“Abuse is not permitted. Communicate. Be ready to open yourself up.”
Tabatha embodies transformation. She is composed, strong, fearless and gentle, but most of all she is empowered.
Tabatha will soon train to be an advisor, to guide and support other women fleeing domestic abuse. But not too long ago, life was extremely different for Tabatha. Living in a refuge with her three children she could not envisage the life she now leads, with a garden she’d always dreamt of. Two actually.
Tabatha was first referred into our service in 2019 after escaping domestic abuse. At the time she had been in a refuge for three months – and remained there with her family for a total of nine months. One of her children had challenging behavior, leading to regular calls to the police and ambulance services.
Tabatha tried to remain strong, but could not envisage her life changing any time soon.
Flash forward, it’s August 2021. We’re all gathered round Tabatha, listening to her re-tell her story and provide hope for the women, from our Love Summer 2021 cohort, seated before her. It’s almost impossible to believe this courageous woman lifting the hearts of everyone here was once broken.
Thirty minutes and many tears later, it’s evident that Tabatha’s experience has resonated with every mother here. The women are from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, some shy and quietly listening, some loudly professing their understanding and sharing their truth, others overwhelmed by the revelation that they are not alone – that many other women are also facing and surviving domestic abuse in Tower Hamlets.
Once referred to our service in 2019, we walked alongside Tabatha and helped her to battle injustice.
Speaking of our team, she said, “Denise and Anike had been my advocates, in case conference meetings. Yemi even offered to take my children to school.. often with 12 members meeting with me, I felt surrounded. Worried about what was going to happen to my child. Denise stood with me, campaigning for a chance to keep our family together.”
Gaining stability was tough. After the refuge, Tabatha and her children lived in a temporary room for 6 months and even spent a few days in a hotel room. Much of the accommodation on offer was “not appropriate for a family, but people felt like I was asking for too much.”
Tabatha has been paralyzed on the left side of her body since she was young. Even after undergoing fifteen operations as a teenager, she is still left with mobility issues.
Tabatha has been married twice and survived domestic abuse in both marriages. Unfortunately, the second marriage left her with more damage to her mobility, which meant finding a home was difficult after fleeing.
“I was unable to climb stairs, but I was housed on the first floor without a lift. After some time I was given a special needs room for me and my children, but it was just a room. I was very down. It was stressful and tiring to face these challenges.”
Eventually, Tabatha put in a bid for a house – the kind she wanted and prayed for. The house she was eventually given turned out to be even better.
“You fell, you’ve been broken. You rise up and overcome. We have a house, my son has been accepted to an academy. He is able to go to a grammar school. We are grateful for the process and the people who stood there for us.”
Although Tabatha longs to get back into work, finding a job to accommodate her mobility issues is tough.
“It’s not possible for me to work at the moment, but I like to work. I want to do something. I can’t sit for a long time or stand. I have to change the position of my body often. I have a NVQ Level 3 in Health & Social Care, but can no longer travel from home to home.
Initially, my financial situation wasn’t very bad. I was working, saving, then maternity leave. I managed to keep going for a while. But then it started to run out and I spent the last of the money in the refuge. After that I had to go on Universal Credit.
I want to help others to be free and have a proper life. Everything is falling into place, slowly.”
We invited Tabatha to join Love Summer, our holiday outreach programme, to support those families most in need in the borough throughout the school summer holidays – a particularly difficult time for low-income families. “Love Summer was my first time to meet loving and supporting people like this. Emotional support, support with children and documents I needed help with.”
Now, looking back on her journey, Tabatha has compassion for her younger self. Compassion that she is now repurposing to fiercely stand for other women who also face abuse.
“When it comes to abuse, you have to stand for yourself. Even though you didn’t have the love you needed, you have to keep the faith. You feel threatened – if you do not speak up they will take your child… I lived in an abusive family since I was small. I didn’t know how to do it. I started to learn.”
With support and someone standing beside them on the journey, many women, just like Tabatha, are able to transform their lives.
Speaking on the commitment, courage and determination it takes, Tabatha says, “sometimes, even though you want to cry for yourself you can’t. You have food but you still need to open your mouth to eat.”
Despite multiple setbacks, Tabatha is an extremely determined woman – in every sense.
“Even riding a bike is a huge challenge. When I was a child I would tie my foot to the pedal with a shoelace to keep it on.
Now I want to drive. I have been told I need an adapted car, but I think I can do it without. A car is essential for our family.”
Tabatha is a testament to what is possible.
She now wants to be a domestic abuse advocate and is about to start a course to become an advisor. She believes her testimony will strengthen those in the same situation.
“We all have scars and bruises.”
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