By Dan Santy Thursday 03 January 2013 Updated: 05/02 08:17
PUT four women together and, statistically, one of them will be a victim of domestic abuse at some point in their lives.
It is a shocking and little known statistic, and it is one which highlights the hidden problem of the behind closed doors violence 9,000 Warwickshire residents - most of them women - are thought to be put through each year.
And it is thought to be getting worse. While awareness of domestic abuse increases - and the taboo of discussing it diminshes - pressures brought on by the economic slump mean more innocent women are ending up as the target.
With Christmas and New Year marking the time when such incidents spike, Warwickshire Against Domestic Abuse has launched a drive to make people aware of the problem and let sufferers know help is out there.
Backing the campaign is Rugby woman Jill and her friend Leslie (names changed). Two years ago Jill survived a horrific assault at the hands of her abusive ex-partner, only managing to stop the attack by calling 999 on the phone in her pocket.
Now free of the cycle of abuse and rebuilding her life - she is studying to be a health visitor specialising in domestic abuse - Jill has told her story to help others trapped by domestic violence.
Jill met her partner in 2001, having two children with him. The abuse started quickly, she says, with controlling behaviour and negative comments which dented her self-esteem.
"They were just not very nice comments, things like saying I looked fat if we were going out. It was all very subtle," she said.
As with many other cases, the violence came when her partner had been drinking. Jill recounts being held up against a wall by her throat and thrown outside on such an occasion.
"I chucked him out after that, but he managed to work his way back in. He was clever and manipulative."
Her friends bore witness to his controlling behaviour, but they did not have the full picture and remained in the dark for a long time about what Jill was enduring behind closed doors.
Close friend Leslie remembers a gathering at her house when, fuelled by drink, Jill's partner became aggressive towards the rest of the group - especially when Leslie argued back.
But it was not enough to make her realise her friend was a victim of domestic abuse.
"I only knew what Jill told me, and it didn't cross my mind it was domestic abuse," she said.
"Looking back I wonder if I should have said something more as her friend, but you can't make somebody do something and I didn't know what it was really like for her."
Even Jill was not fully aware of her situation until a training course at work saw her recognise all the signs of an abusive relationship.
"I didn't understand it was abusive until then. It was like a lightbulb being turned on, and I thought I've got to get out of this."
But in 2010 it came to a head when Jill's partner called while drunk to tell her he was locked out of home.
When she let him in was the moment she was attacked and badly beaten in a brutal assault lasting nearly an hour.
Fortunately her phone call had raised the alarm, and the police arrived and arrested her partner, leading to him being convicted of grievous bodily harm and sentenced to four years in prison.
Jill was free, but her world as she knew it had been turned upside down and it only marked the start of her attempt to rebuild her life.
With the help of those close to her and support workers she has done so, putting her in a position to be philosophical about abusive relationships and just how hard it is for women to get out of them.
"I was scared to leave - I didn't know what it would be like. But now I am out of it I know nothing will ever be as bad as it was then.
"I'm a single mum, it's hard but I no longer live in fear, having to walk around on eggshells and worry about upsetting him.
"It sounds stupid, but one of the defining moments for me was going shopping and being able to buy what I wanted. It was a massive release for me."
*HELP is at hand for victims of domestic abuse.
With families spending more time together at Christmas and New Year, tensions can rise and reports of domestic violence increase as a result.
It has prompted Warwickshire Against Domestic Abuse to remind victims help is out there if they can find the courage to speak out.
It is estimated there are at least 9,000 cases of domestic abuse in Warwickshire each year.
On average, victims live with 35 assaults over seven years before reporting it to the police. Sufferers are more likely to tell friends or family before anyone else.
Warwickshire's domestic abuse manager, Sue Ingram, said: "Domestic abuse can start with small changes in behaviour. It is all about control and can take many forms - physical, psychological and sexual.
"Sufferers' behaviour often changes as they become quieter, more introverted and less confident.
"I would urge people to open their eyes to domestic abuse and if they are suffering silently or know someone who is, I hope they will find the courage to take steps to seek help."
Every month around 700 incidents of domestic abuse are reported to Warwickshire Police, but during December the force expected this to have risen by a third.
Det Insp Roy Wheelwright, from the county's domestic abuse unit, said: "Domestic abuse is not acceptable and we are asking the public to help us to stop it happening in our communities.
"It is now much more socially acceptable to report domestic abuse than it ever has been. At some time in their lives one out of every four women and one out of every six men will be affected by domestic abuse.
"Don't suffer in silence or stand by and let it continue - whoever you are, if you have been affected, please seek help."
Visit www.talk2someone.org.uk or call the Warwickshire Against Domestic Abuse helpline on 0800 408 1552 for support and information for victims, their families or perpetrators.
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