Petagaye's story: 'I’m seeing friends in similar abusive relationships, and I’m scared for them.'
My husband and I split up in 2014 after he was arrested for beating me up badly. I was only working part time and had nowhere to stay at the time other than sofa surfing with a friend, and sometimes with my mum, but we have an up and down relationship and I was still sharing custody of our two children with him I knew we couldn’t all live there together, so it was really difficult.
In 2017 I went to Jamaica for a family funeral and when I got home to the UK I found out he’d applied to the court for full custody of the children. I only had two days to prepare before it went to court. He claimed I’d fled the country and abandoned the tenancy we used to share. CAFCASS (children and family court advisory and support service) did a report that went against my husband, but I was told that I couldn’t get legal aid to actually fight the case, and there was no way I could afford my own lawyer. In the end he was given temporary custody because I had nowhere to live, and he hasn’t been violent towards the children. But I was still planning on getting them back when I got housed.
He did everything he could to intimidate me. He was sending me death threats, and saying he had people watching me. I was scared to go out of the house. I remember there was one incident when I thought he was following me and I reported it to the police. But after that I stopped going out again. He’s a very aggressive person and we were all scared of him. The children’s centre referred me to victim support and they gave me a panic alarm to walk around with.
I was also heavily pregnant by this time from a new relationship. So I made a homelessness application in Nov 2017 so that I could argue for the children to live with me, and because I was fleeing domestic abuse they agreed to give me priority need, so they put me in temporary accommodation while the application went through, only for it to be denied because they claimed there was discrepancies in my story about why I couldn’t live with my ex-husband anymore. A housing solicitor appealed the decision for me, but it took until Sept 2018 for the appeal process to complete, and all that time I was in limbo, in a tiny bedsit in a hostel, just waiting to be evicted.
Eventually we won. I was allowed to stay on the grounds that they had breached the national strategy on supporting victims of domestic violence. It turned out they’d just written down the dates of the abuse incorrectly, and then claimed that I had made that mistake so I must have been lying. That really pissed me off.
I can’t have all three children here and my baby is nearly three years old, so we still have to meet at my mums or at a contact centre. The kitchen and bed are the same room. The bathroom is down the hall, the washing machine is down the hall. They have to walk by strangers to use the bathroom. It’s all mixed. Men, women, old and young. There’s no privacy at all. The front door latch is always broken so they’re always letting people into the property. My neighbours smoke and leave cigarettes and empty alcohol bottles all around my baby’s pram in the hallway because I can’t fit it in my room.
If I could challenge the custody they would have to judge where I was living and if I could look after them. And in this situation I clearly can’t. And I would need legal aid anyway to do that. I can’t even get Wi-fi here. I don’t want them to see this. I’m just hoping to get a house that I can have the children in, but that could take years. The waiting list is so long.
The only other option is a private property but that’s too expensive even with housing allowance. I eat cheaply and don’t go out. I really want to work but it’s complicated with a young child. Knowing that I have a home would be so important, but I need to get this situation resolved first. I used to work for the NHS as a carer. I’ve worked as a school administrator. Family support worker. Youth worker. I’ve a degree in community sector management. There’s lots of options for the future but I need to get this resolved first so I have a home to come back to.
I think I’m getting a bit more open about talking about it. I used to just shut down, but I think the more and more I talk about it I realise this is not right and it deserves to be spoken about because you never know who else needs help. Sometimes you just need to release. He needs to be exposed. I’m protecting myself, but I’m not protecting him. I was scared to go to a contact centre where he might see me. This was a man who almost took my life. He beat me up in the house, in my own property, but it’s ok for him to have my children, despite him trying to kill me.
I’m seeing friends in similar abusive relationships, and I’m scared for them. They’re so close to that person they can’t get out. I’ve seen people lose their lives because of a man like my ex. If I can save someone else, or even their children telling my story is worth it.
Petagaye, London, Feb 2020
No-one should become homeless because of fleeing domestic abuse. In a fair society, anybody facing domestic abuse should be able to go to their council and be offered a safe, permanent home. The Domestic Abuse Bill is our chance to prevent people in this situation from becoming homeless. The Bill could be amended to ensure that anyone fleeing domestic abuse has the right to a safe home. Make sure you're signed up as a campaigner to hear about ways you can support our 'A Safe Home' campaign here.
By sharing stories we can change attitudes and build a movement for permanent, positive change. Stand against homelessness and help us end it for good.