A woman who was almost killed in a hammer attack by her partner is today encouraging victims of domestic abuse to seek help before they suffer serious harm.
Julie Graham is backing a campaign by Merseyside Police and other agencies to raise awareness about the devastating effect domestic abuse has on victims and their families, and how they can get help to draw a line and make it stop.
The 43-year-old mum-of-two from Sefton was attacked with a hammer and a knife by Gary Anderson in September 2008, months after they had split up over his violent, controlling behaviour and his alcohol and gambling habits.
Julie only survived after Anderson left her for dead in the home she and her two sons had recently moved to because she managed to crawl to the phone and dial 999.
Anderson, who is originally from Cleveland, was arrested two days later in the North-east and was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence with a minimum of nine years. He continued to deny charges of attempted murder, claiming self-defence, until the eve of the trial when overwhelming medical evidence about Julie's multiple injuries damaged his defence.
Now, in the weeks before Christmas when domestic abuse historically increases, Julie is making a plea to other victims, women and men alike, not to suffer in silence like she did (on average, a victim will suffer 35 incidents of domestic abuse before they report it).
She said: "I suffered months of terrible physical and emotional abuse which got worse each time but I told myself 'you can cope' or 'this is my life now, just deal with it'. It left me a shell of a person - I barely recognised myself as the strong, confident person I once was. He eroded my self-esteem to the point that I would always excuse him or accept his apologies.
"And even though I thought I was shielding the kids from it, I wasn't - they picked up on it and have gone through alot themselves. I just wish I had realised back then just how supportive and protective the police and everyone are when you do report it.
"When I first called the police I just felt immense relief that at last someone believed me. Gary was good at making me doubt everything about myself. I was a bag of nerves and needed a reality check but I wouldn't listen to anyone as I felt embarrassed that I had made a mistake in choosing him. He was such a good looking man but such an ugly person on the inside."
Julie spent a week in hospital with a fractured skull following the attack before returning to her family and to work. With the support of local domestic violence organisations and her loved ones she has moved away from the area where it happened and rebuilt her life. "My life now is unrecognisable to how it was four years ago," she said. "I remember the doctors saying I didn't 'look the type' for a domestic abuse victim but the truth is there isn't a 'type'. It can be anyone. I used to think: 'this can't be happening to me' but it was. If I had known the level of help I would get, I would have spoken out much, much sooner because I am happy now."
The police campaign 'Draw A Line' is running in every part of Merseyside and is being supported by local authorities, charities and support groups.
Representatives from several of these groups are marking the launch of the campaign by debating the issues around domestic abuse live on BBC Radio Merseyside's Roger Phillips show today (Monday, December 10) between 11.30am and 2pm.
The discussion is being attended by Merseyside Police Chief Constable Jon Murphy, Detective Superintendent Tim Keelan, who heads up the force's Public Protection Unit, and detectives from family crime investigation units in Knowsley and Liverpool.
Det Supt Keelan said: "Domestic abuse is still a significantly under-reported crime and sadly, too many people are still suffering in silence. It can take many forms and perpetrators may use physical or sexual violence, threats or intimidation, emotional or mental abuse. Abusers can exert control over the victim's personal life, who they have as friends or how they spend their money - basically anything that isolates them from their friends and family so that they can be controlled.
"The effects can be devastating, not just for the victim, whose personality may change and their health and well-being suffer, but also for their loved ones, such as children and parents who may witness domestic abuse first hand or see the change in them.
"Breaking out of the cycle of domestic abuse is difficult and repeat victimisation is high but help is out there and that is why it is so important for people like Julie to tell their story so that other victims realise there is a way out."
The campaign aims to not only encourage more victims of domestic abuse to come forward, but also raise awareness among the wider community about recognising the signs domestic abuse.
The majority of domestic incidents happen between people involved in a relationship together, however it can also involve family members, such as a parent and their child or siblings. Friends, neighbours, workmates, health professionals and employers are being encouraged to make third party reports if they have serious concerns that someone is suffering in an abusive relationship. Information is available at www.drawaline.co.uk about how to help.
Det Supt Keelan said: "People may think that the only place they can report something is to the police but that it not the case these days. There are many different organisations both nationally and here in Merseyside who are ready to listen, offer advice and support and, if the person wants to, pass their details on to the police for them. That person can be the victim themselves or someone else who has witnessed an incident or is worried about someone. Our message to anyone who suspects domestic abuse is going on is to do the right thing and tell us so we can put a stop to it."
Merseyside Police has six family crime investigation units which are all headed-up by a senior detective with significant experience and training in investigating domestic abuse. Officers in the units have all undergone specialist training so they understand the fears victims may have when making a report and know how to support them.
Throughout December and January these officers will be on mobile patrol alongside uniform colleagues to support them in dealing with an anticipated rise in domestic abuse incidents. Det Supt Keelan added: "Christmas and New Year are family times but sadly sometimes the stresses and strains of the Christmas period can cause tensions, especially when alcohol is involved. The peak periods tend to be between early evening and the early hours of the morning and our aim is to make sure victims get the care and support they need when they, or a concerned third party, make that call to the police or Crimestoppers."