Today marks the first of a 16-day campaign for the Shields Gazette, aimed at raising awareness of domestic violence. Run by Impact Family Services, the initiative hopes to raise £8,000 by December 10 - and create as many homes as possible.
“Standing staring at yourself in the mirror, you know deep down that you’re worth more than this.”
But it still took Sandra seven years to escape her life of hell at the hands of her partner.
To anyone on the outside, leaving an abusive relationship may seem as simple as packing a bag and going.
For those trapped in one, gaining enough courage to make the step can take years, and finally walking out of the door into freedom can be like a military operation.
For one South Tyneside mum, it took seven years before she finally made the break along with with her two children.
Each day Sandra* would look at herself in the mirror knowing what was happening was wrong, but also knowing that leaving would destroy the family unit she worked hard to keep together.
She finally sought help from domestic violence charity Options run by Impact Family Services.
It was only after she left she found out her children were being blamed for her bruises.
She said: “I wish I had left earlier. It has taken time, but I now feel like the person I was before we got together.
“I have such a close bond with my two children. It wasn’t until we left and I sat down and spoke to them that I found out how much it had all impacted on them. I had hidden it from them.
“I used to look at myself in the mirror and believe what was happening was OK as long as we were a family unit, and that we’d be all right.
“But it wasn’t all right. That is not a family unit and I didn’t want my children to grow up thinking that was acceptable behaviour towards women.”
She added: “I had no idea until after I left that he used to blame the children for my bruises. He used to tell them that because they had left a toy out on the floor, I had fallen and that’s why I was bruised.”
Sandra had known her partner all her life and they eventually became a couple when she was 20.
Life for the couple – and Sandra’s son from a previous relationship – was good.
At first, she had been dubious as she had already left one abusive partner.
For her he was the perfect partner who restored her faith in men.
All that changed following the birth of their son. He began to drink and take drugs and jealously started to set in.
His behaviour became so controlling, Sandra would have to produce receipts for everything she bought – even down to buying a packet of crisps for her children.
The 28-year-old said: “He started to blame me for his failings. He became possessive and controlling. There were more arguments, but at first there was no violence.
“When I think about it now, all the warning signs were there but when you are in love with someone, there is also an element of denial.
“You hear and read about victims but you never think you will become one. I think that’s part of it too.”
Over time, her partner’s abusive behaviour escalated and Sandra soon became a punchbag.
On one occasion she was left with a fractured jaw and a broken nose.
He would then force himself on her, using sex as a way of exercising his power over her.
Police were called on a number of occasions and each time he would receive a caution for his behaviour.
She said: “The kids were witness to a lot of arguments, but I could hide the aftermath. I was having blackouts and would blame the bruising or any of the smashed items on me collapsing.
“No one really knew the full extent of what I was going through. A few friends told me I deserved better, but I couldn’t see it.
“Since coming to Options, I have become the person I was before we got together, I’ve got my life back.
“I am quite a strong person, but when they grind you down, you don’t even realise the person you’re turning into,
“The best advice I can give is get help. The support is out there. It is hard to leave but you can do it.
“Since my ex I haven’t been in another relationship but me and my kids are happy. There is no stress, or worry – we’re happy and life is so much better.”
*Sandra is not the woman’s real name.
About the campaign - and how you can help
A domestic abuse charity in South Tyneside has revealed up to 95 a women a month are turning to them for help and support.
Options, which is run by Impact Family Services, has been helping victims, who have found themselves at the mercy of their controlling and violent partners, for 19 years.
In the past 12 months it has received 1,150 referrals from women desperate for help and support – whether that’s to escape their abuse or staying safe while they pluck up the courage to leave.
Of those who have taken the leap of faith, 75 have been supported in setting up a new safe place for them and their children to live.
Today, the Gazette has joined forces with Family Impact Services to raise awareness of what is still essentially a “hidden crime” and urging victims not to suffer in silence.
The drive is part of the charity’s 16 days to create a home campaign, which aims to raise £8,000 between now and December 10.
The money will be used to help cover removal costs and furnishing a home for a victim who at times can flee their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs and those of their children.
Julie Robinson, Options project manager, said: “Without this essential funding we would not be able to help so many women and children escape into safe accommodation.
“Until you are in that position, you have no idea the strength and courage it takes for a woman to leave her abusive partner, the home she loves behind to step into the unknown.
“Some of the women that come to us, have nothing. They have been stripped of their confidence and their self-respect. They are often lost and unable to understand how they’ve come to be in the position they’ve now found themselves in.
“And this is why this fund is so important, With your help we can give them their life back by helping to give them a fresh start. The lift they need to create a safe home for them and their children.
“The funding allows us to pay for emergency lock changes if they are lucky enough to be able to keep their homes, taxis to a refuge, and any removal costs, including the collection and distribution of items of furniture which have been kindly donated by the general public.
“The Creating a Home Project is lifeline for those families who have suffered mentally, emotionally and physically at the hands of their partners – and it can only keep going with your support.”
To donate to the Creating Home Project, visit www.mydonate.bt.com/charities/impactfamilyservices or visit the website www.impactfs.co.uk and hit the donate button.
l For information on Family Impact Services and Options, contact 456 7577.