Mel B: ‘The Relationship Is Over But The Control Continues’

Melanie Brown has partnered with Women’s Aid to call for domestic abuse training for judges.

by As told to Alice Hall |
Updated on

THE NIGHT BEFORE I appeared in court to face my ex-husband for divorce proceedings, after walking away from a 10-year abusive marriage, I was too terrified to sleep. When the morning rolled around, I was a nervous wreck and could barely take on board anything the judge was saying. I just sat there, frozen, mere seats away from my ex. Memories of him calling me fat, ugly, a bad mother and saying that no one likes me came flooding back.

My divorce proceedings took place in the US, but I’ve had terrible experiences in both American and British courts. In the US, I felt like the judges didn’t seem to take into account the fact that I had been through an abusive marriage. They made me feel like I was crazy for wanting to know what school my daughter is attending and told me I must ask for my ex-husband’s permission every time I take her on holiday. Because of this, every day still feels like I’m stuck in a cycle of abuse. Meanwhile, my ex-husband has permission to have constant contact with me through a court-appointed email.

This shouldn’t have to happen, which is why I’ve launched a petition with Women’s Aid calling for judges to receive mandatory training from experts who work with women and children facing domestic abuse. A recent Women’s Aid survey reported 100% of surveyed member services – the organisations that provide specialist direct domestic abuse services to women and children – found family court proceedings were traumatic for survivors. The family courts are not safe for survivors of domestic abuse and that needs to change. I’m also asking courts not to assume contact with children should be granted to an ex-partner when the relationship has been abusive.

My trial was in the US but I know from working with survivors in the UK that they feel judges here need training led by domestic abuse experts, such as Women’s Aid, and that they don’t seem to fully understand the nuances of domestic violence and coercive control. Since speaking out about the abuse I suffered, I hear countless stories every day from women who have been left traumatised by the court system. They speak of not having the finances to afford it, or of how their children are carted back and forth. A lot of survivors can’t find the strength to go through the justice system because it’s overwhelming, especially knowing they will face their abuser in court.

I know first-hand how an abusive relationship impacts you for the rest of your life – I still suffer from PTSD. Your confidence is stolen and, sometimes, you totally lose your sense of self-worth. The system is broken, but we have to start somewhere, and a good place is by making family courts more empathetic. I’d love to know how a judge who was trained in domestic abuse could have changed the court experiences women like me have in the family courts. All I can do is hope things are different for future generations. Melanie Brown’s ex-husband Stephen Belafonte has always denied abuse.

Patron Mel B has partnered with Women’s Aid. To support, scan the QR code or visit melaniebrownpetition

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us