My name is Alesha and I lived in Pakistan and was 18 years old when I got married.

My in laws lived in England. The proposal for my marriage came when I was a child and it was agreed at that time by our elders that we would be married in the future.

My husband was an only child and he has no siblings and his mother was extremely possessive of him.

My mother in law was my father’s aunty so she was close to my father. After many years they came to Pakistan on their own personal matters and they also made a sudden plan for us to get married in the last month of their stay.

In less than 4 weeks we had to make all the plans to do the wedding. I didn’t get a chance to get to know him or them but you have to understand in our culture, once a promise is made to get married in families, it is considered dishonourable to break it.

We are 4 siblings and I am the eldest. So in less than 1 month, we were married and we stayed together after marriage for 1 week and he returned to UK with his parents.

The first time I saw him was on the wedding day. I was really shy and in the week he was in Pakistan, I wasn’t able to talk to him much. Up to that point, neither me nor my family had got to know him or his family much. The time passed really quickly (the one week) in Pakistan with meeting guests who came to see them or congratulating us for our wedding so I never really got to speak to him much. They returned to the UK and went back to my family as there was no one in his house to live with.

During the time I remained in Pakistan, no one came back to see me, not even my husband. They would sometimes phone and talk briefly. My husband never called me himself and would only say a few words on the phone if my father called him. His mother explained that he was shy when my father asked about that.

About 2 years later, my visa was granted for me to come to UK and join him. My parents said to them that they should come to Pakistan and stay for a while and collect me. They promised that they would do this but when my visa came, they refused to do this.

In my culture, it is unacceptable for girls to travel alone. My father kept asking and insisted and after a while they eventually and reluctantly agreed. Then my husband didn’t come and my mother in law came for 3 days only and took me to England.

We were collected at the airport by my husband and father in law on 12 June 2014. At that time it was a really strange and difficult time. Everything was different, new and I felt really alone.

My husband still remained distant from me and he was strange. My mother in law said he was not used to things, was shy and he didn’t have female friends etc. when I went out, it would be with my mother in law not with my husband and found this really strange and didn’t understand why he was separate from me and why he didn’t chat with me at all. I was alone and without friends so couldn’t talk to anyone about my situation. I didn’t want to tell my family in Pakistan as I didn’t want to worry or upset them.

For a few months it carried on like this and I noticed that everything my husband did, he would get permission from his mother or she would do it for him and he never made his own decisions. She would get his food, clothes and they would never involve me. I felt I was invisible, not there or part of the household. When I spoke to my mother in law about it, she said he didn’t want to get married and they had told him to do it. I was really upset by this because they shouldn’t have got him married to me if he didn’t want to because he was not interested in me or want me for his wife.

When my parents phoned and asked to talk to him, he would make excuses, not talk to them or just disappear. I would say that everything was ok and that he was good to me, looking after me and taking me out so they wouldn’t worry.

Then one day I was in kitchen I was talking to my mother in law about my husband that he should complete his studies and get a job. She got angry and said why should he get a job and work for your expenses and to keep you. She started shouting, was really angry with me and I was really upset, crying and scared at her attitude. My father telephoned from Pakistan at that time and realised I was upset. When he started to ask why, my mother in law took the phone off me and said it was nothing and that I was just missing them. My husband was in the other room watching tv and just listening to them. I was upset that he didn’t intervene or comfort me and I went to my bedroom.

After that day, my mother in law would always say bad things and argue with me over small things. She would swear and say horrible things about my parents and my family. It was like torture. My father in law had no say in the home, he was older and had health problems. My mother in law made all the decisions and control in the home. There was no one in the home I could talk to. Every day there was something bad happening. Every day she was not happy with something and would fight with me. I tried to talk to my husband about it but he said it had nothing to do with him. That it was my mother in laws choice and it was between me and her.

When I tried to talk to my mother in law about why she was treating me like this, she started swearing and saying how dare I question her about her behaviour. She became abusive about my parents when my parents would phone saying bad things to them and to me. She would say bad things really loudly. I would make excuses to my parents, saying I was going out to end the call and they wouldn’t find out what was going on.

After a while my husband started talking with me and she became jealous and would fight and shout at me even more. I had become really scared of her especially when I was alone. I was not used to all this fighting and swearing in the home. I became traumatised about being left alone with her and I was scared she might seriously hurt me. She would fight, make false accusations and say everything was my fault. She would tell neighbours bad things about me. I didn’t go out so the neighbours didn’t know me. Some of the neighbours tried to talk to her saying she shouldn’t fight with me and should try to sort things out. She would tell them to take me to their home then instead.

My parents eventually found out that I was having trouble so I then told them about my mother in law. I would secretly give them a missed call when she was out and she would then call me. They tried talking to her and she became abusive to them. They then said to me to speak to my husband, and I lied and said he was ok with me but it was not the case. He would fight with me when his mother was upset with me. I felt I was losing my mind. I was always scared, always expecting a fight, could not go out, had no friends or no one to talk to. She would stop me using things. I wasn’t allowed to use the lights or hot water. She would find out I had turned the hot water on because the boiler would start making a noise so I could only use cold water. She didn’t like to eat anything or use the kitchen and if I was in the kitchen, she would come over and start swearing and fighting. I didn’t know what to do or where to go.

All my papers/ documents, they had taken from me as they said they would look after them for me. I didn’t know how important they were and that I would need them in the future. I would speak to my neighbour when I was in the back garden when I got a chance and she told me to make a stand and to get out. She said that she wouldn’t listen to her but I was too scared and I hoped that eventually that things would get better and change, but she had event taken my wedding jewellery from me. My neighbour said to my mother in law to get us a separate house if I didn’t get on with her and she said she would put petrol on me and set me on fire before she would allow me to take her son from her.

I had no privacy with my husband and we couldn’t have intimate relations as she would come into our bedroom whenever she wanted to and leave the door open and shout and say things. It’s not right to go into bedrooms without knocking but she would just walk in and sit down so I could not sleep there but had to sit in the bedroom or go and sit on the landing. My husband got fed up and told me to go and sleep in another bedroom so we had to separate. My father in law told me to ignore it and put up with it.

I asked for my passport and asked my sister and my mother in laws friend to ask my mother in law to give it to me. She refused and made excuses that she had given it to someone for safe keeping and they hadn’t given it back to her. Eventually she gave me my passport but I had no privacy and had no place to put it safely. She started to hid and destroy my things, I found my clothes cut up and my things missing. I had put my passport in amongst my clothes and I found she had scratched my photo in my passport and ruined it. I started crying and showed my husband and showed him what she had done. She denied it and said I had done it myself and was making false accusations against her and started shouting and fighting with me again. Things got really bad and impossible for me to stay there. I couldn’t go back to Pakistan as I was married, if I had been unmarried, it would have been different but I wouldn’t be accepted back there as a separated woman. I kept thinking, but I couldn’t find a way out and I felt I was losing my mind and that it had stopped working. My neighbour told me to call the police but I couldn’t as my mother in law was always there and guarding the phone and fighting with me.

After some time, one day, my mind started to shut down. My mother in law was at home and my father in law was out of the house so I quietly walked out of the house. She had seen me go out of the house but she didn’t say anything as I think she thought I was going into the garden. I had left the house but I became confused as I didn’t then know where to go. I thought I should return before anyone found out. I went to my neighbour’s house to sit for a while until I could think what to do. I told the lady I didn’t know what to do. They said to call the police and I said I couldn’t as I didn’t know what to tell them and I was scared if my mother in law found out and my parents found out. My parents would be upset with me for calling the police on my mother in law.

I didn’t have any money and I didn’t even have the right outdoor shoes on (had slippers on). I stayed at my neighbour’s that night and the next day went into the city centre, it was 11am. There were people walking around and I didn’t know English so couldn’t ask for help so I sat down and started crying. An Asian lady saw me and asked me what was wrong. She said to go to Britannia house and that she couldn’t go with me as she had an appointment somewhere else. She told me to tell them that I had nowhere to go. I told her I didn’t know where Britannia house was, had no money and had a headache and hadn’t eaten for a while (few days). She eventually agreed and took me. I told them what had happened and they told me to wait. I was waiting for a few hours and I thought that maybe I should just go back. They then talked to the asylum team and that there was a room at palm cove. This was around 5pm and I was in a bad way and had a headache and hadn’t eaten. When they took me there, there was already 2 girls already living there. They had given me some food and told the girls to look after me. I spent some time with the 2 girls and they told me not to worry and that they had been through the same things. The people at palm cove helped me to settle there and registered me at a doctor. I contacted my family and found out that my mother in law had told them that I had run off and she had made false accusations about me. My family were upset with me for leaving and told me I shouldn’t have done that. I stayed at palm cove for 1 year. They helped me get my immigration status sorted out and registered me on courses at college and at the community centre so I could make a future. They helped me find a house as that was a temporary place. After 1 year at palm cove, I got a flat and moved out.

When I think about it now, I feel all those years and time was wasted but I feel good about what I can do now, I can go out, I can use hot water, I can put the light on, I can have friends, and I can eat what I want.

When I left palm cove, their support ended and I was on my own, and this was when I was put in touch with Bradford Women’s Aid. I had no furniture and only a bit of money and I couldn’t set up my home. I didn’t know anything about the local area or anything about what to do now and I was really upset and traumatised about what I had been through.

My BWA Support Worker helped me to set up my home looking at my finances and budgeting and helping with furnishing it. She helped me to learn about my local community so that I felt part of it, and she gave me space to talk about what I’d been through, this helped me a lot and gave me mental peace. She was always there for me, she took me out, showed me around and I was able to make friends.

I’m really happy with things now and not scared and feel able to make my life better. The one lesson I have really learnt in all of this is that I really feel that no matter what, you should make a stand. Until you make a stand to change things, no one else will be able to help you. You should not be scared and ask for help.

Bradford Women’s Aid supported me and gave me strength. They understood my worries, my culture and my background and gave me the right support and I feel strong now.