My name is Zoe Dronfield. I am a survivor of a high-profile domestic violence attack having been tortured and held for over 8 hours I was lucky to escape with my life. I was unrecognisable however what followed in my opinion was worse. Being dragged through family court, to fight for custody of my daughter then 4 years old was re-traumatising and all it did was made me feel ashamed for something I had no control over.
Since going through this I have done so much work trying to change the system to better serve victims, tighten laws and I have helped hundreds if not thousands of victims over the years by sharing my story, advocacy and raising issues in Parliament to push for change.
My story is complex, as are most domestic abuse situations but I am now using what happened to me to help others spot the early signs of a perpetrator’s behaviour and to recover if they have experienced domestic abuse.
There is often a pattern to a perpetrator’s behaviour and there might be red flags early on that we choose to ignore, or they may be so subtle we may not recognise for what they are.
I now try to help others to understand how the opinion of others often impacted how I looked at the relationship I was in.
Often, we do not recognise that we are victims. I never would have said that about myself. I just thought they – my perpetrators – were idiots and I often tried to educate them about their behaviour. I know now this was a huge waste of my energy and time.
Setting boundaries and being confident about setting boundaries should have been my priority which I only realised much later. Now I support other victims to set boundaries as soon as they can.
These were some of the red flags I disregarded in the beginning of my relationship: coming on too strong, crossing boundaries which was laughed off as flattery, turning up unannounced at my house, posting everything on social media, huge displays of affection, grandiose statements, receiving lots of gifts. It’s intense feelings and emotions all very early on. These are all tactics to get you hooked into the relationship prematurely.
I recognise by doing this work that there is a cycle to this abusive behaviour, once the perpetrators feel they have you committed to the relationship.
The ‘love bombing’ has you hooked. This is when the I like to call it ‘crazy-making’ stage starts.
Things quickly don’t add up. You are questioning the perpetrator as their words don’t seem to match their actions. This throws you off balance. This is another manipulative tactic to make you work harder at the relationship and change your behaviour. This gives the perpetrator a good indication of what they can get away with. You could call this grooming. It’s subtle and often why victims feel shame after as they think they should have seen the signs.
You should absolutely not feel shame. It is very difficult to see the signs if you don’t have education or knowledge of domestic abuse like me at that time too. Just recognising this dynamic will help, education is key! Even if you do know about domestic abuse, you don’t need to feel ashamed, and abuse is never your fault.
Once this grooming part of the process has run its course the perpetrator may then begin disregarding you, disappearing, being aloof. This entire cycle was how my relationship played out to the point where I had enough, and I wanted to end the relationship. It was exhausting and looking back I was very naïve. You question yourself, something I won’t do again.
Very important to note is that leaving is the most dangerous time, and you need a safety plan.
Domestic abuse is about power and control. Your perpetrator will not want you to leave, they may begin the love-bombing stage again to draw you back in. You must get support from people or organisations you trust, and I will say this is a very personal choice. Not every organisation will suit you. This is ok too.
Getting your life back can be extremely hard. I believe, it is so crucial you remain resilient, and this is a lot about self-care and educating yourself too. Victims often ask me ‘how’ I got through it and how I am doing so well since – survivors often feel stuck after going through such an horrific ordeal, not just with the abuse but navigating the journey after can be just as traumatising.
I am developing a course called Conquer Your Life to help other people on this road to recovery which I am testing with survivors. Once the abuse has ended, you often feel left alone as the support trickles away. It’s then when we also need support to see the future!
I recently wrote a book called Mind Over Manipulators which partly about my journey, but I also talk about other victims who sadly are not here to tell their story and talk about all the campaigning work over the years and reference studies, books and organisations that helped me to help you. This book is also not just for survivors it should also be a handbook for professionals to understand domestic abuse from a victim’s perspective.
You can read more about my story, google my name there is tons of information online. You can reach out to me at www.zoedronfield.com