The slow, grinding impact of being worn down, day after day, should not be underestimated

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In the beginning, Justin Lee Collins was the perfect boyfriend. He was wonderful, kind, generous. I remember thinking: "How on earth did I ever get so lucky?" I was completely smitten.

Within weeks of moving in together, however, his true colours started to show. He started telling me what to wear and how to do my hair. He was jealous of me seeing my friends and family, and would make it difficult for me to see or speak to them. The abuse built up gradually. It was mainly emotional and verbal: he would call me names if he didn't liked the way I looked – "slut", "whore", "dog" – anything to make me feel bad about myself.

If I didn't do what he wanted, he would fly into a rage. I wasn't allowed to have an opinion. He forced me to tell him details about my previous relationships, which he wrote down in a pad. He told me it was important for our relationship, and that he wanted to know only because he loved me so much. He became more possessive, making me close down my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

I was so scared of upsetting him. I knew that what was happening wasn't right, but I was terrified that he would leave me. I desperately wanted things to work out, and I thought that if I did what he wanted, his behaviour would change.

When I look back now, it's so clear to see that he was bullying and harassing me. But at the time I was incredibly confused and worn down. He made me stay up late, and he would wake me up in the middle of the night, telling me I had to sleep facing him. I was emotionally exhausted – a shadow of my former confident self.

I know people find it hard to imagine why women stay with abusive men, but the truth is that it can be very difficult to accept that the person you should love and trust the most is hurting you. My ex could also be charming and kind, lavishing me with gifts. The constant switch in behaviours was disorienting. It was like living with two different people.

After enduring months of emotional and verbal abuse, something snapped. He was never going to change. I had to get out.

I didn't go to the police straight away. I went to my parents' house and stayed there for a couple of months. I cried a lot and spent time looking at websites about domestic violence, trying to come to terms with what had happened. I'd always thought that if a man treated me badly, I'd never put up with it. I realise now that it's not that simple.

The slow, grinding impact of being worn down, day after day, should not be underestimated. People think that domestic violence is all about black eyes, but the effects of emotional abuse and harassment can be just as damaging. I am still bruised, inside, from the experience.

In the end, my dad went to the police. I was reluctant, but they were very supportive, and I realised that I couldn't let my ex get away with what he'd done. If I didn't speak up, I knew he would go on to hurt someone else.

Going through the court process was incredibly hard. I had to describe all the ways he had abused me. I couldn't cope with seeing him in person, so I was allowed to give evidence behind a screen. In the end, he was convicted of harassment and sentenced to 140 hours of community service. Of course, I was pleased that he was found guilty, but I was appalled at the sentence. I experienced a prolonged campaign of fear and abuse at his hands. For that I believe he deserved to spend time in jail.

Channel 5 recently offered my abuser the chance to appear on Celebrity Big Brother. Although he turned down the offer, I am deeply upset that it was even made. What kind of message does that send out to society? That domestic violence is not a serious crime? That abusive men should be rewarded with lucrative deals?

There are thousands of women who are going through the same thing as me. Some of those women might be reading this right now. My message to them would be this: you are not alone. There is support out there. Refuge can help. I have been working with this wonderful charity for a couple of months now, and I have seen the extraordinary work it does.

There is a way to rebuild your life after domestic violence. I have done it. I am still doing it. And I will continue to speak out against this horrific crime to help other women.

Anna Larke is a supporter of Refuge's work. www.refuge.org.uk

The Independent on Sunday Christmas Appeal is for the national domestic violence charity Refuge. To make a donation visit: http://refuge.org.uk/independent-on-sunday-appeal/

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