Robert Wells joined the army at 18 and served almost 13 years in the Royal Military Police. After leaving, he ran his own security business, working as a close protection officer in many challenging environments. He would never have considered himself to be the type of person to become a victim of domestic abuse. However, he learned through his own experiences, that anyone can become a victim of this terrible crime. Ten years on, he’s opened up and has become an advocate, sharing his experiences in the hope of helping others. His recent talks have included audiences with the police, armed forces and service charities. Here’s his story…
Things have changed over the last ten years and the tide is finally turning, with men now being recognised as victims of domestic abuse. If you are suffering, please reach out to someone, the support is there for you and the police will listen.
I met my partner (let’s call her Sarah, not her real name) through a close friend about 12 years ago. As Sarah and I got to know each other we eventually agreed to go out on a date. I knew that she was a bit of a party animal but that was one of the things that attracted me. She was beautiful, funny and dangerous. Looking back, I was a fool, because I sensed trouble but ignored it.
Over the coming weeks, I discovered that Sarah was married but separated. Her husband was working overseas – it later became apparent that he didn’t think that they were separated! She had sent her young son to live with his father’s grandparents in Scotland because she had found herself unable to look after him due to a drink and drugs issue, which had sent her into a destructive spiral.
All the red lights were there but I also discovered something horrific from her childhood. It was enough for me to want to stand beside her, to love her and to try to show her that not all men were scumbags. I guess I saw myself as a knight in shining armour, which I guess is a little arrogant, but I fell for her and wanted to help her.
I didn’t realise it at the time but over the coming months, I was carefully manipulated into a position of isolation, especially as I have no real family in the UK.
Once isolated, things became volatile and a pattern had emerged when she was drinking. Her mood would dip, and she would become spiteful and unpleasant, then the fists would come out.
Power and control
But it was too late for me. I was already isolated and fully committed, having given up my long-term home, my job and my friends after she announced that she wanted to move away to be closer to her family and start afresh. I moved with her, giving up my rented home of eight years and everything in it – I was told that there was no room at the new place for my things.
Within days, she attacked me, punching me so hard in the face that she broke her hand. On other occasions I was woken by a flurry of punches to the face and was threatened with a knife. One time, the neighbours called the police after hearing a commotion. It was this particular police force’s policy, in domestic abuse situations, to remove one person from the property to prevent further escalation.
If you know anything about domestic abuse, you’ll know that it’s about power and control and a part of that is to not put you on the rent agreement. If you rock the boat, you’re out. So, when the police asked whose home it was, I knew what was coming. The police officers said that I had to leave. When I questioned this politely and calmly, the officers jumped on me, roughed me up, handcuffed me and dragged me from the house. I was then thrown into police cells until the following day.
In effect, these police officers had become a tool of her abuse. I was the victim, yet here I was being arrested and dragged from my home to spend a night in police cells.
My solicitor had made some strong protestations to the police and on this occasion, I received a visit from the chief constable while my partner was out, who apologised for my treatment. But the damage was done and nothing he said helped to calm the burning injustice that I felt. There were many other incidents after this, but I just kept my head down and made excuses for her. Each time it happened, I thought about her past and told myself that one day she would realise that I wasn’t the enemy.
On the move
It wasn’t long before Sarah announced a move to Scotland. Her parents begged me not to go. ‘She will destroy you’ they said. I responded by saying that if I didn’t stand by her, who would?
Sarah promised that it would all be better in Scotland; she could get her son back and be happy again. Again, I wasn’t allowed to be on the rent agreement. I got a job, paid the bills and the abuse got worse. I was now in a low paid job. I had no car, lived in a small village, miles from anywhere and no family in the UK to turn to. My bank card was taken from me and I had to ask for money if I wanted it. I can hear you saying, ‘Why would you agree to that?’
Because Sarah could pick up the phone to the police and say anything at any time, then it would be me in the cells again. Because, I could get a punch in the mouth. Because my life would be made hell if I didn’t give her control of my card. That’s why I agreed.
Eventually Sarah became pregnant. At the time, I wasn’t even sure the baby was mine, but I stood by her. Then the abuse, the violence, everything stopped. Just like that. And for almost a year, our relationship was perfect. I thought that the tide had turned.
Our beautiful daughter was born. I secretly did a DNA test, confirming that she was mine, but Sarah refused to put me on the birth certificate and gave her her maiden name. Then, a couple of months later, I was attacked again.
This time things were different
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the turning point. The shock of being attacked whilst holding our baby tipped me over the edge and I had a breakdown. I collapsed at work in front of my boss and ended up telling my occupational health department everything.
Because a child was involved, the staff in occupational health were duty bound to inform social services. The police had always treated me as the perpetrator and my partner as the victim but when I was called in to be interviewed by social services, it was the first time in about three years, that I received positive help. I sat in front of this poor lady and sobbed like a child as I told my story. The lady that interviewed me listened to my story and took immediate action. I was terrified that we would lose our baby, but I was equally terrified of what Sarah would do when she found out that I had told someone about the attacks.
Sarah was interviewed and eventually admitted the attack, but she claimed she had been provoked. Whilst she was angry at me and remained verbally abusive, she backed off a little.
The lady at social services said that there were two kinds of abuser: The ones who admitted that they had an issue and wanted to work to change their behaviour. And the ones that denied that they had an issue and blamed everything on the victim.
My partner was the latter. ‘Go home, pack a bag and leave.’ I was told. ‘But you won’t, I can see it in your face and hear it in your words’ she said. ‘On average, it takes 30 serious assaults before people start to try to leave’ she said.
I don’t recall how long it was before I did leave but I eventually got myself a flat in the village and moved out. I kept my job, had my daughter at weekends and really started to get my life back together, or so I thought. Unfortunately, things were about to get a lot worse!
One weekend Sarah asked if she could come around to see me, have a drink and talk things over. Like a fool, I agreed. It turned out that her mother had banned her from drinking at home. She pulled out a large bottle of vodka and took cocaine on my living room table. I protested but was told to ‘stop being so boring.’
When I asked her to leave, she exploded and attacked me violently. When I dialled 999, she grabbed the phone and hit me with it. She threatened to take our daughter so after a struggle, I locked them in the flat and called the police and begged them for help. We were both arrested and despite her drunken state and my battered face, they labelled me the perpetrator and I was charged with assault for trying to restrain her. My abuser walked free with our daughter.
I really can’t put into words how I felt at that moment. Ten years on, as I write this, I’m shaking again and have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I was held overnight, taken to court, handcuffed, in a prison van and bailed for five months with a condition that I stayed away from Sarah and my baby. During those five months, I was driven to the point of suicide. I just didn’t see a way out.
I thought about my eldest daughter from my first marriage, she believed people who killed themselves were selfish. I didn’t agree with her attitudes on suicide, but it made me consider how she would think of me for the rest of her life and it was enough to stop me.
This was another turning point. I could turn up to court in five months, a completely broken man or I could turn up with my head held high. So, I brought myself a weightlifting kit and concentrated my efforts and my mind into getting fit. I trained three hours a day after work, six days a week for five months. Sure, I still had some terrible days where I really felt that I couldn’t cope but I came through it.
After five months waiting and wondering what was going to happen, the case was dropped on the day of my court appearance. The verdict, no case to answer! Just like that, it was over.
I left Scotland and turned to my eldest brother who lived in Canada. I borrowed £1,000 and hired a car with four small boxes of possessions. It was a truly heart-breaking day as I didn’t know if I would ever see my daughter again.
I never made an official complaint because I didn’t feel that there was any point. As a man, the police and authorities didn’t look at you as a victim.
Ten years on
It’s only been in the last few months that I’ve really been able to open up. As an advocate, I now share my experience in the hope of helping others.
My most recent domestic abuse talks have been to representatives from all three services, the Army Welfare Service, SSAFA, the Hampton Trust, Aurora New Dawn and Hampshire Police. I’ve also given an interview on BFBS Forces Radio and had an article published in the Metro. I outline my own experiences of dealing with agencies as I battled to get help. I talk about how hard it was to get the support I needed because of victim and perpetrator stereotypes.
I now have a good working relationship with Sarah, who, along with her mother and sister, who both moved to Scotland to support her, do a great job of raising my daughter. I pay regular maintenance and see my daughter during the school holidays. I’m in an amazing relationship with my fabulous partner and I get to see both of my girls growing up. My life is now full of laughter and adventure and I’ve never been happier. Life is never easy but it’s definitely worth living – never ever give up.
You can find out more about me at www.d-a-b-s.co.uk