Demi’s Ruby@Turnaround story

Our Ruby@Turnaround teams support lots of people affected by current or historic domestic abuse, offering practical and emotional support along with counselling and group sessions, tackling related issues. Lockdown has meant that victims of domestic abuse are often stuck indoors with the perpetrator, so the team are going the extra mile to think up new ways they can safely talk to the people they’re supporting. If anything positive can be taken from the situation, it’s that the team are finding ever more discrete methods to reach out to victims and bring them to safety at a time when their lives may be at risk. We’re working alongside women to figure this out, interviewing women on their experiences and sharing their stories to spark a realisation in other victims. Some people may not even know that they’re in an abusive relationship, so it’s so important that we share those insights that may just resonate with someone and give them that push to get support.

Last week, we spoke to Demi* who has escaped an abusive partner who she was in a relationship with for five years. She is currently living in a women’s refuge during lockdown with her three children. Liam*, Poppy* and Ryan*. Liam has additional needs, autism and ADHD which makes her home life quite stressful. She has been getting support from Shelley, our specialist domestic abuse practitioner, for the past few months to process what has happened to her. When we talked to her, she was beaming with triumph at finding the courage to call child maintenance services to seek financial support from her abuser. This is something she would have been too scared to do in the past but says that Shelley has helped her to find the ‘strength inside her that was always there somewhere’, and let it out. Demi laughs about her reaction to this, telling us: ‘I was giddy-upping around the garden like a horse afterwards’. Her new positive outlook on life is so contagious and as she sings the lyrics, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, down the handset you can really feel this coming from deep inside. When asked the main reason she wanted to chat to us, Demi says it was to make people aware that, ‘there’s people who will help you and they don’t even know you’, and also to give people the hope that, ‘you can get out’. According to Demi, Shelley has, ‘boosted her up’. She now feels able to share her story to support others and her own daughter who she never wants to have to experience domestic abuse.

Liam and Poppy’s father died a few years ago and had physically abused Demi during their eight- year relationship which she started with him at age 18. Ricky* was ten years older and she felt like he could really protect her and look after her. He was always very controlling both physically and emotionally. Ricky worked as a doorman and would only allow Demi to go out to bars where he worked so he could keep an eye on her. She remembers a particular incident when she asked to go to a different bar and he threw a drink over her. The abuse was constant. He would be out for long hours of the day. would expect his dinner to be waiting for him and never ask Demi about how her day had gone. And then there was the physical abuse. Demi talks very openly about the vicious attacks that Ricky would make on her, beating her. He punched her and made her nose bleed, spat at her and chased her up the street so that all the neighbours could see. She remembers this happening with Liam, a toddler then, witnessing. Liam still remembers his dad doing this. One moment stands out which Demi found particularly terrifying. She was being attacked by Ricky so much that she says she couldn’t even find the capacity to scream. ‘I just froze. He wouldn’t stop. When I tried to scream for my mum, the words wouldn’t come out’, she said. ‘He could’ve killed me’. This abuse continued whilst Demi was pregnant with Poppy – Ricky had no restraint. It was only when Ricky died that the abuse finally ended, too. Demi says she doesn’t know why she didn’t leave him. ‘I just wanted to keep my family together’, she said. ‘Why didn’t I run away?’ After he had died, Demi even found out that Ricky had been having an affair with another woman for a long time. Even after his death, he brought her pain.

Because of the severe abuse that Demi had faced during her past relationship she felt really lucky to have met her new partner, Michael*, who seemed like the perfect gentleman. When she first met Michael she felt really intrigued by him. He didn’t make eye contact during their first meeting at a mutual friend’s party and she was quite taken aback by this. She said she felt like she had to ‘work her way in’. Now she feels like he did this on purpose. He seemed a lot calmer and kinder than anything she had known before and for the first six months they had what she describes as a completely normal relationship. She was happy. Demi thinks that Michael took advantage of her ‘niceness’ completely. She’s a really relaxed and lovely person and says that sometimes she thinks this makes people ‘walk all over her’. He began making little comments about her appearance, making excuses for this afterwards.

The first really impactful instance of abuse she remembers is Michael telling Demi he would leave her if she didn’t get a job. He would make her feel inadequate for not working all the time. They would go to family parties together and he would leave completely unannounced. He made her feel so confused and worried that she had said or done something to upset him. Michael started falling out with Demi’s family members next. He fell out with Demi’s cousin and stopped Demi from seeing her. Michael would make nasty comments about Demi’s family, even her own children. That’s when things got too far. Demi was heavily pregnant with Michael’s son and on her due date he kicked her out of the house because he said he couldn’t cope with her eldest son, Liam. ‘I never forgave him over that’, Demi said. Michael made Demi find a house of her own so that he didn’t have to live with Liam, saying he couldn’t deal with his behavioural issues. Even then, Michael still wanted a relationship with Demi and would monitor the house which he had picked out for her, a house that was very close to his own. Demi’s family were very concerned about her and recognised these behaviours weren’t right. They helped her to see what was happening but what really hit home was her finding a note written by her daughter in her room. The note read:

‘I am really scared of my stepdad and he is really mean to my mum…I can’t sleep…I want this to stop’.

‘How could I do that to my kids?’ thought Demi.

It was then when she started to feel the strength to do something alongside the stronger anti-depressants she was now taking.

Even after Demi ended their relationship, Michael would still seek to manipulate her, saying things like ‘how can you take my kids away from me?’ When first talking to the Ruby@Turnaround team, Demi said she was ‘constantly on edge’. She would be too worried to even step outside in case she saw neighbours because Michael didn’t want her to see anyone. ‘I felt like I was getting swallowed’, she said. He would cry one minute and beg for her to forgive him and then shout about the state of the house. He didn’t pay towards her household bills but expected the best from her. Even now, the abuse is still ongoing from afar. Michael will threaten to kill himself unless Demi gets back together with him. Shelley had warned Demi about the types of behaviour that might happen once she stood up for herself and when Demi left, Michael started to physically abuse her. This was a really scary experience for Demi but it was made a lot better by the fact that she felt prepared that this might happen. ‘Shelley knows everything’, she said. She has been able to explain the reasons why Michael might act a certain way. Demi says this ‘opens up your eyes, you start to see why they are doing these things’. He would always tease Demi’s oldest children and Shelley suggested that this might be because they weren’t his. He didn’t feel like he had as much control over them perhaps. Demi was so distressed by Michael calling Liam names constantly but now that she understands why this might be she has been able to process things and think more clearly. Shelley helps her in so many ways to manage her emotions and also with practical tips and tools. The support she’s received is so much more all-encompassing than she had ever expected from Ruby@Turnaround.

Demi is now living in a women’s refuge. What she has been through is still so fresh and still affects her life but she now feels safe. She has a home where she is looked after, she has stability for her children and even a garden where she can play with the kids. Demi has met a young woman who lives in the refuge too. The woman has been through similar experiences and Demi has taken under her wing, cooking her teas and continuing to talk at a safe distance. Her situation really resonates with Demi and she’s using her shared experience to offer support from the goodness of her heart.

Demi’s clearly shaken by what she’s experienced and by the situation the pandemic has put her in, but she’s also really surprised by how she has settled. She said that whilst she feels trapped in one respect, she feels so much more free in another. ‘I’m just so happy’, she says explaining how her life now has structure and she doesn’t need to ‘tread on eggshells’. She feels like this has been enabled by Ruby@Turnaround. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without Shelley’, she says more seriously, ‘she’s always on the end of the phone when I need her and she’s more like a friend’. Demi is surprised by the support she’s received. After first receiving very subtle support because she didn’t really know she was in an abusive relationship, Shelley says she is almost unrecognisable and is helping Shelley to see a new perspective on life too. Demi’s now looking to the future positively, planning a new home for her and her children and career aspirations to work in social care. She’s been inspired by how her life has been changed for the better and would like to do the same for others.

To finish, we asked Demi what she would say to someone finding themselves in an abusive relationship now, particularly those in isolation. She had these strong words:

‘I’d tell people to get out, whatever way you can. Reach out to anyone you can, even a neighbour. I just want them to get out; there is light at the end of that dark, horrible tunnel’.

Wise words which we hope can bring hope to people finding themselves in an abusive relationship right now.