Saturday, 19 March 2016

Let's Save #Annie'sHouse - Part 2.

[This contains descriptions of domestic and sexual violence. I don't apologise for that. The men who commit those acts should. ]

Annie is going to lose her house later this year. She has to give her ex husband a share he was awarded ten years ago by a court after he disguised his finances and wealth. He has contributed nothing to its mortgage or upkeep for the past ten years and his other financial contributions to the children have been patchy. She works 2-3 low-paid jobs and she is skint. With three children to support, money does not go far. Over the past week a lot of you have pledged support for action to help her and I can't thank you enough. Annie does not want any money. She just wants to keep the house she has worked and paid for because she loves it and it keeps her sane in a world where men have tried to drive her mad.

Annie came to see me last night. She arrived late and shaken. I'll tell you why shortly, but first she would like me to pass on her thanks. She cried as she read some of your comments on Twitter and was overwhelmed that anyone cares about her situation.

The important thing to say is that this is not just about Annie. Other women have said in the last week  or so that they are in the same situation. Divorce from abusers frequently leaves women at an economic disadvantage at best and destitute at worst. This is assuming that they are not dead, because of course, the worst thing that happens to women that leave violent men is that those men kill them.

Robert is a well-respected *businessman* in Annie's home City. He doesn't formally present as one as that would mean he had to pay Annie money for the children. He hides the wealth behind a partner. Men who abuse women can be both successful and well-liked. They can often have positions of power and influence. It makes their abuse so easy.

I'm going to pass you over to the words of Annie as best I can.... I'm not wonderful at transcription. This is as accurate as I can make it.

She is talking about how she first began to let Robert into her life. Annie had escaped a first violent partner a couple of years previously. That man had beaten and abused her and finally sexually abused her with a beer bottle in a drug-induced fury. She had a small child, Nicky, and he was the father.  In the following days she put Nicky under her arm and she ran. She never went back. She left everything she owned behind. She lived. I think of her running and I think of her elation at escaping and she felt such optimism and joy and freedom. Then along came Robert.

"I kept Robert away from Nicky for a long time. It was probably a mistake. I recall an incident when we had been going out for a while. We left my flat, we hadn't bought the house yet, and we were driving out into the countryside and we had forgotten Nicky's football. He was 5. Robert turned around in the car, he's a terrible driver. You know that thing where if you said anything ... he'd like grip my arm... that was already happening...and he turned around and he was just so vile to Nicky.

I think we must've bought the house or been in the process of buying it actually, well he'd bought this house, because my name was never on it for years and years and I didn't even know that I didn't own anything, even though I was paying bills here and all sorts of things. He never contributed to Nicky or anything.

Anyway he turned round in the car and was so vile to Nicky and just screamed at him.. "STOP! STOPPIT!" and then "ACT YOUR AGE! GROW UP AND ACT YOUR AGE!" and he was 5 years old. He was 5! You see it came that be to get to me he would get to Nicky. It had already started and I didn't even see it. I was not supposed to spend time with Nicky. So if Nicky had an activity, there was sulking and there was stomping and banging about. You know where your body kind of tenses up and you're frightened? So I'd be thinking I'm not really allowed to do these things with my child. This obviously started before we were married but I didn't see it.

I can't remember lots of it but you know what happened. We got married. We went on our honeymoon. Which was very nice but it was "why were you talking to him?!" and I had those kind of questions while we were away and there was a guy that took us out on a tour one day and so I had to have a conversation with him but I was questioned and had to defend myself with "well... I was only talking about the fish " and that kind of thing.

Then the weekend after we got back and it was Friday night and the girls were going out and I went upstairs and got ready. At that time I was working full time and some days 7am to 7pm and so Friday night was always really important to me and I always went out with my friends. I thought I was happy. I was married and I was happy. I loved the new house. It was a shit tip but I loved it! I came down stairs and he was "are we going out?' So I was like.... "well... no... it's Friday night...girls night..I always go out with the girls on Friday". He looked me up and down like I was some piece of shit off the street and he said "I don't think so. You're married now." I went cold. I went cold all over. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Because I'd already had a really violent and abusive relationship I just felt sick. I felt like I had to stand my ground. Then I worried .... I feel sick just talking about it... but I felt a chill go down my spine. I did go out. I paid for it that weekend. He didn't speak to me He was aggressive and bullish and it was all my fault. He was intimidating. I pleaded with him and tried to get him to see my side. That it was normal to go out with my friends. I apologised and pleaded. I told him I was happy and wasn't going out to meet any other men. But he was a champion of using silence to punish me. So when I suggested me taking Nicky out for a bike ride he didn't want me to go without him. So we all went and when he was taking the bike down from the car he was swearing and he swung round and hit me in the shin with it on purpose. I took it. I tried not to show pain. Then we came to a gate and he decided to put it over the top for some reason. I said I would grab it at the other side. He then threw the bike at me. From above. He didn't say anything or apologise and people were looking at me crying. I felt so stupid. He barged me out of the way. That was it really. That was the start of it. "

Annie stopped at this point. She is determined to tell you her story and she is extremely brave but she finds remembering all this very difficult and can only do it in chunks. She has had nightmares about both partners for many years. She doesn't identify as a feminist. She has had therapy. She doesn't feel that it really helped and she feels that she will always suffer trauma as a result of Robert whether she receives help or not. I do of course signpost her to Women's Aid and others who can support her. She seems to find the best support is her friends. I've changed names and she is safe from him.

She had arrived late as her two younger children had been upset because of manipulative texts from her ex Robert to them. He has tried to come between them by asking for their support in taking his share of Annie's house. He won't consider, as they ask him to, that it is their house too and that they love it. Annie is determined that she will hold together herself, the house and her children.

As her story unfolds I'm hoping we can use her experience... firstly to raise issues around financial abuse... but also to try to show how the law needs to change around divorce and finances when abuse is involved. Abusive men should not be allowed to continue to abuse women after divorce through finances. This is frequently the case.

You can find the first post in the series "Let's Save Annie's House - Part 1" here

Love to all you women. Please use the hashtag #SaveAnniesHouse if you share this.

JH x