Abusive relationships don’t necessarily leave cuts and bruises

As a survivor of domestic abuse, Cllr Nicky Brennan is passionate about work being done across the city helping people in finding a way out of abusive relationships – this is her story.

My story isn’t unusual – in fact it is far too common, and more often than not the ‘toxic behaviour’ or red flags are explained away, because they are regarded as ‘normal’ relationship behaviour.

Without going into specifics, I have survived two abusive relationships – and have managed to come out the other side, determined to help those who feel they are trapped in similar situations.

My first experience of domestic abuse was of physical violence – there was no hiding or explaining this away as loving behaviour. I knew it was wrong.

What followed was less obvious, more insidious behaviour – controlling my finances, access to my friends family – which seemed normal due to the way it was presented as helping me out and wanting to spend more time ‘just with you’

It took time and many conversations with experts at Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid (BSWAID) to realise this was coercive control – it wasn’t loving behaviour, it was abuse – but the kind that doesn’t come with cuts and bruises.

Domestic abuse can mean any kind of violent, threatening or controlling behaviour between people in a relationship – be that a partner, ex-partner or family member – and it can happen to anyone.

This is why empowering women and girls by improving access to vital information about support available and how to access it is so vital.

Through the Inform Women, Transform Lives campaign, which was launched in partnership with The Carter Centre in the US and BSWAID last week, we hope to educate and enable women to realise what is happening and how they can get help to escape abusive relationships.

Violence against women is often perpetrated by someone close to us, and a perpetrator is rarely abusive from the very start. It can start with gifts and compliments, known as love bombing.

In Birmingham women and girls face disproportionate levels of violence, due to their gender.

In the incidents of domestic abuse recorded by West Midlands Police in 2022/23, nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of victims were female. We need to tackle gender-based violence to make our city safer.

As a local authority, we are committed to tackling all forms of domestic abuse – investing in services and a city-wide prevention strategy which aims to highlight and address abuse wherever it is found or reported.

We all have a role to play though – checking in on friends and loved ones if you think something is ‘off’, as often those experiencing abuse may not see it as abuse or feel unable to take action themselves.

You are not alone. Never be afraid to ask for help or support – we are here to help. Specialist support services can be found on dedicated pages on our website.

If you or someone else is in immediate danger or a crime is in progress call the police on 999.

Cllr Nicky Brennan is the Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Community Safety and Equalities.

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