15 Oct 2012

Domestic violence ‘completely destroyed me’

Home Affairs Correspondent

In a harrowing account, Katy, a victim of domestic violence, waives her legal right to anonymity to talk openly about the brutal physical and sexual assaults she endured at the hands of her partner.

Katy’s flashbacks are debilitating.

“They’re not like memories. It’s as if I’m locked into the past, completely reliving the moment,” she says.

She’s even had to develop a technique called “grounding” to combat them, to propel herself back into the present. So she will put her feet on the floor, or touch some fabric to sense the texture, or say out loud: “It’s 10.30, Monday morning, and I’m sitting in my lounge” – anything mundane to extract herself from what she describes as a graphic video which she is forced to watch through to the end and unable to pause.

And the content is harrowing.

“What is it you have to watch?” I ask her.

Katy replies quietly: “Mainly the rapes… and the attack on the night he was arrested.”

Katy is a 36-year-old accountant. She has decided to waive her legal right to anonymity to tell Channel 4 News about her relationship with Martin Warden, a man who was sentenced last July to 13 years in prison for six rapes and one assault against a “local woman”.

That local woman was Katy, his partner of seven years. She wants this interview to serve as a brutally vivid account of what happens when, as a victim of domestic violence, it is left too late to seek help.

Getting help
National Domestic Abuse 24hr Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Women's Aid website: www.womensaid.org.uk
In an emergency, always dial 999 and ask for the police
For domestic violence perpetrators, there is the Respect helpline, open Mon-Fri 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm, on 0808 802 4040
Respect phoneline website: www.respectphoneline.org.uk

“Something he used to do on a daily basis was little twisting pinches, almost like Chinese burn pinches on my arms and legs, pretty much whenever he felt like it,” recalls Katy.

Originally from Sheffield, Katy met Martin, an IT technician, in Swindon, Wiltshire, 12 years ago when they were both working for a small manufacturing company in the town. Towards the end of 2003 they started dating. After they moved in together, his extreme bouts of jealousy became violent.

“His favourite was to hit me really hard around the back of the head… really hard slaps,” says Katy. Softly spoken, she calmly lists the incidences of sustained cruelty she endured. From having knives pressed against her stomach to being trapped in rooms with her arms twisted being her back, she was subjected to repeated physical abuse.

At times he used to push her out of bed in the middle of the night.

After I got my new job, he raped me quite violently lots of times. Katy

“I know I used to have broken ribs from that,” says Katy, explaining how she used to hit the bedside table while tumbling out of the bed.

Shame and fear

Her self-esteem gradually eroded, Katy’s perspective on what was actually happening to her became grossly impaired. So entrenched was she in this violent relationship, she began to see herself as the problem, adopting an approach of “if only I tried harder, he wouldn’t be like this”.

On one occasion, in utter despair, she did try to call a domestic abuse charity but, when diverted to a voicemail recommending the police, she put the phone down. Katy was paranoid that if the police turned up, witnessing her in hysterics and Warden composed, they’d dismiss her as “completely overreacting”. She was too ashamed to discuss what was going on with friends and family. She was also terrified about what would happen if she suddenly ended the relationship. Warden, she says, had repeatedly threatened to kill her if she left him.

In 2010, after Katy moved jobs, the violence escalated yet again. Warden began raping her.

Domestic violence: The national picture
One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime.
One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.
On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
45 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men have experienced one incidence of inter-personal violence in their lifetimes, however when there are more than four incidents – indicating ongoing domestic or sexual abuse – 89 per cent of the victims were women.
Domestic violence is still largely a hidden crime – on average, 35 assaults happen before the police are called.
Fewer than one in four people who suffer abuse by their partner report it to the police – but conviction rates have improved for cases referred to prosecutors, up from 69 per cent in 2007/8 to 73 per cent in 2011/12.
(Source: Women’s Aid, the British Crime Survey)

“After I got my new job, he raped me quite violently lots of times,” says Katy.

When she tried to fight back, he became more violent. She appealed to him to stop: “A couple of times I did say to him ‘you raped me’ and he would generally mock me with ‘You raped me! You raped me! I’m sick of hearing that!’… I’d be screaming and crying and he just wouldn’t react.”

Katy describes the psychological impact of these attacks as devastating.

“I could cope with the physical violence and emotional blackmail but having that done to me just completely destroyed me,” she says.

Even at this stage, she couldn’t bring herself to get help. The thought of telling a friend or talking to the police about the rapes appeared too shameful. Instead, the idea of suicide now increasingly occupied her thoughts.

Katy has waived her anonymity to talk about her escape from domestic violence.

It all culminated in a particularly severe assault in the evening on 23 September 2010.

Having admitted in a rare moment of confrontation that she’d only got the new job to get some space from him, Katy recalls how Warden just “went berserk”.

He grabbed her by the throat, bashed her head against the wall, shoved her onto the floor and then, grabbing her hair again, threw her onto the bed. He slammed her wrists down onto the metal bedstead and to stifle Katy’s screams, then smothered her nose and mouth. Eventually, she says, he put his hand around her throat and squeezed it until she passed out.

Although initially, when you leave, it may seem things have got worse, if you just persevere things will get better. Katy

When Katy regained consciousness she fled from the house and contacted a friend in hysterics. The police were called in. An investigation and prosecution ensued and in July last year, after Katy gave evidence at his trial via videolink at Swindon Crown Court, Warden was found guilty of six rapes and one assault. The impact on her, however, had been profound. In the period since his imprisonment, Katy, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, has tried to commit suicide three times.

‘Things do get better’

It is only now, she says, that she is beginning to find a “sense of self” again. With counselling, she has begun a slow process of recovery, rebuilding her life, re-establishing old friendships.

The flashbacks, finally, are diminishing.

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“Things do get better,” Katy tells me.

“Although initially, when you leave, it may seem things have got worse, if you just persevere things will get better and you will get your life back on track again.”

In this brave and remarkable interview, Katy offers a rare and important glimpse into an aspect of society as pervasive as it is ugly. According to the Home Office, more than 60,000 women in England and Wales are raped each year, and more than half of those rapes are carried out by a current or former partner.

To her enduring regret, Katy did not seek help sooner. She wants to tell her story now, to resonate with others suffering in silence as she was once, to let them know: There are people out there who will listen, who will understand, and who will help.

Channel 4 News would like to thank Hometruths, a Swindon based domestic abuse service, for their help in the making of this report. A not-for-profit organisation, Hometruths provides specialist services to anyone from the ago of 16 who is, or has experienced domestic violence and abuse from partners, ex-partners or family members, living in Swindon and surrounding areas.