Her hands were trembling as she paid her bus fare.
No-one noticed, but ‘Diane’ was used to that. Her bullying husband had made her life a misery for over 40 years and no-one had noticed that, either.
Not even her family or her closest friends knew the torrent of mental abuse, insults and irrational jealousy she had endured.
Just a few days earlier, at the end of her tether, she had left home and fled to a friend’s. Her leaving had enraged her husband into sending a frenzy of abusive texts and voice messages to her mobile phone, pledging to track her down and drag her back.
But as she settled into her seat to contemplate what on earth she was going to do next, she idly turned over the bus ticket in her hand.
Her heart almost stopped as she read what was printed on the reverse. “My ex won’t leave me alone and I’m scared,” it said. A chill of recognition gripped her. “That’s abuse,” the message went on. It was from Sheffield Domestic Abuse Partnership, whose helpline had placed the advert on thousands of tickets across the city’s transport network in a bid to reach women exactly like her.
“That bus ticket changed my life,” says Diane – it’s not her real name; we’ve promised to protect her identity. “The conductor didn’t realise it, but he handed me a lifeline. The advert could have been written for me. I thought ‘My God, there’s someone who can help me’.”
Within the hour, the elegant, middle-aged mother of three had called the helpline number and told the concerned voice on the other end of the phone how her husband was threatening to track her down and that, if he didn’t find her, he planned to change the locks on their home.
“The helpline woman told me that what he was threatening was illegal, that I didn’t have to accept it. She gave me the number of a solicitor.”
Diane was referred to the Domestic Abuse Partnership’s outreach service. When she arrived for her meeting with a support worker, she collapsed into tears. “I was too broken even to speak. I just cried and cried,” she recalls.
“I’d bottled up everything for years.
“Only my doctor and one close friend knew what I’d had to put up with.”
Shame was the main reason she had kept her situation a secret. “I felt so embarrassed, at my age, to be in such a position. I thought people would think I was stupid for putting up with it,” she explains.
But also she knew how difficult it would be for people to accept that a man they perceived to be a well-respected retired local businessman, a pillar of the community, had a dark secret. That in private, he raged at the woman they saw as the smiling partner by his side at business dinners and charity functions.
To all intents and purposes, Diane looked to have an enviable life. They had children and moved into a detached home in a leafy Sheffield suburb; her husband was a much-respected man who adored his career.
But behind the middle class facade, Diane was constantly being told she was useless, ugly and stupid. And if she had fun, woe-betide her.
“In private he is an abusive, bullying man paranoid with jealousy,” she says. “As far as I know it was reserved only for me. I was the one person he had a problem with. And therefore, he always made out it was all my fault.”
Diane wishes she had heeded the warning signs when they started dating as teenagers. “He was jealous, even then. But I thought I could handle it, and that once we got married, he would feel more secure, but he never did,” she says.
“He doesn’t allow himself to join in if other people are having fun. The fact that I could seemed to annoy him. At family events he would storm off home and shout and swear at me when I got back. The next day, he would manipulate the night’s events to portray me as in the wrong.
“I stopped accepting invites, just to avoid the rows. But then I realised it was a stupid thing to do and started going to them on my own. I maintained a strong social life with friends and family – it was the only way I could stand what was going on at home.”
Maybe her strength of character, her refusal to give in, enraged him even more, she reflects. But she couldn’t play the servile little wife just to appease him.
Diane claims that he tried to assault her physically when she was in her 30s: “I’d been out to the cinema. He was in bed and when I got in, I felt this blow in my lower back. He kicked me so hard I fell to the floor. He waved his fist in my face and threatened me.
“I told him: if your flesh ever touches my flesh again, I will have you for assault. The next day I consulted a solicitor and had a warning letter sent to him.”
She feels many victims of abuse are viewed unsympathetically by the public.
“People will read this and think ‘She should have left him’,” she sighs. “But like so many women do, I kept the status quo because I wanted my children to be brought up by two parents. I did once ask him to go, but our children were so distraught, I had to let him back in.
“Plus he was a wonderful father. He provided extremely well for his family. So I kept up my smiling, going- out face and carried on.”
A turning point came a year ago. “He got his hands around my neck. He was livid, but I managed to stop him. I told him I was leaving; he said I didn’t have the guts to do it, so the next day I put a few essentials into my little handbag and went off to work as normal. At lunchtime I bought some new clothes and that night, I went to stay with my friend. He hurled abuse at me constantly via texts and voice mails. I didn’t know what to do next. And then I was handed that bus ticket.”
Diane was assigned a support worker for over a year. The worker became her lifeline as she listened to the outpourings of hurt.
Says Diane: “She has been amazing. I went back to the marital home after 12 weeks, but as a different person. I’m not going to divorce him and lose everything after enduring so much for 40 years,” she says. “But I’m working towards leaving him for a new independent life. It’s so frightening to think about making a new start. I still feel like I’m carrying a huge burden on my shoulders every day I’m living with my husband, but I’m not doing it by myself any more.
“I want to get the message out there and help other people, because those in my situation are not weak. You have to be so strong to live through an abusive marriage.”
Don’t suffer abuse - physical or psychological - in silence
Sheffield’s Domestic Abuse Partnership is calling for greater understanding of the different forms domestic abuse can take.
“It’s important to remember that domestic abuse isn’t only physical violence. Emotional or psychological abuse can have a huge impact on someone’s life,” warns Alison Higgins, Sheffield Domestic Abuse Partnership Manager.
“People who have experienced domestic abuse tell us that often it’s not the punches or kicks that cause the most or lasting pain, but the put downs, the humiliation in front of children or friends, the mind games, being told you are worthless, ugly, undesirable, a bad mother.
“If you are experiencing emotional abuse but not physical abuse, please don’t suffer in silence. Support is available,” she urges.
“We know if feels difficult to make that first call – but we’re here to help, not to judge.”
The council-run scheme has supported more than 1,500 domestic abuse victims with around 1,900 children, since its telephone helpline and outreach service was launched in April last year.
Advertising on bus tickets and supermarket till receipts is just one of the innovative and creative ways the scheme has reached out to domestic abuse victims throughout the city – men, women, young people and those in same-sex relationships.
Coun Mick Rooney, the council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “The Domestic Abuse Partnership helpline has been a real success story.
“But we know there are many more people out there we can help.
“Abuse can take many forms, it’s not just physical. Mental and emotional abuse, anything that makes you feel like a victim, is not acceptable.
“And we can help.”
Ring the freephone hotline
Sheffield Domestic Abuse’s freephone helpline number is 0808 808 2241.
It is run by specially trained and experienced staff who will listen to what callers have to say and help with legal support, counselling, housing issues and personal safety.
Its Outreach Service can provide the support of a key worker to guide people through difficult times and help them find a way to move on. Phone 0114 228 8270 to book in.
The Outreach Service also offers a group programme for women recovering from domestic abuse called ‘Power to Change’ and a self-help group led by clients.