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Sophie J

The abuse is insidious. It starts with, “I love you,” and becomes, “I love you so much I want you to myself.”

#loverespect

Sophie J

When I was 16, a girl I knew told me that James – a boy I’d never met – was “obsessed” with me. I took it as a massive compliment.

We met up twice on the same weekend. He was 17. I remember thinking, “This is how relationships must be.” Two weeks later, he said he loved me. He told me he’d seen me on the bus months before, and that he’d gone home to write poems about me. It was a whirlwind.

Reading my messages

But, a year later, James had become scary.

He became jealous about parties, drinking – even evenings spent with family. He’d say I was “pissing our time away”.

This behaviour didn’t stop.

James logged into my social media accounts and read my private messages to my ex-boyfriend.

I expected him to end the relationship then, but he didn’t. Instead, he used his forgiveness as a weapon, calling me a whore. He said it was his way of dealing with what had ‘happened’.

Double standards

There were double standards about everything. He was allowed to drink; I wasn’t. He wore whatever he wanted; I couldn’t. He had female friends – I was too slutty to have male friends.

He used social media to abuse me. He demanded my passwords, and every morning I had to check he hadn’t written something awful.

Once, he texted saying he wished I was dead.

The physical abuse started much later. I was pushed into walls, threatened with BB guns.

I’d see adverts on TV about domestic violence with older women, and I’d think, “I’m a teenager. I don’t get punched in the face. Nobody would take this seriously.”

Breaking free

I slowly started to realise that someone who loved me wouldn’t treat me this way.

Eventually, I broke up with James.

I cried with relief.

Taking abuse seriously

People think teenage abuse isn’t serious: that boyfriends can only be dangerous if you live together. Not true. If I hadn’t got out, I don’t know what might have happened.

Even now, people say, “Why would she stay?”

There’s a great deal of manipulation that comes from these abusive partners, which is what coercive control is about. Abusive relationships aren’t just ‘boy meets girl, boy hits girl’ – they’re much more complex.

The abuse is insidious. It starts with, “I love you,” and becomes, “I love you so much I want you to myself.”

Talking about my experiences

If someone who claims to love you tells you you’re ugly or stupid, you believe them. And then how can you leave? You’re frightened and grateful to have someone.

I’m now 26. I could talk all day about my experiences; I want to share my story with others going through it. I want them to understand that it isn’t their fault, that coercive control is serious.

No physical violence? No shared house? No children? Only 15? It doesn’t matter. The law now recognises the abuse as a crime – and the more we talk about it, the more likely other people will too.

Do you have a story to tell? Email website@womensaid.org.uk

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