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As survivors we can help them survive too

By Heather Large | In-depth | Published:

Being hit in the face, hard enough to split her lip, as she held her 10-month-old daughter was the wake-up call Sam Billingham needed.

Sam Billingham is now supporting others who have suffered domestic abuse

After suffering three years of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her partner she knew, in that moment, it was time to leave.

“I knew I had to protect somebody else, it wasn’t just about me anymore, I had taken the black eyes, but now I had something so pure and innocent to protect,” says Sam.

Within days she had taken the first step towards a new life by moving out of their shared home in Lye.

She then reported what had happened to the police and secured a court order banning her former partner from contacting her or her daughter.

This was when the penny dropped and she finally understood she had been a victim. “I had never heard of domestic abuse,” she said.

“I just thought it was something to be tolerated and that it was normal. I had been manipulated for so long,” says the 37-year-old.

“I used to pray that every day would be different and that things would change and get better but they never did. I always say you have a wake-up call and being hit while I was holding my daughter Tegan was mine. I knew then that I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in that environment,” adds Sam.

After fleeing her relationship in November 2006, she relied on the kindness of others and the love of her family for everything from toiletries and baby food through to blankets and clothing. The only other support on offer to her was an eight-week course to make her aware of what she had already been through.

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“It was still so raw at that time and after eight weeks, that was it. There was no after care. I just wanted to speak to someone who had been through what I had been through but there was no one,” says Sam, who now lives in Quarry Bank with 12-year-old Tegan.

The support of her family got her back on her feet and in April 2009 she decided she wanted to help others who had been through similar experiences. She founded SODA – Survivors of Domestic Abuse aiming to provide as much reassurance and guidance as people need so they could become survivors rather than victims.

Her online support group now has 800 members – both women and men – from across the country and offers a safe haven where people can swap stories and get advice.

Sam and her team also offer a friendly and understanding ear at the end of the phone to anyone who needs at, whenever they are ready.

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“We support people who have found the strength to leave their abusive relationship and focus on after care, helping people to build up their self-confidence and their sense of self-worth. But we will help anyone at any stage of their journey.

“The idea is that we are here when they are ready. I always let them know they can contact me whenever they want. I will always reassure them that what has happened is not their fault and that they are not on their own.

“We are survivors too and we can help them survive. We can show them there is life after domestic abuse and there is light at the end of the tunnel,” explains Sam. She feels strongly about raising awareness of both domestic abuse as well as encouraging more women and men to speak out.

“Domestic abuse is still a controversial subject. A lot of people are too afraid to talk about it or fear they won’t be taken seriously. The justice system needs to be radically changed so victims have more confidence in reporting domestic violence. Education is vital for all because one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime and with more awareness it might help survivors leave abusive relationships sooner rather than later,” says Sam.

“There have also been Government cuts to funding for women’s refuges which will endanger them rather than keep them safe. Without safe houses, many women will have no where to go and could end up staying with an abusive partner,”adds Sam, who has been honoured in recognition of her work including a volunteer award from the Dudley CVS and an Express & Star Great Big Thank You award.

SODA offers practical support women through its Bag of Life scheme which sees items such as toiletries and old mobile phones passed on to those fleeing domestic abuse.

Sam is now hoping to raise enough money to rent office premises to help the group become more established and offer face-to-face support to those who need it in the future. She also wants SODA to become a social enterprise, selling candles as part of its ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ work.

As part of her fundraising work, she has decided to have her hair shaved off during an event at The Stag and Three Horseshoes in Blackheath, starting at 7pm on April 21.

“I have had so much support from other people that I wanted to give something back and show them that it is appreciated. As the founder, I think it’s good to do something personal like this,” says Sam.

* For more information visit www.sodahq.uk or to sponsor Sam see www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/samantha-billingham-160

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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