Mother-of-four reveals how violent partner who choked her from behind while she was five months pregnant escaped with a suspended sentence -while she had to uproot her whole life to ensure he can never find her again
- Melanie Clarke, 36, from London, met her former partner when she was just 14
- Mother-of-four told he was controlling from the very start of their relationship
- He became violent after the birth of their first son when Melanie was aged 19
- Would financially abuse her and lock her away for hours while screaming at her
A mother who came close to death at the hands of her violent ex-partner has revealed how she gained the strength to leave after he choked her from behind at five months pregnant.
Melanie Clarke, 36, from London, first met her ex-boyfriend when she was 14 and he was 17. Despite fears from her family, she fell pregnant with his child for the first time at the age of 19.
He was controlling from the very beginning, calling her names, accusing her of cheating, isolating her from friends and smashing objects in front of her as an intimidation tactic.
As the 14-year relationship progressed, he abused her financially, mentally and physically; pushing her, pulling her hair, slamming her head against the wall and locking her in rooms while screaming for hours on end.
In May 2012, he was arrested for jumping on pregnant Melanie’s back and choking her while her children were in the next room.
Melanie Femail that she knew her partner ‘would have killed her’ if she stayed, and that it was the ‘love for her children’ that finally gave her the courage to escape, but while she had to move house and change her children’s schools to ensure he couldn’t find the family again, he escaped with a suspended sentence.
Melanie Clarke, 36, from London, (pictured) told how she found the courage to leave her relationship after years of enduring physical, verbal and financial abuse at the hands of her ex-partner
‘I’ve actually lost count of the amount of times I’ve tried to leave and just went back,’ said Melanie. ‘But the final straw was when I was carrying my third child.
‘One morning I was trying to take my kids to school and he wouldn’t let me. He called the school and lied to them about reasons for not being there and he took me into the kitchen and was throwing things at me.
‘He called the kids in the kitchen and said “All Mummy does is cause problems, look what she does, she’s a horrible person”. Saying really nasty thing in front of the children, trying to confuse their little minds.
‘Then he grabbed me and tried to choke me from behind. I was five months pregnant with my son and I thought, “If I stay with him, he’s going to kill me”. Or I’d have my children taken away and I couldn’t bear it. They don’t deserve it and neither do I.’
Melanie (pictured this year) met her ex-boyfriend when she was 14 and he was 17. Despite fears from her family, she fell pregnant with his child for the first time at the age of 19.
Melanie met her ex on the way to a relative’s house while she was still at school in 1998, and said her family didn’t like him from the start because of his ‘controlling and argumentative’ attitude.
The mum admitted she was ‘young and naive’ at the time, urging her family to give him a chance despite his behaviour.
‘They could see all the signs from when I was really young – how he spoke to me and how he treated me,’ Melanie recalled.
‘He constantly didn’t like me having male friends, accusing me of cheating making comments about my clothes – I was being too revealing – always having a go about something, always trying to pick arguments over trivial things.
Her partner would tell Melanie that the reason he was so controlling is because he loved her, that he was simply being ‘protective’, and admitted she was so besotted with him that she ignored signs of abuse.
‘Months into the relationship it would be name calling, belittling me, just being nasty towards me,’ she said. ‘When there was an argument, he would say really personal nasty things and then as it went along he would get in my face, shouting and screaming abuse at me.
‘From there he would start smashing things in front of me. One thing that stands out really well is he was smashing a mirror with a hammer in front of me.’
The mother told Femail that she knew her partner ‘would have killed her’ if she stayed, and that it was the ‘love for her children’ that finally gave her the courage to leave
Despite falling pregnant as a teen, the couple never lived together, because Melanie’s parents never trusted he was responsible enough to take care of their daughter.
‘He was very irresponsible. he never kept a job, constantly causing problems in the relationship,’ she explained. ‘My family weren’t comfortable about me moving out and letting him take care of me so I went and got my own place.’
The abuse worsened when Melanie became pregnant with her first child, now 17, with her partner telling her that he was going to take her child away from her once he was born.
‘He was nice when he found out I was pregnant, but it didn’t last long’, said Melanie, ‘The aggression became worse, he was really nasty towards me.
‘I remember going for my first scan and he was outside the hospital and said, “Now I know the baby is a boy, he won’t want to stay with you, i’m going to take him away from you when he’s born”.
‘He would just say really nasty things when he didn’t get his own way or he was in a bad mood or whatever. During the pregnancy he was not supportive financially or emotionally, he was horrible towards me most of the time.’
He became more violent after Melanie gave birth to her first son in 2003, using strangulation to ‘control’ his partner.
Now Melanie works as a TV extra. She has since remarried and two-years ago had another child with her new husband
She explained: ‘When I had my son, the first one, he would grab my hair, he would slam my head into walls, he would push me, pull me kick me.
‘He would lock me in rooms for hours, just screaming at me until I would say whatever he wants me to say, then he would let me out of the room.
‘He would choke me. Those where the worst incidents, the choking. He would use strangulation to control me. Just pretty much anything really he was just awful, an awful human being.’
But the abuse wasn’t just physical, and Melanie told how her partner would dictate how and what she and her two children ate, making her feel guilty if he took her food shopping.
‘If he took us shopping it was almost like I owed him the universe’, said Melanie, ‘When he did go, he would push the trolly and anything I picked up he would have something to say.
‘So I understood not to bother picking up anything because it was his shopping trip. He would pay for it very reluctantly and make an argument because you could see he didn’t want to pay for it.
‘Or he would spend most of the month complaining that he’d paid to buy the food shopping for us and would dictate how we ate the food and when we should eat the food.’
The young mother fell into debt trying to raise their two children alone without any financial support from her partner.
‘Because I was on benefits I didn’t get a lot of money’, she said, ‘I would take out catalogues to get prams for the baby, clothes for the baby, things I needed because I couldn’t afford it and he never supported me.
‘There’s only so much my family could do, his favourite thing would be saying take it out and I’ll give you the money and help you and he never did, he never did.’
Melanie became concerned about her children witnessing the abuse, admitting that she would ‘blank out’ the ‘horrendous’ violence as it was too painful to think of the impact it was having on her kids.
‘My oldest the firstborn witnessed most of it, he saw most of it he heard most of it which was horrendous’, she said.
Melanie, pictured this year, tried to leave her partner ‘countless times’ during their 14-year relationship, but told how he ‘wore her down mentally’
‘For me at the time I just used to blank it out because I was trying to just cope getting through each day dealing with someone like him.
‘So the idea of thinking about what my child was going through, it was just too much to bear. So I used to just not think about it.
‘But it made me feel bad inside because I felt I was failing as a mother and not giving him the childhood he deserved, staying with someone like that, and I could clearly see everything for what it was. I didn’t want to stay with him, I wasn’t in love with him anymore.’
Melanie tried to leave her partner ‘countless times’ during their 14-year relationship, but told how he ‘wore her down mentally’, harassing her and threatening to kill himself every time she tried to walk away from the relationship.
‘I just didn’t know what to do’, she said, ‘Every time I tried to leave him he made my life hell.
‘I would go into the kitchen to make breakfast for my son and he would be in my garden, he’d slept in my garden. He had the window cracked and he tried jump through the window and chase me down in the house.
‘I’d be on the school run – he knew what time I left – he would sleep in the car outside his house, he would follow me on the school run, follow me back, antagonising me begging me, saying “I’m going to kill myself.
‘Manipulation, he would knock on my doors constantly call my phone constantly – I would look at my phone there would be 30 missed calls from him alone.
‘He used to wear me down mentally so it felt easier to take him back than to stand up to him, because he wouldn’t leave me alone, it was like harassment.’
Melanie says the ‘final straw’ was when he attacked her in May 2012 while she was at five-months pregnant with their third child.
She left for good and went into the police station, where the police contacted the Gaia Centre, a service run by Refuge, which has provided ongoing support that has helped Melanie rebuild her life.
‘I was just panicking about the kids the whole time – but they were fine, said Melanie. ‘I thought “You know what, I’m not going back, I’m done.
Refuge’s #HereForHer campaign
Refuge helpline and emergency accommodation has seen a continued surge in demand following the first nationwide lockdown last year.
In light of the increased demand, Refuge are partnering with Crime +Investigation to front their #HereForHer campaign to support victims of domestic abuse.
Lisa King of Refuge said: ‘One of the things that’s really important to say is that at the moment it can be really difficult for someone to pick up the phone, to make a call.
‘We’re really trying to make sure women know is we have digitalised that service. We now run a live chat service 3-10 every Monday to Friday.
‘So women if they are living at home with a perpetrator and are unable to pick up the phone and speak – we now have live chats to give a silent response women can access, so they know that’s there too.’
Refuge live chat service: https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/Chat-to-us-online
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
In an emergency, always call 999
‘Especially the fact I was carrying a child. I didn’t want to bring another child into this world, in this environment. I felt bad enough about the other two witnessing what he was doing and I thought “I need to set a better example for my kids”.
Her partner was arrested and Melanie went to court while eight months pregnant to give evidence against him.
‘I requested a screen to be put up because even seeing him was stressful’, she said, ‘The effect he had on me emotionally, I just couldn’t bear to even hear his voice or see him.
‘They put a screen up so I didn’t have to see him and just said my piece, but it was horrendous.’
She added: ‘My health was not good because of the stress. I’ve never been to court before so it was really scary, I had my brother come with me that day he was amazing it was so good to have somebody with me.
‘I just said it as it was, all the times I was with him I just kept pretending and lying to myself that it wasn’t what it was. I finally told the truth and said, this is what he’s been doing and he’s not going to get away with it .’
Her ex-partner was convicted of ABH and given a 12-month suspended sentence. Melanie was granted an indefinite restraining order against him.
‘I really would have preferred to see him serve time for what he’s done’, said Melanie, ‘but I didn’t wallow in it.
‘The most important thing for me was finding the strength to leave. That was the most important thing for me and the kids.’
To ensure her safety, Melanie moved house, her children’s schools and changed all of her contact details and said she wanted to give her kids the same kind of loving home environment that she had growing up.
‘I think it was the kids to be honest’, she said, ‘I can honestly say I was thinking about the love I have for them and it was just killing me, giving them this type of life.
‘I didn’t have this type of life, I had a good upbringing, it was actually killing me inside knowing this is what I was subjecting them to by staying and going back. But I also did it for myself, I had actually had enough, I couldn’t take it anymore’.
Where can domestic abuse victims seek help during lockdown?
Hannah Bridgwood, associate solicitor at Clarke Willmott LLP, outlined what exactly lockdown emergency measures mean for vulnerable women:
Are there provisions in the Coronavirus bill for victims of domestic abuse who will be isolated with their abuser?
The measures provide for people leaving their home in exceptional circumstances and one of these is to ‘avoid or escape risk of injury or harm’.
So, if you are in fear for your safety and that of your children, you are able to leave your household to get help and seek refuge.
The police have been placed on high alert because other countries have experienced a significant increase in domestic abuse since lockdown was introduced. The police are ready and willing to help.
If you are in immediate danger, you should never hesitate to call 999 straight away. If you are unable to speak because you are scared your abuser will hear, you can dial 55 during your call; this will alert the police that the call is genuine, extremely urgent and will be prioritised.
Solicitors can help; the courts remain open and are able to deal with emergency applications quickly. We can apply for non-molestation orders which are injunctions designed to protect you and your children from further harm.
We can also apply for occupation orders to get your abuser out of the family home. It is worth noting that if your abuser pays the bills and rent/mortgage, the court can also order that they can carry on paying. We offer telephone and video calls so that we can act quickly to get you the protection you need.
Women’s Aid is providing advice specifically designed for the current Covid-19 outbreak, including a live chat service they will help you flee, locate a safe place to stay and provide you with support to help you come to terms with your experiences.
MEN’S ADVICE LINE
The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse. They will help you to plan your escape, locate safe accommodation and support you throughout.
They can be contacted on 0808 801 0327.
GALOP – for members of the LGBT+ community
Galop is a LGBT+ anti-violence charity. Galop runs a specialist helpline on 0800 999 5428 or you can contact them by email email@example.com . They will support you to safety.
Hestia is another domestic abuse charity that provides a free-to-download mobile app, Bright Sky, which provides guidance, support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those worried about someone they know you can download at the app store or android store.
Chayn provides online help and resources in a multiple languages, to help sufferers and friends supporting those being abused.
NATIONAL DOMESTIC ABUSE HELPLINE
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can provide guidance and support for victims, as well as those who are worried about friends and loved ones.
They can be called, for free and in confidence, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.
They will also call you back at a safe time if you book a call through their website.
SURVIVING ECONOMIC ABUSE
If you are worried that your abuser will leave you financially vulnerable, the charity Surviving Economic Abuse can provide additional guidance and support.
The government has recognised that sufferers of domestic abuse may be feeling particularly vulnerable at this time. Earlier this year Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged to crack down on those using the lockdown to make their victims feel ‘especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed’.
She told The Mail on Sunday she was aware that for some ‘home is not the safe haven it should be’, adding: ‘I am acutely aware that the necessary guidelines about social distancing and self-isolation may leave the victims of hidden crime, such as domestic abuse and child sexual abuse, feeling especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed.
‘But my message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down. And my message to every perpetrator is equally as simple: you will not get away with your crimes.
‘I also want to make clear – whilst our advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge.
‘In times of crisis such as these, whilst we are socially distancing ourselves, we must not forget the most vulnerable in society.
‘Last year on average three people a week were killed as a result of domestic abuse and this year’s statistics are expected to increase as a result of the current Covid-19 lockdown. I would encourage anyone currently in fear of domestic abuse to reach out; to the police, to me or to specialist charities.’
Police contacted Refuge, who helped Melanie join support groups with other survivors of domestic abuse.
With the support of the charity, she undertook began volunteering at their Gaia centre, to support women who have had similar experiences to herself.
‘I spoke to other women and they just understood what you’re going through’, she said, ‘When you’re in it, you feel like you’re alone. But when you speak to other people you realise it’s happening everywhere. It was really good for me.’
Now Melanie works as a TV extra. She has since remarried and two-years ago had another child with her new husband.
She said: ‘The kids are doing really well, my daughter is in secondary school and I just feel proud when I look at my kids now.
‘They know whats normal, they have friends, they’re smiling all the time and it makes me feel proud. I turned it all around to give them the life they deserve .’
CI are marking International Women’s Day with a selection of programming highlighting violence against women and domestic abuse from the 8th – 12th of March at 8pm.
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