‘I will not be a poster girl for misery’: Ruth Dodsworth on living a life after coercive control

I spoke to school pupils, domestic abuse survivors, the police and charities to learn more about coercive control and the impact it can have on people's lives

ITV Cymru Wales presenter Ruth Dodsworth speaks about her experiences of being in a controlling relationship and the happiness she has gone on to find.

From the very start I always said I didn’t really want my story to come out, but actually now that it has I'm just so very grateful. 

Because I think for so many people, a lot of things now make sense. 

So a lot of my behaviour, for colleagues, for friends and for family, things are now, ‘oh my gosh, now that we know we totally get it’.

It’s sort of healing for everybody in a way. So I can support them as much as they can support me. 

Time is a great healer and, actually, I am so determined that I will not be a poster girl for misery because what I want to be is a poster girl for saying to other people, ‘you can go through all of this and still come out and be ok’. And that’s exactly what I am, I’m ok. 

The response has been incredible. I’ve had hundreds of thousands of letters, emails, tweets, even now people still walk up to me in the street. 

From people who recognise what’s happening to themselves, to other people, who have said to me, ‘gosh Ruth we didn’t realise what coercive and controlling behaviour was but it’s only because your story went public that we’re now able to recognise those signs’.

It’s just absolutely blown me away, and I think it’s horrifying and surprising all rolled into one. Just the sheer number of other people who have been through, or know someone who has been through, or is going through, something similar: it’s been such an eye-opener. 

I’ve been talking to survivors of domestic abuse for a special Wales This Week programme airing on Monday

It’s absolutely meant everything for me to make this Wales This Week programme. 

Because I always said if I can help just one person then my whole experience has been worth it. 

And actually, in the course of making this programme, I’ve been able to speak to other survivors, I’ve been able to speak to Welsh Women’s Aid, I’ve spoken to the police and even an officer who was part of my case and was there at the very beginning and saw it all the way through. 

So for me, in a sense, it has almost been a bit of therapy.

Talking about my particular case and talking about other people’s cases, there’s that strange thing, it’s almost like safety in numbers and you realise that you’re not the only one. 

And listening to other people’s stories you think ‘oh my goodness that was me, I went through that too’. 

There’s sense of - not normalising your experience - but actually making it feel more of a normal thing, and making you feel less like you’re the only one.

I’m really determined that I’m going to use my experience to help other people. 

I was contacted by someone relatively recently and she said ‘my husband has just been convicted but if it wasn’t for your story going public I would never have contacted the police in the first place.’

It’s things like that that make my experience worthwhile, but also make this programme is so important because we need to keep that conversation going. 

It’s not going to be a comfortable programme to watch, I understand that. 

But it’s because so many people are going through this, I really feel it’s so important that we do have that conversation and we do watch things that make us feel uncomfortable, because it gives us the power then to recognise and to make that change. 

My daughter Grace features in the programme. She’s also involved in helping train police forces in Wales on investigating coercive control.

I know every parent says this, but I am absolutely beyond proud of my two children. I will forever live with the guilt that I didn’t do anything to change things, and make their childhood better. 

I did everything I could at the time, but I stayed in the relationship thinking that keeping the family together was the right thing to do. 

Hindsight is such an amazing thing. Now I only wish that I’d been able to give them the happier childhood that they deserve. 

And don’t get me wrong, they had a happy childhood.

But it was set against the backdrop of an abusive family setting and, for them to be able to come out of that and to be achieving the things they are achieving and to be just the most kind, caring, intelligent, articulate people is just absolutely incredible.

I can’t put into words how proud I am of the pair of them. 

And I will make it my life’s mission to make the rest of their lives happy and comfortable and safe. 

I owe them my life, but I owe them so much more. 

I owe them all the happiness and love in the world and that’s exactly what they’re going to get. 

Talking about my children makes me tear up, because I’m just so in awe of them, they’re just incredible. 

I was reunited with DC Gillon Neal, the South Wales Police officer who managed my case, for Wales This Week

It’s been so interesting to go back and talk to DC Gillon Neal, who managed my case from the very beginning.

He took all my witness statements and I’ve only ever really known him in that sort of odd setting where he was interviewing me.

And so to meet him for the first time since the sentencing earlier this year, to walk into a room, and to actually interview him and turn the tables completely: it was quite a big moment for me. 

I didn’t know how I was going to feel actually seeing him for the first time, because obviously up until that point any contact I’d had with him was about the case, and it was possibly some of the most terrifying times of my life. 

So to actually see him in a separate setting as a human being, not with his police hat on, so to speak, was amazing. 

My story becoming public has, whether I wanted it or not, given me a platform. I’m a communicator and I’m very, very privileged in that I have a platform and people know me.

I’ve got a voice and with that comes a certain sense of responsibility and the responsibility is that I tell my story in such a way that makes it relatable to other people.

So now, just to be talking with the police, there’s an admission from them that ‘ok, we maybe didn’t get everything right. But we want to learn from that, so what can you help us do to make sure that we get it right for the next person?’ The support from them has been incredible. 

The training that I’m doing now is feeding back, my daughter is doing this as well, to the police around, ‘ok this is what was right, this is what was wrong.’ 

It’s not about a witch hunt. It’s not about pointing fingers and blame and so on. 

It is, again, continuing the conversation, keeping those channels open so that we can make the system slightly less clunky, slightly more user friendly and slightly less of a mystery. 

And so talking, feeding my feelings and thoughts back to, not just the bobbies on the beat, but actually to the highest levels, including the Police Commissioners. 

The more we talk about it, the more successful we become in promoting it and enabling people to recognise it. 

This is becoming more and more a part of mainstream policing and it’s how we train officers to tackle something like this because coercive control in particular is such an underground, insidious kind of thing.

I’m looking forward to a happy, family Christmas this year surrounded by my loved ones

This Christmas will be the first Christmas where, for my family, there’s not a fear that he might come back.

This Christmas, my family will be together: my children, my mum and dad, my brother and his wife and his children and my new husband. And that just gives me the absolute ‘oh my gosh’. I’m still so, so childishly happy. 

I’m so looking forward to it. It’s going to be a Christmas without fear, without walking on eggshells. 

It’s just going to be happy family time and we’ve all said laptops will be switched off, phones will be switched off; we’re just going to make the most of it and try and make up for a whole lifetime of Christmases that perhaps weren’t quite so happy. 

So I’m just really looking forward to doing the normal stuff. 

Sitting in my onesie, watching rubbish on the telly, eating far too much, drinking far too much and doing what Christmas is all about. 

But more than anything it’s just being with my family. So I can’t wait.      

If you or someone you know is affected by domestic abuse you can visit:  

  • Email The DYN Project at support@dynwales.org or call them on 0808 801 0321

  • Email BAWSO at or call them on 0800 7318147

  • Email Llamau at or call them on 029 2023 9585

You can watch Wales This Week: Tackling Coercive Control on Monday 6 December at 8pm on ITV Cymru Wales. The programme is availble to view online shortly after its transmission.