Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

'I picked her up by her throat'

David and his girlfriend have been together about five years
The Home Office says it is making "significant progress" in a drive to tackle domestic violence, but concedes that more needs to be done - including in managing perpetrators.

One man convicted of assaulting his girlfriend describes being the person who metes out the violence.

David - not his real name - is a part-time musician, in his mid-30s, from Oxfordshire. He has been with his girlfriend for about five years.

Two years ago he was convicted of common assault, after getting into a jealous rage and seizing her by her throat.


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That was not the first time he had attacked her. There had been "quite a few instances" and police called "a few times" in the three years they had been together.

About seven months into their relationship, for instance, a row over smoking in a hotel room led to an attack.

"She got upset, I couldn't handle that. It wasn't that she was doing anything apart from being upset, but I wanted it to stop, I found it humiliating. It made me feel I must be a monster.

"In that instance I grabbed her round her throat and lifted her up in the air."

Yet despite the police knowing him, despite the fact that he had sometimes been on the verge of being sectioned because of his violence, and despite the fact he knew what he was doing was wrong, he could not get any help.

"I'd been chasing some sort of help for about two years - but without actually being convicted of something violent, they just brush you off.

"I felt like if I was a smackhead I'd get some help, if I was arrested for smashing something up I'd get some help, but until I did something I wasn't going to get any help.

"I literally was begging but I got turned back all the time."

Adopted and bullied

Finally, however, just before his conviction, David got into a type of pre-therapy with Oxfordshire Mental Health Trust which in turn would lead to an 18-month course of twice-weekly group therapy sessions. He was spared jail on the proviso he attend these sessions.

Anyone who's having difficulty with this needs to get control of themselves and their anger, but it's more about recognising what causes that
Despite being intimidating at first, the therapy has made things "loads better", he said. It has certainly given him an understanding of what lies underneath his rage and violence.

He had been adopted as a child, and was excluded and bullied at primary and secondary school. He had been homeless from aged 15 until his early 20s, and finds it difficult to fit into workplace culture.

"So much of my getting better has involved understanding what I'm like," he says.

The things that trigger him with his girlfriend can be minor, like her cutting him off mid-sentence - but he at least now knows why that's a problem.

"I want my voice to be valued, I want my opinion to be valued, and when I feel it isn't - that makes me angry."

The sessions go much deeper than just anger management.

"Yes, anyone who's having difficulty with this needs to get control of themselves and their anger, but it's more about recognising what causes that, where that anger and frustration comes from.

"You can learn how to breathe properly, physical meditation techniques, trying to keep the adrenalin levels down, but (without looking deeper) it's like waves crashing against a cliff, the anger keeps coming."

Pouring with blood

David's violence hasn't stopped completely. Although it was the first physical attack "in ages", about four or five weeks ago he threw a lighter at his girlfriend.

"Throwing it was like throwing a punch at a safe distance. Unfortunately I let go of the lighter and I'm a better shot than I thought."

I've wanted to leave plenty of times. I don't want to have hateful thoughts


The lighter hit her near the eye and she began pouring with blood.

"How would I have coped if my girlfriend had gone blind in one eye because it had gone an inch the other way?

"I'm not so proud of inflicting damage on someone that I love. I guess part of the help is recognising that you are capable of doing that... but also that if you're capable of doing it, you're capable of controlling it."

The Home Office, in an annual report on a domestic violence action plan launched in 2005, says it is making progress on domestic violence in various areas including special courts, early intervention and research.

David finds the authorities are on the one hand helpful, offering therapy and so on - but on the other hand risk making things worse by, for instance, trying to push him off incapacity benefit and into a job he may not be able to handle emotionally.

He feels he still has further to go in mending himself and stopping the violence. He is nervous about his therapy ending, in about two months' time, and being left to his own devices.

"I don't feel fixed. I feel repaired, but I don't feel fixed," he said.

"I am always going to have to be aware of it. However, my behaviour has changed."

'Genuine bond'

But a simple question remains - why do David and his girlfriend not just separate?

David confesses himself baffled as to why his partner - who is in her mid-20s - has not left him.


Claims the lives of about two women a week

Accounts for 15% of all reported violent incidents
One in four women and one in six men will be a victim in their lifetime
89% of those suffering four or more incidents are women

Source: Home Office

"I've asked her. Initially I thought it was because she was stupid. But no-one's that stupid. Now I have to believe there's a genuine bond between us which she feels is worth fighting for."

From his own perspective, "I've wanted to leave plenty of times. I don't want to feel like I'm made this angry, I don't want to feel this wound up. I don't want to have hateful thoughts.

"But I'm not strong enough, is one part of it. I'm too scared that I'll leave and then realise it's the best thing that ever came along.

"You find yourself thinking, I've punched her to the ground and she still loves me. Am I ever going to find someone who loves me this much again?"

Also, his violence is "me, not her. It's me and I'll take that with me wherever I go."

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