RACHEL Williams was seven months’ pregnant when her partner Darren grabbed her by the throat and strangled her until her lips turned blue.
She suffered 18 years of domestic abuse at his hands, culminating in him walking into the salon where she worked and shooting her in her left knee, leaving her for dead before hanging himself in nearby woods.
Rachel is one of two million people who suffer domestic abuse in the UK – the majority of whom are attacked by men. Her only crime was walking out on Darren, who had put her life at risk on several occasions.
“He was very manipulative,” she recalls. “He was always very remorseful after hurting me, saying he’d get help, and would draw his last breath to save me.”
Rachel tells her story in tonight’s BBC documentary Can Violent Men Change?, where a Panorama film crew has been granted access to courses for domestic abusers, which cost £500 and typically last for six to 12 weeks.
While two women a week are killed by their partners or ex-partners, government cuts have threatened women’s refuges – something the Sun On Sunday has campaigned to change.
The courses are designed to reform abusive men, yet they are controversial as campaigners say money is being diverted from the victims to the perpetrators, who use attending the courses as proof they’ve changed before going on to attack again.
‘I grabbed her by the neck and threw her through a door’
Lorry driver Andrew started attending a course, which involves talking therapies and role plays, where counsellors and perpetrators will act out the roles of the abuser and abused and vice versa, after his four children were taken away because his temper posed a danger to them.
The kids are among the 235,000 children in England every year who are deemed to be at risk from domestic violence.
Andrew says after doing a long shift, he’d come home, have a drink to unwind – but he’d then end up getting into an argument with his partner Emma and attacking her.
He injured Emma a number of times, with one of the worst occasions being when he grabbed her by the neck and threw her through a door in front of his children.
“I couldn’t blame the drink because there was something in me that made me want to do that,” he says.
“I hurt the person I love the most, my kiddies saw that and I’m waiting for the day they say: ‘Remember, dad, when you hit our mum?’ – I have to make things right for the kids.”
There are 50 courses across the country, and roughly 3,000 men attend each year – however, there is no secure evidence to show they are effective in reducing violence.
For Denise, who runs a nationwide course called Temper DV, many of the men deserve a second chance, although not all of them will be able to change.
Zibi, 39, is attending Denise’s course after his wife walked out on him for the second time.
This is his last chance to change, otherwise it is unlikely that he will see his four kids unsupervised ever again.
He tells Denise, and her co-worker David, that he saw his father hit his mum when he was just two years old, saying he watched him “kick her a few times” leaving a “big red spot on the wall”.
In many cases, domestic violence can occur due to learned behaviour, with a joint study from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute finding that children who witness abuse are more likely to attack their partners in adulthood.
Although women can – and occasionally do – enrol on the courses, around 95 per cent of attendees are men.
Men pledge to live their lives “non-violently going forward”- yet it’s difficult to monitor the success of these programmes as they often begin relationships with different women as opposed to returning to their abused partners.
Money going to abusers not victims
The effectiveness of the courses are called into question: 64 men have done the same course as Andrew, but only half of them have completed it.
Lou Moultrie is a domestic violence campaigner who fears vital funds are being diverted from the victims to perpetrators.
In her area, Croydon, £550,000 has been given by the authorities to work with 170 perpetrators, however she says money has been slashed for women’s refuges, domestic violence charities and for her own work, which seeks to re-home women who have been attacked.
And while Andrew’s partner Emma is receiving counselling alongside his course, most of these therapies are given solely to the violent men.
Many men, these campaigners say, will do the course to get the certificate, essentially duping social services into allowing them access to their families.
Then, the cycle of abuse will start all over again, with some men still blaming their partner’s behaviour for winding them up or social services taking away their children – failing to take responsibility for their violent behaviour
At the end of the programme it is revealed that while Andrew has reunited with Emma and they are working together to get their kids back from care, Zibi has lost access to his children, despite completing the course.
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Many survivors of domestic abuse, such as Rachel, who later found out Darren had attacked other women in the past, are sceptical about the success of the courses.
“They don’t deserve a second chance,” she says. “Going on a course for nine or 12 months won’t undo 20 years of violence.”
Panorama: Can Violent Men Change? is on tonight, 8.30pm, BBC One