Leslie*, now in her sixties, met her future husband when she was a teenager. She spent her married life afraid of him, enduring physical attacks and his controlling behaviour. He would sometimes tell her to beg for forgiveness for things he felt she had done wrong.
“There were controlling things from the start. Later, he started to make out I was mentally unstable. He’d hide things and try to convince me he hadn’t and make me go on my knees and beg for forgiveness for things he thought I’d done. He made it clear that if I didn’t behave, I’d go to a mental home and I’d lose the children.”
When Leslie was in her fifties, she found out about East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services (ESDAS). With their support, she found the courage to end her marriage and start a new life. She’s been volunteering with the project since 2008, helping to support other women dealing with domestic abuse.
“I was in my fifties when I finally left. Nobody has been in a relationship so long they can’t leave. Now I help people recognise the tactics of abusers. Once you realise how it works, you say: ‘How did I not see it?’. Once you can understand, you can start to heal.”
Leslie says she no longer fears opening her own front door and is happy to be on her own. The memories of the abuse she suffered remain but she is determined to help and support other women.
“I did some legal training so I could support the women in court. It’s a privilege to be there for them. It’s what I’m supposed to do. ESDAS didn’t just save my life, they changed it. I love opening my front door now and not being scared.”
*identities have been protected
East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services run a range of services for survivors of domestic abuse living in East Surrey, including legal advice, counselling, and support around issues such as debt and housing.
They reach across towns and rural areas by utilizing a range of community venues and, every year, run over 500 face-to-face appointments for those who find themselves in crisis after experiencing abuse.
Comic Relief funding helps to pay for their services and fund their volunteer scheme.