A woman whose abusive husband tried to murder her with a sawn-off shotgun has revealed how Valentine’s Day was among the most traumatic times of year as charities and campaigners warn the day can be particularly tough for victims of domestic violence.
Rachel Williams, who was in an abusive relationship for 18 years, told The Independent how the expectations of Valentine's Day heaped additional pressure on her as she was forced to play the role of a loving partner to appease her violent husband. The 47-year-old said every year on 14 Feburary, she was forced to cook dinner for Darren Williams, as well as doing all of the cleaning and having sex with him.
“You are trying to play the loving girlfriend, wife or fiancee to pacify the domestic terrorist you are living with,” the 47-year-old told The Independent. “Because they are very selfish, self-centred people it is all about them.”
Ms Williams said her former’s partner’s persistent psychological abuse and severe physical violence meant the loving messages and long poems he wrote in cards were disingenuous and devoid of meaning.
“I was expected to have sex with him," she said. "They expect for you to be cooking the meal – I was never taken out and wined and dined - and for me to be cleaning up. I would get a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers and a card with him spewing out all these lovely things about me - saying ‘I was the one and only Valentine’."
She added: “It meant nothing - just like the birthday cards, just like the Christmas cards - because if he genuinely loved me he wouldn’t be hurting me because love shouldn’t hurt. Valentine’s Day is a false pretence from a perpetrator's eyes. We know it is all a lie.”
Ms Williams, from Newport in Wales, said that while she walked “on eggshells” every day of the year, Valentine’s Day was particularly stressful.
“Domestic terrorists abuse 365 days of the year but it is that one day, like with Christmas, where you have got that added pressure on you as a victim," she said.
Ms Williams met Darren when she was 21 and bringing up her two-year-old son. She initially blamed his outbursts on "anger issues" but the abuse quickly worsened.
“It is not a one-off incident where you go on a date and they will slap you on the first night and you would not go back,” she said. “You don’t fall in love with a monster but you fall out of love with one.”
She added: “I had tried a couple of times to leave him over the years but he just used to wear me down - sending constant texts, phone calls, flowers, and saying it wouldn’t happen again and he was sorry and he would go seek help and he had anger issues.”
She eventually left him in July 2011 after he strangled her and then slit his wrists in front of their son, Jack, who was 16 at the time.
“The fear of staying with Darren became greater than the fear of leaving him, and I thought to myself if he is capable of doing this, what else is he capable of,” she said.
She told the police about the abuse she had suffered at his hands and he was arrested, released on bail and a court date was set.
He nonetheless began to stalk and harrass her.
Then, on 19 August 2011, Darren walked into the hairdressers where she worked with a sawn-off shotgun.
“He told me he loved me and he pulled the first trigger which shot my leg," she said. "The second blast missed my head."
As he began to reload the weapon, Ms Williams managed to grab it.
"I almost had a supernatural strength and he couldn’t retrieve the gun off me," she said. “At that point then he proceeded to rain me with punches and kicks. He stamped the lobe of my head. I had to have this ear slit seven times because it was like a cauliflower ear. I had black eyes for six weeks. He was six foot seven and 22 stone with a 60-inch chest. He was a bodybuilder.”
Hours later he was found hanged in Brynglas woods near Newport. Six weeks later their son Jack Williams’ body was found hanged in the same area.
Ms Williams spent six weeks in hospital where surgeons fought to save her leg.
She later found out from case reports that her ex-husband had a history of domestic abuse and violence with a previous girlfriend. Police also found had an arsenal of weapons stashed at his home.
Ms Williams, who can no longer run or ride a bike due to the injury she sustained when her estranged husband shot her, said Valentine’s Day was also dangerous for women who had left their abusive partners.
“For women who have left abusers, who then go on to stalk them, Valentine’s Day could be that day where they are sending cards and leaving encrypted messages and flowers,” she said.
Her comments were echoed by charities and support groups.
Leading domestic violence charity Women’s Aid said there was a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation.
Spokeswoman Teresa Parker said: “'Be Mine. I can’t live without you.' These are messages we frequently see on Valentine’s Day, which may seem romantic, but have a very different meaning for women living with an abusive partner. Obsessive behaviour is often seen as a sign of being desired or loved, but coercive and controlling behaviour is at the heart of abusive relationships, where freedom is taken away by the abuser.
Domestic abuse often begins with excessive displays of romance with gifts, flowers and holidays, she said.
Perpetrators of domestic abuse often “love-bomb” partners to initially convince them of the relationship, and then repeat it to bring them back under their control if they feel like they are losing their hold over them, she added.
Penny East, of domestic violence charity SafeLives, said: “In an age when people are encouraged to share 'happy couple' pictures for social media, to talk about evening plans with friends and colleagues, to present a picture-perfect ideal - we must remember the thousands of people who will feel scared to go home on Valentine’s - as they do every day.
“The additional pressure felt around this time of year can make the daily feelings of fear and intimidation even more pronounced. Nobody should be made to feel afraid of someone they love, not today or any day of the year.”
A spokesperson, for another national domestic violence charity Refuge, said: “Thousands of women and children will be spending this Valentine’s Day, like every other day of the year, in fear and terror."
Meanwhile, Ms Williams said she will be spending Valentine’s Day with her new husband, who she has been married to for nearly four years, on holiday in Australia this year.
“I know the words that are written in my valentines cards are now genuine and sincere and he means them,” she said.
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