Executive Summary

Andrew Lane’s story demonstrates just how easily victims/survivors can normalise the abuse they endure, unless they have the context and language to understand what they are going through. It also highlights the complexities of the family court system, and sheds a light on how traumatic the legal process can be for victims/survivors, and especially for children. His experiences also raise vital questions for employers.


Andrew Lane met his abuser in 2001, when he was teaching English overseas. It was his first serious relationship after university, and being in a new country meant that everything was - to some extent - normalised. “I was away from family and friends, the network of people that I would have sense checked things with. Everything was different, and I was rolling with it all,” he says.

His abuser began the relationship with a period of intense love bombing, and it was difficult in the beginning to see anything abnormal in her behaviour. “With the benefit of hindsight, there were early signs. There were dramatic shifts, she was very quick to anger, there was lots of alcohol abuse, and a gradual creeping-in of slightly violent tendencies,” Andrew recounts.

Andrew had grown up in a very loving nuclear family, and struggled to make sense of what was happening to him, playing down moments of aggression or anger. “There was always a very plausible explanation for the bad behaviour. Friends at work tried to suggest that she wasn’t the best person for me, but they weren’t people I knew well,” he explains.

When Andrew’s sister came for a visit, she was shocked to hear him being verbally abused by his partner. She asked him if he was okay, and he pointed out that his partner was an outspoken, confident woman in a society where outspoken confident women did not fit the mould. He was also mindful that his partner had grown up in an abusive household, and he wanted to be supportive. He did not then see the relationship as abusive.

In 2006, the pair married and moved in with his family in the north of England for a short period of time, before relocating to the South coast. “There was always a background hum of low-level violence and aggression that I would excuse as banter and stress. My mother was horrified by this level of aggression and violence in a relationship, but I had normalised it,” he says.

Things escalated when they moved away from his family, and when his wife became pregnant with their first child in 2007. Andrew recounts, “I remember ringing family saying, ‘I don’t think she’s coping, I think she’s having a lot of difficulties’. I was covered in welts and bruises where she’d dug her nails in or punched me in the arms. I remember going to the doctor to talk to him about possible post-natal depression, which gave what was happening a label”.

Escalating abuse

Andrew continued to try and tackle the problem as a family unit. “I’m not sure I ever defined what was happening as abuse, but I knew it wasn’t right and my focus was very much on how we would solve things as a family. I wanted to keep the family together because I grew up in such a positive, warm and loving home.”

However, the abuse escalated. Andrew’s wife would explode over small things - a meal he cooked that she didn’t like, or if she didn’t like the way he did the washing up. Once, she pushed and shoved him around the apartment as their one-year-old daughter clung to his leg.

At this point, Andrew called his GP for support. “The GP said that some relationships are testier than others, and that some people have grown up in a culture of violence and it’s acceptable to them. He told me that every relationship had its pulls and pushes and that I should just crack on, despite the fact that I showed him the marks on my arms. What is unforgivable to me now is that my medical notes mentioned that my daughter had thrown up in the surgery because of pressure and stress, and that I had injuries. Still, nothing was done.”

Andrew continued to try and make it work, with the family moving back to the North of England to be closer to a support network of family and friends. His wife became pregnant again, and the physical and verbal abuse continued, as did her abuse of alcohol. In 2015, as Andrew endured a prolonged verbal and physical assault, the police attended the family home.

“I was conditioned to expect that they would take one look at the situation, at a six-foot male and a four-foot something female, and it would be me who was taken away. They asked me to come outside. It was freezing cold and they said, ‘come and sit in the car and warm up’. I thought this is it, they’re going to take me away.”

Instead, the police arrested his wife, pointing to his serious injuries and her still angry behaviour. Andrew realised he couldn’t continue in the relationship any longer, not least for the sake of his children. “The police advice was don’t go back. Their experience was that they would be called out again, and given the state of my injuries, they said I may not be so fortunate next time.”

Family Court System

Despite his abuser being convicted of assault, Andrew spent the next seven years in and out of Family Court, spending tens of thousands of pounds on legal fees, and even representing himself when the costs spiralled. Throughout the period, the abuse continued over emails and texts.

Whilst life has markedly improved for Andrew, he is happily married to another woman with whom he has a third child, they live in dread of his abuser taking them back to court given the wide-ranging impacts proceedings have had on his health and wellbeing, and that of the wider family.

Lessons for employers

Throughout this period, Andrew worked at a university; despite a supportive relationship with his manager and colleagues, he didn’t disclose the abuse until he separated from his abuser. 

Masking the abuse is a common trait amongst victims/survivors, often because surfacing the abuse can cause it to escalate, and Andrew is clear that employers should not feel guilt about signs missed along the way prior to a disclosure. “What’s most important is to be ready when the disclosure is made – it’s a point of extreme vulnerability and the right words and actions can make a world of difference.”

In Andrew’s case, the situation was complicated by the fact that his perpetrator was studying for a postgraduate degree at the same university. “It was a dilemma for the university as technically, it was an assault by a student on a member of staff, which would technically result in dismissal from her course.”

The university asked Andrew for his view, and he said he would prefer for her to remain on the course. “Fundamentally, I didn’t bear her any ill will and I knew that she would be happier in her life and better placed to be a role model to the kids if she could continue studying,” he says.

For employers, the challenge of what to do when someone has been accused of domestic abuse is complex one. But Andrew wants employers to recognise that their actions can have real consequences for victims. “The risk of releasing a perpetrator from an organisation puts someone who is already angry and unhappy and potentially a violent person in an even angrier position. It could actually end up endangering the victim even more.”

There are also financial considerations. “If you strip away a source of financial income from a perpetrator, that can cause a real problem for the victim. It’s important to think through the consequences of your actions on victims. I don’t want to speak as if I am representing all victims, but victims’ voices are important.”

In other respects also, the University took a victim-centred approach that proved both supportive and effective. They arranged counselling alongside time off to attend appointments. Whilst this is not necessarily the right approach for all victims/survivors (particularly where there is a live risk from the perpetrator and specialist Domestic Abuse services may be better placed to assist), it proved welcome and effective for Andrew. 

As did the professional work coaching his employer provided a few years later, as he continued to grapple with the impact of the abuse and the Court proceedings on his working life. He credits this with helping him to navigate the interplay between his home and work life, build resilience, and think about his longer-term career journey.

Perhaps the most helpful support though, was flexibility. As Andrew says, “Of the many kindnesses my employers have shown me over the last few years, the flexibility to manage my working hours around the various demands that were placed on my time – from legal appointments to childcare emergencies and counselling sessions – was one of the most appreciated.”