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From Victim to Survivor – and then some!

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Almost one in three women aged 16 - 59 will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Last year this meant that 1.9 million across the UK were subjected to abuse - and since lockdown, Women's Aid have reported an increase in the number of reported cases. In a recent survey, 67.4% of survivors who are currently experiencing abuse told the charity that it had got worse since Covid-19.

We asked the incredible Kelly Gavaghan, the Managing Editor of CIRCUS magazine, if she would share her own story of abuse and survival. We hope that if you or a friend or family member read this and recognise your own situation that it gives you courage and the information needed to reach out for help.

At the bottom of the article are a number of support services, please do share these far and wide to ensure they reach your friend or family member who may need them.

My Story, Kelly Gavaghan

This morning on Facebook a friend of mine posted the question, ‘What is the definition a victim and a survivor?’

An interesting question that gave me pause for thought as 22 years ago, unwittingly, I became a victim of domestic abuse.

I went through the whole nine yards. Mental, physical and financial abuse and it took everything I had to try and get myself out of the situation. The situation really intensified after I had been beaten up whilst pregnant after which he took my purse and ripped the phone out of the wall and locked me in our second floor flat with no way of escape. I lay on the floor for hours clutching my stomach crying, numb, scared and ashamed. I’ll never forget that feeling of helplessness and overwhelming sadness. How had my life come to this?

I knew one thing. I had to get out for the sake of myself and more importantly our unborn baby. His financial control had left me with no spare money, so I was unable to ‘just move’. I was also too ashamed to tell my family what was happening. The only other option was the dreaded refuge. The thought both terrified and horrified me.

No room at the inn…

However, when you’ve got nowhere else to turn what else is there to do? Over a 3 year period I tried and tried many times to get into a refuge only to be told that there was ‘no room at the inn’. I couldn’t believe that I was forced to stay in this highly volatile situation, putting mine and my child’s life at risk because the service was completely maxed out and constantly it seemed.

Eventually after another night from hell I fled with my daughter. This time I did manage to get us into a refuge in the city close to the town where I was living. I was put in a house with one other woman and her two very young children but without any official refuge workers which I found odd. Basically, we were left to fend for ourselves.

Kick a woman when she’s down

After a couple of days somebody official came out to see me and asked me to sign some papers. When I asked what they were I was informed that they were Housing Benefit forms. I was also told that if I was ‘serious’ about leaving my abuser and had no money or savings in order to move home that I would need to make myself unemployed, sign on and get myself on the council waiting list and that it would take up to 2 years before they would find me accommodation. I was further informed that I wouldn’t be able to stay at the refuge and that I would be moved on to a DHSS Bed and Breakfast until I got offered a council place. So that would be it for me and my daughter. Stuck in a grotty DHSS B & B, with god knows who else living there, unable to work as I ‘had’ to sign on in order to get a council house.

I was reeling as the reality and gravity of the situation sunk in. Talk about kick a woman when she’s down. I remember vividly at that moment thinking that if I ever came into any money that I would help other women and children so they would never get treated like this again.

I got my opportunity 6 years later. During a highly traumatic court case against my perpetrator where he was found guilty of 14 counts of domestic abuse I decided to do ‘something.’ I wanted to show my daughter that you don’t have to take what life throws at you and that you can turn a negative into a positive.

Raising money and awareness through music

This is when my organisation H Bomb! Live Music Festivals was born. I pulled together a number of bands and most recently worked with legendary MK club brand Ultra Vegas to host music events. We have used every opportunity to also raise important awareness about all areas of abuse including men being abused, teenage relationship abuse and also same sex relationship. To date we have raised more than £70k that has gone directly to refuge and generated more than £500k of awareness through press, radio and television campaigns.

Lockdown abuse

Most recently I have worked with the beautiful Naseem Khan of Namji in Wolverton to raise funds for MK ACT. Naseem is also a survivor of domestic abuse and when we saw the rapid escalation of domestic violence, we knew we needed to do something so teamed up and promoted a Charity Curry Fundraiser whilst raising awareness about the challenges the refuge and service faced during lockdown.

I’ve come a long way. 22 years ago I never ever thought that I would get to where I am today. I’m in a very happy relationship with my fiancé, I own my own home, my daughter is healthy, happy and well, I have true, special friendships and of course I’ve got my own magazine, CIRCUS which I love producing and I hope you enjoy reading.

So, what’s the definition of a victim and a survivor? Me.

If my story has resonated with you and you would like to donate to MK Act please visit


Helplines and Support Services

Helpline number: 0344 375 4307

Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Live Chat or email support service available:

Honour based abuse and forced marriage Helpline: 0800 5999 247

Free legal advice for women: 020 7251 6577 

National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428

A range of local support services:

Confidential, freephone helpline available 9am - 9pm: 08 088 088 088

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