TW: Domestic Abuse
Domestic abuse has been described as an “epidemic beneath a pandemic”. Over the past year, the average number of monthly calls to domestic abuse helplines has increased 60%, according to the BBC, in comparison with the start of 2020 before the pandemic. Trapped in our homes, many women have felt completely vulnerable and concerned for their personal safety during lockdown.
In light of this awful reality, we wanted to do something to help. As a female-led brand, empowering women is at the core of our identity and we want to raise awareness of the challenges women face, encourage change and ultimately help protect women. Our Women's Aid Collection will help to raise awareness, but will also help to protect women as we will be donating 100% of the profits to the amazing charity, Women’s Aid. You can view the collection here.
Why did we choose Women's Aid?
Women’s Aid is a charity that has helped thousands of women escape abuse - a cause we are passionate about supporting. This cause is especially important to us (Jess and Charlie - Founders of Coconut Lane) as our friend was a victim of domestic abuse. Her story is so sad, but incredibly powerful and inspiring to others who might be in a similar situation. We wanted to use the campaign to tell Zoe’s story and hopefully raise more awareness of what exactly domestic abuse is (it doesn’t have to be physical) and help others who might be in a similar situation.
Zoe has agreed to bravely, and proudly, share her story in the hope of helping others and raising as much money as possible for Women’s Aid.
Zoe's Story (please be aware that the content below comes with a trigger warning for domestic abuse - we wanted to keep it as real as possible):
How long were you in the abusive relationship for?
I left 2 weeks before our 5 year anniversary.
When did you realise you were in an abusive relationship - how long had you been with your partner when you started to realise something wasn't right?
I realised that he was controlling & violent within the first 1-2 years of our relationship. In hindsight, I can spot the "red flags" that I missed, that occurred within weeks of us being together, such as subtly criticising my friends and family, and "playfighting (constantly grabbing me)". Hair pulling escalated over weeks and months into a slap, pinching, pushing me over until eventually I had a black eye. Every time something happened, I found an excuse for it, blaming it on my behaviour and believing that I caused it.
The first time I realised that I was in a full-on abusive relationship was a month after we had moved somewhere else for a fresh start (3rd year of the relationship). We went for a walk in the local town and he slapped me so hard across the face my nose was bleeding everywhere. He blamed me for "bleeding too easily". Again, I remember thinking that the argument was so petty, his reaction was very extreme. I realised it was never going to stop, but I felt in too deep to ask for help.
What type of abuse did you experience?
Emotional, financial, sexual and physical.
The things that I recognised as abuse in the relationship were the physical aspects. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual and physical. Being pressured to have sex with someone because you don't want an argument is abuse. Being forced to spend your money on things you don't want to is abuse. Being told that you don't spend enough time with your partner and therefore, should not see your friends, is abuse. I was completely brainwashed, and he used a lot of gaslighting to convince me that he was looking out for me and that my anxiety issues were to blame for his violence.
Describe some of the ways your partner made you feel?
At our best, he made me feel like the most special person in the world. Essentially, he used what is called "love bombing." He would tell me I was beautiful, that we were meant to be and want to spend all our time together. He also made me feel alone, frightened, as if I was going crazy, as if I was stupid and exceptionally anxious.
What made you realise you wanted to leave him?
My sister got married in 2019. I watched her get married and I watched as my family and friends celebrated their love and happiness. I vowed to myself at that moment, that I would find a way to get out of it. However, that was a year before I left. I felt that I had to find a right moment.
Who did you turn to? Friends, family - or did you feel like you couldn't talk to anyone?
I turned to my sister initially and then I gradually told people in my family, work and close friends once I had left, who I could trust. I spent the best part of the relationship staying silent and cutting people off so that I didn't have to talk about it. When the lockdown was announced, I instantly broke down into tears at work because it dawned on me how trapped I was about to become.
If you could give your younger self some advice - what would it be?
Trust your instincts. Don't excuse people for their behaviour, despite how special they make you feel at times. Don't be afraid to ask for help a second/third/fourth etc time. Be mindful of the fact that some people might not take you seriously, if they have also been blinded by the persons nice side but try and speak to someone you can trust.
For people who feel stuck in an abusive relationship right now, what would you say to them?
- Try and find a way of keeping some evidence in private, such as an online journal that you can password protect - this will help with any court or police orders (e.g. Non Molestation Order, Restraining Order). Download and use the Bright Sky app on your phone.
- Try and confide in someone (e.g. at work) where you can text them a code sentence when you need help. If your workplace has a Mental Health First Aider, talk to them.
- Research the abusive cycle to help spot the signs
- Lots of websites suggested packing a safety bag, but I had nowhere to hide one and so I left with virtually nothing. If you can put some things together, including your passport and your keys etc, then do it.
- Remember that you are strong and that you can do this. Try and remind yourself that this is all the abusers fault and not yours.
- Once you've left - BLOCK all contact. Try and move as far away as possible whilst the dust settles and get police involvement as soon as you can. There are also lots of Facebook groups and Instagram pages who you can follow for support to help with the recovery.
What more could be done in society to help raise awareness and protect women?
- There are some great websites out there, but in practice the reality is different, for example I was never able to contact a web-chat for help because the hours when the web chat was open, he was awake and in the house with me. It would have been better to speak to a web chat very early in the morning or late at night. There should be more input from people who have directly experienced the issues.
- People need to be aware that just because someone has no visible bruises and acts OK, does not mean they are OK. Towards the end, people sensed something wasn't right so they did ask me, but I would probably have been more open if I knew that I could speak to someone who would support me, even if I wasn't ready to leave just yet. Often people think that you can just up sticks and go, and it's not that simple.
- It would be useful for senior management in the workplace to have training to spot the signs and for workplaces to offer schemes where you can ask for help.
- With working at home so prevalent, there needs to be more ways for people to get help when their abuser can easily hear them on the phone or see their web history. Lockdown trapped me and I didn't feel I had anywhere to turn for the first 2 months.
To anyone who is currently experiencing domestic abuse, please reach out to someone you can trust and visit the Women’s Aid website where you can talk to someone from the charity.
If you want to access support over the phone, please call:
- National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 – www.nationaldahelpline.org.
uk/(run by Refuge)
- The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327 (run by Respect)
- The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428 (run by Galop)
- Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123