Esperanza* is a Colombian immigrant who for ten years has been a slave to her husband’s fists. Now she begins a new life.
We arrive at Esperanza’s house on a summer afternoon. There, we see this woman’s harsh reality, “working and rushing around all day”, feeding her three children who have just arrived home from school.
The four of them live in one room of a shared house in London. There, in that space, they, and her especially, dream about their future and attempt to forget the past.
This Latin American woman has spent a decade being the victim of abuse. She began suffering from abuse before emigrating, and it was in Colombia that she first said “enough!”.
She ended the relationship and years later, forgave her husband, put her trust in him and moved to the United Kingdom with her children, one of whom was the product of her relationship with him.
But, once set up in the London capital, the attacks began again and with greater brutality.
On top of the abuse, Esperanza was alone, isolated and lost, without anybody to help her in a country she didn’t know. This lasted until she said once and for all, it’s over. Now she begins a new journey, living, as she says, simply “in peace and calm”. This is a right that has taken her half a lifetime to obtain. She says that she now feels her smile is different and this is evident when you look at her.
Esperanza opened up her life in conversation with The Prisma.
When did the abuse begin?
I met my husband when I was 33 years old. At first, in Latin America everything was great, but after 7 months together he began to be rude and insulting towards me. Here the psychological abuse began. Since then, he has continued verbally abusing me almost every day. He always looked down on me, and whatever I did, was always wrong. He scolded me never appreciating anything that I did. A little later came the first hard hit.
How did the first physical abuse happen?
He was drunk, because he drinks a lot, and arrived from the street. He has always been sick with jealousy and when he arrived home after having been drinking, he searched the entire house saying that I was with another man. I was lying down and he began to kick me until I fractured two of my ribs. I had to go to the hospital because I couldn’t walk or breathe. I told the doctors that I had fallen down some steps. After this, I was very frightened of him, and the more scared I was, the harder he hit me.
He had me so psychologically ’overworked’ that he would hit me and I would always feel guilty. I thought that I was guilty of doing something wrong and that’s why he was hitting me. It was me that would go and ask his forgiveness. Other times he asked me to forgive him and I believed him.
Did you think about reporting him to the police?
In Latin America the police didn’t protect me. I called the police, they came to the house and he began to throw things at them from the balcony. They asked him to please go with them, he refused and they didn’t do anything. Nothing happened. And obviously, he felt more powerful because he thought that this experience had made me believe that there was nobody who could help me. After this our son was born and he left to work in the United Kingdom. When he left, I though that I couldn’t take any more and ended the relationship.
You stayed in Colombia and he went to the United Kingdom. Why did you then change your mind and go back to him?
He began to call every day and ask me to forgive him. He told me that the time alone had changed him and that now he really was going to appreciate me and that he needed me by his side. I believed him and thought that he had changed. But I was wrong. From the first day that I set foot in London he began to abuse me. The first time that he did it in the United Kingdom was in front of his friends. He pushed me. Other days he bit me, he punched me…
Also, during the first few weeks of me being here, I didn’t have a job. While I was looking for work, he mocked me (more and more all the time) for being in the house. Later, when I began to work, he told me that I was abandoning my family because I was out working all day. There was always some justification for him to be annoyed with me and therefore be able to hit me.
I kept on thinking that each punch would be the last and then the death threats began. In private and also in front of my son. He even went so far as to threaten me with a knife in front of him.
At this time I was really scared because I was staying in the country illegally and separated from my other children. Furthermore he was threatening me because as he had legal status in the country, I depended on him. He always used this and told me that if I called the Police to report him for abuse, he would advise immigration to deport me.
When did you think enough is enough, I can’t take any more?
Here I didn’t know anybody, and so didn’t have anyone to tell. But, gradually, I started talking to some people that I was getting to know and they told me that I had rights in the country and that I didn’t have to put up with this.
Furthermore, my son told his teacher that he saw his father throw a TV remote control at me and say in front of him that he was going to kill me. So in the school they talked to me about organisations that could help me and I went to therapy. There they assured me that I had rights and that I could request permanent residency in the country as a victim of abuse.
So, I began to feel a little strength. I told him that I had been for a consultation and that I knew that I didn’t have to submit myself to him and that if I reported him they could put him in prison. But even so, he continued to convince me that this wasn’t the case.
Until one day he threw a bottle of shampoo at my face. This then was the moment. I called the police and they arrested him. I was afraid that he would return for me, but later began to feel more secure. He hasn’t come back to the house. Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t done it. Perhaps he would even have killed me.
Today, I feel very good, free and happy. Even my smile feels different. It’s been many years since I felt this way. After so many years of him making me feel as ugly and stupid as can be, I had got used to it. My self esteem was incredibly low. The abuse was very persistent, all the time.
But now I am happy because I’ve stopped being the servant who put up with being hit, cooked for him and cleaned for him. Now I can return to going out with my children to have fun. I think about it and I say, so many years lost and wasted, so much dedication to a person that never valued me. I shouldn’t have put up with so much. Right now I have serious economic and legal problems but soon better times will come.
I would say to any woman that is suffering abuse that they shouldn’t accept it even once. Because after allowing the first, you will put up with the second and third time. If I hadn’t allowed the first rude word…. That’s why I tell my daughter that on the day that a boyfriend shouts at her for the first time or treats her without respect, she should stop him and finish it.
(*) Fictitious name, changed on request by interviewee.
(Translated by Tim Huntington)