Violence against women occurs in more forms that we realise. 'Survive' is a charity working in Bristol and South Gloucestershire that provides a full range of support to victims. From practical and emotional support through to accommodation, information education for women, children and young people who are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence and abuse.
It is so important that we facilitate a safe environment where people can come forward and receive the help they need with full protection. This is exactly what Survive does.
The story below is just one example of the ways in which they have changed the lives of women and children. It really is an eye-opening story, and a true testament to the work they do in the UK alongside many other similar organisations. One brave woman was able to find the safety and shelter she needed, here is her story.
Survivor Story – My Experience of Survive
Before my story begins I will give you some background to my life. I grew up in Libya with my parents and was one of 8 children. I had a very happy upbringing and my family are very close and supportive of each other.
I had a good education and achieved well at school and my parents had high hopes for me. I met my first husband in University in 2001 and we were very happy together. We were married for four years and unfortunately were never blessed with children. My husband felt that it was unfair and that I should be set free so that I could meet someone else to have the children I very much wanted.
I carried on with my studies and achieved Bachelor of Accountancy in 2005 and while studying I also worked and set up my own business. This was a school for children aged 4-11 in the mornings and in the evening I also ran courses for adults aged between 20-24. I was very happy during this period and worked very hard to help others.
I met my second husband through a member of staff I had employed. She told me about her brother and said he would like to meet me as he was coming to visit Libya. I was a bit apprehensive but happy to do so. Knowing that he lived in England I felt he would be very supportive of my independence and would support me in my efforts to continue with my work.
When we met I felt that he was kind and caring and he promised me that he accepted that I was an independent woman who had an education and liked to work and earn my own money. He assured me that he would never try to change this and that he admired me for this. He used to say “I will never hold you back”.
We got married and it was agreed that I would move to his home in England. However, he did agree that I could continue with my business and that I would be able to travel back at any time if my staff needed any assistance with this.
I arrived in this Country in December 2005 on a visitor’s visa. My husband had told me this was the correct way to do this and I did not know any different at that time. This was when my whole life changed!
As soon as I arrived in England we travelled directly to his home and he settled me in. It was clear immediately that I would no longer have any say in my life and he told me that now I was in England I would have to do what he said and that there was no-one here who would be able to help me. He used to tell me that people in England would not like me and would not care what happened to me. I remember one day in particular he told me that if I did not do what he said “I would find myself in hot water”. I was very scared, alone and isolated. I could not even speak to my family as I had no access to the telephone or the computer unless he was there with me! I knew I was trapped.
I very quickly discovered that I was pregnant with my daughter who is now 9. I was very happy to know I was going to be a mother but very worried about how our life would be in this relationship but felt unable to do anything about this. I accepted that this was my life now and that I would have to do the best I could and concentrate on being a good mum to my baby. Within six months of moving to England I was also told that I needed to sell my school in Libya which was a very sad time for me. The business was sold for over £20,000 LDinah but I never received any of this money. My husband used this money to support his own business in England and to support his family in Libya.
My life consisted of looking after my husband and my daughter and on occasions his sister who would come and live with us for long periods of time sometimes up to six months. I was expected to run after all of them. His sister was given the freedom to come and go as she pleased but I was not even allowed outside the house and unless I was with him or with her not even to take my daughter to nursery.
When my daughter was six months old we travelled to Libya to visit the family. He said this was to allow my family to see my daughter. When we arrived however it turned out this was not the case. He dropped me and my daughter at my family home and he returned to England with his sister and mum. I was told we were going to remain in Libya for 2 months. I was very concerned as my daughter was due to get her vaccinations back in England and I was very worried about this. When I raised this with my husband back in England he told me not to worry and to just keep my daughter inside. He left me in Libya with my daughter with no money or anything for one year.
My husband eventually arranged for a spousal visa having applied three times previously for another visitor visa. He was really reluctant to apply for the spousal visa and I now know that this is because he felt it would provide me with more security in England than if I was on a visitor visa and therefore lessen his control over me.
In 2008 I became pregnant again with my son. I was very happy to have another child but sad that I was not able to provide the life I would have liked for them where I could go out while my husband was at work and take the children to the park, along the sea front as he would not allow me to do this. I could not even go to the GP on my own as my husband would always make sure he came with me and would use the excuse that I could not speak any English as his reason for being there. My husband did not want me to learn to speak English so I could only communicate with my children in Arabic but he would speak to them in English. I could not understand the conversations my children were having with their Father and the rest of his family and I did not know much about their school life as a consequence of this.
In 2010 just before my visa was due to expire and my husband told me that he was taking me and the children to Libya for Christmas. I was excited about going to see my family and happy that he was doing this for us.
My husband had told me before we arrived not to tell my parents we were coming but to keep it as a surprise for them. We stayed for two days at my husband’s parents’ home before we contacted my parents to say we were coming to see them. I found out my mum was in hospital so my husband said it was better for the children to remain with his family and that he would drop me off at the hospital and pick me up later. Later that evening I called my husband’s family home but there was no response. I tried several times but did not receive an answer. Eventually I called my husband’s mobile phone which went to voicemail. I was very worried and wanted to see my children. I kept calling the mobile until he eventually answered. He then told me that he was now back in England with the children and his sister and that he would not be coming to get me. I screamed and fell to the floor I could not believe he had taken my children away. It became clear that this had been his plan all along and the reason why he had applied for another Visitor Visa for his sister before we left.
I was separated from my children for four months and despite my constant calls he refused to return the children to me. I sought legal advice in Libya but was advised without any evidence of me being their mother there was nothing they could do. I had no passport with their names on, no birth certificates and so they could not help me. I cried everyday just holding on to their soft toys and longed to hold my children but was defeated. One time when I called he answered and told me that he was in the hospital with my daughter who had had an asthma attack. He told me that I could speak to her but if I cried he would never allow me to do this again. I said hello to my daughter who immediately started to cry which also set me off. My husband came on the phone told me that I had made my choice and switched the phone off and would not answer my calls.
Over the next few weeks my father and brother called and tried to reason with him and told him that I needed to be with my children. He said he would think about it and let us know. As I say it was four months later and he agreed to return to Libya with the children to discuss my “Contract”. When he arrived he contacted me and said that he would meet with me and another member of my family but not my father. I attended this meeting with my brother and on the journey over I told him that I would agree to anything to be reunited with my children and asked him to promise me that he would not argue with him but accept what he says.
My daughter immediately ran to my side and sat on my lap but my son being much younger was not sure who I was. This was very distressing. My husband gave me a contract detailing a number of things I was never to do and one of these was that I was to never see my family again. I had no choice but to agree to this. He agreed that I return that day to see my parents for the last time and when I return in the morning we would be travelling back to England and I would then live as I had agreed to do in the Contract.
We returned to England and I was glad to be reunited with my children. I knew I now had no life without his permission but it was a small price to pay to be with my children again. My husband had reapplied for the spousal visa and this was approved. His sister was still living with us and I had to look after her too if they felt I was not doing my duties properly they would remind me why I was there and what I had agreed to do. His mum had also come over as she was not very well and I was expected to look after her to. I fell on the stairs one day and broke my foot I sat down after cleaning the bathroom and was told I was not allowed to do this until all the housework had been done and it was my duty to do so. It was a very difficult time for me but I had no choice and did not think there was anyone I could trust or could help me.
One day my husband’s sister brought back a friend to the house who when she saw me asked who I was. She was told not to worry about me. She tried to talk to me but I kept my head down I did not know her or if it was safe to do so.
My husband’s business became very busy and there came a time when he was unable to collect my son from Nursery. He told me that I would now have to do this but that I would not talk to anyone and go straight there and back. He had told the staff at the Nursery that I could not speak any English and so would not be able to communicate with them. I asked my husband if I could stop at the Park on the way back to allow my son to play. The Park was by the house and across from where my husband’s business was based. Again he said I could do this but reminded me that he would be watching me.
While at the park his sister’s friend arrived and tried to engage me in conversation. She told me that she was married to an English man. She said that the way I lived was not right and that she and her husband could help me. I told her I did not need her help and left to go home. I was very scared that my husband may have seen her talking to me.
After this first visit to the Park my husband allowed me to continue collecting my son and on occasions for me to take him to the Park. I saw the friend on a number of occasions who would engage me in conversation as she strolled around the park. I eventually began to feel that perhaps I could trust her and she could help me. She told me that there were Agencies that could help me and that her husband could arrange to take me there. I was very scared but eventually agreed to let them help me and my children.
They contacted Survive to see if they could offer me Refuge. After helping me to complete the referral using my friend as the interpreter it was agreed that they could offer me accommodation after the weekend. I was extremely anxious at this point having made contact with Survive and yet not being able to move until the following week. My friend’s husband assured me not to worry and told me we would be leaving the following morning. I was to allow my husband to take the children to school and Nursery as normal and he would collect me later.
The next day I prayed that my husband had not been told of my plan and that I would be able to collect my children from the school. I was very worried that they would call him to ask why I was collecting them so early. I arrived with my friends at the school and collected the children and we were driven away. The drive seemed to take forever and the children were confused and asking lots of questions. I told them we were going away for a bit and that Daddy was busy with work.
I spent the weekend in a flat that belonged to my rescuers parents. They had gone on holiday and the flat was empty. It was a very long scary weekend and I also received a visit from the Police. When they arrived at the flat I was thinking that this was the end and that they would take me back to my husband. He had reported me and the children as missing. With the help of my friends I was able to let them know why I had ran away and that I was waiting to come into Refuge with Survive. The Police reported back to my husband that me and the children were safe but would not be returning home. The Police were understanding and were aware of Survive and told me that I would be fine and to try not to worry.
I met the Refuge Worker on the Monday and we had to communicate via a three way telephone conversation between myself, my friend’s husband and the Worker and the Worker explained how they could help me and that I would be safe. I became very tearful and could not believe that someone was going to help me escape from this nightmare.
Over the weeks my conversations with the Worker took the form of some sign language, interpretation with my daughter and my friend over the phone and by doing this an application for my Indefinite Leave to Remain was arranged and I met with a Local Solicitor. At this meeting we met with a qualified interpreter who was able to provide the Solicitor with all the history of the abuse and complete my statement for my application. Once this had been submitted and I received my Limited Leave to Remain Outwith the Rules Survive helped me to make an application for Benefit to enable me to support myself and my two children. This was the first time in seven years that I had been given some independence and the ability to care for myself and the children it was a wonderful feeling. I was so happy. Now that I was now entitled to benefits I was also entitled to attend an ESOL Course and this was the beginning of me being able to communicate directly with the Refuge Worker and the turning point in my life.
I was living in the Refuge for six months before my application for Indefinite Leave to Remain was granted. When my worker told me this I broke down and shed tears of happiness. I could not believe that my life had changed so much and that there were people in the world that would help me and did not judge me because of how I looked and for my beliefs. All the things that my husband had told me would not happen.
When I was in Refuge I received papers from the Court advising that my husband had applied for Residency again I was so scared that he would be removing my children from me. My worker had told me not to worry and that she would support me through the Legal Process. She put me in touch with a Family Lawyer who again with the help of an interpreter took a statement. The Court case was terrifying and I knew that my husband would be at the Court too. I was granted special measures however and my evidence was provided via a video link in the Court. The Case took over a year before the Residency was finally awarded in my favour but the Support I received from my worker at Survive at this time made a real difference to my life. She supported me at Court, at the Supervised Access visits and with the appointments arranged by CAFCAS. She was also called as a witness at one point and without this support I do not know what would have happened.
It has been three years now since I was in Refuge and I have been to college, I work in the School that my children attend and am also volunteering for Survive. I wanted to give something back to the Organisation that had made a real difference to my life.
I am still being called back to the Court intermittently around the access of the children and this is difficult but I know that my children are happy and our life is much better now than the one we had before. It is my intention now to return to University to continue with my education and hopefully to set up my own business in this Country. This is a life I dared not to dream about when I was trapped in the abusive relationship.
Thank you to all the professionals that helped me and my children.