In the final instalment of our four-part series of articles marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Advertiser reporter Polly Albany-Ward spoke to three people from Croydon whose lives have been changed forever by the physical and psychological abuse they have suffered at the hands of their partners. The victims' names have been changed in order to protect their identities. However, the three women have escaped their tormentors and are looking to move on with the rest of their lives...
LAURA has been in two abusive relationships. Abuse crept into her first relationship undetected and she denied it to everyone, including herself, for four years...
LAURA, who is 34, met her ex-partner when she was a student. "He swept me off my feet and made me feel like the only girl in the world," she said.
The abuse began with jealousy. Laura said the first time he beat her, six months into the relationship, he cried and told her it was because he loved her.
But then he started hitting Laura for being too long at the supermarket or phoning her family when he wasn't there. He always told her it was because she had done something wrong.
"By the second year of our relationship the beatings were just a regular everyday occurrence," she said. "He started saying that he couldn't bear for me to be at work all day because he knows what men are like and they would all be trying to flirt and I was too friendly."
She drank and became addicted to painkillers to dull the agony of the beatings. After four years she discovered her ex had cheated on her and run up debts in her name. She could not cope any more.
"He had attacked me so many times I prayed the next time would be the last and he would kill me once and for all," she said.
One night, Laura hid her ex's keys so he could not lock her in the house when he went out. When he came home he tried to batter the door down but passers-by called the police who sent him away.
He stalked her until she met her next partner. This man abused Laura emotionally so she did not know it was happening, and eventually she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and placed on medication.
"I found it very hard to trust people," said Laura. "I would constantly argue with people, then spend my time at home crying and trying to commit suicide."
But then Laura went on the Freedom Programme (FP). "It acknowledged my abuse and made it real," said Laura. "It taught me to truly see it was not my fault."
Laura said the FP taught her to deal with abusers and value herself. She began to come off the medication and is studying again.
"I became me again," she said. "Without the FP I would probably be dead or as good as. The FP taught me what a decent man is like and what a decent relationship should be like, so I look forward to having one."
VANESSA met her ex-husband when she was in her early 20s. On her wedding day, two years later, she knew she had made a mistake...
IT WAS when Vanessa challenged her ex on something and he dragged her from the hall, saying: "I do what I want, you're my wife," that she first realised a problem.
She tried to forget it and they had two children, but her ex became more abusive and cheated regularly.
"We got more and more terrified of him," said Vanessa. "It got to the point where I couldn't even speak to my parents on the phone because if I said 'I love you' to them that could spark something."
Vanessa said her ex found faults with everything she said, until she could not talk to anyone.
She said: "He would isolate me. He said 'nobody likes you, you're ugly', so I became paranoid."
One day, Vanessa questioned him on something and he ripped the radiator from the bathroom wall and tried to hit her with it. One of the pipes refused to break but water flooded the bathroom.
Vanessa worked for a local authority and knew how to get help but was paralysed with fear and shame.
She said: "He said 'if you tell the police I will kill you, I will find you'. The number of nights I spent on the floor in absolute despair, I was convinced either I stayed or I died."
Vanessa also discovered her ex had taken out a life insurance policy in her name.
To the outside world she said her ex, a church-going businessman, was a "nice guy".
She said: "He was the perfect dad and perfect husband. But the minute we got in the car and the door closed that mask would come off."
Vanessa's family took control 16 years after her wedding. Her brother took her to the police and they held her ex while she went home for her things.
"The only thing I could remember to take was my children's uniforms," she said. "I walked out of that house and never went back, I lost everything within 30 minutes. I had to walk away to save my life."
The Croydon Family Justice Centre helped Vanessa keep her job and take out an injunction to stop her ex going near her or her children.
Two years later, Vanessa went on the Freedom Programme (FP). It taught her about abusers and how to recognise a good man.
She remarried two years ago and lives happily with her husband, children and stepchildren.
SARAH, 43, from Croydon, met her ex-partner on holiday. They spent a few months together before splitting up and Sarah found she was pregnant. They were friends throughout the pregnancy, but the abuse had already begun...
"ALL the time I was pregnant I was quite vulnerable," she said. "He's very controlling. He was aggressive and would always tell me to shut up. When he was here I felt myself going more and more into myself."
Sarah, who worked in broadcasting before having her son, said she used to be a confident person.
"But it was slowly pecking at me, making me feel stupid," she said.
After Sarah's son was born, her ex took them on holiday and the emotional abuse became physical. This was when she knew it was an abusive relationship.
One evening, Sarah was late to meet her ex for dinner because she was looking after her son. They argued, and when they got back to the hotel, he assaulted her.
"He had me in a headlock and kicked my shins and pulled my hair," said Sarah. "My son was screaming on the bed."
Sarah tried to leave but her ex locked her passport in the hotel safe and she did not know the code.
Two days later, he left it unlocked and Sarah went to hotel security who called the police. She dropped the charges so she could go home, but then her ex started sending abusive text messages and e-mails.
"They were awful, things like 'if you treat me like a **** I'll treat you like a ***'. As soon as I get a text from him I'm like," Sarah said as she pulled a face of repulsion, her whole body tensing.
Her ex would also stop child maintenance until he got what he wanted, cutting it by a third when he did pay so Sarah had to stop things like her son's football.
Sarah went on the Freedom programme six months after the assault and now helps Louise Moultrie run the groups. Today, if her ex sends an abusive message, she ignores it.
"The group is amazing because it makes everything in your head click," she added.
"I know what he was doing now; he was trying to batter me down slowly and he achieved it.
"A lot of people blame themselves and say 'how could I have been so stupid', but when it's tap, tap, tap all the time you don't see it."
"He always made out everything was my fault. He still thinks everything is my fault, but I don't. It's made me a much stronger person."