The FREE online magazine on and around coercive control

The FREE online magazine on and around coercive control

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Editor's Notes

5 Min suffers from a chronic case of

wild over-optimism.

Dr Saira Khan

6 Counselling psychologist with lived


Zoe Dronfield

22 Prominent campaigner on domestic

violence, stalking and family courts

Samantha Billingham

39 Ambassador for Employers Initiative

on Domestic Abuse & founder SODA

Brian Reilly

52 Process Server at NCDV - the National

Centre for Domestic Vioolence.

Christine Cocchiola

58 Licensed Clinical Social Worker

researching Coercive Control for PhD

Beyond NXIVM

68 Naomi Gibson, Tabby Chapman and

Morgan Poferl on cults and coercion

Making The Invisible Visible

Editor's Notes



Min Grob started

Conference on Coercive

Control in June 2015,

following the end of a

relationship that was

both coercive and

controlling. Since then

there have been 6

national conferences as

well as smaller events.

CCChat magazine

originally started out as

a newletter and has

been going since 2017.

Min’s interest lies in

recognising coercive

control in its initial

stages, understanding

how to identify the ‘red

flags’ of abusive

behaviour before

someone becomes

more invested in the

relationship, as that is

when it will be much

more difficult to leave.

Min is also a public

speaker and speaks on

both her personal

experience of coercive

control as well as more

generally of abuse that

is hidden in plain


Let's Grow The


To contact Min:



In which I talk about my chronic case

of wild over-optimism

Hello Readers!

Yes, I know. This magazine is late. Nearly two months

late. I thought I could but it turns out that I couldn't. So

what has made me so busy?

Well, firstly, this is a HUGE issue and it took a lot of

transcribing. There are wonderful interviews with just the

most amazing interviewees and it just didn't seem right

to cut the interviews down into shorter segments. I

looove how, when reading them, I can actually hear

everyone speak. Another reason for the wild delay is that

I have been doing some work as a peer researcher on a

really really important project. It is called "Staying

Mum" and, for now, I am staying mum but watch this

space over the coming months.

I hope you are all enjoying your summer. As I write it is

sunny but I have been reliably informed that it will also

rain solidly for the next three or so days. Wherever you

are, whether it's a beach, a bath, behind a desk or in a

cafe, I do hope you enjoy this issue of CCChat.

Min x

cover photo: Min Grob ( yep, that's me!)

Making The Invisible Visible

Dr Saira Khan is a HCPC registered Chartered

Counselling Psychologist and human rights advocate

who began her professional journey as a licensed

therapist in California after graduating from UCLA &

Columbia University in New York City.

Her doctorate research focused on best practice with

survivors of coercive control and she currently works

with complex trauma in the NHS.


Making The Invisible Visible

Dr Saira Khan

Chartered Counselling


“The reason I was drawn to this work is because

of my own experience.”

M: Could you tell me a little bit about

what you do?

S: I originally trained as a therapist in

California and I arrived in the UK

about 12 years ago and realised that

my training from the USA didn’t

translate, so I completed a psychology

doctorate. Now I am a counselling

psychologist working with people with

complex mental health needs. I would

say that most of the people I work with

have experienced significant trauma

from personal experience or exposure

to someone close to them where

coercive control is happening; these

relationships understandably create a

lot of distress.

The reason I was drawn to this work is

because of my own experience. After I

left, it took me two to three years of

volunteering with Refuge, to realise

that what I had been through was

domestic abuse. I had never

experienced physical abuse and it was

a huge undertaking to see that what I

had been through was coercive control.

I could look at every segment on that

power and control wheel and say, yes,

that happened to me and it took a long

time to accept that what I've been

through was coercive control. The

psychological trauma and denial about

the reality of what I had been through

was immense. I found that my

experience mirrored all the women in

the support groups I was in and that's

when I realised a larger scale

understanding of coercive control in

the general public was just not

there. The mind games, the

psychological and emotional tactics to

keep power and control over another

person was what I experienced and

this then led me to understand victims

of cults and other forms of relational

abuse. I decided to focus my doctorate

on how to help survivors of abuse. My

experience with therapists and mental

health professionals is that they didn't

get the depth,complexity and horror.

Women's organisations understood,

and I didn't understand why this

knowledge seemed to be limited to the

women’s sector.

Making The Invisible Visible

It enables us as humans to feel safer,

that the victim is somehow less

capable, weaker and therefore ‘allows’

the abuse. Also, if you have come from

a place of privilege, it is very difficult to

see power – if you have always had

power you will not necessarily

understand someone who has not.

M: What's really common in that we

internalise it, we take it on ourselves to

try and fix the situation.

M: I got that. I don't know if you've

experienced it, but what I come across

is people who think they know what

they are talking about but they had

memorised their learning and clearly

had no real understanding, other than

defining it in sort of dictionary terms

and I find that really frustrating.

S: I don't know how to bridge that gap

because I think it's very difficult to

understand this type of behaviour,

without having lived that experience. I

think it's very difficult for people to

comprehend how that situation could

be possible, so it’s so much easier to

blame the person, and that's the


I think because it's easier for us

emotionally, as humans, to accept that

this can't be possible without some

blame being placed on the victim.

S: I think what we really need, what is

really significant that I found when I

speak to survivors, is having a third

eye perspective, having an outsider go

through what's happening and make

sense of it because when you're in it,

you can't make sense of it. When you

have another person go over it with

you, it's really confusing, it's hard to

explain, and they can help you

articulate it.

Some of the incidents seem very small

and insignificant all at once so trying

to get a third person in to explain

what's happening is a challenge in and

of itself. First of all there's very few

opportunities, who are you going to go

to? You're talking about a very private

world, if it is your partner or your

parent or someone close to you,

because there's loyalty and you don't

want to share this with just anybody.

How do you get that third eye

perspective when counsellors may not

be looking for that? Therapists may

not be looking, it might not even have

occurred to them, they're focusing on

what's inside for that person rather

than looking at their environment and

systems at play. Or they try to remain

neutral, and with abuse, that is

incredibly invalidating and unhelpful.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: I've noticed that often it’s very

much a case of ‘what have you done to

put yourself in the situation?’

S: This is where it can happen to

anybody. I've spoken to women who've

had a happy relationship, and then

they've left and the ending has been

fine, then they've been targeted and

they had this experience. That goes

against what I hear in psychology a lot,

which is that you're trying to repair an

old wound with a parent or an old

figure, like somehow you're repeating a

pattern and there's some logic there;

however, the way I think of it is that

everybody has vulnerabilities,

everybody, and somebody who's going

to exert power and control over

someone is going to be looking for

those things - vulnerabilities that can

be exploited and some of us have more

vulnerabilities than others, but that is

not an excuse, you know, this has

nothing to do with the other person's

behaviour, and what they choose to do.

M: So much of what you say resonates

with both my own experience and that

of others I talk to.

S: To my frustration, when I studied,

there really was not much research on

what happens to survivors. Everything

is about minimising risk and that of

course makes sense when you're

leaving and it's a very difficult decision

leaving these types of relationships

and helping stabilise people in

psychology, but then what happens

beyond that? We’re talking about huge

amounts of trauma and grief and

there's no understanding there of how

to help people build meaningful

lives, build lives that they can be

engaged in and feel okay about.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: That’s the thing that really

frustrates me. There's a much better

understanding of coercive control and

abuse that is emotional, psychological

and economic abuse and there IS an

understanding that there doesn't have

to be physical violence, but the way

that a lot of victims are still identified

is by some evidence of physical

violence. It’s really rare to hear

survivors talk about their experience

and for them not have some

experience of physical violence. What I

hear a lot more of is‘ he hit me, kicked

me, attacked me with a knife but the

emotional abuse was much worse’.

S: It makes complete sense and this is

the struggle: the women I spoke with,

all of the women had experienced

varying levels, from zero to extreme

levels of physical abuse, and every

single one said it was the psychological

element that was most damaging. To

me the physical abuse is one of the

tactics and I don't want to think that

that's not an important element but it’s

focusing on one part rather than the

ultimate issue of power and control,

but how do you prove it?

M: I don't think it’s that difficult to

prove. The evidence is in listening to a

victim survivor and how they are

relating their experience.

"We’re talking about huge amounts of trauma and grief and

there's no understanding there of how to help people build

meaningful lives."

You never really hear of survivors

saying ‘Oh he never hit me but he

fucked with my head, and, you know

I'm trying to survive it but I keep

questioning who I am and what

happened.’ So, for victims who've only

ever experienced, say gaslighting,

there is still this perception that they

haven’t been as abused and so

therefore it’s not as serious as being

attacked physically but the impact of

that can last a lifetime.When you talk

to someone who has been

psychologically and emotionally

abused, you can see, just by talking to

them, the impact that this still has on

them, in the way that they speak and

seem to doubt what it is that they are

saying, does that make sense?

What I keep noticing is when someone

talks to me about what was so harmful,

even several years after leaving the

abuse, you can hear in how someone

speaks, that they’re still trying to figure

it out in their head and you can see

them thinking about it, trying to weigh

it all up and that there, that response is

the evidence.

The fact that someone's literally still

trying to put together what they

experienced into some coherent form

that makes sense to them and there is

still uncertainty and confusion should

be seen as evidence of gaslighting,

instead of having that used against a

victim to say she isn’t a reliable

witness, that should be turned on its


Making The Invisible Visible

S: When I work with survivors, that's a

big part of the work because they often

blame themselves and look inside and

feel bad and it's crucial to make sense

of what happened. So we look at each

segment of the power and control

wheel and we name the behaviours

and break down what was happening

in those moment to moment

experiences and what tactic was being

employed to keep them vulnerable. I

think it's very hard for survivors when

they're in the early phase to be able to

articulate this.

M: Oh yes, definitely.

When we can't express something in

words, it's often because our brain

goes offline, we've gone out of our

window of what we can tolerate and we

can't articulate what we've been

through because we've gone out of our

ability to process what's happening.

M: That’s such a brilliant way of

explaining it. Certainly what I found is

that for me to be able to articulate

something well, I have to be able to

explain it in a way that makes sense to

me and a lot of the stuff that happened

just didn't make sense. On an

intellectual level it sort of made sense -

he did this because he wanted to mess

with my head, he did that because he

" When we can't express something in words, it's often

because our brain goes offline, we've gone out of our window

of what we can tolerate."

S: And it takes maybe years to be able

to put it into words and describe it and

that makes things even harder when

you're trying to explain what happened

if somebody asks a survivor, what

happened, they know in their body and

emotionally, that what happened was

horrific but trying to articulate an

internal trauma … whereas if you're

looking at a picture of physical assault,

it's just easier for people to


M: I actually think that struggle to

articulate, I actually think that that is


S: I think it's a very clear indicator, this

is a definite post traumatic symptom

and a universally understood element

of trauma.

wanted me to live in fear but on an

emotional level? I just can't reconcile

that, does that make sense?

S: It makes a lot of sense and when we

are talking about interpersonal abuse,

relational abuse, people that we have

close contact with, it becomes really

messy. I mean, most survivors I speak

with, we talk about still feeling a

connection and care for somebody who

harmed us greatly, and it’s incredibly


M: I’m so glad you said that because

it’s something that is rarely talked

about, the fact that you can still care

for someone who has abused you but if

there is an assumption that, if you still

care, it’s because you’re addicted to

them or you enjoyed being abused and

the reality is that abusers aren’t

Making The Invisible Visible

abusive all of the time, many are also

kind,loving and caring but there is a

need to demonise the abuser which I

don’t think is always that helpful

because it ignores the charming and

loving side and that is as much a part

of the abuse as the stuff that hurts. The

last issue of CCChat was on trauma

bonding and I wanted to do that issue

for such a long time because for so

many survivors, you know that

someone's abusing you, you know it's

wrong and you know the effect it has

on you, but the thing is, you can't see

them as evil you can't see them as bad

people and so you make excuses for

that and take the blame on yourself.

S: Absolutely I see this and it can be

frustrating for others to understand

what's happening. The way I describe

it is there is this invisible umbilical

cord, tying the survivor to this person

and the emotional pull, it is not

cognitive, but there is an emotional

pull there that provides relief from

the tension and distress internally. I

believe it is part of the element of the

psychological control linked to the

human need for attachment. The only

relief was from the same person who

harmed you. This takes time to shift.

All of psychology is theories, nobody

really knows, and there's things you

can do to make it better in therapy and

work on it. It's probably a very old

familiar pull for lots of reasons but I

also think it's part of the brainwashing,

I think that emotional ties to someone

are very powerful and there's an

element of the relationship that is

probably very good and that part of

them that's quite nice or, I don't

believe that there's a reason why we're

drawn to these people, and it can really

feel good and feel like “Oh if I only had

that part of that person we would have

been so happy”, whatever it was.

M: You think that side of their

character is the essence of them and it

takes ages to realise it is fabricated and

so the essence of them is the part of

them that causes you pain, causes you


S: Accepting that someone you care

about is capable of psychological

entrapment to suit their own needs is

such a huge psychological obstacle. It

is worse without physical abuse,

because they know that other people

would recognise that as not okay. I

don't know about you, but I think of

myself as quite an independent

capable woman who wouldn't let

something like this happen and then

just wow, how did this happen over so

long and I couldn't see it, because it

was slow and over time the box of my

world was becoming smaller and

smaller until one day I was like -

what's happening here? It's a lot to

take on psychologically, for anybody.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: It is a lot to take on and I

remember a few years ago, someone

saying to me that, for an abuser who

likes to have power and control, it’s a

myth that they go for people who are

weak and easy to control. You know,

they see it as a challenge to go after an

intelligent and successful woman and

break her. It’s the ultimate act of

dominance, it's like a hunting ground

and they would rather go for somebody

they perceive to be harder to conquer,

it’s a cachet for them. I know that's not

always true but certainly in enough

cases where the abuser will

purposefully gravitate towards a really

beautiful, really successful, capable,

really accomplished high achieving

Mary, has there been a bereavement in

your family? They look for 'tells', and

checking to see what makes you flinch.

S: They're looking for ways in, like you

said, and looking for vulnerabilities to

exploit and capitalise on. For a lot of it,

it is about building an image and

building them in a way that make them

look good and then putting the person

in a position where they can't leave. I

don’t think it’s easy to spot. I think

there’s probably many women out

there, and I say women because I think

we have more vulnerabilities in the

current climate and that’s why it

happens more to women and we are

"Also leaving these relationships is so hard because usually women have

invested so many years, they have children, they have put their careers on

hold and there is so much to lose by leaving these relationships."

woman and chip away for any sign of

vulnerability and absolutely delight in

that. You know the raptor in Jurassic

Park? Chip, chip, chipping at the

electric fence, testing the integrity of

the fence, looking for weakness.

S: Yes, fantastic analogy.

M: That's how I see it I see it, this big,

electric fence is not weak. It's imposing

and strong and powerful. It has a

dominating force but this shitty raptor

comes along and pick, pick, pick, pick,

finds a weakness, and then hones in on

that weakness and honestly, that's how

I see it. It’s like when psychics are in a

massive room of 400 people and it'll

be like, hello, is there a Mary in the


also socialised to go along and make

people happy, depending on our

cultural backgrounds.

M: Yes women are definitely socialised

to put the needs of others before


S: This is the case for most of the

women I work with. They feel selfish

for putting their needs higher and that

is not ok. Leaving these relationships is

so hard because usually women have

invested so many years, they have

children, they have put their careers on

hold. There is so much to lose by

leaving these relationships, years of

their life invested in someone, I call it

the Black Hole of Need, where you just

give, give, give and ultimately it will

never work or be enough but walking

Making The Invisible Visible

away from that black hole means that

there may be very little that is tangible


M: That makes so much sense and so

many will be able to relate. I don’t

know if this is what you’ve found in

your practice but there is a type of

person and I don’t know if they are

sadistic or whatever but there is a kind

of person whose need to control

manifests itself in needing to get

someone to lose their mind and they

get absolute pleasure out of it.

S: Ah yes, where there is pleasure in

seeing someone suffer and that is also

so difficult to accept when it is

so sorry, they bring flowers and are

contrite but actually the most

damaging are the ones that just go

back to normal, as though nothing has

happened. It’s so invalidating, there’s

no discussion of this upsetting

experience and because you don’t want

tension and you don’t want conflict,

especially if there’s children in the

home, so it just goes back to ‘thank

goodness, it’s normal’.

M: That's true, and you ride it out and

think just wait a couple of days and it

will return to normal.

"There’s an emotional element as well, that pull, it’s

an arm of the abuse, that they use your empathy against you,

because you do want things to be ok."

somebody that you love and care

about. It’s much easier to emotionally

make an excuse than to look at things


M: Especially when they apologise so

profusely and you want to believe they

have made a mistake and didn’t mean

it. Why is it easier to accept someone

apologising for repeated wrongdoing,

than the fact that someone has done

this deliberately and conscientiously

over and over again?

S: That’s the question of the year!

Because it happens slowly and they

test the waters, so they may call you a

name or comment on what you are

wearing and there’s a myth in society

that the person who is abusive will

then make this big show of I’m

S: There’s an emotional element as

well, that pull, it’s an arm of the abuse,

that they use your empathy against

you, because you do want things to be

ok and those periods of time become

shorter and shorter until incidents are

happening daily and you don’t know

how to make sense of that either,

because you’re questioning yourself

and asking what am I doing

here? With most of the women I work

with, it’s always what’s happening?

What am I doing? Always looking

inside, rather than seeing this person

as the cause.

M: Always looking inside and asking

what did I do? If I’m honest,I still do

that even though I know what

happened, it’s just so hard to accept.

Making The Invisible Visible

I don’t have a reasoning behind this, I

mean I don’t know why it becomes like

this. I think many have grown up in

homes where this may have been the

case, or have their own abuse histories

and whatever the case is, I think the

tactics are all there. So, if I work with

women I look at if I wanted power and

control, what would I do, and we can

predict what he’s going to do, if it’s a

court case or he wants custody.

M: Definitely.

S: When you’re looking at theories, it’s

not your life you are looking at, it’s not

the people you love. It is human to

have care and concern for the people

you love, the people you are around,

this is human this the way we are

made when we have empathy.

M: Abusers know exactly when we

have had enough and know when to

pull out the stops to get us back before

we call it in and leave.

S: Absolutely, and this is where a lot of

the women I work with say that the

abuser becomes very child-like or they

felt they were keeping the mental

health of their partner together. The

abusive partners were very vulnerable

somehow, they were needy, and the

women were their carer and so there is

this real weird blend of vulnerable

child and yet this abusive patriarch.

When I describe these patterns to the

women, they find it so reassuring but

the fact that they are all so similar, it’s

like a playbook for abusers.

S: One of the women said to me it’s

like you’re in the Garden of Eden and

you’ve eaten the apple and you see a

whole new reality. To me that is

brainwashing, it’s ‘I was in this world

thinking it’s one way but this one

person had slowly put me in this box

but I couldn’t see the box, but once I

did it was like Oh my God!’ and then

you have to do a massive rebuild

because your world has obliterated

because everything has been about

them and if you don’t think like a

perpetrator, it’s going to make leaving

that person very difficult and they are

torturing you left, right and centre to

prevent escape.

M: And whilst you’re trying to work

things out and make sense of this

confusion, they’re fine, totally in

control and often gathering together

their army of supporters and enablers

to lend weight to their position.

S: I think the most telling is how calm

and controlled they are in moments of

crisis. When I look for victims, I look

for them in distress and not someone

who is calm and controlled and…fine.

It’s interesting because society values

that you’re the rational one but

Making The Invisible Visible

actually if someone is in distress, that

gives me my first clue because

sometimes it gets confusing as to who

is the one causing the problem which

is why professionals sometimes make

the wrong call or they don’t know

what’s happening because they get

confused as well.

M: I actually have a really good

example of that. A situation where a

husband broke into the marital home

and brought with him a friend with a

crowbar. Mum was, at the time in the

bath when the whole wall started

shaking from the attempts to get into

the house, ran out and saw a man, a

stranger, with a crowbar.

going to be sensitive to, so they will be

provoking and creating a situation

where the survivor will be in distress

so they can say ‘ You see? This person

has a problem.’ Sometimes an expartner

tries to get the survivor

committed to a psychiatric institution

and there is that kernel of truth

because of course the survivor is

suffering from trauma but it is the

abuser causing the suffering and trying

to use it against the survivor at the

same time. Not all mental health

professionals will understand these

complex dynamics. They use all of

their knowledge of the intimate

partner and the worst part is that

usually there is a kernel of truth in

" Sometimes an ex-partner tries to get the survivor committed to a psychiatric

institution and...of course the survivor is suffering from trauma but it is the abuser

causing the suffering and trying to use it against

the survivor at the same time"

Her immediate thought was that he

had hired someone to kill her and she

was terrified. When the police reports

were produced for family court, it said

mum was hysterical and ‘obviously’

had mental health issues whereas

estranged husband was calm, had only

turned up to collect his stuff but mum

started kicking off for no reason. It was

also revealed that the friend with the

crowbar, which they predictably

denied having, was a psychiatric nurse

who rather helpfully offered a

‘diagnosis’ to the police officers. That,

to me, shows they were expecting the

police to be called.

S: It’s awful and not something I’m

surprised by. What I see is they are

provoking, behind the scenes, and they

already have tactics that the survivor is

some of it but it is completely

disproportionate and usually taken out

of context and not relevant. I believe

that who the perpetrator goes to first is

tainted, they are biased and you can’t

say to them that they are biased as

they aren’t going to believe you and

will just think you sound irrational.

M: I hear that so often from survivors

who contact me asking for help for

family court and from my own

experience and what I have seen time

and time again, you can’t make

someone 'see' coercive control -they

have to figure it out for themselves.

S: It’s tricky terrain to navigate. It’s

really difficult to know how to explain

to a professional what’s really

Making The Invisible Visible

happening because it then looks like

you’re the potential one causing


M: Yes, exactly that and I see it time

and time again. Someone says their ex

is abusive but they can’t explain it. It’s

a series of things that seem really

really petty and the professional won’t

be able to piece it all together and

persists in seeing it as petty or the

survivor will inundate the court with

information that is too voluminous for

a judge to read, so they fail to see the


S: They can use things against us and

often survivors won’t say anything

because they know it won’t lead

anywhere and it will just make things

worse. What I always tell survivors is

that time will make everything clear

and it requires what I call ultimate soul

work. By the time you’re done with coparenting

or rebuilding yourself, your

insides are shining like diamonds

because so often you have to rise above

despite all the obstacles thrown along

the way. We are warriors.

M: We have to grit our teeth because

we are expected to comply whilst often

they wriggle their way out of taking

responsibility so the onus is on us to

pick up their slack. The expectations

are really not equal at all.

S: No and it’s really tricky with

children as well, depending on their

age and what is happening, how much

to share with them and there’s lots of

thoughts on that and that’s where the

women I work with find comfort in

hearing about other women and what

they’ve done and getting ideas because

ultimately we’re all trying to help each

other because the system is stacked

against us.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: It really is.

S: As awful as it sounds, sometimes it’s

not always about being transparent

because it’s not going to work, it’s

going to make the situation worse and

so you have to be really thoughtful

about what are the possible

consequences and work within the

confines of what’s there. In 2015, when

I began this journey, it truly felt like

there was zero knowledge of coercive

control, I think, in mainstream

psychology, people are thankfully

more clued in and discussions are

happening in the mental health world

and I think it is positive, so we’ll see.

There is real power with professional

standing and that's where men have a

huge advantage and they draw on

cultural stereotypes.

M: Yes, that is very true and not many

people have that insight. I don’t think

it’s something you can learn about

from books either, it needs the lived in

experience to fully understand what it

feels like to have lived that, that

understanding on a cellular level.

S: I always say to people I work with, if

you don’t feel equipped, if you don’t

‘get it’ please refer them to someone

who does.

"In mainstream psychology, people are thankfully

more clued in and discussions are happening in the

mental health world and I think it is positive."

M: I do think that we have to look at

coercive control beyond intimate

relationships and see it in the

workplace and in the professionals

tasked to make assessments. A

coercive and controlling judge isn’t

going to understand, if that judge

could well be guilty of the exact same

behaviours the survivor is complaining

about. They will be more likely to align

with the person who is like them.

S: What we’re also talking about is

power. For example, if you see

somebody who comes from an

incredibly respected profession, tall,

put together white male and you

putthem against, me, a small Asian

woman, you’re looking at quite a big

power differential.

M: In my experience people don't,

they hang on, either because they

believe that they are equipped or

because it is a financial decision. For

me, the biggest obstacle is when

someone thinks they understand but

they clearly don’t and they don’t think

they need to learn or they’ve got

nothing left to learn.

S: Are we talking about mental health


M: I’m talking about any professional

but my direct knowledge really comes

from listening to lawyers and social

workers and the police and GP’s. What

I have come across is this selfassuredness

or maybe it’s arrogance

that makes a person unable to

recognise how much they don’t know.

Making The Invisible Visible

S: The problem is, I have found very

few professionals who understand

coercive control. I had contact with

multiple lawyers and mental health

professionals and I don’t think they

really understood what was happening

to me - and I’m in London.

M: That’s really scary and doesn’t bode

well for the more rural areas.

S: I have to say that psychologists don’t

necessarily put themselves out there as

knowing this area however they run

into it a lot and they don’t quite

understand what that means.

M: Yes, I see that a lot.

I find it hugely frustrating that too

often seeing cases of domestic abuse is

equated with understanding the

dynamics of it.

S: Absolutely. I’m just thinking of my

own experience of going to see a

psychologist after my separation, who

was supposedly very good, very well

known, charged quite a lot of money

and in the end this professional was

taken into my ex-partner’s view. He

thought we were both unreasonable

hurt people. This was not an

uncommon assumption. One thing I’ve

learnt is to always believe people.

Whenever I have a client come to me, I

inevitably find they’re right. I agree

that when you think you know

everything as a professional that is a

very dangerous position.

M: I now think that if a professional

you have instructed doesn't 'get' what

you're saying, they are not right for you

and find someone else.

S: There are so few resources. The

women’s organisations are completely

stretched and so where do people go

for that specialist knowledge? Also

many of the therapists are still in

training so they are still learning and

there is a limit to their understanding.

M: That’s true. I’ve seen that a lot and

although the support is better than

nothing, I sometimes wonder if it is

adequate and certainly if it is

specialised enough.

S: There was a complete lack of

understanding and knowledge of

where to get on-going professional

mental health support. I have a

running joke with people that no

amount of CBT is going to get that

abuser out of your life, it’s like you can

do all the internal work you want but

it’s not going to be exactly what you

need – that understanding of the

dynamics of abuse and what’s exactly

happening and the power and the

control. You need that to make sense

of that to move forward.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: My experience is that mental health

support and domestic abuse support

don’t fall under the same umbrella,

they are very separate and so any

victim survivor isn’t necessarily getting

access to all of the support they need

and are having to make multiple

applications to get it.

S: Usually women’s organisations give

immediate crisis help and then, if your

life is at risk of harm they can help you

get to safety. All the resources are

focussed at that junction which makes

complete sense because pragmatically,

that’s the area where they have to

focus. Mental health within the NHS is

already stretched and the historical

M: If you could have 3 wishes, what

would you choose?

S: I would wish that every

psychological practitioner that is

qualified have training and knowledge

about this topic and there would be no

victim blaming in that and if they

didn’t feel qualified, they would refer

onto someone who was. I also wish

there was a network for survivors to

identify these professionals that they

knew they could trust and who

understood these issues so they

wouldn’t keep having to explain them

– legal professionals, mental health

professionals- something that says this

person gets it and is on your side and

" What I think is why not integrate the psychological trauma knowledge

and feminist understanding? Why do we have to keep them separate?

We need elements of both."

clinical training is coming from a

privileged male perspective and a

medical model that ignores systemic

issues and power. Looking at the

theories, they are all written by white

men. Judith Herman, a specialist on

recovery from trauma and feminist,

was not mandatory reading. What I

think is why not integrate the

psychological trauma knowledge and

feminist understanding? Why do we

have to keep them separate? We need

elements of both. It’s about embracing

the best of both and making THAT the

best approach for survivors. And stop

the victim blaming. Psychology is a

product of our world and the victim

blaming is reflected in our practice and

that needs to change.

will fight for you. Being able to

distinguish the victim from the

perpetrator – that is a big issue. My

third wish would be that there is easier

access for support for survivors post

leaving, for that five year recovery

period after leaving. Resources and

tools not only for themselves but for

their families, for their children.

Things they could send to others who

didn’t understand, some guidance on

how to navigate those initial years post

separation which I think is really


M: That is so important, as those are

the years where the repair work is

done and the right kind of therapeutic

intervention is so crucial.

Making The Invisible Visible

Zoe Dronfield




Dronfield is a prominent campaigner and activist

as well as a mother and business woman. She has

worked with the government, police and industry

professionals supporting system changes and

lobbying government for law change.

M: Many in the UK are familiar with your campaigning work but, for the

benefit of the readers who don’t, could you talk a little about how it came


Z: I’ll start off with my story and how I got to here. In 2014 I was almost

murdered by Jason Smith. I had been in a relationship with him for just over a

year and I was trying to end the relationship. It started off like any other,

where you've got the honeymoon period, where you're happy and everything's

fine but obviously you do a lot of thinking when something horrific happens

and looking back, knowing what I now know of domestic abuse and stalking,

there were red flags very much from the start that I probably chose to ignore

or reframe as flattery. For the very first date we went to my local pub, he

dropped me home afterwards and the next day he turned up at the house. He

was just passing by and wanted to say ‘hi’. I brushed that off as him being a bit

keen, but he was stepping over boundaries from day one. So I brushed that off

and continued to date him and everything seemed fine, he seemed like a very

nice guy, he had a daughter who was six at the time, my daughter was four and

my son was eight, he worked in car sales, I used to work in car sales, so we had

that in common and then my father got really ill. My father lived with me and

also helped me with the kids and one morning he said he couldn’t feel his legs

and ended up in intensive care.

I grew up without a mother, I lost my mum to cancer when I was six years old

and I was a single mum with the two children. The children have got different

fathers and both of them live a bit away from me, so I was pretty much doing

everything myself. I'd been with Jason for about three or four months and that

was his way in. He said he could help out with the kids as his job was flexible

and he could take them to school and he kind of became my saviour and made

himself indispensable. Lots of my friends kind of validated that at the time,

telling me that Jason was amazing but things were niggling me, like he was

quite jealous and he had to know where I was at all time. To be honest, I

wasn’t going anywhere, I work from home and if I’m out of the home, I’d be in

a meeting.

Making The Invisible Visible

Everything was fine for a number of

months, but then all of a sudden, he

just started to change and there were

certain things, the red flags that I

ignored. People were saying I can't

believe you’re with someone like him,

but I didn't really understand it, I just

thought people were nosy and then he

lost his job and started being around

the house in the day and then drinking

in the week. It got to the point where I

was like, I really can't have this around

the children. I wasn’t in a great

relationship with the father of one of

my children, I lost my business, our

relationship had broken down and I

had moved back home with my dad

and had the police out to him.

He just wasn’t taking no for an answer

and he carried on contacting me over

and over again on Facebook,

Whatsapp, leaving voicemails, text

messages, you know, leaving me these

big long text messages which were

words to songs and things. In the end,

I ended up calling the police and said

he just won't stop contacting me. I had

come from the point of feeling sorry

for him to having to park my car a few

streets away from my house. I thought

if he didn't see my car, he would just

go away, but he’d be banging on the

door anyway. So this went on and I

contacted the police and they said turn

your phone off, Well I can’t really turn

my phone off as I’ve got children.

"People were saying I can't believe you’re with someone like him, but I

didn't really understand it, I just thought people were nosy."

He had caused me a lot of emotional

trauma and I think that, growing up

without a mum, having already been in

an abusive relationship, once my Dad

became ill and because I was on my

own with two children, I was probably

quite vulnerable. When Jason started

changing his behaviour, I kind of said,

look, I'm not having this again, I've

been here, I’m not doing this again and

you need to leave. He was fine and

went to stay with his parents, but then

it was like a switch. He changed and

then started acting really erratic and it

was just bizarre. He'd be calling me

and if I didn't answer the phone, he'd

be furious. Keep calling, calling, and

calling. Well I’m working in the day, so

I can’t keep answering the phone every

five minutes, so, I was getting annoyed

with him, so I told him we should just

end it.

What if there's an emergency at

school? When I did turn the phone off,

he would just turn up, so it wasn't good

advice really, to tell me to turn the

phone off because he would then

present himself outside my house and

I’d then have to call the police and say

he's outside my house. He'd be outside

the house, shouting up to let him in,

saying if I didn't let him in, he was

going to come through the door. I

played the voicemail to the police, the

ones saying I love you, I'm sorry and

then the next one saying if you don't

open the door, I'm going to come

through anyway, and then another one

saying I'm going now, going, you

know, pretending to kill himself. Well,

I now know that that's a massive red

flag and a risk marker to homicide, so I

was in great danger.

Making The Invisible Visible

Also, what you've got to remember is

at this point I didn't know that Smith

is a serial offender. So when my story

went into the press, 13 women came

forward to say that they'd been in a

relationship with Smith and they all

found him to be a stalker and abusive.

Ten years prior to me, he'd been in

prison for harassment of a police

officer he was in a relationship with.

He only got done for harassment and

got three months but the charges were

actually rape, burglary and holding her

hostage. The charges were terrible but

they got dropped because there was

not enough evidence.

We’d had an argument in one of those

days where he was in one of his black

moods, where he shook me into a

dressing table. I ended up blaming

myself. You kind of end up blaming

yourself, excusing abusive behaviours.

He broke my ribs before but I never

thought I was a victim of crime, I

wasn't a victim. I didn't sit there

thinking, I'm a victim of domestic

abuse because it wasn't something that

was even in my vocabulary back then. I

said I had called the police and he

needed to run, so he ran off. The police

picked him up and kept him for

criminal damage but were saying that I

don't need to press charges and it was

up to me.

" So when my story went into the press, 13 women came forward to say

that they'd been in a relationship with Smith and they all found him to be

a stalker and abusive."

She was really vilified, victim blaming

again, because she's a police officer

working with domestic abuse and they

said you should know better, what

were you playing at? Even when he got

out, he turned up back up at the house

and this continued and bearing in

mind I didn't know all of that

information at this point, I’m calling

the police and they are saying they

can't do anything. One Saturday

afternoon I came home, I was with my

daughter, and he appeared at the back

window and I could see him in the

garden. I jumped and screamed and he

just ran around the side of the house

and started kicking the door so I

immediately called the police. At this

point I wasn't actually fearful of him as

I never thought he would ever hurt me.

He never showed any aggression

towards me previously.

Well, he had smashed my whole door

in and I needed to claim on my

insurance so of course I was pressing


M: It’s astonishing that the police had

his back history and they still didn’t

think he was a problem?

Z: Exactly. I've got an ongoing case

with the police at the moment. They

say they collect information on serial

perpetrators, what's the point in

collecting information, Min, if they

don't do anything with it? It's just a

book on a shelf, isn't it? I mean, it's

just pointless. The point of collecting

information is that you use that

information to reduce offending.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: Honestly, Zoe, it just beggars belief

and I can’t get my head around it at all.

Were the other women, in different


Z: No, all in the same area.

M: Jesus wept.

Z: Within a three mile radius of where

I live and one of his victims lives at the

top of my road.

M: I knew what happened to you was

bad but this is so much worse than I


Z: I know.

M: You think that, maybe, with

different police forces they don’t share

information with each other.

Z: No, same police force and, at the

time, you still had a right to know.

They could have warned me of the fact

that he'd been to prison and everything

else. Not only did the police know, CPS

knew, the courts knew, but the fact is

that they had put me down as a

standard risk.

M: Standard risk? He would have had

a probation office and everything,

bloody hell.

Z: So, that happened with the door,

and then literally, they let him out on

bail, and he just carried on so I just

thought, what's the point in ringing the

police? They're not going to do

anything. I thought you know what?

I'm going to speak to him myself. I'm

going to meet him, I'm going to speak

to him and I'm going to talk sense into

him. I did not know I was putting

myself in that much danger.

Making The Invisible Visible

I've been in a relationship with him for

over a year, I never thought he would

hurt me directly. Obviously, there was

fear there, because of the way he was

behaving, but more so for my children.

I didn't want them to see him behaving

in that way. I went and met him and

we sat and had dinner, and it was like

he was the normal Jason I'd met at the

beginning. I said what are you doing?

Why are you contacting me so many

times? If I'm busy, I can't answer, I will

call you back. I've had to call the

police, you've smashed my door in. At

this point, I'm not frightened of him,

I'm angry, to be honest with you. I'm

quite a feisty person, so I was saying

you’d better pack it is because I'll call

the police again and he was like, No, I

understand, I'm really sorry, I'm

having a really bad time. What you've

got to remember is that you're invested

in a relationship, he’d met my

children, he’d practically moved in and

I felt sorry for him, and he was like,

look, I've got these interviews lined up

for Jaguar and I'm going to get myself

back into work, sort myself out. I

thought that was really good news and

he wanted to show me the emails. I

had a glass of wine with dinner and he

ended up driving the car back. There

was no inkling of what was going to

happen next and I would never have

foreseen that he was going to do that to

me. I remember when I came around, I

immediately was like, what happened?

We sat at mine talking about stuff, I

had won a bottle of champagne at

work, so I opened it and I'm like, look

what you've done to the door. I'm

happy to draw a line but I'm still going

press charges, you can't just go around

doing that and I have to be seen to be

pressing charges or I can't claim for

the door.

Making The Invisible Visible

He was totally understanding, so I was

like, right, I'm going to go to bed,

either let yourself out or sleep on the

sofa, and that was it, I went to bed.

That wasn't unusual, when we were in

the relationship together, he would

stay or go whenever I went to bed. The

next thing I remember was being

woken to him, kicking me from one

side of the bed to the other with his

shoes on and I just remember saying in

this normal voice, what are you doing

that for? Then it was just thud, thud,

thud on my head and I just must have

blacked out.The next thing I remember

is coming around, sort of slumped over

the side of the bed, and I looked down

at my hands and they just were a mess.

story when it went to court. He came

in the room and said what are you

doing? I said I was getting a drink of

water and he walked me back up the

stairs and I then started pleading for

my life. There's a 13 minute 999 call,

I've got the transcript, it's actually

horrific reading it because I'm

pleading for my life saying please help

me, help me, I'm dying. The next thing

I remember is we were downstairs, I

don't know how we got down there and

I was stretchered out. He had opened

the door, let the ambulance in and I

remember being in A&E and I could

hear him in the next bed. They'd

actually taken him to A&E as well,

which was frightening because

" I then started pleading for my life. There's a 13 minute 999 call, I've got the

transcript, it's actually horrific reading it because I'm pleading for my life saying

please help me, help me, I'm dying."

The back of my left hand had been

stabbed and there was blood

everywhere, my white sheets were

covered, literally the whole thing

sodden, my right arm had been broken

and I could feel my head was

enormous. I looked over and he was

sitting at the other side of the bed with

a meat cleaver, doing a chopping

action to his wrists and saying we're

going together babe and it was like an

adrenalin rush. I was like, I'm not

going anywhere, I have got two

children. I thought he's going to kill

me and I never thought he was capable

of that. He had taken my mobile off me

and I thought if I can get downstairs,

to the landline, I can press 999 and the

police will see that it's my address and

will turn up. I pressed 999 but that call

never connected but there was blood

on the phone that corroborated my

obviously of what just happened. I

remember coming around in the

hospital bed and I was just in shock, I

just never thought that he would ever

do that to me but then when my story

went in the paper and the women

contacted me, everything started

clicking into place. At one point some

girl had sent me a message on

Facebook saying he was messaging her

mum, threatening her saying that he's

a police officer and saying all this

random stuff and, at the time, I was in

a relationship with Jason and

everything was fine and at this point

there had never been any odd

behaviour, so I just thought she was

some crazy person and I didn’t believe

her. Then this other girl said all these

kinds of things and it just started

clicking into place.

Making The Invisible Visible

Jason had told me pretty much

straight away, when we started seeing

each other, about this police officer

and that she was crazy and the usual

thing that I now know, if they’re

starting to say that their exes are crazy,

it usually means that they're the ones

that are crazy, you know?

I'm in hospital recovering from stab

wounds in my neck that were a

millimetre from my jugular, broken

arm, stab wounds to the back of my

left hand which almost pierced

through to the palm of my hand, my

head completely swollen, laceration

marks to my face, my torso, a broken

nose, cracked cheekbone, bleed on the

brain and I'd lost two pints of blood

and I get served with papers saying

your daughter has been removed. I

literally don't think that I could ever be

at a lower point in my life because that,

in itself, was worse than the attack, to

actually punish me with my daughter

was horrific. I had to discharge myself

from hospital, where I’d been for two

weeks and they didn't want me to leave

hospital, they said that it wasn't wise,

but I had to go fight for my daughter

because I'm not a bad mother and the

children have a great life and yes,

they've got different fathers, but I

raised them to be so close because of

that, and she was four at the time and

she was devastated.

"He was taunting me, like putting her on the phone crying and saying “I

want my Mummy” and he was like, look what you've done now."

The story doesn't even end there,

because whilst I was in my hospital

bed, my daughter's dad served me with

family court papers. Bear in mind that

he was abusive as well, but I wouldn't

even have labelled him as that because

I didn’t know enough about that kind

of stuff, so he served me with papers

for custody and he got interim custody

from the family court. No evidence, no

nothing, just the fact that I was a

victim of domestic abuse and custody

handed directly to him, splitting up her

and her brother.

He was taunting me, like putting her

on the phone crying and saying “I want

my Mummy” and he was like, look

what you've done now. I didn't do the

violence against myself, I didn't know

that Jason was capable of that.

M: Was he having contact with your

daughter beforehand?

Z: Yeah, he pretty much had her half

the week.

Making The Invisible Visible

It wasn't great and that was one of the

things that he used to try and control

but, at the end of the day, I have no

problem with him having contact with

his daughter, but that's the point, it's

like he wasn't seeing his daughter but

he had her half the week! He then

decided that he was going to move to

Dubai and this is a guy who has got no

qualifications, but he was going out

there to do real estate because a friend

was living out there. He put the

application into the court, to have our

daughter removed from the

jurisdiction and taken to Dubai. Can

you imagine? I was petrified. If she

gets to Dubai, she's not coming home.

There's no Hague Convention over

there, the father's voice supersedes the

mother’s voice all day long so, you

know, I was absolutely petrified. Not

only was I dealing with that, I turned

up at court and tried to explain to the

judge but she wouldn't even let me

speak. She just took one look at me,

we're both litigants in person, I was

still bruised and my family has brought

me clothes that weren't appropriate for

court. I wasn't in a suit, I was in like

this fluffy jumper, I looked terrible and

she took one look at me and made an

assumption. I'd already written to the

judge, but I did it from a hospital bed

with two bandaged arms.

M: Was social services involved?

Z: No, no, they weren't involved. I've

never had social services involved in

my life. When the judge handed over

custody to my daughter’s dad, I then

got a legal team and spent £14,000

and I've now got full residency, we

were apart four months and it was


Making The Invisible Visible

I truly believe that had I not had the

means to fight, I would have lost her

because there are just too many stories

of mothers that lose custody of their

children because they're victims of

domestic abuse and they don't have

any financial means to get legal

representation, you're somehow

perceived to be to blame if there's

violence towards you as a mother. So

that was going on and one Saturday

afternoon I got a phone call and I

answered it, and it was like, “Hi babe,

it's me.” It was Jason calling me from


M: Oh my God.

that they've got no regard for the law at

all if they're continuing from inside. I

had loads of missed calls from an

unknown number, I didn't answer

them and then one day a mobile

number rang and I answered it and it

was him, he'd forgotten to withhold

the number, so as soon as I put the

phone down I called the police officer

who was in charge of the case. I told

them Jason had just rung, here is the

mobile number and now you can check

the mast that it pinged off. They did a

check and it was the mast near the

prison he was in, so we had him for

witness intimidation, but even then, he

said I was trying to stitch him up.

"One Saturday afternoon I got a phone call and I answered it, and it was

like, “Hi babe, it's me.” It was Jason calling me from prison."

Z: The absolute delusion, hi babe. I

was like, pardon me? You tried to kill

me? This is where he showed his true

colours because I still couldn't quite

believe it in my own head. Well Zoe, if

I wanted you dead, you’d be dead.

What are you doing? Are you going to

court if you're going to go to court I

want to know, there's people in here

who can come and have a word with

you. I was like, right, put the phone

down, call the police. Okay, now he's

contacting me from prison with a

smuggled phone, it was unknown

number, this is witness intimidation,

and again, the police said don't answer

the phone. I said, but it is witness

intimidation, how are you telling me

not to answer the phone? Shouldn't

you be recording my calls? Tap my

phone? I know you can do it. Why

can't you? Witness intimidation shows

I must have sent somebody to the

prison to make that call, I mean the

elaborate stories that come out are


M: I'm so glad you got through that. I

knew your story, or I thought I did but

I had no idea that it was so much

worse than I imagined.

Z: Yeah, it’s crazy, isn’t it?

M: The thing I can’t get my head

around was why your ex got residency,

I mean weren’t your children being

looked after by their Dads anyway?

Z: Yes, so I have a great relationship

with my son’s father and my daughter

was with her dad.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: You’d think that any normal person

would say I’m so sorry that happened,

I’ll have the kids until you’re better

and not give you additional stuff. Z:

Exactly, that's a normal response for a

normal person but he’s an abusive

person as well. He saw that as an

opportunity to punish me for ending

the relationship and when he served

me with papers, he walked into the

hospital room, bear in mind you've

probably seen the pictures of how

battered I was, he walked into the

hospital room with a bunch of flowers,

came over to my bed, and whispered in

my ear.

Z: As soon as my daughter was old

enough to have a phone and

communicate with him directly, I

completely cut contact with him. When

I got residency back from the judge, he

said, Oh, I do hope that in years to

come, you two can make amends and

maybe sit down and have coffee

together and I thought, you're deluded,

if you think that will ever happen. You

know, to take my daughter at a time

where I was almost murdered is

absolutely the lowest of the low,

Honestly Min, and I say this to people,

and they can’t believe it, I would go

through being attacked again then go

through family court.

"He whispered in my ear “You've done it now,

you'll never see her again.” "

Both my dad and my friends were in

the room and he whispered in my ear

“You've done it now, you'll never see

her again.” I never understood what he

meant because I hadn't opened the

envelope, he’d just left it at the end of

the bed and walked out. That's the

thing, I wasn't just dealing with one

abuser, and I think people struggle

with it, because I was dealing with two

abusers at the same time, and it’s

difficult for people to grasp, especially

when you're doing things in the news,

you literally get a couple of minutes to

talk so it’s hard to get it all across. It

just goes to show that they'll go to any


M: Yeah, he literally waited until you

were rock bottom before he pulled the

rug from under you.

That was the worst part, being

branded a bad mother because it

couldn’t be further from the truth, my

children have a fantastic life. When I

got legal representation and realised

how the system worked, it soon got

turned round the other way and all of

the police reports, there were about

four from my daughter’s dad, where

he’s been abusive and drunk in the

house, and I’ve had to get him

removed from the house, those came

to light. It turns out, and I didn’t know

this either, that my daughter’s father

has a criminal history and he’d been to

prison, which I didn’t know about. I

had no idea. He’d been to prison for

driving offences and one was for

leaving the scene of an accident. He

got sent to prison for that, who gets

sent to prison for driving offences?

Making The Invisible Visible

They couldn’t recognise the red flags

either and I have experienced this

personally and know so many people

this has happened to but people don’t

recognise the love bombing and all the

early stuff as a red flag. They invariably

think that the person is wonderful and

then, of course, when things go wrong,

you think it’s you because your friends

think the person who is abusing you is

an absolutely saint.

Z: I was raised on Cinderella, Sleeping

Beauty, how the Prince is going to save

me and that is to your detriment

because you’re constantly looking out

and seeking out a man to save you. I

didn’t need frigging saving, I would

have been better off on my own.

He consistently flouts the law so I was

literally dealing with a narcissistic

sociopath and a narcissistic

psychopath, so I literally went out of

the frying pan and into the fire, but I’m

here to tell the tale.

M: I’m so glad you are, what happened

to you has actually left me speechless.

Z: I grew up without a mother and I

had nobody to give me guidance but I

was a tough cookie, I mean in business

I’m a tough person but I think in

relationships, I’m quite naïve. I take

people at face value and that was

abused and that vulnerability was used

against me. It’s so annoying reading

other people’s stories, it’s like they

come from the same damn abuse


M: It is, it really is. The one thing I was

going to ask you was on how your

friends validated Jason.

M: That’s right. I grew up with the idea

that if boys were mean to you, it was

because they fancied you and they

weren’t emotionally mature enough to

be able to tell you properly, but would

let you know by pulling your pigtails,

pushing you over or calling you


Z: It’s wrong, isn’t it? When Jason was

picking me up at the beginning of the

date, in the courting part, he was

picking me up in brand new cars and

telling me they were company cars,

well, I later found out that he was

hiring those cars but, as a busy

woman, as a business woman, as a

mother, I’m not going to have a look at

your log book and ask is that your car?

You take people at face value.

M: Tell me about the book you’re

writing. When is it coming out?

Z: I’ve literally just done the first

manuscript and I’m hoping to have it

published in October.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: I will look forward to reading that.

Sam Billingham

Founder of SODA



Billingham is a survivor and a prominent

campaigner who started a support group. She also

writes a column for a local newspaper.

M: You’re the founder of SODA and a prominent campaigner in the UK, could

you tell me a little of how SODA came about?

S: When I escaped my abusive relationship back in 2006, I had a 10 month old

daughter. I enrolled us both in all the groups that were available, at a local

Sure Start centre, because I wanted my daughter to mix with other children. A

volunteer coordinator there planted a seed and I ended up volunteering at that

same Sure Start. One day she asked me if I had ever thought about helping

others and I remember thinking that no, I'd never thought of that. Because at

that point in my life, I hadn’t thought of anything really, I was just trying to

find my feet again, but the more I thought about helping others, the more I

wanted to because, during my own personal experience, I had no one there to

help me, I had no helpline number, I never saw a poster, there was just

nothing and I just wanted to be the support that I never had really. SODA,

which stands for Survivors of Domestic Abuse, started off as a Facebook group

and there are now just over 800 members worldwide who use the support

group as a safe haven. They come into the group, they can chat openly with

people who really understand what they're experiencing and what they're

going through, so that really was the start of SODA.

M: Wow, that's amazing. I remember, it would have been in 2011, I was

advised by a social worker to go on a Freedom Programme course, so she

obviously recognised that I was a victim of abuse even though, at the time, it

hadn’t really occurred to me. When I was on the course, there were all these

SODA posters on the wall.

S: Wow. Wow, that's amazing. Gosh, I'd never heard of Freedom Programme

when I left my relationship. The support I had was an eight week awareness

course and I had to do it, because I was referred by social services. I didn't

want to do it, but obviously, social services were involved and if I didn't do it, I

was just fearful that they would take my daughter away from me.

Making The Invisible Visible

“the one exercise we had to do was talk about the

good things about our perpetrator."

The most support was actually sitting

there in a room full of other survivors

who were all at different stages of our

journey and after that whole

experience, there's just one thing that

15/16 years down the line has stuck

with me, the one exercise we had to do

was talk about the good things about

our perpetrator. I was absolutely

mortified by this because I couldn't

think of anything good for a start and

two, I didn’t want to think about him

anymore. That didn't feel right to me, I

just wanted to move forward with my

life, not necessarily go backwards and I

felt that eight week awareness course

wasn't support for me. I heard about

the Freedom Programme by setting up

SODA and being a campaigner,

otherwise I've never heard of it before.

M: I just remember sitting there, in the

middle of this group, and there were

all these SODA posters offering coffee

morning support sessions. It was long

time ago and then when I finally got

out of that relationship and started

organising that very first conference in

2015, I remember being so excited

when I came across you on Twitter,

and you’d just been voted one of the

most influential Twitter accounts in

the West Midlands and yeah, I used to

read your blog and for years I called

you SODA Sam.

S: That’s amazing, I love it.

M: Do you still have the blog?

S: I have but I haven't done any

Making The Invisible Visible

that situation, it's like you're oblivious

to everything that's happening, I was

blamed for everything, it was all my

fault if I hadn’t said this, if I hadn’t

said that, if I hadn’t worn that, if I

hadn’t gone out, if I hadn’t phoned my

mum - but these are all normal things

that people do in their everyday life,

phoning my mum, there's absolutely

nothing wrong with that at all but my

perpetrator made everything sinister

and he made everything that I did,

have a consequence. It mentally drains

you because it doesn't make sense but

you go along with it, you do what you

have to do to try and stay safe, even

though it's not making sense at all.

blogging for ages and ages. And I used

to blog quite often, as you obviously


M: It's a fantastic resource and reading

it really made me think about my own

situation. It's one of the resources that

helped me in my understanding of

what I was going through, because , I

don't know about you, but for a long

time, I was convinced, or rather he'd

convinced me, that it was all my fault,

that I was the one with the issue, that I

was mentally ill, I was paranoid, that it

was really hard work being with me

and that no one else would put up with

me, and if it wasn't for the stuff that I

did, we'd be fine and the only reason

the relationship wasn't okay, was

because of me. I don't know if any of

that rings a bell.

S: Yeah, it really does, but I couldn't

see it at the time, because abuse is

really complex to explain to people

who've never been there, because I

don't know about other people, I think

now, it just sounds ludicrous, but in

M: I think the thing that really struck

me looking back now, not just with

myself, but talking to many other

survivors as well, is that we didn't

realise we were victims, because we

thought it was all our fault. So, even if

we have seen the Women's Aid posters,

and even if we had seen adverts for

support groups, we wouldn't have been

able to relate as we didn’t see ourselves

as being in that situation. The way it

was framed was that he was the victim,

you know, if I wasn't such a bitch, if I

wasn't so stupid, if I wasn’t so

paranoid or if I didn't have so many

issues…all of these things are being

done to him, poor him.

S: Yeah, absolutely. I'm nodding here

because again, I can totally

understand. He’d had so many bad

relationships and they were all awful to

him and I could never understand his

childhood because I didn't have it as

bad he did. I couldn't possibly

understand anything about him

because he'd had it worse than me,


Making The Invisible Visible

M: And those are massive red flags for

anyone to watch out for. Listening to

you, I’ve remembered another massive

red flag - all of his exes had cheated on

him, all his ex-wives were violent to

him, he had to call the police on

several of his relationships. I

remember him telling me that the first

girlfriend he lived with, he called the

police because he said she had been

violent. It turns out that she had

returned home late and he had locked

her out and thrown all of her stuff out

of the window and when she couldn’t

get her key to work, to try and get back

into her own home, and she started

banging on the door, he called the

police on her claiming she was violent

M: And that’s a massive red flag, if

they go on about how awful their exes

are, and, and how badly they've been

treated. That's arguably the biggest red

flag and one that often comes up on

the first date.

S: Yeah, absolutely. When we first met,

when it was still the honeymoon

period, and everything is so exciting

and so new, I was oblivious to what

was happening and fell hook line and

sinker for everything he said.

M: It trains you into being not like the

other women and you find yourself

biting your tongue and not saying

anything because this poor guy’s had

"He had three children with three different women..None of them would

let him see his child, because they were all bitches and then you think,

oh no, how awful, what a shame, and then I learned why."

and going to attack him. At the time I

did not see this as a huge red flag. He

was there, voice shaking and in tears

and I just felt really sorry for this guy. I

couldn’t believe how unlucky he was to

have met all these awful women.

S: Yes, They groom you into that early,

I feel. It was exactly the same, he had

three children with three different

women and they were all bitches and

they had all cheated on him. None of

them would let him see his child,

because they were all bitches and then

you think, oh no, how awful, what a

shame, and then I learned why.

M: And then you became an extra


S: I was just going to say that, then I

became a bitch as well.

so much to cope with and you don't

want to give him extra. It's about time

he had a nice relationship and you

couldn't possibly say something or do

anything that might cause him

concern, so you end up bottling up an

awful lot. He's doing all these things,

but you feel you can’t say anything,

because it feels really petty, and it

builds up. Thinking back, these things

weren't petty at all. The good thing is

that we are both out of that now. What

are you up to these days?

S: I started working as a part time

admin in October 2019, for a local

family run business. I had found it

quite difficult as a single parent. to get

back into the workplace because even

though people thought I was confident,

I didn't have a lot of self-esteem or

self-confidence but I really wanted to

Making The Invisible Visible

get back into the workplace because

that used to be my safety net. I loved

working and that was taken away from

me by my ex perpetrator, when he

locked me in the flat and threw my

mobile phone out of the window, so I

couldn’t call in sick. Two days later,

when I managed to escape the flat, I

went back to work and I was sacked

instantly. I'd tried to explain to my

boss what was happening to me at

home, even though I didn’t quite know

myself, but he just didn't want to


I then threw myself into motherhood,

and then started SODA, which I am

doing on a voluntary basis and finally

in 2019, I found an admin job. They

knew all about the work I did and I

even managed to get a domestic abuse

policy in place for them but like a lot of

other people, because of the pandemic,

I struggled quite a lot with my mental

health. It was a huge trigger for me, if

I’m honest. The lockdown reminded

me of living, well not living, because I

didn't live, it reminded me of existing

with my perpetrator all over again. The

only place we could really go was

shopping. So for me when I was a

victim of domestic abuse, the only

place I could go was shopping and

even if I did go shopping, I was

bombarded with phone calls and text

messages, so for me personally,

COVID was a huge trigger. I had a very

supportive boss who knew all about

SODA and had supported me many

years ago, but I just found it really,

really difficult to get back into the

workplace and I'd got no enthusiasm

and wasn’t into the work anymore, so

at the end of May of this year, I gave in

my notice, and I've decided to put all

my focus into SODA. Domestic abuse

is a priority and passion for me and I

want to support other people. I now

offer online support, one to one

support to anyone who is experiencing

domestic abuse, to give something

back to the community and to be that

support that I never had, it's just a

privilege, really, and I'm really

honoured to be in this position to do

this for other people.

M: That sounds amazing Sam, and I

totally get why you’re doing this. If

anyone wants to access the support

you provide, how would they get hold

of you?

S: I've got a website www.sodahq.co.uk

and all my contact details are there.

The support I give, it’s not a postcode

lottery, it doesn't matter what area

you’re from, if you need support.

Support is different for everyone, so I'll

get lots of people who might get in

touch on Twitter, or on Facebook,

some people are in my support group

and some people phone, just needing a

long chat with somebody who really

understands what they're going


Making The Invisible Visible

The support SODA gives is unique to

each individual who contacts us and

there's a variety of ways that people

can get in touch with SODA.

M: Oh, that's brilliant.

S:I just wanted to say as well, that the

one thing we can all do for victims of

domestic abuse is raise awareness

through our own personal experience.

So because of my experience with the

workplace, I'm an ambassador for an

organisation called Employers

Initiative on Domestic Abuse

(www.eida.org.uk) and they provide

free resources to employers who can

then support their staff, if they confide

in them that they're experiencing

domestic abuse, because I feel, when I

lost my job, my boss wasn’t very

understanding, he had no education

about domestic abuse and he didn't

realise that he put me in further

danger, because now I've got no reason

to leave home and no financial

independence to leave, if I wanting to.

I think it's really important for bosses

and companies to understand those

things to help keep their staff safe.

M: I've heard too many stories of

bosses who, as soon as one of their

employees has experienced domestic

violence, they literally get rid of them,

because it's too much hassle for them

and they don’t want to get involved.

S: I had a survivor contact me within

the last month saying exactly the same.

She worked for a very large and well

known company, and she got evidence

of everything that had happened at

work, and they just kind of pushed it

under the carpet and took the side of

the perpetrator.

Making The Invisible Visible

She had to leave in the end because

they weren't willing to put little things

in place to help keep her safe and it

really frustrates me because we can

still do our job, why should we be

punished by feeling that we've got to

leave or being sacked for something we

haven't done? They are just justifying

everything our perpetrators told us, for

example, no one's going to believe you.

It is one of the biggest reasons why

victims don't speak out, so when they

do finally speak out and the answer

they get is: we don't believe you, it

makes them feel their perpetrator was

right all along and don't know who to

trust or who to speak out to. I think it's

absolutely vital people join

I think there's only 5% of

workplaces that have a workplace

policy in place. It can be something as

simple as letting the victim know that

if they need to chat, that there is

somebody there, it's not a major thing

and that you've got to get directly

involved with the relationship, it's just

about listening, believing and

signposting. Paul Scully, the MP,

supports EIDA and the work they do.

He did an open letter, I think it was the

beginning of this year, to all

employers, basically saying, you don't

have to be their counsellor or anything

like that, it's just little things like

victims knowing that they can come

and chat to you, if they feel the need,

"They all thought he had popped in and he was really lovely

but he was checking if I was at work when I said I was,

he wasn't being a delightful partner at all."

organisations like EIDA. They provide

free resources for members and it

doesn't cost anything. You get access to

networking events and really vital


M: It’s really important that employers

understand. Both backache and

domestic abuse account for a huge

number of staff absences so it is in the

employers’ interest to understand and

support their staff. I've heard from

quite a few survivors who work in the

police, who are social workers, foster

carers, teachers, lawyers, and they

won't speak up or disclose their

domestic abuse because they're

worried about being sacked. It's really


and things that they can put in place to

help keep their staff safe, for example,

simply changing the time of their

dinner break. My perpetrator used to

come to my workplace unannounced

and to everybody, they all thought he

had popped in and he was really lovely

but he was checking if I was at work

when I said I was, he wasn't being a

delightful partner at all. These kinds of

things are really, really important

because victims are being punished for

something they haven't done.

M: One of the things I've always

thought would be really, really easy to

implement, is just to have a little quiet

space where if someone gets upset they

can go and have a little cry.

S: The statistics are on the EIDA


Making The Invisible Visible

They don't want to have a cry in the

bloody toilet. Just a quiet space with

tissues, away from everyone, just so

someone can take 20 minutes if they

need to, and to compose themselves

before getting back to their desk and

for someone to ask discretely, is

everything ok? No one wants to sit on

the toilet crying silently, then walk

back to their desk, ignored by

colleagues too embarrassed to say


S: Nobody ever asked me if I was ok.

So for those three years, I was with my

ex perpetrator, nobody ever asked me

that. Lots of people knew what I was

going through, what he was like, but

nobody ever asked. I might not have

said something straight away, I might

not have disclosed straight away but it

would have planted a seed for me

because that person just took an

interest in me. So yeah, it's something

like having a little staff room that's got

tissues, and a comfy chair, which is

what SODA has now.

I’ve got a small office, some tissues, a

few candles and if anyone needs to use

it as a safe space, then that's what it's

for. They can just come in, take 5-10

minutes, have a glass of water, have a

cup of tea, gather your thoughts, make

a phone call and that’s it. That is what

a victim needs. I think a lot of people

have the attitude that they can’t get

involved. It's not about getting

involved. It's just having a little bit of

knowledge and understanding and just

asking that question. ‘Is everything

okay?’ SODA has collaborated with a

beauty salon. So where our offices are,

it’s a very busy hairdressers, beauty

salon and a florist and the staff are

asking more in depth questions,

haven’t seen you for a while, how are

you? Is everything okay? Things like

that, where it's not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’

answer. It gives victims the

opportunity, to open up and tell them

things are not ok, if they want to. It

gives both men and women the

opportunity to pop in, if they need to

talk to someone, if they need to access

support, services or anything at all,

they can always call.

M: I think that is amazing. A lot of

people already have that trust with

their hairdresser, so it is a natural

progression to build on that

relationship. It is also often easier to

open up at a hairdresser as the whole

relationship is quite intimate as there

is touch involved in the washing and

cutting process and I think it creates

an environment where it’s easier to be

able to open up.

S: The reason I collaborated with the

salon is because of the Cut It Out

campaign. Someone confided in her

hairdresser and a few weeks later, she

was stabbed her to death. A lot of

people have got a trusting relationship

Making The Invisible Visible

"I always say awareness is one thing

we can all give to victims

of domestic abuse."

with their hairdresser. You go in every

week or every month, and you build up

a relationship.

M: I think it's a fantastic initiative.

S: You're coming to have your haircut,

you're coming in to have your hair

coloured, you're not necessarily going

in for domestic abuse support, it’s not

obvious why you’re coming in to the

salon because sometimes it can put

people off, going to services with

people knowing why you’re there,

whereas here, you could be here for

many reasons. We've also got support

from our local town centre, a group of

local women supporting the Cut It Out


We've got over 20 hairdressers and

beauty professionals who want to

support the campaign and made links

with our local college and we're hoping

to get the domestic abuse awareness

accredited on the beauty and

hairdressing courses at our local

college, so we're really pushing the

campaign in our area. Something like

Cut It Out Campaign is vital, raising

awareness for everyone. I always say

awareness is one thing we can all give

to victims of domestic abuse.

M:That's very true.

For more on

Sam Billingham:


Making The Invisible Visible

Brian Reilly

Process Server at NCDV

“For most people we can get that support and

get them an injunction and it won't

cost the victim a penny."

M: What is a process server and what

do you do?

B: I work for the National Centre for

Domestic Violence (or NCDV). When a

court has granted an order, and if the

person who is the abuser lives in my

location, then NCDV will contact me to

serve the order on the person. If I'm

available, based on the fact that we try

to complete the process from start to

finish within 24 hours, they will then

either send me the paperwork or ask

me to go to the local court to pick the

paperwork up.

I'll read through it so I’ve got an

understanding of what it is I'm dealing

with, then I will then phone up the

victim, introduce myself and ask some

further questions. There are two

reasons for this: number one, so that I

know what I'm walking in to and

whether I will need police support;

number two, to get an idea of the

person’s lifestyle so I can serve the

order as soon as possible (ideally on

my first visit).

I’ll ask for a picture of them, their

mobile number and email address, etc.

I will sometimes turn up at the address

and wait until I see the car outside or

the house lights are on or the curtains

are drawn, then knock on the door and

see if a person is actually in.

M: Here's a question that I'm not

100% sure about, when you're serving

the papers, am I right in thinking that

it has to touch a person?

B: That’s what the television would

have you believe but no, it doesn't. The

family courts have been really agile,

particularly during with pandemic, so

most of the orders that I've served in

the last 12 to 16 months have been

served remotely. The court has allowed

me to use what they call substituted

service, which means I can do it over

the phone, email, WhatsApp. I need to

be sure that I'm speaking to the right

person, they understand the details

contained in the order and they have

received a copy of it from me. I will

then do a statement detailing this

Making The Invisible Visible

process and then the court will accept

that the order has been served


M: I think that's a really good idea. I've

always thought that literally having to

touch someone made it very


B: I have to take my hat off and say

that the family courts have been

incredibly sensible with the way

they've approached the increase in

reporting during the Covid pandemic,

and the fact that people haven’t been

able to go out of their homes, or they

don't want to because there's a fear

that they might contract the virus.

This can be particularly unpredictable

if I'm serving an emergency order as it

means I'm knocking on somebody's

door and they know nothing about

what is coming. People can get

emotional or angry, sometimes they

can get aggressive. If I am allowed to

serve the order remotely then it just

takes away that flashpoint and

certainly reduces it to a great degree.

M: So out of all the injunctions that

you are involved in, I'm assuming the

non molestation orders are the ones

you're involved in the most, but what

is the breakdown of which orders are


"i've worked for NCDV for just over four years and in that time,

I've served somewhere in the region of

200 non- molestation orders."

Most court hearings I've been involved

with have been done remotely, either

over the telephone, Zoom or on

Microsoft Teams, so the victim hasn't

had to leave their house but still been

able to access the services at the court

and try and get this order granted.

M: Is there any indication that it's

going to stay like that when the world

gets back to normal?

B: Yeah, that's a really good question.

I’m guessing but some of my

colleagues and I think that the courts

might end up doing a mixture of both,

because I think it's more efficient for

them. It's safer for victims and actually

safer for me as a process server - I'm

not going around to somebody's house,

unannounced, and getting in that

potentially conflict situation.

B: I've worked for NCDV for just over

four years and in that time, I've served

somewhere in the region of 200 nonmolestation

orders. In that time I’ve

done maybe 10 occupation orders and

probably about the same for

prohibitive steps orders. So the most,

by far, are the non-molestation orders.

M: How long does an order last before

it needs to be renewed?

B: The ones I’ve done generally last for

12 months and the longest one that I

personally served was for five years,

which was fantastic protection for the

applicant. As well as process serving I

also deliver a free lecture to police and

organisations that deal with domestic

abuse on NCDV’s services.

Making The Invisible Visible

During one such presentation someone

told me of a 16 year old girl, who she'd

referred to us and the judge granted

the order against her 17 year old

abusive boyfriend for the rest of her

life. He said the level of risk that young

man posed for that young girl was so

great that he should never have contact

with her ever again. I think that shows

a fantastic safeguarding attitude from

the court, great to see they are taking

these situations really seriously.

M: What happens if the order expires

and needs to be renewed?

B: A person can apply for an extension

or a new order. NCDV would need to

So I was a police in London for 30

years. When going round to an address

to arrest somebody the last thing I

would want to do is for them to see me

walking up to the door, they run away

and disappear. It is very similar when

I'm serving an order, the last thing I

want is to do is give an abuser advance

warning that I am coming and end up

chasing them. All the time the order is

not served it’s not live so I want to

know, when I knock on the door, that

they are inside. So I’ll sit outside an

address some times and wait till I see

someone inside or their car pull up. I

remember serving one guy in a car

park where his ex-partner was

collecting their child from him.

" He said the level of risk that young man posed for that young girl was

so great that he should never have contact with her ever again."

convince the court there was a need for

it to be renewed or extended. I suppose

the easiest way to prove that there's a

need for an extension is if that order

has been breached within that

timescale and the victim still fears that

there's going to be some contact,

harassment or abuse. If somebody

then needs an extension or they think

they need a fresh order, they can get

back in touch with us and we'll do

everything we can to try and get that


M: Obviously it's a bit different now

with lockdown but I have to ask this

question, did you ever stake out


B: Yes, most definitely I have! Before

working for NCDV I was a police


I didn’t have an address for him so I

sat in the corner of the car park. I saw

him pull up and once he handed the

child over, I walked over to his car and

served him in his car.

M: Do you ever get scared?

B: The honest answer is yes – I try to

control whatever I can but people can

be unpredictable! I always phone the

applicant and find out what his

reaction is likely to be - I say ‘he’ but I

have served orders on women as well

as men. Some applicants have told me

their abuser will be angry and violent

so I'll ask for a description of him. If he

is described as 6 foot 4 and muscular

then of course that can be quite


Making The Invisible Visible

M: What made you decide to go into

process serving?

I think because of my previous police

experience, dealing with conflict on a

daily basis, I have a fair level of

confidence that I could deal with those

conflict situations. I don’t want to

tempt fate but as we speak, 200 orders

served and I've been pushed in the

chest once. So apart from people

shouting and swearing at me, that's the

extent of the level of force I've been

subjected to and I hope it stays that


M: Do you think it makes a difference

that you're not in uniform?

B: Yes I do, in my time in the police

sometimes people were angry not with

me as a person but with me as a police

officer. I’ve got a good understanding

of reading people's body language so

often I can predict when somebody is

going to be violent and then get myself

out of that conflict situation. I think

people see me as less of an authority

figure because I'm not in uniform and

potentially that takes away some of

that initial anger.

B: People have lots of different reasons

for joining the police and for me, I

always wanted to help and protect

people and that was my driver. During

my service I did all of it in uniform,

most of it in frontline policing, so I

dealt with an awful lot of people and

domestic violence/abuse situations.

Domestic abuse is something that I

particularly wanted to get right - I

could see people in situations that they

were struggling to get out of and not

knowing where they could turn to, to

get some help. As I was coming up for

retirement, I saw an advert for process

servers for NCDV. I phoned up a

couple of people who I knew who were

doing similar work and I thought, you

know, it's something that I feel I can

get some satisfaction from and still

help people. So for me, it was almost

an extension of what I'd been doing

already for most of my working life.

M: Do you enjoy it?

B: You know what? I do, I do get

satisfaction when I serve an order on

somebody, sometimes there is a bit of

an adrenaline rush, if somebody is

getting a bit confrontational. I'd be

quite naive if I thought that every

situation is exactly as it's been laid out

to me by the applicant. Until you've

heard both sides of the story, then I

don't think you can get a true

appreciation of what has happened.

There are some times where I've

served an order on somebody and

they've said to me, mate, this is a load

of rubbish and they've then explained

their side of the story and I've had

some sympathy for them. I have then

spent some time with them and maybe

offered them a bit of advice, talking

about the implications of the order

Making The Invisible Visible

that they can't breach it, otherwise

they're going to get themselves in


M: Could you talk about the

presentations you do?

B: Eight of us deliver presentations to

professionals who deal with victims of

domestic violence, domestic abuse and

coercive control. I speak to police

officers, council staff, housing

associations, homeless charities,

anyone who may come across people

who could benefit from our support.

The presentation is free, lasts about 35

minutes and can be done on Zoom or

Microsoft Teams. It details who we

are, how we support people through

the court process, our history and what

the whole process looks like from start

to finish. I then open up to questions.

Delivering the presentations is hugely

satisfying, particular when I speak to

people who've not heard of us and the

services that we can offer. For most

people we can get that support and get

them an injunction and it won't cost

the victim a penny. We do not charge

for our services. It is massively

enlightening and useful for

organisations who support victims and

don’t know about us.

M: Well, as you know, I attended one

of your presentations and thought it

was excellent and really informative,

so I hope a lot of people take that up. If

anyone wants to get in touch with you,

how would they go about it?

B: Probably the easiest is through my

email: Brian.reilly@ncdv.org.uk

I’m happy to speak to people any time

so do get in touch! If anyone needs a

process server or more details about

what we do then I’d suggest looking at

our website www.ncdv.org.uk and

getting in touch.

Making The Invisible Visible

Christine Cocchiola


Christine Cocchiola, is

a tenured college

educator in the field of

social work. She began

her career in social

work as a Domestic

Violence Sexual

Assault Counselor at

the age of 19 where she

remains a volunteer.

Her expertise is in the

areas of intimate

partner violence,

sexual abuse, trauma,

and child


She has developed

and presented

workshops on these

topics, regionally and

nationally, and has

been a guest host on

podcasts, educating on

the topics of Coercive

Control, Post

Separation Abuse, The

Trauma Bond, and

Cognitive Dissonance.

She also has a

private practice and is

a divorce mediator.

Her published work is

on the impact of

Coercive Control on

child victims.



Cocchiola is a licensed clinical

social worker , intimate partner abuse

advocate and tenured college educator

researching on the topics of coercive

control - including child maltreatment

and trauma.

M: Tell me a little bit about what you do.

C: I have been an intimate partner violence advocate

since the age of 19, I started working for the local

umbrella agency in the city where I grew up and I'm

still a volunteer there. I've always been very interested

in intimate partner violence, I focus on sexual assault,

especially child sexual assault but I've worked in child

welfare, I have worked in social work, and also as an

educator and have been doing education in social work

for the last 20 years and I'm just really, very passionate

about this topic. I think what is most startling when

people meet me is that I did not even realise that I was

being victimised in my own marriage of 26 years, so it's

an example of how coercive control can be very

insidious and not even be recognised to the most astute

people. I married my husband young, I met him very

young, we were in love and it was a whirlwind and

wonderful and then all of a sudden, it started to not be

so wonderful.

I realise now that I was recognising there was

something that I couldn't put my finger on and he was

recognising that I was recognising it. That was really

difficult for him because as soon as he knew I was a

little bit onto him, even though I didn't realise it, that's

when he really began to become much more aggressive

in his verbal assaults. Patricia Evans writes a

wonderful book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship,

and I highly recommend it. It was an ‘aha’ moment for

me. John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for

Making Marriage Work, was another one and it works

with partnerships too.

Making The Invisible Visible

They are books that really help victims

to say, wow, this is not good in my

relationship how can I change it, or do

I need to leave? So then we divorced

and I suffered significant post

separation abuse and, in my case, my

offender tried diligently to remove my

relationship, particularly from my

daughter. So I was married to someone

who basically was trying hard to make

my children dislike me and the first

time he started was when I caught him

having an affair and when I was angry

about it, he began telling my children

that I was crazy, that there was

something wrong with me and I

suffered from depression.

studying psychological abuse, but what

I began to see is that coercive control is

an umbrella term that encompasses

everything that I had experienced and

if I, a social worker, an educator in

social work and IPV advocate, I'm an

intelligent woman and I was so

successful in my career. Susan

Weitzman, in her book, Not To People

Like Us, talks about how successful

career oriented woman can still be in

an abusive relationship and if it could

happen to me, and I didn't see it I

mean, I teach about domestic violence

every semester for two days in my

courses, and I could not see it in my

own relationship.

" Susan Weitzman, in her book, Not To People Like Us, talks about how

successful career oriented woman can still be in an abusive relationship."

What happened was my daughter

became coercively controlling towards

me, she became his pawn, as Evan

Stark talks about, to use against me

and he was triangulating all of the

time. My son discloses that he

definitely was thinking negatively

about me. Thankfully it’s over and I’m

divorced. So when I divorced him I lost

everything and lost my daughter for a

period of time where she really wasn't

sure whose side to be on, because he

was offering her all kinds of wonderful

caveats if she were to align with him,

and she kept aligning with him over

and over again and she was basically

saying similar things to me, that he

would say to me in rage. When I finally

left, you know, I always wanted to go

back to school for my doctorate, I went

back to school, and I was going to be

If I can't see it, then I think that

explains a lot. It takes a village to leave

an abuser, that's what I believe, you

can’t leave an abuser alone. I have

family and friends and I had left him

several times and I went back to them

and they were there for me and

supported me and never questioned

me. So anyway, fast forward, I decided

to get my doctorate in social welfare

from NYU, and then came across all

this information on coercive control

and then found out that Evan Stark

lives 20 minutes from my house in

Connecticut. I contacted him and he

agreed to be on my committee for my

doctorate, and I've been in touch with

Emma Katz, who I'm sure you know,

and a whole world of experts opened

up to me.

Making The Invisible Visible

I was then asked to be on this

committee to assist with Jennifer’s

Law in the state of Connecticut, so

that's my story and that's how I am

where I am now.I should say, COVID

was the best blessing to me because

when my children were forced to

shuttle between two homes, that is

when they were able to see that he is

an abuser. I never would say your

dad's a horrible person, but I would

say what he said is untrue or I'm sorry

that happened to you, honey, that

wasn't nice. I wouldn't put him down,

but I would put the behaviour down.

They were still confused, because they

had heard for 10 years that I was crazy,

that I was this awful person.

realise, whoa, what is he doing? Every

time I want to go to mom's he behaves

this way. Why is he doing this? And

why is he calling her all these names

all of the time yet he has another

girlfriend? Covid was my blessing, yes,

so they see clearly now. My daughter

is with me 100% and my son too, they

both live with me. My son's

relationship with his dad is very

limited and my daughter, right now,

has nothing to do with him and of

course, he's accusing me of being a

parental alienator which is what his

mother did to him when he was a

child, it's literally textbook as I'm sure

you're aware.

" COVID was the best blessing to me because when my children

were forced to shuttle between two homes, that is when

they were able to see that he is an abuser."

They heard horrible things about my

family who are the most amazing

people and he would pretend that he

loved them, they didn't know what to

do. I ended up having to leave with just

the items in the trunk of my car. He

locked me out of my own home that we

spent our life savings on and I lost all

of that. They could either go home,

stay in their bedrooms, in our beautiful

home that I had decorated, or they

could come and stay with me in my

two bedroom tiny, tiny apartment and

of course, what did they want to do?

They wanted to stay in their own

home. Anytime they wanted to visit

with me, he would retaliate. He began

doing the same thing to them that he

did to me, turns off the electricity in

the garage so they cannot leave their

home to visit me, hides the car keys

and because of COVID they began to

M: What you're saying will resonate

with so many readers. I didn't realise I

was abused because I was led to

believe I was the crazy one, I was

either paranoid or overreacted, or

petty, or always looking for a fight and

that is how it was framed. It's

only looking back now that I realise

that I put up with an awful lot but

because I didn't want to come across as

over sensitive and overacting to trivial

things, I let a lot of things go.

C: I'm doing a research study right

now exactly about what you're talking

about. So, like this idea of subjugation

and how oftentimes victims are the

people pleasers, they're trying to fix

things, they let things go, really

empathic, all of those characteristics.

Making The Invisible Visible

I'm trying to relate it to something

called schema theory, which is a theory

that clinicians can use to assist people.

It's related to CBT. It’s exactly that,

you begin to do more, because you

don't want to be what he perceives you

to be.

M: Yeah, so you're trying to mould

yourself into his ideal but, at the same

time you end up actually effectively

mothering him.

C: Yes, and losing your autonomy, who

is she? Now she's gone. That person

that you are, at least for me, it was the

person at home, I wasn't totally

different, I was happy and outgoing

C: I would definitely concur, there was

pretending all the time that my life was

okay when it really wasn't, but I'm

grateful I was able to have an outlet,

my work became my outlet, thank God.

I'm wondering if you experienced

gaslighting by therapists, where you go

to see a therapist and she's like, oh,

you have depression and anxiety

without even really giving some

significant thought to what relational

difficulties may be going on to cause

the depression and anxiety that

happened to me several times.

M: I am familiar with that and I think

a lot of readers will be too. I think

“You go to see a therapist and she's like, oh, you have depression and

anxiety without...giving some significant thought to what relational

difficulties may be going on to cause the depression and anxiety."

but at home, I had to be someone

different and so you lose that ability to

be who you truly are.

M: I’d put on this brave face to the

outside world and it got to a point

where I couldn't actually work

out what my feelings were, because I

was so used to hiding them and it was

incredibly hard always being told, I'd

grown up being told you mustn't be

angry, anger is a bad emotion and if

you feel angry you have failed, so I had

no idea how to express my anger in a

healthy way and it was really hard

trying to figure out what I was feeling,

what my emotions were and then how

to change it. I didn’t know who I was.

All I knew was how to how to cover it

up and be this actor.

there is a big issue with confirmation

bias and identifying who is a victim

and how we aren’t really addressing it.

C: I think you're absolutely right.

People don't like to talk about it, but

the elephant in the room is patriarchy,

even though we know sometimes

women can do this, their ability to

decimate victims is not quite the same.

We have to really start talking about

something that nobody wants to talk

about, that all of these people have

personality disorders and how are we

not talking about this issue?

M: I think it’s easy to get frustrated at

professionals for not being able to see

the abuser as an abuser and it’s easy to

forget how easy it was for us to fall for


Making The Invisible Visible

It's only when the relationships

becomes abusive that the victim finds

out who they are dealing with, but

when you're a judge, a guardian ad

litem or a social worker, they often

only see the nice front- of- house

persona, they don't have the

experience of what it is like to live with

that person and unless they have a

solid grounding in understanding the

dynamics of abuse, then all they see is

this earnest and sincere guy and we all

know what that is like because, let’s be

honest, that is exactly how they

managed to woo us.

C: It’s a conundrum, to say the least.

unhealthy person, when they’re not

even willing to acknowledge that they

might have that shortcoming?

M: I can give you an answer that isn't

going to be popular. You wait for them

to die, and you wait for the new breed

of judges. Here in the UK, it’s still the

case that a lot of barristers, and

certainly judges are public school

educated, so automatically, there’s a

level of affluence there. You're looking

at boarding school and you're looking

at a position of privilege that doesn’t

necessarily understands what it is like

not to have that.

“ How do we convince them that maybe they don't have the knowledge base to be

able to discern between a healthy parent or a healthy person and an unhealthy

person, when they’re not even willing to acknowledge that they

might have that shortcoming?"

M: When I realised I was actually

allowed to have emotions, I spent so

much time getting angry at

professionals. Why can you not see?

Why can't you see it? It's taken me a

long time to realise that, of course they

can't see it. I couldn’t see it at first. I

thought he was wonderful and I was

the luckiest person alive. I didn't see it

for a long time. How can I expect

others to see it?

C: It was me talking about things that

people don't like to talk about, which is

hard. I guess that ties in with

patriarchy for me, because I think

most judges are white males, a lot of

lawyers are white males, and so how

do we convince them that maybe they

don't have the knowledge base to be

able to discern between a healthy

parent or a healthy person and an

C: I think you're right, though, your

point about that is going to happen

when they die, is I think you're right,

we need more women in positions of

power and more diversity.

M: Definitely. It needs to be a

population that is more representative

of society. People who can actually

relate to and understand bias and

poverty and know the price of milk,

understand how to buy bread and

budget for it, understand how to

change a nappy and do the school run

and have a genuine understanding of

what it is like for the people they are

seeing in the courtroom. What I see

and hear a lot is where a professional

might see numerous cases of domestic

abuse, that there is this automatic

assumption that they have some expert

Making The Invisible Visible

knowledge of domestic abuse and from

what I am seeing, that is simply not


C: The system we have is very

problematic but I'm grateful in the

United States, we now have a female

Vice President, obviously, I mean,

that's progress, and she's a woman of

colour, thankfully.

M: Could you tell me a little more on

your research?

C: I'm doing research specific to

subjugation and the characteristics of

victims. I believe most victims want or

desire to make everyone happy and

they are also worried about offending

people. I've interviewed about 11

victims, talking about their

experiences with coercive control. I'll

be working on the manuscript this

summer, so that research will

hopefully be out sometime in the fall

or early spring next year.

M: That sounds absolutely fascinating.

Do you think that people who

coercively control purposefully look for

partners who are empathic?

C: Yes, I do. Evan Stark had a hard

time with this. He said you can't say

that, he said it's hard for a victim when

she's got, he used the term when his

boot is on her neck. We were trying to

say that it doesn't matter who she is, if

he's the bad guy, he's a bad guy, but I

had these characteristics and, for me, I

wish that I had known that I had these

characteristics that could make me

much more susceptible to being

involved in an unhealthy relationship.

Making The Invisible Visible

"How can we support you to have

more clear boundaries?"

M: I know exactly what you mean. You

look at yourself and think, what is it

about me that showed he could abuse

me, and what can I do not to show that


It’s a tricky area because so many

people think of it as victim blaming

but, for me, it’s a way of understanding

what happened and how it happened,

so I can make sure it doesn’t happen

again, if that makes sense?

C: I started a healthy relationships and

a consent programme at the college

where I teach and it's actually the first

in the Connecticut community.

It's about what is it in relationships

that we should be looking for? What

are those red flags?

That's what my research is about. So if

this is who you are, then how can we

support you to have more clear


M: I think that’s really important and

something that we all need to

understand. Thank you so much, I

really enjoyed our conversation.

To find out more about

Christine and her work:


Making The Invisible Visible


Talking to Tabby, Morgan & Naomi



is a four part

documentary series

which takes the

viewer through first

hand experiences of

how intelligent

people can

unknowingly fall

prey to cults or “high

control groups.”

Groups like NXIVM,

the cult at the center

of this series,

masquerade as



offering self help

classes, professional

workshops, spiritual

guidance, or other


The series explores

NXIVM’s deft and

alluring recruitment

process, and how



through the

curriculum worked

to hijack the brains

of its members.



Poferl is the Co-Producer of the

documentary Seduced: Inside the

NXIVM Cult which features both Tabby

Chapman and Naomi Gibson who were

both members of NXIVM.

Min: I've now watched the documentary ‘Seduced’

three times. You’ve achieved something extraordinary

in showing the world what it was like to be inside the

NXIVM cult. I’d like to start by asking a question to

Naomi, because of your background of growing up in a

cult, what was it about NXIVM that appealed to you?

Naomi: I liked the idea that there wasn't an attachment

to religion and it was mostly just about exploring why

we think the way we think and defining things we were

taught along the way and kind of exploring some of the

terms and why we define them the way we do and what

influenced us along the way to have those definitions.

It struck a chord, it felt very logical, it felt very

exploratory and when we had the discussions, I always

felt smarter when I left, you know, because we were

talking about these really high-brow esoteric topics,

but they are very personal too, how to live the life that

you want and the roadblocks that prevent you from

going down a path that you're more in line with. They

always talked about your human potential, reaching

that and finding joy along the way. For me it felt safe

because there wasn’t a religious aspect to it and it felt

like I was in control. It’s kind of weird because it was

all about them getting in and collecting information

about you so that they can control you ultimately, and

live in the hamster wheel. That’s what drew me and

then there was the draw of the people that were in the

room, you know? There were all these business owners

and celebrities, people who are experts in their field

and everyone seemed to have money and so I thought I

was in the right room.

Making The Invisible Visible

Min: There’s something you said that I

found very striking. I can’t remember

how you said it exactly but it was

talking about all the esoteric ideas and

how it would make you feel more

intelligent. It sounds like a bit of a daft

question, but did you understand what

they were saying?

Naomi: I pretty much understood

them, I mean they were simple things

like how do you want the world to be?

What if we lived in a utopia where

nobody ever committed a crime, so

that was how they kind of got you in,

and then you would talk about

responsibility and the terms were

simple things, they would have, like

two words and we would explore these

two words. They were simple words,

it’s not like I don’t know what I’m

doing and I’m going to pretend all the

way, it was very personal and kind of

laughable, kind of like why do I think

that? That’s how I define this word and

kind of unravelling how do I have that

definition in my brain?

Min: So you mean they were reframing


Naomi: Yeah, they were definitely

reframing it and it’s subtle, right? You

don’t see that they’re doing that. That’s

the hook, line and sinker. It seems so

simple, oh, I didn’t know THAT was

what responsibility was. Over time

you’re getting these definitions and

you’re becoming further and further

indoctrinated into their belief system

because it sounds so simple.

Min: I think the way they defined

‘victim’ was interesting in that it is

seen as a very negative thing as they

are expecting you to take responsibility

and whatever happens to you is as a

result of your own actions.

Making The Invisible Visible

Naomi: One of the things I struggled

with a lot was at the beginning, I think

it was in the five day, they talked about

how we are responsible for Hitler and

what he did and I struggled with that

one because I'm like, well, I wasn’t

alive, but then their definition was by

being part of the human race, we are

collectively responsible for the actions

of all humans, you know. So you’re

responsible for all the darkness in the

world. I struggle with that one a lot but

then I also felt there was a

compassionate element to it too, which

is what they want. They want you to

empathise with these horrific things.

three years in and trying to get out to

save your life. How do you prevent that

from happening? I think having a

discussion like this is really important,

putting a name to these things is really

important because, for me, I

understand that pattern that we repeat

until we learn the thing and it’s really

hard to come to terms with something

like that. It’s really hard to understand

that I chose this type of group, I chose

this relationship, so there’s a lot of

guilt and shame behind it so I think

sometimes that people tend to stay in

something because, no, no, no I’m

going to prove everybody wrong, I’m

not going to let anyone know that I’m

in this thing, that I’m in this

“They talked about how we are responsible for Hitler...and I struggled with that one

because...I wasn’t alive, but then their definition was by being part of the human

race, we are collectively responsible for the actions of all humans."


Min: And you're in a group of really

great people so it’s easy to think that

no one has any doubts because no one

is saying anything. I know quite a few

people who have gone from one cultic

environment and straight into another

one. What advice would you give

someone who's leaving a cult to help

ensure that they don’t end up in


Naomi: I think part of it is education.

You don’t know, that you’re in an

abusive relationship until you’re

clawing your way out, right? You don’t

see the signs while you’re in it, so I

think having this discussion and

understanding what emotional abuse

is, coercive control is and putting a

name to these types of abuses is going

to help people understand. It’s so

subtle and before you know it you’re

relationship, I’m going to make it

work.The guilt and shame of, oh no, I

got into another one? More guilt and

shame so this time no one will EVER

know that I am in this. It’s

understanding that the guilt and

shame is not our fault because we are

part of something that was disrupted

from its core. It’s the same with a

relationship, you get into a

relationship with someone who is

abusive and it’s not the survivor’s fault,

it’s the person who is the abuser but

nine times out of ten, we put that on

ourselves and we live with the guilt

and the shame.

Min: In many ways the abuser has

actually conditioned us to take the

blame so we don’t even see ourselves

as being the victims. I’ve been told so

many times, you’re so manipulative,

Making The Invisible Visible

"They were predators and they targeted you. It felt like a choice

but it wasn’t really. You didn’t choose it, it chose you."


you’re so abusive that I saw myself as

the abuser. It got to the point where I

saw myself as this really flawed

creature who could not do anything


Naomi: That’s the guilt and shame. I

think it’s really important to

understand it as we don’t really even

know that we have this guilt and

shame that we live with, we don’t know

what to call it because we’re trying to

save face we’re trying to look strong.

Someone says it’s your fault, don’t you

SEE? Don’t you see that I do this

because of you? You hear that all the

time and it’s just furthering your selfesteem

further down until you have

nothing left.

Tabby: I would like to add that

education is absolutely key,

understanding that we didn’t choose to

be abused, we didn’t choose to be in

those groups, they were predators and

they targeted you. It felt like a choice

but it wasn’t really. You didn’t choose

it, it chose you. I think the other thing

that I would share as well is just to try

and go with the evidenced based

science as much as possible. I know

there’s merit in religions and things

like that but try not to go for

something that has one central figure

at the top who is alive and who people

seem to be talking about all the time.

Making The Invisible Visible

Morgan: And who fosters an

environment where contrary beliefs

and ideas can’t be challenged. When

there’s an environment where you

cannot ask questions, or when you do

ask questions and it is deflected and

put back on you – why are YOU asking

these questions? Why is this an issue

for you? These are red flags. I know we

talked about this a lot when we were

talking about this project. There

should be a class in high school that

talks about this, that highlights that

coercion exists in the world, it can get

malignant in a cultic environment, it

can get malignant in a domestic abuse

situation but you can also see this in

your own workplace.

they’re telling me and their gut feeling

is valid. I think that sometimes we

miss these things and we excuse this

behaviour, we think they are fine but

oftentimes if it smells or if it feels

wrong, there IS something wrong. The

things we can do, and I’m not an

expert on this but from what I’ve done

and what I know, is that if you want to

help someone who is in a situation,

and you feel like you’ve said something

like ‘”Oh, I don’t think this person is

good for you.” That person is going to

think of course they are good for me, I

love them and I’m not leaving them

because there’s nothing going on.

“You cannot ask questions, or when you do ask questions and it is deflected and

put back on you – why are YOU asking these questions?

Why is this an issue for you? These are red flags."


Any time where you feel like part of

your person is being stripped away

from you so that you become

compliant, to better serve whatever

environment you’re in, that’s a red

flag. Step back out and start to really

assess the situation.

Naomi: You know, I’m dealing with a

personal situation with someone that I

know. I was trying to help the parents

try to understand what they’re

daughter is in and it sounds to me,

from what they have told me, that she

is in a coercive-control relationship

with her husband who wants to isolate

her from everyone. He wants to take

her away from everything she knows

and is limiting the amount of work that

she is doing, he basically doesn’t want

her to work and they have three small

children. I told them that everything

They’re not ready to see the things, so

my advice that I gave was that you

need to work on that trust bond. They

are broken down and don’t feel like

they have any self-worth. This person

is constantly breaking them down,

telling them that they’re nothing

without them, you know, all of the

stories, you don’t know anything, you

chose the wrong job, don’t worry, I’ll

take care of you, I got you, sounds

great, right? But they have no voice in

the relationship, every time they want

to say something, every time they want

to have an opinion. I think the actual

things we can do to help someone who

is in a situation like this is to continue

to work on that trust bond, supporting

them, continuing that relationship

with them and asking questions,

getting their advice, making them feel

like they have a purpose in this world

Making The Invisible Visible

without this other person and slowly,

hopefully, they will then see what’s

happening. What am I doing? I don’t

need this person in my life, this person

is destructive in my life, but you can’t

really tell someone, you have to help

them see, otherwise they will defend

that relationship.

Min: They will withdraw from you, go

underground and no longer be

forthcoming, and so you’re less likely

to know what is happening in that

relationship. For a lot of women who

contact me, it’s their first conversation,

they aren’t ready to leave but they have

doubts over what is happening in their

relationship and it's really important

or with a coach – there’s so many

different things that this can fall

under- will really help people

understand. They’ll realise oh, I don’t

have to take this, this is a crime and

there are actionable consequences, and

hopefully it can help a crime from

happening. There are so many things

that fall under that umbrella that

hopefully can be stopped from

happening because there’s education

and the laws are out there. I spoke

with an FBI agent last week and she

works on human trafficking and sex

trafficking and in the conversation it

seemed like there were a lot of ‘aha’

moments for her, a lot of insights that

she didn’t know before because she

"In Italy there is a cult task force helping people

with extremist radical groups."


that the decision to leave has to come

from them. It’s really tempting to say

‘your relationship’s shit and you have

to leave now’ but you really have to

hold your tongue and trust that they

come to that decision by themselves. I

understand that you’re campaigning to

change the law, do you want to tell me

a little more about that?

Naomi: Yeah, so there are a few laws,

the undue influence law that kind of

helps the elderly and children but

nothing really that helps anyone

between the ages of eighteen to sixty

five and so creating a law that is

focused on coercive control will help

people understand that being in an

abusive relationship, being in an

abusive workplace, being in an abusive

cult or high control group or one on

one relationship with your therapist,

hadn’t thought of it in that way. I think

a lot of it is having these conversations,

getting this information out there on a

global scale so that people are more

aware of what these things look like

and that these types of abuses have a

name. In Italy there is a cult task force

helping people with extremist radical


Min: Wow.

Naomi: Yeah, what’s happening in

America right now is that we have

several extremist terrorist groups

within our country who are ‘fanatical’,

trying to fight for some sense of what

their democracy means, but it is

terrorism. These are extremist groups.

There was an article by a man who left

QAnon, he thought he was part of

something good and he figured out

Making The Invisible Visible

that what he was part of was a

destructive extremist radical cult.

I couldn’t believe that this person is

already seeing it and I can’t help but

think this is because of this dialogue

that we’re having and people are

finally seeing that this is not just ‘over

there’ with the crazy religious people,

this is happening all over. It’s not

going to be an easy road but it would

be great to do it federally, you know,

and have the federal law that is around

coercive control and emotional abuse

and expanding on the domestic

violence aspect of the laws that are

already there and really

educating. There's different groups

that we can go into, there's a group

that’s in every city, it’s basically a local

human trafficking task force it’s called

Citizen Academy and it’s government

funded and so I’m hopefully going to

reach out to them and start educating

these government task forces who

don’t really know, who have only seen

human trafficking and these kind of

groups on a small scale or just a

certain subset.

They human traffic children and how

they do it is so subtle and how do these

groups recruit people? That’s where I

think the education really needs to

come in. What does that recruitment

process look like? Who are they

targeting? It’s the same mentally as a

gang mentality, gangs do it too, so they

can learn that this is the recruitment

process and they can put it in every

situation, relationships, cults, gangs,

extremist groups and all of that. At the

end of the day it’s just educating and

continuing the dialogue, especially

with law enforcement. Morgan: Just

tagging on to tearing down that false

narrative that when people get pulled

into these groups it’s because people

are being snatched off the streets, like

this big kind of thing but it’s far more

insidious than that. It’s all about the

gradual process, it’s all about reeling

people in.

Min: Tabby, you’re the founder of

Freedom Train Project, can you tell me

a little bit more about it?

Tabby: I’m still getting it on track but

Freedom Train Project is a victim

advocacy organisation where we help

people, provide resources or connect

them with the resources they need.

Our focus is people who are in a cult

who have not been trafficked or people

in a domestic violence relationship,

because that is a complete hole in our

society. We do have specialists in

domestic violence and trafficking but

nothing in that ‘in-between’ area to

connect them with a social worker,

help get them into housing or get them

clothes. These are all things that might

prevent someone from leaving a cult or

these coercive relationships because

they don’t want to be alone. It’s kind of

just breaking away barriers for reasons

for why they stay.

Making The Invisible Visible

Min: Tabby, can you talk to me about

how you joined NXIVM?

Tabby: Initially I joined the

organisation at the request of Alison

Mack who said that if you want to

work for me, then you have to do this

thing. I had been doing fan-type work

for her for a long time, for years and so

it was like my big break. I wanted to

work for her, so I joined up. I did not

have any money so all the work that I

did do for her was in exchange. I really

liked it at first but I ended up getting

in this constant cycle of barter and

exchange and the problem with that

wasn’t so much that I was exchanging

or bartering, the problem was that

My rate, if I was working outside the

organisation, could have made six

figures easily, but all the money I made

was being sunk into classes and I

wasn’t making anything like that kind

of money within the organisation. I

had lost sight of the fact that I had an

actual skill and value outside of the

organisation that was worth six

figures. I was completely disassociated

from all that and instead I saw all

these weaknesses and flaws and this

was the only way I can fix it. I lost sight

of all the schooling and all the

education I went through, all the work

experience I went through, in lieu of

saving the world one person at a time.

“I had lost sight of the fact that I had an actual skill and value outside of the

organisation...and instead I saw all these weaknesses and flaws

and this was the only way I can fix it."


with every single person I was

exchanging and bartering, they would

identify a weakness of mine and then

say these future classes can help you

with that, right? So, it was this

continued debt because I had decided

to take that class and then I would

commit to another class which was

thousands of dollars. It was constant

and in order to please them, in order to

grow in the organisation, I was always

having to commit thousands of dollars

and then having to work that off. I was

overwhelmed and thought I was going

to be working here for ever. It kind of

messed up my idea of money in

general and I ended up not caring

about money because it didn’t mean

anything to me. I had to really work

very hard on that.

Min: I think that’s very common and

not something that’s talked about

much. I’ve come across it a lot and so

it’s really good that you’re talking

about it as I think it can help so many


Tabby: Anytime there was a $6,000

intensive, they told me I could work it

off, but I’ve got to pay my bills, so

they’d say this is a good investment, if

you don’t want to invest in yourself, in

your future then you don’t have to do

it. So you’re in that double bind

because shoot, man, I DO want to

invest in myself.

Min: Yeah, I mean don’t you think

you’re worth it?

Tabby: Yeah, bills can be paid at any

time but your own personal growth

Making The Invisible Visible

can only happen at this time of your

life. As we’ve talked about, it was such

a subtle shift from it was the solution

for humanity and then it became no,

it’s not THE solution, it’s A solution.

That was a huge red flag. If someone

says they have the solution for all of

humanity’s problems, well no one


Morgan: It is a slippery slope when

you’re involved in a high control group

or a destructive relationship because

they see your weakness and they see

your vulnerabilities and they want the

buy-in, right? They want you to

continue to buy-in, they want you to

continue to be part of it, so how do you

do that? Well, you’re not there yet,

there’s still more to learn and we have

this next group, this next class that is

REALLY going to take you to the next

level and you’re like, OMG I have to do

this, I have to do everything I can to

get there.

Naomi: In my case I couldn’t afford it.

I didn’t have the exchange options, so

for me, it was I don’t have the money,

sorry. I was in LA and the industry is

here, it’s not in Albany and if they

would have put it in New York and

Manhattan, at a theatre or something

like that, then maybe that would have

been a little bit more attractive to me.

One of the things that helped me to say

no is that there is no pie in the sky,

there is no answer that will solve your

problems. No one can ever say here’s

the door, once you walk in this door

you’ll have everything your heart

desires and that doesn’t exist but we all

hope that someone will see something

special in us and take us under their

Making The Invisible Visible

wing and give us all their knowledge

and help us to be that successful

person and, for me, when they started

talking about acting, I was like, wait a

minute, this was about personal

growth and yes, I’m an actress and yes,

I want all that success and to be able to

make a wonderful living doing what I

love. I found it odd that Keith Raniere

had just switched over to becoming an

acting teacher, and I always thought

that ESP, in of itself, or NXIVM, had

great tools for actors, because you’re

breaking down why we think the

way we think, who we are, all those

things and that’s what we do as an

actor, and so there is a lot of actor-y

things within ESP and NXIVM but I

Naomi: 100%. I mean I felt special but

it wasn’t until after, when I was

thought about it, I felt dirty. All they

wanted was my money and now she’s

not calling me and now I’m not getting

that attention. I had the fortitude to

say no and not try to scrounge and

figure it out, or put it on credit cards

which a lot of people did. I have

friends who are STILL paying off ESP

debt on their credit cards and it hurts

me that they’re having to pay that off

and every month they get that

reminder of the course that they took

that ended up being this really toxic,

dangerous organisation. The

organisations that I was a part of really

helped me see, and in the acting world

" It is a slippery slope when you’re involved in a high control group or a destructive

relationship because they see your weakness and they see your vulnerabilities

and they...want you to continue to buy-in"


never once thought that Keith Raniere

should be my next acting coach to take

me to the next level and, for me, that

was my saving grace. I was able to say

‘no, that’s not going to happen. I look

back at it now and , when you have

somebody who is successful, who’s an

actress, who has everything you want,

who is my age, who is very sweet, all of

the things, and she was calling me and

she was giving me her time and she

was believing in me and saying Naomi,

I really want to help you, I’ve

developed this course with Keith, it’s

amazing, it’s all the things and it was

hard to say no but, at the end of the

day, my bank account didn’t have it.

Min: That’s some serious lovebombing

as well.

especially, there is no acting class that

is going to get you to the next level. It’s

all just about auditioning and doing

the work, just like with everything else

but there is a vulnerability there and

that’s what these groups do, they tap

into that vulnerability and at the end of

the day, because Keith had free reign,

his predatory nature allowed him to

create DOS. It was already happening.

His slave contracts had been

happening since the early 2000’s,

around 1999. He already had this

control over women, he was already

doing it. It was just that the

organisation had been separated in so

many different ways so that there were

all these different subsets like XO/SO,

The Knife and Jness – all these

different subsets – that enough people

were busy doing their own things that

he could develop this private, very elite

Making The Invisible Visible

It’s not that you have to be wary of

somebody giving you love and

showering you with admiration but it’s

about asking whether they want more

from you and what do they want? Or

asking, why am I so tired, why am I so

exhausted? Why haven’t I had any

time for myself? I’m doing all of these

things for them and I have nothing left

for me. I think that’s the kind of

mindset to be aware of.

organisation to recruit women under

the guise of the ultimate self-help

group. That’s ultimately how DOS

started, there were enough people not

looking and enough people putting all

of their stock into “Keith knows what’s

best”. Nobody should have that much

power over a group or a country or


Tabby: I was thinking about when you

grow up in poverty and then you see

these programmes. I have experienced

the harshness of life, so I’ve gone

weeks without adequate food, as a

child I experienced things children

shouldn’t have to and so that stays

with me, so when someone is offering

a solution that seems to make sense, it

felt like a magic solution and I was

definitely on board with that. It can be

translated to what has been happening

in the United States, where we have

this man saying that he’s going to

drain the swamp, he’s going to do all

these things to protect you and make

“when someone is offering a solution that seems to make sense, it felt

like a magic solution and I was definitely on board with that.!


I think because of my experience of

growing up in a cult, I had the feeling

of why do they want me? Why am I so

special and really asking those

questions. It’s really being aware of

where you are. They didn’t really care

about me, they just cared that I filled

that quota. That love – bombing feels

so good when you have it, it feels so

special, it feels like you’re the only one

on the planet that means something

and we’re all looking for that, we’re all

looking to feel special.

everything better for you and no one

else has said these things before and

because we have experienced poverty

and we desperately want solutions,

when something comes along that

actually makes sense to you, and we

can have a part in it, it makes it even

better for us.

Min: I’m surprised at just how little

has been said about Nancy Salzman,

considering her integral roe. Do you

think that Raniere would have been

able to get as far as he did without her?

Making The Invisible Visible

How instrumental was she to the


Naomi: She was a specialist in human

interaction. She had been following a

lot of experts and she was a

psychologist, a behaviouralist and she

would go into different companies and

help restructure them. She was a

master of NLP, Keith heard of her and

wanted to meet her and when he

finally did I think all the stars aligned

for him to develop his course. I

remember hearing a story of Nancy

talking about how Keith was

developing ESP and I think Nancy was

Keith’s first student.

have taken the time to read any of the

court documents which were directly

written by him, but they are riddled

with typos and misspellings.

Morgan: He doesn’t write well, he

doesn’t speak well and he speaks in

word salad.

Min: That’s such a good way of

explaining it. I was listening to him

and trying to figure out why the words,

all joined up, are meaningless. It sort

of makes sense but then, if you’re

asked to explain it, you can’t explain it

back using your own words and so you

end up repeating it all verbatim.

" He doesn’t write well, he doesn’t speak well

and he speaks in word salad."


Tabby: Nancy was extremely

instrumental in converting anything

that he had to say and turning it into

an intensive. She would be the one to

do all the research, pull in other

psychology into that research to make

it seem legitimate and she initially

created those modules. On top of that

she ran the company. She was there

every day, she had her office there and

she came into her office and was

extremely active. He was almost never

there and when he did come to the

centre it was a big deal. Nancy was the

one who was actively doing it all but

eventually different members were

given positions, so one person ran the

technology department, another ran

something else and they started calling

it divisions within the organisation but

Nancy was above all and initially the

only head trainer. I don’t know if you

This is so typical of how so many

groups work. You can’t explain what is

being said because it is illogical. For

me, it leads to an overwhelming sense

of confusion.

Naomi: It does because there is an

element where you are hanging on to

his every word, trying to get the

information and trying to learn what

does it take to be my most successful

self? How has this person been able to

run his company and how is he the top

three problem solver in the world? He

obviously had to learn that so let’s

listen to everything he’s got.

I remember he did this forum which

was broadcast live and we were in

California and he was in Albany and

the forum was interesting because he

talked a lot about love and people

could ask him questions and there was

Making The Invisible Visible

this one thing where he was talking

about AI and how AI is like the next

level of human development and I got

to thinking what if he wrote a

programme for ESP and I think that

was what he was essentially doing. He

was writing this mind control

programme and he was mind

controlling humans.

He understood the human

psychodynamic very well. He

understood what made humans tick

and he got to the core of that because

he’s not a stupid man but one of the

top three problem solvers of the

world? No but he was a very highly

intelligent human, to be able to do

what he did so masterfully and for so

long. I think that at its core he would

understand the intricacies of his inner

circle and the people within his

organisation and he would develop

programmes around us to help us in

that hamster wheel of confusion of

life. His indoctrination was very subtle

and it was getting you comfortable

with the ideas of his predatory nature.

He puts the idea forth, he lets you

digest it. Why can’t we do that? Why

isn’t it like that? Because it’s wrong,

but why is it wrong? You’re in this

hamster wheel of thought. If someone

says it’s wrong, does it make it wrong?

We would have these modules, what is

right, what is wrong? What is my

current definition of wrong? Is it

actually wrong?

Morgan: If I can chime in on Nancy

Salzman real quick, just as my own

outsider observation, Keith had a

history of keeping a group of women

around him who hung on to his every

word since college and had started a

couple of different businesses that

failed but when Nancy came along she

leant a legitimacy. It was a false

legitimacy but a legitimacy all the

Making The Invisible Visible

same because she had this background

in psychology which is now actually

disputed but she understood how

marketing worked and she understood

how to make him look like the height

of human potential. She understood

how him cutting his hair and putting

him in a polo shirt, taking a snap of

that and putting it on the company

website said there was a leader in the

company. She was the missing

ingredient for him becoming so


Naomi: I think the dangerous thing of

the organisation was that Keith was a

master of keeping secrets. Everyone

asks what does this person know?

organisation is beyond words, it’s

beyond what second, third and even

first generation people have had to live

with – the guilt and the shame that

goes along with that and I think that

the consequences are so dire I mean

120 years is not a laughable sentence.

Serial killers don’t even get that and

that makes it feel so much more real

and validating, that these types of

organisations are very, very dangerous

and the level of abuse and destruction

that follows is something people have

to live with for the rest of their lives.

Keith created a predatory environment

that fostered his predatory nature.

That is what these people do, just like

David Berg from The Family,

"Keith was a master of keeping secrets. Everyone asks what does

this person know? They had to have known something,

all these people had to have known the truth."


They had to have known something, all

these people had to have known the


Morgan: He was a master of having

other people keep his secrets.

Naomi: Yes, exactly. He was a master

at making people feel special, Oh you

are one of the only few, and then it’s

that slippery slope of how he turned

victims into victimisers and how there

are now women who are going to be

going to jail. For me, the great thing

about this case is, having grown up in a

cult and one of the most disruptive

cults there is, is the validation that

enough is enough. These people

cannot continue to run amok and

destroy people’s lives. Period. In the

Family – the Children of God – the

level of abuse that happened in that

he created an environment that got

people comfortable with the idea of

child abuse so much so that people did

it because they thought they had to.

From the outside you think those are

crazy people or that they also had it in

them, but it’s an indoctrination- if you

don’t do this, you are a sinner from

God and you are going to be punished

and before you know it, you are

committing crimes.

Morgan: Touching on what Naomi

said, from the outside and looking in,

and people thinking that’s nuts, how

could you ever get to that place? For

me, personally, working on this

project, I had a couple of profound

moments and one of the biggest one I

had to grapple with was looking back

at my Mom who is a funny bright and

vivacious woman but in my childhood

Making The Invisible Visible

was broken and meek, a shrivelled up

person and I spoke to her and asked

why are you allowing yourself to be in

this environment with this abusive

man? Working on this project I started

to really examine her slowly getting

pulled in and instead of looking at her

and asking why are you allowing

yourself to become this broken

individual, actually seeing how these

little ideas slowly started getting

planted in her head and how further

and further and further she got down

the rabbit hole, at the hands of an

abuser. Being able to start to look at

the same dynamic on a smaller scale

has been incredibly profound and

something that we should just be

easy to brush them aside - she’ll be

fine, he’s not that bad, they’ll figure it

out and it was hard to say those things

out loud but we need to say that this

type of abuse is extremely dangerous

because it can lead to more dangerous

things and staying in a relationship for

years, what does that do to you? For

me, I feel like the take away is that

these groups are dangerous.

Emotional abuse is extremely

dangerous and hopefully we can

educate lawmakers and law

enforcement to help them understand

how to prosecute before they become


Being able...to look at the same dynamic on a smaller scale

has been incredibly profound..,the same cycle is happening

all around us, we’re just not aware."


shouting from the roof tops. It isn’t the

other, the same cycle is happening all

around us, we’re just not aware.

Min: It’s the same with bullying, with

online bullying. It’s the same dynamic,

a drip, drip process that pulls you in

slowly. It’s literally quicksand except

not so quick.

Naomi: It’s the same exact process and

it’s very dangerous. I was talking to the

family that I’m helping to try and

understand what coercive control is

and the slippery slope that their

daughter might be in and the hard

thing for me to say to them was that

this is very dangerous and the feelings

that you are feeling are valid and that

scary feeling you are having in your gut

is real and help them validate those

feelings because a lot of the time it's

Tabby: I’m going into therapy and the

specialty I’m going into is coercive

control in parenting because we don’t

actually think about the extreme level

of coercion we use as parents and

much of it is not necessary. We are

taught to believe that, as children, it’s

ok but now as an adult it’s not ok.

Naomi: Because at the heart of it, you

don’t know any better, right? I’m the

parent, I’m the husband, you don’t

know anything and I’m going to teach

you. That is so disempowering

especially for children. I was talking to

my grandmother a couple of days ago

and she asked why do you think my

Dad joined the Family? He was so

smart, we gave him everything, he

wanted for nothing. There are a couple

of things that happened in his life that

led him to join but at the heart of it,

Making The Invisible Visible

for my father, was the idea of being a

missionary and what that entailed. For

him Christianity was at the heart of his

life and he thought he was doing

something noble. We go into these

things and think we’re doing good in

the world and we are sharing some set

of values that will help people and I

feel that is where the vulnerability is. I

explained to her that he was a

teenager, he was trying to look for his

purpose in the world and this group

targeted teenagers and they wanted

young people who could do the

bidding, do the recruitment process

and it worked.

the military. They didn’t have formal

education and the military would take

them and so that is just another

regimented cult type environment and

so the transition is not so stark.

Min: Another place with rules, so you

didn’t really have to think because it

was all set out for you.

Naomi: And being part of the military

adds to a whole other slew of posttraumatic

stress and then they are

having to deal with that. People who

are in these high control groups are

having to leave the military and having

to live with that and it leads to many


"For my father, was the idea of being a missionary and what that entailed.

For him Christianity was at the heart of his life and he thought

he was doing something noble."


Morgan: It was the face of the

organisation, young and attractive

people, just like you.

Naomi: For my grandmother, it’s

helping her to understand why he

would do that. It’s what we do, we try

to understand, right? How and why

did they allow themselves to be

branded? I would never do that but

when you’re in a group and you’re the

only one saying I don’t know if this is


Min: Conformity is a powerful state of

being. How do you step away from that

and offer a different opinion?

Naomi: Oftentimes people come from

a familial cult environment and then

join a cult and a lot of people who left

the Family as teenagers, they went into


Making The Invisible Visible

That’s what I see from some people in

my family, from people who my father

has helped, after he got out and that’s

really at the heart of it. Once you join

one, it’s easy to join another and the

same with relationships, once you join

one toxic relationship, it’s easy to find

yourself involved in another if you

don’t understand what you’re in and

it’s easy to repeat that pattern.

Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult

is available to watch on STARZ which

can be found on Amazon Prime in the

UK. first episode is free.


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