The words on Kathy Coe’s website are both honest and moving. They describe how, during the late Eighties, the mother of three tried and failed to get help, when her life was falling apart because of unrelenting domestic violence.
They tell of her desperation, adding that she ‘felt there was nothing left to live for’. At the time it was difficult to get help because there was very little understanding of domestic abuse. But eventually, Kathy was able to leave her home, vowing that one day she would open a refuge to help others in a similar situation.
A few years later she achieved her dream, setting up the charity Pathway Project, which now supports thousands of women and children who are experiencing domestic violence.
Kathy (61) has made it her mission to turn victims into survivors – but at the same time she will never forget how it feels to walk in the shoes of someone in an abusive relationship.
She recalls: “When I met my ex-husband I’d been married, and had two children. At first, everything was wonderful; I thought I’d found my knight in shining armour. But even then, he would lose his temper and thump walls or doors. I should have realised what lay ahead.
“Soon after we got married he was violent towards me. I was so shocked I started making excuses for him. We were running a pub and I’d tell myself he was tired. But before long I became adept at covering my bruises and split lip with make-up. I’d spend all day walking on eggshells because I knew if I upset him I’d pay for it when the pub closed.
“He would say the abuse was my fault, and that I’d forced him to behave in that way.
“Later, he would be sorry and cry, saying he would never do it again, but he always did. After particularly vicious beatings he would leave a red rose on my pillow. I came to detest red roses.”
‘I’d spend all day, every day, walking on eggshells because I knew that if I upset my husband I’d pay for it’
Kathy, from Burntwood, tried to get help but there was nothing available for victims of domestic abuse, partly because no-one really understood it. When she discovered she was pregnant she hoped the violence would stop, but sadly that wasn’t the case.
“I would curl up in a ball to try and protect the baby from the beatings,” she recalls. “If I tried to fight back it just made things worse. There was nothing I could do but pray it would soon be over.
“Later, my husband tried to strangle me, and I’m certain that if it hadn’t been for my daughter coming into the room I wouldn’t have survived. I feared for my life, and often wanted to end it all. But I couldn’t leave my children.”
In time, Kathy found support from her church. The minister and his wife were especially kind to her. She also plucked up the courage to talk to family members and, one day, feeling she finally had people to turn to, she walked away from her husband, moved in with a friend, and began divorce proceedings.
Wanting to help other domestic abuse victims, Kathy set up Pathway Project, launched a 24-hour helpline from her bedroom, and has never looked back.
Pathway Project is now a registered charity, which helps around 3,000 families every year. In addition to the helpline, their services include providing accommodation in one of two refuges, counselling, self-help and empowerment group meetings. Other support covers issues such as budgeting and legal options, while the Hope Centre is a drop-in establishment for those needing help quickly.
Kathy says, “Many women come to us feeling ashamed as there is still a huge stigma attached to domestic violence. We help to build their confidence and make them feel able to face the world again. One woman left our refuge and gained a first class honours degree in social work, while another has a nursing degree.
“I’m glad that I’ve been able to put my own experience to good use, and for that reason I wouldn’t change what happened to me. As awful as it was, it has not only made me the stronger, happier person I am today, but is also doing the same for others. Seeing women leave us full of confidence and with their heads held high makes me so happy. Like me, they are survivors, and that makes me very proud.”
- Refuge, the charity for women and children against domestic violence, runs a freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline in partnership with Women’s Aid. Call 0808 2000 247, or visit www.refuge.org.uk
- For more information about Pathway Project visit www.pathway-project.co.uk, or call the 24-hour helpline on 01543 676800
Domestic violence: the shocking facts
- Reports earlier this year stated that domestic abuse has risen by 38 per cent since 2008, and that there were around 838,026 reported cases of domestic violence in 2013.
- One in four women is abused in her lifetime.
- One in nine is severely physically abused every year.
- Two women are killed every week.
- Every week three women take their own lives to escape abuse.