18 years ago, I divorced someone who has subsequently become very well-known.
Throughout our relationship, he was incredibly coercive and violent, and the tipping point came when he nearly killed me. His behaviour became much worse towards the end of our marriage; increasingly unpredictable. The holes in the walls of our home – made millimeters from my face with his fist – more plentiful. I did not see that his behaviour was abnormal. He was a brilliant and talented person, after all – under so much career pressure, Wasn’t this how people of his calibre were allowed to behave? The final straw came one Christmas eve, when at his hands I suffered a near fatal strangulation and a heavy blow to my face that left me looking like a bloodied alien. One side of my face doubled in size. He called his mother and father, who immediately came to his rescue. They told me not to go to the police, or the hospital. It was a threat: ‘You go to the police, there will be consequences for you. You will ruin his career’. I believed them and felt that I was worthless. His success must come before justice. They even called my father, with whom I had sought refuge, to reiterate that going to the police was not an option. My father insisted on taking me to hospital, where the doctor in A&E confirmed that, had the blow been a hairs breadth across on my temple, the blow would have almost certainly have been fatal.
After the divorce, I went around in a kind of daze. I couldn’t recall the facts – it was all a blank, I suppose it was the body’s way of getting me through it. My family and friends knew the truth, but they respected my wishes to move on. I pretended to myself, to everyone I knew, that all was well, that this person had been wonderful, just a bit erratic. He had, after all, loved me. He and I even kept in touch all these years. He would regularly check in, sending love on my birthdays and keeping me close. His success grew and grew. Journalists would occasionally turn up at my door asking me for comment, but I turned them away – there was no story to be found here.
Following the divorce, I threw myself into work, building a career in media. I set up my own company which was eventually acquired by a global corporation. All seemed well. But by the time I had hit my mid-thirties, I had started to notice that my voice was deteriorating. Against my will, it would break or sound wobbly, like I was having a nervous breakdown. After seeing a few consultants, I was diagnosed with a rare condition called vocal dysphonia, something that can’t be fixed, only treated. It was a devastating blow, as I felt I was no longer able to present myself as the convincing business woman I still felt I was inside.
My mind was finally being forced to catch up by my body . When I received the diagnosis and realised the severity of my condition, I wanted to understand the possible causes. There were a few, including genetic ones, but periods of great stress or damage to the vocal chords can also be triggers. I sought voice therapy as part of my treatment, and during the therapy the memories dredged up of the abusive relationship I had lived through. I had been physically strangled and had very nearly died at the hands of my ex husband. I had been silenced by his parents. I had gagged my true feelings for decades. Then, to top it all, I had lost my real, physical voice. I had never considered how important having a voice was; it represents who you are, it is the medium through which we communicate with the outside world: our ideas, our emotions and our own personalities. The voice is one of the defining facts of self and I had lost mine. The body indeed keeps the score.
I decided to take action and, to cut to the chase, I approached the person who had caused such damage. I wanted to hear how sorry he was, after all these years. Was he truly repentant? Did he really understand the extent of the damage he had caused or had he also rewritten his past? It certainly looked that way. He had become a hero, a role model and an icon; someone that men, women and children looked up to.
Under the glare of his fame, the options I had to seek justice appeared to be very limited. I could report him to the police. I had evidence – photographs, a written confession from him during a time in rehab shortly after our divorce. My lawyer confirmed he would probably charged, but there would be a high likelihood of the press finding out, and of my character being decimated in the press, both by his team and also the general public. He was adored human being. I did not want my family to endure the awful upheaval and stress.
The clearest option seemed to be a route through the civil system. This was a huge undertaking for me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. It was nerve-wracking. My thought process veered from: Dare I do this? to How Dare I Do This? Was I going mad, or was I doing the right thing? I knew nothing about the legal system in this context. How would I know to pick the right lawyer?
It was an enormous undertaking, but once I had started the process I found I couldn’t stop. I was fuelled by anger and sadness, but also by a need for change. If something similar ever happened to my 12 year old daughter, I knew I would march her to the police station to report the crime. I told myself I must do this for my younger self.
In the event, I found a good lawyer. She seemed sympathetic to my case, and said the process would be cathartic. I believed at the very least my ex-husband would have to read all the witness statements, my own statement, see the photographs, perhaps finally understand what he had done and offer a proper, genuine apology. Was that not a powerful action in itself, to force the person who had caused you injury to look at his crime squarely and to understand that it can’t be erased?
How naïve I was. There was to be no apology. The whole process took just a few months. Towards the culmination, his legal team asked for my medical records, to support their defence. I was disbelieving. I was the victim, he was the aggressor, yet was allowed to invade my privacy at such a level. What kind of a legal system was this?
The process culminated in a single day, where I attended the office of my legal counsel in Central London. The legal teams of the Defendant were in the room next door. The Defendant himself had dialled in from some remote location. The attitude was very much ‘poor guy, he has taken time out of his busy schedule for this nonsense’. A part of me felt guilty for having caused everyone so much trouble.
On that final day, things took a strange turn. My legal representatives seemed to be on the same side as the opposition. Both sides said repeatedly – “this is the deal, it’s a great deal, you won’t have another chance like this’ and so on. After 7 hours (for we were told – ‘this must be resolved today’), my brother (my key witness) and I were exhausted, ground down and strung out. Some sort of closure had to be achieved, otherwise I would really have genuinely wasted everyone’s time.
A weary realisation came over me. I am a nice person, with a good moral compass, and I thought: I need to do the right thing here. A payment would be made. In turn I would sign an NDA. The NDA would commit me to a lifetime of official silence, but it would also reference the Defendant’s ‘treatment and behaviour’ towards the Claimant. Surely this was some sort of recognition, an apology of sorts? Surely the NDA was evidence of his guilt. That was something, was it not? But I had not considered how my right to speak was being legally removed by the man who had wronged me. He had won, and for a paltry sum, he had bought my silence and in doing so, now had lasting protection for his reputation and his career.
Fast forward 9 months. I was in a local pub with some friends, and a friend of a friend, who I had never met, brought up my ex-husband. I think he was talking about his latest endeavour. He raved about what a brilliant person he was, what a great guy he was. I found my mouth opening, to put him right. Remembering the NDA, I closed it again. I was gagged.
I find myself even more stuck now and it’s a kind of purgatory. The blood money sits untouched in my account. I have not achieved anything after all, and most of all I did not even receive a true apology.
He could, at least have given me that. After all, due to the NDA, no one would have known but me.