Domestic abuse: Two women a week in Britain die at the hands of their partners

Every so often a story breaks through the everyday news noise to point a finger at something hiding in plain sight.

The death of Hollie Gazzard two years ago tomorrow was just such a story.

A beautiful young woman, making her way in the world as a hairdresser, stabbed to death in the salon where she worked by the man who was supposed to love and care for her - her boyfriend.

As her family reeled from the unbearable shock, a hideous pattern of domestic abuse and psychological control suffered by Hollie in the months leading to her murder rose to the surface.

Asher Maslin had controlled and micromanaged Hollie's life: her finances, her friendships and her freedom.

The appalling violence at the end was a culmination of months of mental torture.

Hollie's sister Chloe Gazzard told me about it:

I mean Hollie never had a bruise on her, so it was generally the financial and emotional abuse for Hollie but that’s necessarily something she would feed back to us, so we didn’t know really what was going on behind closed doors.

I remember Hollie waking up to I think 60 missed calls she had once towards the end when she was trying to get away from him. We tried to protect her as much as we could, but with Hollie, if you did that too much of that, we would have pushed her away.

– Chloe Gazzard

And it was a pattern of behaviour the police failed to follow up on - the warning signs were all there.

And a damning report into their investigation lifted the lid on the true nature of domestic abuse. The vast majority of it is psychological - crushing lives with cruel control.

And it happens behind more closed doors than you ever might imagine.

It happens in all sorts of relationships whatever the class, background or circumstances. Men are victims too - but the vast majority are women.

Two women a week die at the hands of their partners.

Think about that for a second.

Hollie Gazzard's father speaks to ITV's Tonight programme. Credit: ITV/Tonight

What an appalling statistic in a supposedly civilised society. An unknown number will also commit suicide, driven to despair by a controlling partner.

But now a change in the law should mean a radical change in attitude and handling of all domestic abuse cases.

Now the police can intervene earlier: a new criminal offence of coercive control means they can act, even if there is no incidence of physical assault.

Those lucky enough to escape domestic abuse will tell you how vital a change this is.

We spoke to one young woman who'd been caught up in a whirlwind romance.

Within months, she and her partner had a mortgage and a baby. And then the abuse began.

I was controlled by sort of the expectation of how I should be, this role I should be fulfilling, and that was really to …to boost him, I really was there purely to uphold him in that way I mean I was nothing… by the end of the relationship I couldn't even lift my eyes up for fear of looking at him in the wrong way and that resulting in an explosive outburst.

– Rachel - Domestic Abuse Survivor

As we worked on our Tonight programme on coercive control and the change in the law - we heard such stories over and over again.

Women who didn't necessarily suffer a single blow but whose lives were unremittingly being ground down.

Experts say acknowledging and understanding this is crucial to dealing with it better.

You have to remember, coercive control isn’t a type of domestic abuse, it is the dark heart of domestic abuse.

Critics of the new law say it'll be hard to gather evidence to prove coercive control.

They clearly have a point. But given one in ten recorded crimes is down to domestic abuse, many argue this is absolutely a step worth taking.

It's now down to police forces and all frontline agencies to get up to speed with recognising the signs and knowing that they can now act.

– Polly Neate, CEO Women's Aid

And as Hollie Gazzard's dad tells us - if you know someone who might be stuck in the hell of a controlling relationship, take them under your wing, and get help.

Look out for the signs. Talk to your daughter or your son about it.

If you want to seek professional advice go to one of the support services that are in every county because they will give you that advice but keep an eye on it and don't ignore it.

Take them under your wing because ultimately at the end of the day you need to keep them safe.

– Nick Gazzard
  • Behind Closed Doors - Fear and Control: Tonight will be broadcast Thursday at 7.30pm on ITV

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse contact The National Domestic Violence Helpline free and confidential (run by Refuge and Women's Aid) on 0808 2000 247.