NO MORE - ‘You feel completely trapped and very fearful’

Date published: 07 July 2022 15:45
Dated: 07 July 2022 16:21:43

It was only when SYP's Natalie Shaw woke up on the kitchen floor, having been strangled to the point of unconsciousness by her then-partner, that she realised she was a domestic abuse victim - and she needed to escape.

Natalie is the force's strategic lead for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and is today sharing her personal story with the public and her work colleagues for the very first time.

Her aim? To show that anyone can become a victim of domestic abuse (DA) - no matter who you are or what you do - and to urge anyone suffering to seek help now.

"I understand why people don't want to report DA because you feel a fool," says Natalie, a retired SYP Chief Superintendent.

"But I didn't meet the man he ended up being - it was only over the next two years that I found out who he really was."

Natalie's personal story begins in the early 1990s, with a charming man and a whirlwind romance.

Having grown up in a family where her mum, Julia, had sadly suffered years of abuse at the hands of an ex-partner when Natalie was a toddler, Natalie, now 51, knew what she wanted to avoid in her own life partner.

"I was adamant as a young woman I wasn't going to have 'that life' or 'that kind of relationship'," she recalls.

"The problem is, you don't know you are entering a DA relationship. You don't meet someone and they're instantly awful to you; it's a drip, drip effect."

When Natalie first met her abuser, he was a true gentleman. He showered her with compliments and affection, and made grand gestures to make her feel special: a new car, an exotic holiday, expensive jewellery.

Then after about a year, the signs of DA began to emerge.

"When I met him I had my own home and then I sold it and we bought a home together," Natalie says.

"I realised all my finances were tied up in paying the bills so I had no disposable income; if I needed money, I would have to go to him."

At the same time, her abuser gradually withdrew Natalie's one-to-one contact with her colleagues, friends and family.

Even how she dressed was controlled.

"Once, I put on a polo-neck jumper to go to work in the plain clothes department," she recalls.

"I remember a massive argument ensuing that I was daring to go to work like that. I went to work in a men's T-shirt because I just didn’t want the argument."

As Natalie's independence was worn away, her partner’s temper grew. First it was throwing a dinner plate at the wall in a fit of rage, then he began deliberately destroying items of sentimental value.

Previously a bold and bubbly character, Natalie's self-confidence and self-worth were plummeting.

"I couldn’t tell anyone at work because it was so embarrassing, to be a police officer and a victim of domestic abuse. I'd said I wasn't going to be 'that' person. I'm supposed to protect people like me.

"You start to question yourself and think you are being irrational, you feel completely trapped and very fearful. The abuser erodes away your support network and then the physical abuse starts."

The moment everything changed came less than three years into their relationship, following an argument about ironing.

"There had been pushing and shoving before, but this time he hit me in the face, making my teeth loose. He knocked me to the floor, then strangled me until I was unconscious," Natalie remembers.

"I woke up on the kitchen floor. I thought he was going to kill me. He was just there, crying. He said he'd done it because he loves me so much."

At that moment, it was clear to Natalie she needed to escape.

"It took me to the point of being beaten and strangled to know I needed to get out, I just didn't know how."

Feeling too ashamed to report what was happening, it took four long months to get everything in place.

"I had to work out when it wasn't going to be as dangerous for me. I literally left with what I had on my back because my only objectives were to get out alive and get away from him forever."

Natalie adds: “I didn't go to my best friend. I went to a good friend but not the person he would expect me to go to. I had to hide my car away from where I was staying in case he came looking for me. And he did - I'd come back to the car and find flowers and love notes, or he'd turn up outside work as he knew my shift patterns."

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.

Natalie met husband Wayne, 59, soon after the abusive relationship ended, and he helped to rebuild her confidence. The couple have been happily married for 21 years and have two children - Alex, 24, and Paige, 21.

"Even though I don't want any sympathy for me now, I do feel sympathy for that young woman who couldn't see a way out,” she says.

“I don't recognise that person in myself anymore.”

What would Natalie's message be to someone else who feels trapped in an abusive relationship?

"If I had spoken to someone, they would have helped me get out and I wouldn't have had to spend four months trying to figure it out myself," she says.

"It doesn’t have to be a police outcome if you don't want it to be. The police are here, we will support you and do our very best to get the perpetrator to court. But if you don't want to come to the police, there are other people that can help you.

"If my story gives anyone else the confidence either to report to us or to tell someone to get the help they need, then I'll be glad to have told it."

Report domestic abuse by calling us on 101, or always 999 in an emergency. You can also contact us discreetly online using our dedicated DA reporting page here. The page includes instructions on how to clear your internet browsing history.

If you are not ready to report to police, there are other organisations that can help. Contact Women's Aid or Vida Sheffield.

South Yorkshire Police is currently running a campaign called ‘No More’ which calls upon women and men across South Yorkshire and nationwide to unite and make a stand against VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls). Find out more at www.nomore-standwithus.com

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