On Monday, 23rd of June, BBC3 aired a new documentary on domestic violence. Based on a true story, the programme follows a young girl named Ashley through her turbulent relationship with boyfriend Reece (names have been changed to protect the family of the victim). The programme aims to raise public awareness on the seriousness of such abuse, but also highlights that many victims of domestic violence are between the ages of 16 and 24, while most common stories depict older couples. Having been funded by BBC Learning, this piece is also being used for educational purposes and shown in schools to raise awareness amongst children about the first signs of abuse.
Tear-inducing and compelling from start to finish, the documentary begins by identifying the audience with the character of Ashley. Young, confident, ambitious and beautiful, audiences get to see a side to her that they see in many teenage girls. Having a laugh with her friends, Ashley goes to a house party – again, something that many people can relate to, a feature added to show that anyone can be a victim. It is at this party that she meets the handsome and charming Reece, the boy she is quick to fall madly in love with. But he doesn’t see the side of her that you and I see; he notices only her vulnerability.
The steps towards abuse start subtly; pulling up the strap on her dress, demanding to know who she is texting, and insisting, quite forcibly, that Ashley keep their baby when she falls pregnant only a few months into the relationship. Despite wanting to finish college, Reece’s argument persuades Ashley and she begins to feel maternal and excited, as any expectant mother would; but this is when he begins to physically dominate her life. Arguments break out when Reece is unwilling to commit to living with Ashley the way he made her commit to having his baby, and pretty soon, while she is still pregnant, he hits her for the first time. The voice-over explains that Ashley felt obliged to forgive and forget, believing that she provoked him – a common thing for victims of domestic violence to believe, having been manipulated into seeing things from the opposite perspective.
Skipping a couple of years, we at first see what appears to be a happy family unit. Great, we think, they got over the rough patch. We see a healthy baby, a nice house, and two smiling parents – but that’s what Reece wants you to see. Cracks begin to appear when he forces Ashley to change her outfit before going on a night out – God forbid she wore a low-cut top in public. As Ashley undresses, we see a series of cuts and bruises on her back, stomach, and legs: places that people won’t notice on the outside. Reece was smart. He knew how to hide what he was doing. This is seen not just in Ashley’s case, but in most cases of domestic violence.
Reece displays distrust in Ashley that goes beyond the curiosity of a typical boyfriend. He logs into her emails and Facebook accounts, checking all of her messages and tagged photos. He then buys her a mobile phone under the guarantee that whenever he rang to ask where she was, she would take a photo; that way he would always know what she was doing. She was putty in his hands, and he loved having that power. However, his actions here are nothing but hypocritical: we soon find out that Reece has been cheating on Ashley for the majority of their relationship. And, when she confronts him, he leaves her bleeding and unconscious in no other than her place of work – in front of her colleagues. Things get more serious when Ashley’s friends notice her scars; and this is when she begins to truly consider leaving him. Only, he has the upper hand. Of course he does. Even when they’re apart, he is constantly ringing her and shouting abuse outside of her house, frightening her to the point of having to call the police in fits of panic.
Ashley finally finds someone else that she likes, and takes the risk to be with him when on a weekend away with her friends. However, after realising that things aren’t over for Reece, her new love interest decides to stay well clear. Having then been forced into a reconciliation, ‘for the sake of their daughter’, Ashley is trapped into an engagement that she doesn’t want. She knows her life is over before Reece even kills her; she is a shadow of her former self. Once again being fretful and manipulative, Reece forces Ashley to admit to her brief involvement with another man; while they had broken up.
When she admits to it, he beats her savagely. First, with just his fists. Then, with an ironing board. He does this while their baby daughter is crying in the other room, having heard what is happening. He then leaves her dying for two hours while he tries to figure out what to do. Finally, after calling an ambulance, Reece is arrested and Ashley sadly passes away shortly afterwards in hospital.
Tragically, Ashley will have known it was over during those two hours, and there was nothing she could do to stop her baby crying or to say goodbye. But it took her more than two hours to die – it took her four years to die; that was the length of their troublesome relationship. And Ashley is not the only person having been put in this position – between the months of January and May of 2014, 64 people in the UK alone have died due to domestic violence, and the horror doesn’t end there. It isn’t only those murdered, or abused, that domestic violence affects. It also affects the children, the families and the friends who feel helpless to do anything.
Ashley’s story is just one in many; there are still thousands of sufferers out there. It was too late for her, but it isn’t for everyone else. I urge anyone in a similar situation, or knowing of a sufferer, to seek help urgently. Don’t let fear stop you from living your life; Reece got his comeuppance, but unfortunately, not everyone does.