"It happens quite slowly and they're quite cunning with it," 25-year-old Kelly tells Refinery29 on the phone. "You don't always see the red flags straightaway. It takes a while." It was a long time before Kelly felt able to talk about the domestic abuse she'd been experiencing. Her husband was controlling, violent and emotionally abusive, yet if the police were called to their home because of a disturbance – either reported by herself or by the neighbours – she'd deny that anything had happened. It took several more attacks before she told the truth and sought the help she needed.
The case that followed her report took a few months. Kelly explains that not long after she reported her husband Kieron, the police asked if she wanted to be part of a documentary about women's experiences of domestic abuse. "It was really emotional," Kelly says. "It needs more awareness. It's kind of taboo. People just don't go to the police." She agreed to participate, in the hope that the film would give people the strength to come forward. Now, she appears alongside 45-year-old Hazel in Channel 5's tough but poignant new doc, The Abused.
In the documentary, Hazel explains that she tried to ignore the warning signs when her partner, Jason, started to become physically abusive. We meet her for the first time on screen when the police respond to her call after being punched and stamped on the head. Needless to say, the aftermath is distressing and shocking to see. The extent of what Hazel has had to endure becomes increasingly clear as she tells more of her story. We meet Kelly in similar circumstances, as the police respond to her call after being attacked by her husband. Between the footage gathered by police officers' body cameras, the taped recordings of each woman's 999 call, and interviews with Hazel and Kelly in the months that followed, we're given an alarmingly intimate insight into what it's really like to go through domestic abuse and then have to deal with the aftermath.
Both Kelly and Hazel pursue legal action against their partners and the journey that they each have to take is far from straightforward. There are restraining orders, further harassment cases and what many could only imagine as a persistent feeling of not quite being safe – especially in the difficult limbo between their attackers being charged, released and eventually jailed.
A particularly frustrating reality to face is the difficulty of gathering enough evidence; as one police officer says in the documentary, it often comes down to one person's word against the other's. "I did tell my two best friends [about the abuse] but I got beatings for that as well," Kelly says to camera. "That's what they do. They just cut you off from everyone. It's not just the fear of the beatings, it's the fear of what if they don't believe you."
On the phone, Kelly admits that the whole thing was sometimes a struggle to pursue. "I did have a big meltdown to my support worker and stuff, saying I can't do it anymore, but I persevered with it and here we are." Having watched the documentary, she says that she didn't expect the end product to be so in depth but sees it as a good thing. It's a difficult watch but sadly, that's precisely the point. At the moment, police are called to domestic abuse incidents every 30 seconds and in Britain two women are murdered by their partner every week. Upsetting as it may be to face, the urgency with which we need to recognise the extent of such a prolific yet often hidden issue is clear. Kelly and Hazel hope that in sharing their stories, not just of the abuse but of surviving the emotional strain that follows the reporting of an incident, it'll be a little bit easier to do so.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
The Abused airs on Channel 5 on Wednesday 20th February at 9pm.