Nerve writer Paul Tarpey interviewed a victim of domestic abuse, Coventry businesswoman Zoe Dronfield, who survived an attack that left her in hospital with devastating injuries. Her project, I Want My Mummy, has acted on behalf of thousands of women who have been victims of domestic abuse.
All survivors of domestic abuse have to show an intimidating level of determination and belief just to recover their own lives. Coventry businesswoman Zoe Dronfield survived an attack that left her in hospital with devastating injuries and unable to remember the event that led to them. Working with hypnotherapist David Kilmurry she eventually managed to piece together an attack by her ex-boyfriend, Jason Smith, so horrific that just to recover physically was a massive task. But she did recover enough to give evidence against him and he now faces a charge of grievous bodily harm. Reversing the physical and emotional damages was only the start of Zoe’s ambitions, however, and she has since been working tirelessly to change perceptions and the law surrounding all levels of abuse within relationships. Her project I Want My Mummy has reached and acted on behalf of thousands of women who have suffered with little means to fight back. We spoke to her about her own experiences and her campaign to change the system.
Can you describe the early stages of your relationship with Jason?
My relationship was great at the start. Jason was full of compliments, showered me with gifts and attention. The perfect partner, helping with everything almost too good to be true (and he was). He did come on very strong initially but I was flattered and took this as enthusiasm, care and love for me. He called me his princess and made me feel like a million dollars. I suppose you could call it grooming now with hindsight.
Coming on so strong so soon was definitely a red flag. He also didn’t have anything good to say about ex-girlfriends. He was quite possessive and would say things like ‘you are mine now’. Again you brush this off as a form of flattery, however, this is also a red flag.
It did move very quickly early on but my father had just been diagnosed with a condition which left him in intensive care so my focus was on that and I think Jason saw that as a vulnerability and an ‘in’ into my life.
I am a very strong willed person so I never backed down and I feel this is why it went to the extreme it did so quickly. There was coercion but it was subtle and I only realise now I am out of the relationship that he was controlling by using very manipulative techniques. He would often call me if I was out and tell me to come home but I would say ‘No I’ll be home when I want to be home’. Looking back, being the person he is, this must have angered him, but he was obviously holding it together, waiting for his time. He would also organise the household money and would want to look after the finances even though I am an independent working woman and the property is mine. He would often borrow large amounts of money from me and I now realise this was to stop me having available cash to spend to do my own thing; financial control. He would also make other arrangements if I said I was going out with friends so that we were together and I would have to cancel my plans. I did get frustrated by this but would change my plans anyhow.
You are emotionally committed when in a relationship so it’s very easy to brush things under the carpet, especially if you are not being hurt in anyway and are still being shown a large amount of affection. I am a successful intelligent woman yet I dismissed the red flags as flattery. It’s human nature and can happen to anyone.
I have since worked with many women who have experienced a lot of emotional abuse and ‘crazy-making’ and they find the emotional abuse worse than the physical. Physical wounds heal, however, you cannot turn your thoughts and emotions off.
There is now a new domestic abuse law which takes into account emotional abuse but my worry is that people still do not understand the intricacies of this type of abuse. For example jealousy could be passed off as being caring. We need to understand what is unhealthy behaviour.
To what extent do you feel Jason’s behaviour was contrived from the start?
I have since found out he has done this time and time again in previous relationships. He seemed to have perfected his manipulation with me. I have spoken with his ex-girlfriends since and they had ongoing abusive behaviour from him. I think this is why he kept control of the ‘anger’ for so long as he learnt to control the abusive and cover up the manipulation. This why it was so subtle. But when he realised he had lost control of me using the subtle techniques – the violence exploded.
His previous relationships were abusive and manipulative, using scare tactics, violence, love- bombing and disregarding techniques. This is something I would have noticed early on as I had already had a partner who was abusive and I told Jason of the techniques he had used to control me. So in a way I gave him the information he needed to change his behaviours. I’m not sure that it is a conscious decision – who knows – but it is definitely learnt behaviour and they clearly know it is wrong!
The abuser has often been raised around violence or suffered abuse themselves. This is not an excuse but is the reason why we need to educate, educate, educate. The cycle will continue otherwise.
What were the negative emotions you felt after the attack?
I was disappointed, shocked, angry and then disgusted. I did love Jason but clearly I had to immediately realise this was not the man for me and try to grieve for a fictitious relationship. It was not real. Control is not love and violence should never be an option.
Control is when you are being isolated, coerced into something you do not want to do and you are uncomfortable with a situation but it’s happening anyway. Affection is love, care and respect. It is a tactic of an abuser to idolise then devalue, then discard.
How much responsibility should the media take for the kind of messages it sends out?
We need the media to help with the changes as they guide the young and offer us a perception on the way things should be. If this is distorted it’s dangerous but it’s not just the media, we need it in schools, we need doctors to understand it, we need the courts to open their eyes to it and we need laws in place that protect and not serve as a tool for the abuser.
We need gender equality and respect! It’s all about respect. We should all respect each other whether man, woman or child.
What were your fears entering into hypnotherapy?
I did not want to lose control and was scared I would be transported back to the actual evening and re-live it all over again. It is more subtle than that and is a relaxed environment. It was very successful and I can’t thank David Kilmurry enough.
It was a slow process in my eyes, some people never recover but I am a strong willed, successful independent woman and I had to get back to being that confident woman again. Unfortunately the abuse has made me view the world through darkened eyes. I am still a very positive person but I view ‘people’ differently and often am trying to suss them out first. What are they after? What’s in it for them? More weary I suppose. But there had to be a reason why I went through this horrific ordeal and I think I have found it in helping others.
Do you feel society can still put an emphasis on the victim?
We all victim blame, it’s in our culture. I had comments on the newspaper articles saying ‘god she must have done something bad’ ‘well he must have hit her for a reason’ ‘she must have provoked him’…..NOT TRUE. I thought I was in a loving relationship. The problem lay with Jason. I believe these abusers have personality disorders. This is not something we really recognise in this country but in America they understand Personality Disorders. I think Jason shows all the traits of narcissistic psychopathic personality disorder and I also believe my previous ex-partner has the traits of being a narcissistic Sociopath.
Do you feel there are cultural and social pressures that mean people stay in damaging relationships?
There is still this feeling that women want to be looked after and men do the looking after. Yes, we definitely need to end this. We want equality and we will not have gender equality with these outdated ideals. I am self-sufficient and when I enter into a relationship it is because I want to be with that person not to see what I can get. It should be about respect and admiration building each other up and working as a team. No-one should ever have ‘power’ over another this is not healthy at all. If something feels uncomfortable then back off and be true to that feeling.
Can you describe the events that led to I Want My Mummy?
When lying in my hospital bed trying to recover from all of my injuries the father of my daughter who had also shown signs of abuse and I’d had to remove from my house on four occasions for violent behaviour, went to court and obtained interim residency of my little girl. So now I was made to feel like not only the victim but as if this was somehow my fault and now I’m a bad mother. He served me with the papers in my hospital bed saying ‘this will teach you a lesson’. What for being a victim? It was the cruellest most hideous and lowest thing anyone could do to a mother of a child. That had to be my lowest point. The thought of not only being beaten and almost killed but then for the system to say well because of this you now lose your daughter too. How can that be right?
He then used this power the court gave him to abuse and torment me. It was not for the good of my daughter. She was really suffering, as was my son, as he was separated from the sister he has a really close bond with. He would not allow me access to my daughter, would not let her talk to me but would put her on the phone and she would be saying I want my mummy. She didn’t know what was going on and he was revelling in this. It is sick really and a true act of evil.
I grew up without a mother. My mother died when I was 6 years old and I know what it’s like to have that separation anxiety. I had to deal with that but to separate a mother and child while the child is alive, you cannot grieve – you are separated, they have been kidnapped, you are in limbo. It is the worst pain in the world.
What do you feel needs to change within the system in relation to this?
Judges attitude to child arrangements is outdated and does not work in the society we live in today. The woman (and I say woman as 95% of perpetrators of domestic violence are men – it does happen the other way around) will be forced by a court to give child contact to an abusive partner even if in some cases the child has been put in a an abusive situation with the person having contact or actually been the victim of abuse by this perpetrator – how is that right? Many woman and children are killed due to being forced into these ridiculous contact arrangements with abusers.
I just need as many people to listen to me and understand the system does NOT work! I am trying my best to help others and just need people to listen. The government need to look at current laws around child arrangements and work it from the bottom up – does it work for a family in ALL scenarios? It doesn’t as it stands because abusers are using the system to continue their abuse but using our outdated legal system. I do not think court Judges should be making these decisions alone. How can it be down to one person what happens in your family’s life. It is NOT RIGHT!
What do you feel has been achieved since you have been campaigning?
Awareness has been achieved but this is the tip of the iceberg. I want changes! Relationship education in schools, support for victims until we eradicates this problem, laws changed, the family law process overhauled, new systems in place to deal with family matters (I have some ideas around how this can happen), Perpetrator’s to be brought to justice, a domestic abuse perpetrator register like we have with sex offenders.
I have motions in the House of Parliament that I am hoping will be up for discussion around background checks on parents making child arrangement applications if they are abusive. The abusers often use the system to continue their abuse and alienate the other parent. It is really is a problem. I have been contacted by many alienated mothers and that goes against biology if there are no safeguarding issues.
Police often do not have the evidence needed in a court to get a conviction meaning the perpetrator gets away with it time and time again which instils fright in the victim and it’s easier to keep the peace with the abuser than call for help. The hurdle is just too big for some people and victims are often isolated way before any violence. We need proper case management of incidents.
Is there any advice that can help people who are worried about a friend or a relative?
Do not isolate them, do not fall out with them or try to force them to leave. You may send them further into the abusive relationship. Be there and maybe point out that what you are witnessing is not healthy but you are they if they need help. Even give them information about abusive relationships.
There is a lot of unsound advice online and also people may end up in a chat room getting advice off people who are not specialists in the field. We really need more information in schools about where we go for advice, how we access it and also not to believe everything you read especially if you are not 100% of the source. Education again!
You need to realise for yourself what is healthy or unhealthy and then make an informed decision to get out of that relationship and safely. Two women a week die at the hands of an abusive ex or intimate partner so let’s not underestimate domestic violence. It’s a pandemic.
I think my challenge now is being judged for speaking out but we have to get past having shame as the victim. The shame is with the abuser!
How easy has it been to announce so strongly to a wider public what you have been through?
It’s not easy but I cannot sit by and watch what I went through happen to anyone else. It was a monstrous and horrific process. If I can help one person get out of an abusive situation then I have done what I wanted to do. I am a doer, a helper, a fixer. That is what got me into this situation in the first place. I wanted to help and fix the person who needs help, the abuser. Now I have my calling. Now I channel this need to fix and help the people who deserve help and I get so much from that.
You can learn more about I Want My Mummy and the therapy that helped Zoe at these links;
– See more at: http://www.catalystmedia.org.uk/issues/misc/articles/zoe_dronfield_interview.php#sthash.zkmVa4Wq.dpuf