Mel Rawding’s story

30% of domestic violence starts or intensifies during pregnancy. Mel Rawding suffered at the hands of a violent husband for five years.

Mel had never suspected her fiancé – a gunner in the Navy – could be violent but that changed as soon as they got married. At the time Mel was three and a half months pregnant with their first child.

‘Ronnie’s behaviour became increasingly threatening,’ recalls Mel. ‘He would constantly abuse me emotionally and mentally – telling me I was no good, that no-one liked me. He slammed doors, smashed windows and threw dishes. I got used to dead legs and bruised arms, the jealousy and possessiveness – they became a part of everyday life. At the time I didn’t realise how lonely and isolated I was.’

Mel lived for those peaceful, safe times when Ronnie was posted at sea. But, even then, life wasn’t easy. She was left paying off his debts and on one occasion had to hide from the bailiffs when they knocked on the door. ‘When I phoned Ronnie on the ship to ask him for money, he refused and told me to eat beans on toast,’ she says.

Mel dreaded Ronnie coming home for the birth of their son and her fears were justified. Despite being eight months pregnant, he pinned her against a wall and violently attacked her.

When Sam was born, Ronnie was a doting dad, showing off his son to all his friends. But the novelty soon wore off and he would go mad whenever Sam cried. Mel knew she had to keep the baby quiet so would stay up all night. Sam quickly learned not to cry.

Soon after Sam was born, Mel fell pregnant again, this time with a daughter, Lucy. During the pregnancy Mel fell ill and needed a blood transfusion. Even then Ronnie wouldn’t leave her alone. During the procedure he marched in and told her to ‘get off her arse’ and look after the children.

Mel thought that marriage meant taking the rough with the smooth. Even though she was regularly verbally and physically abused she didn’t think of herself as a victim of domestic violence. She always thought she was to blame for the abuse.

Mel put up with five years of abuse until an attack where Ronnie threatened to kill her ‘so there would be nothing left to find’, and knocked her unconscious. He was arrested and Mel and the children were able to stay in the family home.

‘It took me a long time to realise I had the right to live a life free from violence, that there was help out there and that I wasn’t alone.

‘By chance, soon after the arrest, I saw a poster and called the national helpline. That was my first step to understanding that the abuse was not my fault.

‘Even though I was at home at the time, and not at a refuge, I received support from the Refuge outreach team and I attended weekly support groups for three months.

‘The team taught me that I was not responsible for Ronnie’s behaviour – only he was. They helped me regain my self-esteem and helped me start to rebuild my life. Looking back my marriage seems like a bad dream. I know how lucky I am, and how lucky I am not to have been one of the two women who are killed every week in England and Wales.

‘I hope that my story will give other women the strength to seek help and support and find out their options – it might just save their lives too.’