home, that I wanted to see him, that it was my fault he hit me and I still wanted to be with him. They seemed wary and unsure but I insisted. Unfortunately they did not recognise the emotional manipulation at play here and did not report the event to anyone. When I saw him again, he apologised profusely and told me he was ashamed and would never drink again.

–> Post 5 – The effect of his violence on me, his worsening emotional abuse and the second assault on me

Post 3 – Further development of emotional abuse

We had previously spoken light-heartedly about wanting to be together forever and get married but towards the end of the trip, the topic became more serious and he suggested that it might be a way to enable me to trust him properly. I felt so glad that he wanted to be with me, despite the issues I now believed I had, that I thought it was a wonderful idea. We talked about it a few more times and I thought he was right that it would fix my trust issues. Whilst we were on a trip to visit his father (his parents divorced when he was young) in May, we spoke about it again, agreed it would be best, and he broke the news to his family.

After this, everything became much worse. The emotional abuse became far more obvious but I was too trapped in the mentality of him being right and everything being my fault to see what was going on. He flitted between insults and compliments, telling me I was a bad person and broken but said that he was patient and loved me so was going to help fix me. He would bring up things I had supposedly said or done, weeks or months ago, and tell me how upset I had made him feel. I had no memory of these things but he would convince me they had happened and ask me to apologise. At the same time he would tell me I was wonderful, send me huge numbers of messages about how he wanted his life with me and how he had never loved anyone in the same way before.

When we argued, he started saying I was crazy and hormonal. Thinking perhaps my contraceptive pill might be causing problems, I decided to come off of it. As with many women, this made my hormones go all over the place for a while and I became more upset and frustrated that nothing was working to make me happier.

In June we were invited on a trip to France with friends. I struggled to act happy and, whilst sometimes he told me all his friends liked me, other times he accused me of embarrassing him, saying that actually his friends were unsure about me and whether we should be together – that this was my chance to prove myself to them and I was failing. I burst into tears at one point when alone with two of the women. I told them my fear of no one wanting me there and they couldn’t understand where it had come from. They comforted me and told me everyone wanted me there. I felt as though I was going mad.

–> Post 4 – The first assault on me

Post 2 – The use of self-harm and further confusion

When he began to be violent, after a couple of months, it was directed at objects – he threw a book across the room and punched a bed frame. In doing the latter, he damaged his knuckle, which I felt extremely guilty for. This seemed to set off something in him, for he then progressed to directing his violence at himself. If we argued, he would punch himself in the legs, slap himself in the head and face and once scratched his own fingernails across his forehead. He would then blame me for it, saying “look what you made me do”. I became increasingly scared. As far as I could work out, I was driving this man to hurt himself and I felt like a monster. (Having since spoken about self-harm behaviour with Women’s Aid, I now understand it to be a common guilt-inducing tactic used by abusers.)

I began to feel very frantic and panicky during this time. I was struggling to understand what was happening and feeling very scared, but wasn’t sure what about. His behaviour also made me feel more insecure and clingy towards him, which he got annoyed about. I found myself feeling like I needed to be around him more than before. I struggled to sleep even when he did not disturb me, and had huge worries about myself and whether I was truly damaged. I thought about visiting a counsellor, but believed I could fix things myself. I was determined to make the relationship work.

I was due to go abroad for fieldwork in April 2016 and we agreed he would come along as my assistant. I could not work out why I was so unhappy and why this relationship was not working and I thought perhaps going away together would help. Instead, things got worse. Out there, the fights continued, the accusations of lack of trust continued, and I started to wonder if there was something seriously wrong with me. I had a wonderful PhD position and, I thought, a wonderful partner – why couldn’t I just be happy?

A key event occurred while we were there, when one day, after an argument, I asked him for some space and cycled off to a field site. He followed me there, however, and the argument continued. I became very panicked and asked him to go back to the house and leave me alone. He refused and kept coming towards me, shouting at me. I screamed at him to leave me alone and pleaded with him to give me some space. He ignored me and came towards me again, trying to grab my arms to hold me in place, at which point I slapped him. I immediately felt extremely guilty and apologised to him. He held me while I cried and said it was ok, that he could see it wasn’t me acting in that way but that it was my lack of trust in him and my inability to love properly that was the problem. I felt so relieved at being forgiven and angry at myself that I was acting in this way and unable to just be happy. (The fact that I slapped him caused me huge shame until only recently, when I confided in a member of staff at Women’s Aid, who told me it is very common for violence in a relationship to start with the abused lashing out at the abuser, who then uses it to increase feelings of guilt.)

–> Post 3 – Further development of emotional abuse

Post 1 – The beginning of the relationship and initial development of emotional abuse

I met my former partner, a Cambridge PhD student like me, at the end of 2015. Emotional abuse and manipulation were present from the start, though, being uneducated in the signs, I failed to recognise what was happening. I was very insecure, having come out of a long relationship which I was struggling to get over. He was charming, popular and intelligent and I thought he was wonderful.

To start with, we were happy. We had a huge number of mutual and overlapping interests which I enjoyed discussing with him. Within just a couple of weeks he told me that he loved me and wanted to be with me for ever. He told me he had never felt like this about anyone before and often bought me expensive gifts. I felt extremely lucky and happy to have found a partner I shared so much with.

The relationship quickly became very intense and he began spending every night at my place as well as coming to every social event with me. I often felt I wanted some space, but since he was always so eager to see me, I felt too guilty to bring up the issue. Each night he would want to talk until late, despite any protests of mine about wanting an early night. If I didn’t talk much he would usually initiate sex, which I felt obliged to agree to, though I often felt far too exhausted. I worried that if I turned him down too much, he might decide he didn’t want to be with me. He frequently told me how much his ex- wanted to get back together with him and I thought he might return to her. I thought he was a great catch, and insecurity on my part caused me to feel I did not deserve him, so I was quick to overlook behaviours on his part that I thought were unfair. I believed he was just very keen and that things would settle with time.

Chronic lack of sleep led me to become exhausted and ill, however. Some friends picked up on this but I did not speak to them much about the cause, for fear of them thinking badly of him. I thought we would settle into a better routine and were just finding our feet. I wanted to be with him and I wanted to make it work. However, being so over-tired and not having any of my own space made me stressed and grumpy. I would frequently snap at or nag him, and he would respond by lecturing me about it, often for hours. He would say that I didn’t trust him enough and if I fully believed he was on my side I would never snap at him.

When I tried to walk away from arguments he would pin me in place by my wrists or block the door. If I did manage to persuade him to let me leave and go to work, he would often turn up to my office to continue the conversation and I started to get behind in my work. He would frequently burst into tears, which made me feel very guilty and back down. He would also remind me for days, sometimes weeks afterwards, about things that I had said which had upset him.

He then began to react in similar ways at times when I did not snap at him but was just sad or quiet. He said if I truly loved and trusted him, I would have no need to ever feel sad. I began to believe that he was right, that that was how true relationships worked and perhaps I had just never learnt to love properly before. I felt very ashamed of my behaviour towards him and couldn’t understand why I kept snapping or why I couldn’t feel happier.

Feeling under such pressure to be happy, I became more stressed and upset. He started to tell me that I had mental health problems and severe trust issues. He told me he could put up with me being snappy because he saw the good in me and thought I would get better as I learnt to trust him properly. My insecurity became worse and worse and I felt guilty that, from my perspective, he was having to take the time to teach me how to be in the relationship with him and put up with my issues. However, I still had a small voice in my head saying he was wrong and that I was better than he said, and I found myself bouncing back and forth between these two mentalities. I had had good, long-term relationships before this one and so couldn’t understand why all these issues hadn’t come up before. I wondered if my ex-partners just hadn’t told me how bad I was. We continued to have intense arguments, usually ignited by me either snapping as a result of being miserable and over-tired, or disagreeing with something he had said or done. He would leap on anything negative on my part, however minor, and tell me how much I was hurting him, crying and pleading with me to say I was wrong, to trust and believe him. He would interrupt and talk over me, faster and louder so I could not respond. No matter the subject, he would always steer the argument towards me not trusting him. I felt very confused and began to doubt all of my opinions. He told me that my parents were to blame and that I had insecurity issues because of my relationship with them. He insisted throughout that he was trying to help me, to fix me and that I had to let him. Because I felt it was me initiating the arguments, I believed he was right and that I was in the wrong. I vowed to listen to him more and to change my behaviour.

–> Post 2 – The use of self-harm and further confusion