CANTERBURY, England (WOMENSENEWS)– Sarah (not her real name) from south London was only 14 years old when she started going around to her neighbor Ian’s house, who was 34.
He started hitting on her. "I’d tell my friends and they’d say, ‘Oh he’s a pedophile.’ Looking back, I didn’t quite realize how he was," she says now, sharing her story at a restaurant near her home here.
At 19, she became pregnant and they moved in together. "Things started to get really nasty and I was scared of him. I still loved him and I was still infatuated by him. When you’re in a relationship with someone from a young age, you don’t know what’s normal, what’s right and what’s wrong," she says.
He wanted to move to Australia, and with few options, Sarah agreed. Once there she was isolated from her friends and family and it got worse. "He dragged me off the sofa by my hair, he was pushing me, he would lock me in rooms, he took money off me."
Once their daughter was 9 weeks old, they moved back to England and Sarah tried to get help from her parents, but they said she had gotten herself into the situation. "I feel a little bit like they let me down."
Fifteen years after they met, Sarah was 29 and still living with Ian, now in Canterbury, a pretty cathedral city in Kent, England. However, Ian was spending lots of time in London renovating a property he hoped to sell. Sarah took advantage of the opportunity to persuade him that she wanted to separate.
"I said to him, ‘I really can’t do this anymore, I want to leave. You’re ruining my life, I’m so unhappy. We’ve been together 15 years and it’s not any better.’" By now they had three children.
Eventually Ian seemed to accept the separation. But when Sarah started a new relationship some months later, Ian erupted. He came back from his parents where he’d been staying with their children "and started throwing suitcases at me in front of the children, being violent."
The scene ended with Ian dragging Sarah through his car window. She called the police and Ian was arrested, but the case was later dropped.
It has now been three years since this break and Ian still lives in the same city as Sarah. While he is no longer able to physically abuse her, Sarah says he still tries to manipulate her life when he can. He has joint custody of their three children. She is currently struggling to pay off about $38,000 in debt he accrued in her name while they were still together.
This story was reported and produced by Jess McCabe for the series "Why Didn’t She Just Leave?" This special project was crowd funded on the Catapult funding platform. Join the conversation on domestic violence on Twitter via #WhyIStayed.