What The US Can Learn From A Breakthrough Domestic Abuse Law In England

by Tristen Lee

Domestic abuse manifests itself in many ways, and it's not just physical. Psychological abuse, also known as "gaslighting," is common, often overlooked and in no way less damaging.

Until recently, a victim would have had to be physically assaulted or subjected to criminal damage to have a case against his or her perpetrator. In January 2016, as reported by The Independent, a new legislation was passed in the UK under the Serious Crime Bill, stating men or women who emotionally abuse their partners will face up to five years in jail if found guilty of “controlling or coercive" behavior.

Such behavior can include preventing a partner from seeing family or friends, controlling his or her finances without consent, domineering what he or she posts on social media, spying on his or her communications and controlling aspects of his or her day-to-day life, such as where he or she can go and for how long.

In what has been described as a "landmark moment" by the chief executive of Women's Aid, a domestic abuse charity, the new law targets perpetrators who trap their victims in a "living hell" with threats, blackmail, bribery, humiliation and intimidation. Research shows that 30 percent of women (an estimated 5 million) and 16 percent of men (2.5 million), experience one form of domestic abuse in their lifetimes.

I was in a destructive relationship for nearly seven years. On occasion, things would turn physical; the rest of the time, I wish it had been. I found it easier to cope with the physical pain over the constant mind games, acts of spite and total isolation.

Over the years, friends fell by the wayside, unable to cope with the frequent bouts of "I'm leaving this time," the tears, the depression, the impulsive behavior brought on by another aggressive drunken outburst or the pain of another girl he had cheated on me with. People would often ask why I wouldn't leave; they would say it's my fault for putting up with this time and time again. It's not that we can't leave, it's that we're made to feel like we'd be worthless if we do.

A problem was found with everyone I felt close to -- even a harmless trip to the gym became a battle of unjust infidelity accusations and no longer felt worth the trouble. One late text on an occasional night out would mean returning to a barrage of smashed household items and a stone cold shoulder, leaving me groveling to make up for some unknown wrongdoing.

It was the cheating that really ate away at me. The majority of the time, it would happen whilst he was away on tour or at the studio where he worked. I'm certain there were occasions where he'd be messaging girls whilst lying next to me in bed. It was soul-destroying.

On websites, he would be sneaky. He would use different email addresses and aliases, but not being the sharpest tool in the box, he would openly post on his profile for girls to "hang out with" in the cities that he was touring in. Sort of like an infidelity map, if you like.

I'll never forget that horrible sick feeling in my gut and lump in my throat every time he'd storm out after an argument; a seed would always be cruelly placed in my mind, that he could get with someone out of spite if he wanted to.

Being drained financially as well as emotionally, I would occasionally gear myself up to leave, only to be reined back in with the good old victim card: I've found a lump; I think I have cancer; my dad was abusive; I'm depressed; I've had an awful life; I think I'm addicted to weed; I have a drinking problem; look how much I've done for you; you would be dead without me.

Desperately unhappy and in debt from paying the entire rent for our flat each month, the end came after one final cheating on his part. Of course, him being the king of bravado, it happened at his place of work, where there was a host of mutual friends around that he could brag to afterward.

Worried I would find out (and the fact that I'd already caught him with lipstick around his mouth in days previous), he called off the relationship, placing the blame firmly on my shoulders.

There was no word of his cheating, just an onslaught of culpability: You're hard to live with. You're paranoid. I feel trapped...

Even though there was an overwhelming feeling of relief as the hot tears streamed down my face, I can't deny that hearing those words hurt. But two days later, I found out the truth and realized that it's not me -- it's him.

An absurd four months of "who told you?" arguments ensued, whilst he verbally abused everyone he thought might have informed me of his affair. He felt betrayed. This was followed by an even more bizarre "hoovering" attempt, in which he showed up on my doorstep and proclaimed that somebody had put a hit out on him. (It wasn't me; I was broke.)

After receiving the odd "sort your life out" Facebook message, communication eventually ceased. I threw myself into my career and worked to rebuild the friendships I'd lost over the best part of a decade.

Many tell me this was a learning curve, and for the most part, it was. I know I will never let anybody treat me this way again. I just wish it wasn't such a long process; I wish I had the balls to leave at the sound of those very first nuclear-war-sized alarm bells, but this behavior often materializes slowly.

From the day I found out about his last conquest, I never once cried. One year later, I have rebuilt my confidence, career, friendships and financial status. But even though I am over the person I once shared a life with, I will probably never get over some of the things that happened during that relationship.

Speaking to Daily Mail after the passing of the new legislation, Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said:

Controlling or coercive behavior can limit victims' basic human rights, such as their freedom of movement and their independence. This behavior can be incredibly harmful in an abusive relationship where one person holds more power than the other, even if on the face of it this behavior might seem playful, innocuous or loving.

She went on to say:

Victims can be frightened of the repercussions of not abiding by someone else's rules. Often, they fear that violence will be used against them or suffer from extreme psychological and emotional abuse. Being subjected to repeated intimidation or subordination can be as harmful as physical abuse, with many victims stating that trauma from psychological abuse had a more lasting impact than physical abuse.

Psychological abuse is often hard to spot from an outside perspective, and it's hard to break away as a victim. A perpetrator will manipulate you into thinking that you've fabricated issues, and that any ill treatment is your fault. Please know that neither of these things are true.

In the majority of cases, and eventually in mine, the most that will happen when you break away is that all his acquaintances (and anyone else who will listen) will be unduly informed that you're "so, so crazy, man," but let's be honest: Who really gives a f*ck about that.

Remember: A lion does not concern himself with the opinion of sheep. Know your worth.

If you are suffering from either emotional or physical abuse, or suspect that somebody you know may be suffering, please visit Women's Aid, Refuge or SafeLives to seek advice.