Jay Ryan - Mentoring Co-ordinator    Cyfannol Women’s Aid - Monmouthshire, Wales    Portrait sitting in the same room of the refuge she was taken to after escaping from her violent husband 20 years previously.   I grew up in Cwmbran and knew nothing of domestic violence until I met my future husband at the age of 15. I was locked in his flat and prevented from going to school until I fell pregnant at the age of 16 and things gradually got worse from there. In the following seven years I was continually punched and kicked and bruised, even when pregnant; had knives held to my throat; had bleach poured over me when bathing; had my clothes ripped off me in public; shot at with a pellet rifle; drugged to keep me compliant and physically imprisoned in my own home. I only married out of fear. The mental and emotional abuse was just horrendous. I was so afraid he would take my daughter away from me. Threats to kill me, my daughter or members of my family were a daily occurrence. I was continually criticised and torn apart, reduced to such a poor mental state that I believed everything he said and that I was ugly and worthless.  I was 23 and had lost my family, lost my laughter, lost the sparkle in my eyes. I felt like a little invisible shadow. People knew but I couldn’t tell anyone as I was so scared that my child would be taken away. I thought that if I kept my mouth shut then at least I had my daughter.  The trigger point to me leaving came when he started to mentally abuse my daughter more and more. She was petrified of him and repeatedly asked to be taken away to a happy house. One day he was injecting with one of his mates whilst I was locked in an outhouse cupboard. I managed to push my way out and just ran. All I had was my child benefit book. With my younger sister’s help we collected my daughter from school and went straight to the local Women’s Aid charity. They brought me to this very room in this very refuge in Monmouthshire. At that time I knew nothing of women’s aid organisations.  And that was the start of a very long journey of self-discovery. Twenty years ago I had no confidence or self-esteem and I needed to reinvent myself as I didn’t know who I was. I was nothing. I felt nothing. My life started the day I left him. I went to performing arts college; learnt to drive; did a degree and slowly forged a career in working with children. It is only over the past year, since I got my job at Cyfannol, that I’ve managed to really ground and distance myself from the girl who turned up at this refuge in all her complete and utterly broken state.  I see and feel the transparency and invisibility in the women who come to Cyfannol for the first time. I recognise the turmoil in their minds, the not knowing where they fit in place and in time. It is my role to work with them, and primarily their children and help them rebuild their lives. It is a specialist position, being one of only three in the whole of Wales. I deal with children who are traumatised and who are emotional numb and its my passion to bring them to life again.  I’ve been involved in a mentoring capacity for over 10 years and have witnessed serious cutbacks in overall funding during that time. The current period of austerity has not only resulted in a reduction in the number of refuges for women, but has also impacted on legal aid entitlement and on mental health service provision. Whilst rates of domestic violence are increasing in the region, there is no extra money to cope with the demands on the services we provide. The lack of a holistic approach at the national governmental level means we really are at breaking point. Cutbacks in the police, in education and in health all impact on our ability to rebuild the lives shattered by domestic violence. My post is only funded for another 12 months and I’m not unique in that. It means that I myself, and we as a charity, are unable to plan for the mid-term let alone for the long-term. For the women and children who experience domestic violence first hand, the physical and mental consequences are there for years afterwards, not days or months.  I really hope that in the future we invest in our children. In their education, in their wellbeing and in their mental health. That we emphasise positive relationships and address the growing fragmentation in our society. That domestic violence, both physical and mental, is confronted openly and debated seriously and is no longer hidden away behind closed doors. Sadly, I cannot see this happening in the current political climate.
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