Blog by Emilia Meissner, Project Worker
(on behalf of a young mother from Project Unity)
Project Unity is a NYAS Cymru project funded by Welsh Government. We offer independent holistic wraparound support to care-experienced pregnant and new mothers up to the age of 25 years across Wales.
We provide one-to-one emotional, practical and advocacy support with the aim of keeping families together, wherever possible. We are young person led – the young women decide what support they require from us.
Young women with similar experiences are invited to meet each other and many form connections and friendships through the project. Project Unity has a particular focus on healthy relationships and gender equality.
For the purpose of this blog, we spoke to one of our Project Unity young mothers about her experiences of domestic abuse. This is her story from childhood to adulthood, in her own words.
What does domestic abuse mean to you?
- Loads of things. Mental abuse, physical abuse. Mental abuse is worse.
When did you first witness domestic abuse?
- With my mum’s relationship when I was a child. It felt normal.
- Because of the domestic abuse, I went into care at twelve. I lived in foster placements and children’s homes.
- I got no support for the domestic abuse I witnessed when I was a child. The foster carers were good but everyone else was shit! I just got passed around.
- I took myself out of the care system at 17 even though I was still on a care order.
- The transition to independence was easy because I’ve always looked after myself.
- The domestic abuse I experienced when I was a child doesn’t affect me now because I’ve been in that situation and experienced domestic abuse for myself.
Have you experienced domestic abuse in your own relationships?
- Yes, with two of my partners.
- My previous ex-partner, my baby’s dad, was not abusive when we were first together. Everything was fine. However, when I found out my dad had cancer, he became abusive, he said I was his and he owned me. But this doesn’t seem too bad compared to my recent ex. Everyone else said they could see early warning signs. I phoned the police, and he was found guilty for domestic abuse. He’s being bailed.
- My recent ex was older and had a child, so I thought it was going to work. I even asked social services to do checks on him, they told me he had full custody of his daughter, so I wasn’t worried. My ex lost his mum to domestic abuse – his dad murdered her. I thought it was going to be fine, but he knew exactly what he was doing. He was abusive and burnt my hand.
- I go to a group for healthy relationships and told the group what happened. They phoned the police, then my son ended up on the child protection register. My ex is on bail conditions not to be in the area. I had to leave my home to keep my son, but he is still on the child protection register.
- When I left my home, social services placed me back with my child’s dad, but he was violent too so we had to leave to stay in a domestic abuse refuge. Some of the residents were drug users so me and my son were stuck in a room for two weeks. The refuge was in the middle of nowhere, half an hour away from a shop. I felt more controlled in the refuge than in the relationship. The staff at the refuge were good but they were usually in the office. I think the staff at refuges should be people who’ve experienced domestic abuse themselves, not just anyone who doesn’t understand. Me and my son have left the refuge now and we have been staying with my mum while we wait to be housed because we’re not allowed to go back home due to the domestic abuse I experienced there. Because my son is on the child protection register, social services have to see him every ten days. I’m lucky I’ve got a good social worker who supports me, my last social worker wasn’t good.
- For my son to come off the child protection register, I need to be living in my own house. I have signed for a house and my domestic abuse support worker has arranged to put locks on the doors to make it safe. When my son comes off the register, he will be watched for another three months by social services before the case is closed.
Does the domestic abuse you experienced still affect you now?
- Yeah, it messes with your head. I find it hard to be in relationships now. I wasn’t offered counselling or therapy. I don’t like it but for some people it works so I think it should be offered to people who have been through domestic abuse.
Has being in care as a child affected your relationships as an adult?
- Yes, I’m fucked. I’m not well in the head. It’s affected my relationships.
What support do care-experienced young women need to stay safe in relationships?
- Young people need to be worked with while they’re in care to learn about healthy relationships.
- In schools, people come into to talk about drugs but not relationships… the reality is not everyone will try drugs, but almost everyone will try a relationship.
- It’s important to work with young people not just to spot the signs of domestic abuse but also how to be a good partner. Women need that education too.
What can Project Unity do to support victims of domestic abuse?
- Project Unity is the best support I’ve got. They’re actually on our side.
Reflections from a Project Unity Worker
It was clear from talking to this young woman that domestic abuse can affect anyone, at any point in their lives. When a child witnesses domestic abuse in the home at a young age, the behaviour becomes normalised, making early warning signs and ‘red flags’ difficult to spot when the time comes for them to form their own relationships. The young woman I spoke to made it clear that
domestic abuse prevention should start very early in life, before young people start having relationships. Schools can play a part in domestic abuse prevention by teaching healthy relationships awareness, how to spot the signs of domestic abuse, and what support is available.
At Project Unity, we believe domestic abuse prevention is everyone’s responsibility, so people of all ages and genders should be involved in discussions about healthy relationships. Domestic abuse can ruin and, in the most tragic of circumstances, end lives. By uplifting the stories and advice of people with lived experience of domestic abuse, we have the chance to put an end to domestic abuse for everyone.
Thank you to this amazing young woman for sharing her story with us.
Project Unity referrals/enquires
You can make a Project Unity referral using the online referral form or by calling the NYAS helpline on 0808 808 1001.
This was released as part of our domestic violence conference, “When home is where the hurt is: understanding and responding to domestic abuse“.