‘I’m very lucky’: Sheffield domestic abuse survivor opens up on brain injury and breaking free
Few people would describe the young Sheffield woman in this photo as ‘lucky’, yet that’s the unlikely word she uses to describe herself.
Britney Bashforth spent four weeks in a coma after being brutally beaten and left for dead by her ex-partner Shaka Williams in April, and the horrific list of injuries she sustained included multiple fractures, a collapsed lung and bleeding in her liver and spleen.
Her face was so bruised and swollen – as you can see from this photo which was initially shared in a bid to catch the culprit, provoking widespread outrage on social media – that even friends and family at first failed to recognise the 25-year-old mother-of-one.
Sentencing her 31-year-old attacker, of Brimmesfield Drive, Arbourthorne, to nine years and 10 months imprisonment for committing grievous bodily harm with intent, a judge said in October that ‘short of killing her, it is difficult to see how her injuries could have been worse’.
Yet Britney feels lucky not just to have survived but to have finally broken free from the man who controlled her life for two ‘miserable’ years during which she lived in constant fear.
The attack which could so easily have killed her, she says, ultimately led to her getting her life back.
She is now determined to use her experience to help other domestic abuse survivors, claiming she is living proof that however bad things may seem ‘there’s always light at the end of the tunnel’.
To do that she is teaming up with a family friend who has supported hundreds of women and men fleeing domestic violence over the last two years, totally unaware that Britney, whom she has known for years, was suffering in silence all that time.
“I think I’m very lucky. I’ve got my life and my baby girl, Preiya, who’s one, so what’s not to be happy about?” says Britney.
“I try to stay positive about things because otherwise I would cry.
“I want to show other people who might be going through what I did that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
“When you’re in an abusive relationship you’re often scared to leave because you think it will be a struggle and you’ll be on your own, and it can be particularly hard when you have children because you’re worried you’re going to have to start again with nothing.
“I want to share my example to show people that you’ll always end up happier, because I’m in a much better place now.”
Britney is still recovering from her horrendous injuries. She requires a further operation after Christmas and is undergoing counselling, her back aches, she is constantly tired and she says that damage to her brain has left her with an ‘absolutely terrible’ memory, yet she insists she is ‘plodding on’.
She is joining forces with Francine Wright, founder of the charity Rehouse to Rehome, which supports people and families fleeing domestic violence by providing them with the household goods and furnishings which – as the name implies – turn a bare house into a home.
The 39-year-old from Handsworth, who set out to help others after losing her aunt to domestic violence, estimates that she has helped more than 800 families over the last two years – but all the while she had no inkling that Britney needed help.
When she learned what had happened to her old friend, Francine says, she was ‘absolutely devastated and shocked’.
“The first thing I did was to drop to my knees and pray for Britney. It’s so hard to see someone you love in the condition she was,” she said.
“It’s unbelievable how far she’s come and what she’s overcome mentally. She’s just awesome.
“She’s turning what’s happened to her into a positive and said ‘I’m not going to let anyone defeat me’.”
The pair plan to launch group sessions in the new year for survivors of domestic violence, helping them to rebuild their shattered lives, and Britney will share her story as a source of inspiration.
Francine said: “We want to empower survivors and show them they’re not alone and don’t have to suffer in silence.
“Domestic violence is still considered a little taboo. People don’t want to speak up about it but they should. We need to raise awareness.
“If there’s anyone who can give other survivors of domestic violence the help and support they need, it’s Britney. I put my faith in her to do that.
“Some people fleeing domestic violence have absolutely no one, and sometimes they just want a chat with someone who understands what they’re going through, like Britney.”
Britney had broken up with Williams four months before the night on which he climbed onto her balcony and, after finding tobacco which he wrongly assumed to have been left by a lover, launched his sickening attack in a fit of jealousy.
That was the dreadful culmination of the worst two years of her life, which left her riddled with anxiety and grappling with depression.
“I was with him for two years and he was violent from early on. It started with kicks and punches and gradually got worse and worse,” said Britney.
“He even worked his way around some of my friends who knew what I was going through. It was all part of his control and manipulation. They would be angry at him for hitting me but he would work his way around them and they would end up talking to him again. That’s what he was capable of.
“I was miserable throughout the time I was with him and throughout my pregnancy. I suffered from terrible anxiety.
“I would panic about him coming home from work and how he’d react if his tea wasn’t cooked. He would pull me down about everything and I was constantly on edge because I never knew what mood he’d be in.
“I remember waking up in hospital after that final attack and thinking I’d been in a car crash.
“As dreadful as it was, and much as I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, in some ways it was a blessing in disguise because otherwise I’d still be going through it now and I wouldn’t have got rid of him fully.
“If he hadn’t gone to jail he would still be around and would still have a hold on me, but as soon as I woke up and knew he was gone it was a massive weight off my shoulders.
“You just need to look for the red flags. The controlling ways often start with saying things about your friends or trying to keep you from seeing them.
“If you’re going through it, I’d say just talk to someone because there are so many people out there who can help you.
“However hard it might seem, you are able to get away and make a better life for yourself and your children.”
Rehouse to Rehome receives no public funding and Francine told how the demand is greater than ever and she is desperately in need of donations.
“There’s a massive, massive need for what we provide, and this Christmas I’m really up against it because I’ve seen a real rise in people needing my help,” she said.
“It might be just one item preventing a family from moving out of a refuge into their home in time for Christmas.
“If anyone has any unwanted household goods or furnishings just give me a call and they’ll go to a family in need.”
For more information about Rehouse to Rehome, and how you can support the charity, visit www.rehousetorehome.org.
If you need help, you can call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247. Always dial 999 in an emergency.