A HELENSBURGH woman says she wants to use her own experience of domestic violence to help other people in a similar situation to her own – after she suffered three years of torment at the hands of an abusive partner.

Jade McPherson described to the Advertiser how she was raped, kicked, punched, thrown down flights of stairs and subjected to repeated psychological abuse.

The 26-year-old said police were unable to charge her former partner because Jade had deleted evidence of what he had done, in a bid to put the trauma behind her.

But while she says she was unable to get justice for herself, she hopes that describing what she went through will persuade other victims of domestic abuse that they don’t have to suffer in silence.

The former pupil of Kilcreggan Primary, John Logie Baird Primary and Hermitage Academy said: “I’d just started a new job in Glasgow. I was only 20 at the time, and he was nine years older than me.

“He couldn’t have done more for me at first. He showered me with gifts, came to Helensburgh to visit regularly, and introduced me to his family.

“After a wee while he started making it more clear that he didn’t want to come to Helensburgh. Everything he wanted to do became more and more apparent. But I was still seeing everything through rose tinted glasses then.”

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Jade admitted that she may have “pushed myself a bit faster than I should” because she was so keen to leave Helensburgh.

Six months after they met, however, what Jade described as “a stupid argument” sparked the first incident of violence in the couple’s relationship.

“It ended up that he pushed me to the floor,” she said.

“He was kicking and punching me and screaming in my face. It was like he’d turned into a monster.

“But I had to stay with him that night – I don’t drive and I didn’t have enough money to get home to Helensburgh.

“That gave him the time to tell me he was sorry and that it would never happen again. And stupidly, I believed him.

“It was only a couple of nights later, as I was putting my pyjamas on, that I noticed I was black and blue all down one side. There was a huge bruise covering the top of my arm.

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“But I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want people to judge him for something that had happened once. So I just pretended everything was great.”

Jade went on to describe how she suffered torn ligaments in her leg and broke her hand in an accident while on holiday overseas with her partner’s family.

“I was really distressed,” she said.

“He was the only one there I really knew, so I asked him to stay with me, and he got really angry.

“He told me it was all my fault, saying ‘you’re the one that makes me angry’, ‘you did this’, ‘you’re the one that should be apologising to me’.”

Back in Scotland, and with her arm in plaster, Jade said her partner promised to look after her.

“Then one night he got really mad and he pushed me down the stairs – with my arm still in a cast.

“I tumbled town the stairs and whacked my head off the wall as I fell. I screamed ‘help me, help me get back up’, but he just stood and watched me, then went back into the room and closed the door.

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"I wanted to go home. But again I had no money. And I felt too ashamed to go back to my family because I’d been telling them that everything was great.

“He had total control over me by this point.

“He’d put me down, he’d call me names, he’d told me I deserved everything I’d got - he made me feel I’d lost myself a little bit.”

Physical abuse, Jade said, soon turned psychological. She described how her partner would hide her mobile phone, and “force me to do things around the house” because of his own medical condition, telling her that if she didn’t do what he demanded, he might die.

“There was sexual abuse as well,” Jade continued.

“If he was in the mood for it, I didn’t have a say. He wouldn’t stop. He’d just go ahead. He’d force me to do stuff I didn’t want to do.

“At the time I didn’t even think it was close to rape because we were in a relationship. It was only later that I realised, when the police told me ‘no, that’s not normal’. And it happened on a regular basis. And I did it, because I knew if I didn’t he would get angry.”

Jade, who said she had begun to self-harm towards the end of the relationship described how she repeatedly tried to walk out and come back to her family in Helensburgh, but how her partner continued to manipulate her to stop her leaving – on one occasion driving her to the railway station near his Paisley home, and driving off at speed as Jade was halfway out of the car.

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“I feel so embarrassed about it now,” she said.

“But it was my first proper relationship, and at the time I did think ‘maybe this is just what’s normal’."

Only when she started a new job, and spoke about her relationship to one of her new colleagues, did Jade eventually decide enough was enough.

“I told him ‘I don’t think my boyfriend treats me very well, but I don’t know what to do’,” she said, “and he told me ‘why would you be with someone who treats you like that?’.

“It was only then that I thought ‘yeah – why am I still doing this?’

“We’d got to the three year mark in the relationship, and it was other people telling me ‘no, that’s not normal’ that made me realise ‘no, I don’t want to be here any more’.

“So I phoned my mum and told her I wanted to come home. She got my sister and they came and met me at the station.”

But it took Jade months to open up to her family about what had happened.

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She described hoping that going to Lanzarote with her sister for four months might help her black out the bad memories, but it didn't – though when she returned to Scotland, she told her mum some of what had happened.

“I didn’t tell my mum everything,” she said. “Not at first.

“But then one day the two of us were coming back from one of my appointments at the hospital in Paisley, and it was on a road me and him had travelled on quite a lot before.

"And that must have triggered it, because everything came out. The sexual abuse, everything. It was a bit like word vomit.

"And my mum said ‘Jade, that’s not OK, you need to go to the police - what if he does it to someone else?’.

“So I went to the police, but it turned out that because I’d deleted everything when I left him, they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him – although I have to say the police’s domestic violence team were absolutely brilliant.

“I didn’t get justice for me. But I want people to know what happened to me so that others can know to look out for the signs that someone is being abused by their partner.

“Any time I’d ever thought about domestic violence before I’d always said ‘that will never be me" – and before I knew it, I’d been consumed by him."

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Asked what those signs might be, Jade said: "It always starts with the control. When someone starts to change something about you, put you down, or you feel your self-confidence dropping away, or if someone is really nice to you for a long time and then suddenly changes, you should be aware those are warning signs.

"And it can happen to men as well as women. If they try to take control of your money, or if they try to control who you talk to, what you wear, when you can go out, those are all warning signs you need to be aware of.

"He would go out with his pals, to parties we’d both been invited to, and he’d leave me locked in the house.

"If you’re losing contact with your family and your friends, and you find yourself lying to them about how things really are, those are all things you need to watch out for.

"And if they hit you once, then it will happen again."

And there are plenty of warning signs for close friends or family members to watch out for, too.

"If a member of your family - your child, your brother or your sister - or a close friend suddenly becomes withdrawn, that’s a sign things aren’t good," she continued.

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"If someone like that does everything in their power to try and persuade you to like their partner, that can be a warning sign. If someone is a good person you shouldn’t need to force a picture of a good relationship on your family.

"I wasn’t mixing with my friends or my family either, and if someone's partner is keeping them well away from you, that’s something to be worried about.

"If you're worried that someone is cutting you off slowly but surely, don’t be afraid to ask them if everything is OK."

Jade praised the support she received from Women's Aid, from Rape Crisis, and from Police Scotland, saying that even now, when she meets police officers, they will ask how she's doing.

After returning to Helensburgh, Jade resumed her studies at the University of the West of Scotland, having taken two years away during the abusive relationship, and she now has a first class honours degree in community education.

She also held down two jobs – at the Oriental Express takeaway in Helensburgh, and as a care worker with Premier Healthcare – until the lockdown struck in March and she received a letter telling her to stay at home.

“I’d got myself into a really good place just before the start of lockdown,” she said.

“And as soon as I was back behind closed doors, with all this time to think, it all came back to me.

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“I was having hallucinations, nightmares, panic attacks. I can have weeks of feeling really good, as if I’ve turned a corner, and then the slightest little trigger - something as simple, say, as seeing a car that looks like his - can cause me to have a panic attack.

“I know now that I’m through the worst of it. I’d know the signs to look for in the future.

“The thing that gets me through is the thought of helping others. I’m a lot stronger for what has happened to me and for being able to speak openly about it.”

Jade now hopes that she can help other people to recognise the signs of domestic violence – either as a survivor themselves, or as a close friend or family member who may be worried that a loved one is suffering at the hands of an abusive partner.

“I shared a post on my Facebook a few months ago,” she said. “It got about 250 likes, and my messages went crazy.

“I was hearing from people I’d gone to school with, people I hadn’t spoken to for years, who told me that seeing my post had really helped them with things they were going through in their own lives.

“Some people were saying they couldn’t believe it – that I seemed so strong, bubbly and happy on the outside. And that shows you it can happen to anyone.

“I want to use the platforms I’ve got to show people that domestic abuse can happen to anyone, to tell them to be aware of the signs, and to be aware, if you are a victim of domestic violence, that there are people you can turn to.

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“I’ve been through it, and I’ve come out the other side. I’m more empathetic now when I’m speaking to people - I’m not judgemental. You never know what’s going on inside someone’s head when you’re speaking to them.

“I was only 20. It was my first proper relationship. I didn’t know any better. I took it that ‘maybe this is what it should be like’. But it’s not OK.

“Now I just want to help people as much as I can.

“I didn’t get justice, but I want other people in a similar situation to me to know that they can.”

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Help is available if you are, or have been, a victim of domestic abuse.

Sources of help and support available to people living in Helensburgh and Lomond include:

Argyll and Bute Women’s Aid – 01369 706636, email info@abwa.org.uk or see argyllwomensaid.org.uk

Argyll and Bute Rape Crisis – 0800 121 4685 (Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm) or email support@ab-rc.org.uk

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline – 0800 027 1234 or sdafmh.org.uk

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