Virtual Sunflower, a drop-in centre for victims of domestic violence, is opening at the Big Local Community Shop in March. Reporter Anna Slater speaks to two survivors of domestic abuse who will be volunteering there.
It was not unusual for Sam to bump into things.
She was clumsy – always breaking her teeth on boiled sweets. When she was five months pregnant, she slipped on a sock and went flying down the stairs.
That is what she told her friends, anyway. And after a while, they became accustomed to her blue eyes and bloody lips.
For her, they were scars of fear. For her new boyfriend, they were a badge of pride and a reminder he controlled her every move.
Sam grew up watching her dad beat her mum, so when she met Mark, aged 16, she did not bat an eyelid when history began repeating itself.
It was only a few punches here and there and he did love her deep down. She had brought it on herself, she thought.
And when their daughter was born a year later, she assumed she deserved to have her ribs broken. After all, she questioned, what kind of mum cannot control her own baby?
Mark was obsessive, clingy and controlling. He spat at her and told her she was ugly. He told her what to wear, where she could go and who her friends should be.
Their son was born when Sam was 19-years-old – but when the baby died of cot death three months later, Mark barely shed a tear and took no interest in funeral planning.
“He does not even know where his own son is buried. It is emotional torture,” said Sam.
Over the years she put on a brave face for the sake of her three children – but as soon as the scars began to fade, new ones would appear in their place. It was a vicious cycle.
The couple were in a nightclub with some friends one night when a man caught her eye from across the bar and asked her for a dance.
But before she had the chance to reply a polite no, Mark punched him in the face and was hauled out the club by bouncers.
“I followed him out but he charged towards me with such an angry glare I thought I was going to die. He headbutted me and broke my teeth, cut my eye and bruised my face.”
Mark was jailed for four weeks – and when he returned he became an “animal”. The last straw was when he held a knife to her neck as their three children slept upstairs.
The next day, she packed her bags and, with the kids in tow, fled to a shelter on the coast for women suffering from domestic abuse.
She finally found the courage to move back to Borehamwood a few months later and has not seen or heard from Mark since.
Smiling now after years of torture, the now 43-year-old has since married a “wonderful man” and is looking forward to volunteering for Sunflower in March.
“Having been through it all myself I know exactly what to say to someone suffering domestic abuse. I feel I can make a real different to the project.
“Do not suffer in silence – life is too short for that. You only get one shot so live it your best and do not let anyone get you down.”
Sam is no longer haunted by the scars of her past. To her, they are all a distant memory.
For volunteer Louise, waking up to the words “you useless idiot”, used to be the norm. Her husband Jack never laid a finger on her but she wants to highlight the trauma of emotional abuse.
She met him when she was in her 30s and everything seemed perfect – but then the cracks started to show.
“He made me feel guilty about going out and would always put me down. He would criticise me and wanted to know where I was every hour, even if I was working.”
Jack's attitude got worse after the couple had children. Louise went on maternity leave – something that riled him because he was forced to work longer hours.
He took little interest in the children – only giving them attention for around ten minutes a day before turning into a “monster” and ordering them to stop playing with their toys.
Constantly angry over “the state of the house”, he did nothing to help and would scream at Louise to vacuum the carpet as he sat on the sofa and watched television.
When he got angry, he would smash things – a photo frame, a kitchen cabinet, the bathroom wall.
In a warped way of exerting control, he would turn off the hob when she was cooking and hide ingredients to give him an excuse to tell her she could not cope.
When Louise later found out he had been lying about having a job – and the couple had been living off benefits and her pay for four years – she demanded a divorce.
But he began crying and threatened to commit suicide – and because she loved him, Louise took him back.
It was not until a year later she finally had the courage to end it with Jack.
She stuffed some underwear in her pocket and told him she was taking the children to the park – but instead they went to a friend’s house where she phoned Jack to tell him it was over.
After three days of crying and threatening to kill himself, he left the house they shared in Borehamwood and he has not been seen or heard of since.
She said: “Just because you are not left with bruises it does not mean you are not in pain. That is the message I want to bring to Sunflower.
“Most people do not realise emotional abuse is classed as domestic violence and I do not want anyone else to suffer in silence like I did.”
Virtual Sunflower – run by Hertsmere Borough Council – will be open every Friday from 10am to 12pm from March 8 at the Big Local Shop, in Leeming Road. No appointment is necessary.
Some names have been changed to protect identities.