‘My 12 years of hell’ - Norwich domestic abuse victim speaks out

Lorraine Saunders was 21 years old when she met her first husband. Looking back, she struggles to recall what she saw in him: 'He was always a bit of a prat to be honest'.

But describing herself as naive and with low self-esteem, she says she was simply grateful to find somebody who was attracted to her.

Within four months she was pregnant and after a year they were married. Despite her partner's increasingly abusive behaviour, she felt trapped.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Lakenham, Norwich, said: 'It started soon after we got together with a slap now and again. At that point it would have been easy to get out because I had no ties to him. Looking back I wish I'd ended it straight away. But I made excuses and thought it would be OK.

'He was always jealous and controlling. He'd attack me if I didn't look right or if I spoke to somebody else.

'I weighed six stone but he would call me fat and I thought, if he says I'm fat, it must be true. I felt worthless.

'It gradually got worse. I was always bruised but he would hit me in places that people would never see. I'd wear clothes which covered the bruises and if I had black eyes I'd wear sunglasses.

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'The house had to be immaculate and I had to have his dinner on the table when he got home. He would be set off by the slightest thing, sometimes nothing at all.

'You name it – the worst kind of abuse you can imagine – he did it to me.

'He would rape me and then, straight afterwards, swear at me and call me names.'

Lorraine felt unable to seek help, convincing herself that nobody would believe her story.

'People in the neighbourhood thought he was such a nice man,' she said.

Her biggest concern was for her daughter, now 23. Lorraine would send her daughter to a friend's house whenever there was an argument and was convinced she did not know what was going on.

'After 12 years something happened which made me realise I had to leave him. My daughter was eating her dinner and spilled some peas. He grabbed her head and made her eat them off the floor. I pulled him off her and he threw a metal biscuit tin at my head. I managed to dodge it but it embedded itself in the wall. She screamed at him 'leave my mum alone'.

'I realised then that she knew exactly what was going on and I had to get out of the relationship for her sake.'

Lorraine sought legal advice. Her husband began stalking her after tracking down the safe house she was staying in but she managed to obtain an injunction.

She has since remarried and has two children by her new husband. She said: 'It took me a long time to be able to trust a man again, probably five or six years.

'If I could talk to the younger version of myself my message would be: 'wake up and get out of it straight away'. If I had known then what I know now about the impact on my daughter, there is no way I would have put up with it for so long.'

She now runs Dawns New Horizon which describes itself as a non-judgemental personal service for victims. The group can put victims in touch with support groups, offer help with housing and explain how to develop a plan to leave their partner safely. But victims are not forced to report their partners and can speak in confidence.

She said: 'When I speak to victims I am able to empathise with them. When I say 'I know what you're going through because I've been there' they know I mean it.

'It is easy to tell somebody they should leave their abusive partner – it is much harder to do.

'My message to anybody who is suffering is make sure you get proof. Keep a note of any incidents or even take a photo on your phone, send it to somebody and then delete it.

'Most of all, get out as early as you can. The longer you stay in a relationship, the harder it is to leave.'

Contact Dawns New Horizon on 0844 8843140, email dawnsnewhorizon@btinternet.com or visit www.domestic-violence-norwich.org.uk You can also find the group on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.