When you see Justin Lee Collins on TV, you think of him as a harmless, cheeky chappie with a Bristolian accent, perhaps a bit stupid but really funny and the kind of bloke you’d like to go to the pub with. His recent sentencing of 140 hours of community service
for harassing his ex came as a shock to most people. The case wasn’t reported much in the media, something I’m sure Collins is grateful for, but the fact it even made it to the papers is a good sign. When you read about the things he did, it’s difficult to reconcile those actions against “cheeky Bristolian from TV comedy.” This is exactly how abusive people get away with it. If his ex hadn’t been to court, and instead went to the Sun and sold her story, how many people would just have dismissed her as having made up ridiculous and outlandish claims to get her face in the paper?
Collins made his then-partner, Anna Larke, sleep facing him. She had to throw out dvds of movies starring actors she found attractive. He dictated what she could wear, who she could see or speak to. She wasn’t even allowed to look at other people when they walked down the street together. He made a detailed record of every man she had ever been intimate with, and would routinely ask her questions about them, checking her answers against his notes and pointing out any discrepancy.
Collins did eventually begin to physically abuse Larke, but often the mental and emotional torment can be a lot harder to deal with. Collins did his best to keep Larke exhausted at all times, so that she wasn’t sure what was going on. When you’re tired and stressed, you never know whether your reaction is justified, whether your recollection of events is correct, whether perhaps you’re just being a bit over-sensitive. An abuser will do their best to get you into a state of mind where you question your every thought and feeling and often begin to believe they are correct in their accusations of you. Mental abuse can be just as painful as physical abuse.
In court, Collins’ defence was that Larke was a compulsive liar. I wonder how many people believed him, at least at first. When a person is that accomplished in their manipulation and control, they can make people believe their version of events. They become the world’s best actor, telling people how upset they are by the situation, how their accuser has abused and controlled themfor months/years, how they’re exhausted from all the troubles in the relationship. People believe them because they are so incredibly skilled at making them do just that. Meanwhile, their victim can often be dismissed as an attention-seeker, a harridan, a malicious liar.
Larke commented that she felt she had been “brainwashed” by Collins; that she believed the things he told her, and was so petrified he would leave she daren’t disobey. He made her stay up until 4am with him by telling her that if she went to sleep before him, he couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t spend the time texting other women. Abusers have a way of hypnotising their victims, so that instead of saying “that’s preposterous, get lost,” they think, “oh no, he might leave me, what would I ever do without him…” Often it’s not until the physical abuse starts that they realise they’re in an abusive relationship – and in many cases by that point the victim’s self esteem and general wellbeing are in such a poor state they’re not able to break free from the situation.
Collins has been convicted of harassment, not of domestic abuse. Mental and emotional bullying is illegal, but most people don’t realise this. His trial has highlighted what is largely “invisible” abuse, which nobody sees, and is difficult to prove – because by their nature abusers are very good at hiding in plain sight, and shaking off accusations of abuse. At the moment a charge of harassment, originally introduced to deal with stalkers, is the only charge that can be brought in cases of domestic abuse where there has been no physical violence. As mentioned in an earlier post
though, the government has recently announced they are widening the legal definition of domestic abuse to include “coercive control.” This may help victims of abuse to come forward and press charges against controlling partners.
It must have been very hard for Anna Larke to stand up and divulge the details of her relationship with Collins, and explain that she stayed with him, enduring this behaviour. When you come out of an abusive relationship like this, it’s like waking up from a bad dream; you look back and think, how the hell did this person convince me of this? How did I not see? Why did I put up with it for so long? It can be embarrassing to admit that a person had that much control over what you wore, who you saw, where you went, without holding a gun to your head, and in many cases without ever using physical violence against you. Ms Larke has done a great service to women everywhere by prosecuting Collins for his actions, and for making public the details that must have been very difficult for her to discuss. Perhaps now more women will walk away from abusive relationships – and also consider pressing charges against their abuser, so that they will find it harder to do the same thing to another unsuspecting partner.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, you can contact the following services:
English National Domestic Violence helpline: 0808 2000 247
Northern Ireland Women’s Aid 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline: 028 9033 1818
Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 027 1234
Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 80 10 800
If you are a man experiencing domestic violence or you want to call on behalf of a male friend or relative, you can contact the Male Advice & Enquiry Line: 0845 064 6800 or ManKind
Perpetrators of domestic violence who want help can contact Respect
, the UK association for domestic violence perpetrator programmes: 0845 122 8609