Think you may be in an abusive relationship? Mel B was with both of her ex husbands. Here are five key signs she warns about in her new autobiography
It has been revealed today that new domestic abuse laws will for the first time create a legal definition of domestic abuse that will include economic abuse and control.
This new legislation will also ban abusers from cross-examining victims in court. Campaigners say that these measures are a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to combat the growing impact of abuse.
Behind the facade of Scary Spice was a woman who lived in fear for ten years. Mel B, global superstar and one-fifth of the pop girl group the ‘Spice Girls’ was known as a strong, independent woman, the face of ultimate girl power.
Who would have thought someone as strong as Melanie Brown aka ‘Scary’ Spice could be made to feel scared, worthless and vulnerable by her husband and the father of her child?
Now 43, Mel B tells her own story in her new book Brutally Honest, on how she lived in fear of her abusive husband for ten years that led her to taking a drug overdose.
In an interview with Channel 4 News, Mel B said, ‘It doesn’t matter whether you live in a bedsit or a mansion, this kind of situation and relationship can happen to anyone.
‘I lived in it for ten years with my ex husband. He was very abusive on many different levels and I was led to believe that was normal and it was all my fault’.
Domestic violence vs coercive control
Domestic violence isn’t the same in every relationship. But one thing that is the same in an abusive relationship, is that an abusive partner will do many different kinds of things to exert more power and control over their partner. (If you think you are in an abusive relationship, for support contact womensrefuge.org)
Traditionally, domestic abuse or violence has been seen as an incident of, or a series of incidents involving physical violence or abuse.
In films and TV programmes, the audience is shown domestic abuse through a woman with bruising on her arms or perhaps a black eye, hinting at physical violence.
However, physical abuse is not the only type of domestic abuse. ‘Coercive control’ a term developed by author Evan Stark, is described as ‘a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self’.
Thankfully, TV programmes with more complicated storylines such as BBC One’s show Doctor Foster, now show that coercive control can involve an abusive partner who, without physically abusing their spouse, can still make them feel worthless, like they aren’t good enough and that the problem lies with them, not the abuser themselves.
In Doctor Foster, Dr Gemma Foster is shown to be a strong, successful and independent woman – just like Mel B. However, she is made to feel vulnerable and worthless by her controlling husband, who even tries to take her son away from her, just as Mel B’s husband tried to take her daughter Angel away from her.
Coercive control can of course involve physical abuse too, but what is significant where coercive control is concerned is just that – control. Control over things such as what family or friends you are ‘allowed’ to see, what clothes you can or can’t wear, to something as insignificant as what they say you should be eating for dinner.
In the Channel 4 interview Melanie explained ‘I didn’t know what coercive behaviour was, it’s a crime and you can put someone behind bars because of their behaviour towards you.’
Coercive behaviour became a crime in the UK in 2015. But while this may be a new crime, it’s not a new situation.
Melanie reveals in her book that throughout her life she has been involved with controlling men, from her first husband and backup dancer Jimmy Gulzar, to her second husband Stephen Belafonte.
Melanie admits that throughout her life she has always sought love and approval from her father, but rarely ever received either. Her dad did love her, but he found it hard to show her, after experiencing a harsh and difficult upbringing.
Coercive behaviour became a crime in the UK in 2015.
More than once throughout her book, Mel B admits that all she wanted to do was make her father proud.
As a child, although always having her best interests at heart, Mel B describes her father as being quite a controlling figure, being very strict with her over school issues and not liking when she would wear lipstick, this led to him using a belt to discipline Melanie.
The controlling behaviour from her parents is what Melanie seems to think led to her ‘rebellious’ behaviour. Melanie also believes that the reason she seems to fall in love with controlling men was down to the fact that she was always looking and seeking approval from a father figure.
So what are the signs of coercive behaviour and coercive abuse? And what does Mel B want us to know about abusive relationships?
They alienate you from friends and family
Talking about her controlling second husband, Mel B admits that none of her family or friends liked him, ‘he wasn’t a likable man’. This meant that Mel B found herself alienated from her friends as they didn’t want to spend time with her husband.
Mel B stopped talking to her family for many years, losing complete contact with her father for years and only speaking to him briefly before he died. She also distanced herself from her friends, knowing that they weren’t big fans of her husband.
Simon Cowell reportedly hated Stephen and had banned him from the X-Factor completely
In controlling and abusive relationships, often your friends are your partner’s friends too, which makes confiding in them difficult or simply not possible. So without family or friends who do you turn to? Sadly for many abused people, they turn to alcohol or drugs – which is exactly what Mel B did.
Mel B speaks out about her cocaine addiction throughout her book, saying it was one of the only ways she sought escape from her husband’s controlling behaviour.
‘When I was working on X-Factor, in a two-hour period he would call my phone 50 times, asking where I was, what I was doing, telling me I had to come back, accusing me of sleeping with Simon Cowell.’
Simon Cowell reportedly hated Stephen and had banned him from the X-Factor completely. This was one of the only places Mel B said she felt she could escape. And when he phoned, she felt she had a valid excuse of working or being on film, that was why she couldn’t respond.
Mel B’s advice? ‘Never lose your friends or your family because they will keep you sane, happy and grounded’.
They insult, demean and shame you with put-downs
Mel B revealed that both her first and second husband would insult her, demean her and fill her with shame, often using words such as ‘You can’t do anything right’.
This is common in abusive relationships, when you are in love with someone you will do anything to make them love you, accept you and feel proud of you. Mel B admits that when it comes to men she falls in love with, she isn’t tough but a pushover. ‘I will let them get away with things that everyone else can see because I love them and desperately want to be loved back’
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Where insults are concerned Mel B revealed that her first husband Jimmy would put her down: ‘Jim would make little comments about how I spoke or what I wore and it chipped away at my self-esteem’
However, according to Melanie, ‘If Jim was controlling, I would have to invent another word for Stephen. He ruled by clever, manipulative domestic terrorism.’
Jimmy had a temper and had some dramatic fights with Mel B. But Jimmy never had a hold on Mel B the way Stephen did, she explains.
Stephen flooded Mel B with insult after insult, causing her to feel completely worthless. She revealed he would say things such as ‘Look at your arms. They look flabby and saggy’, ‘You’re old and you’re ugly’, ‘Your arse Melanie, it’s f***ing disgusting’ and ‘You should thank God you have me because no on else would want you’.
Words such as ugly, slut, fat, stupid, bitch, worthless, drunk, pathetic, monkey and derelict became ‘just words’ to Mel B, ‘He would get louder and louder, pushing his face right in front of mine to tell me how stupid and ugly I was.’
Yet, she still blamed herself. ‘I told myself I was insecure, he had a damaged background, that I hadn’t given him enough attention, that I was still hormonal after giving birth and felt completely crap about myself’.
He would get louder and louder, pushing his face right in front of mine to tell me how stupid and ugly I was.
Insults like this made Mel B feel ugly, like a waste of space, a whore and a bad mother. She would laugh so that she wouldn’t cry and find herself sorting out cupboards or straightening sheets or sitting down with her diary and then hiding it so that her husband wouldn’t see.
Mel B admits that she looks back and still can’t believe she ever let men speak to her that way. If your partner constantly puts you down or insults your looks or your parenting – he’s probably trying to make you feel so worthless that you feel ‘lucky’ to have him, Melanie warns.
They will be in control of every penny you spend
The money that Mel B had earn’t from her time on the X-Factor disappeared without a trace and still to this day she is still trying to find answers for where it went.
Money is the root of all evil. Isn’t that the saying? Where Mel B was concerned she had plenty of money so not being in control of it didn’t always mean she was in a compromised position.
However, in normal relationships, if a partner controls your money it can lead to you feeling completely trapped and dependent on your partner. But you should never feel trapped, Melanie says, and if you do your partner most definitely has an abusive hold on you.
The money that Mel B had earn’t from her time on the X-Factor disappeared without a trace
After Jimmy (her first husband) and Mel B’s wedding, her uncle told her that Jimmy came out of the bathroom and announced ‘That’s it now. I’m a rich man’. Mel B revealed she always knew that Jimmy had only married her for her money.
Jimmy spent money extravagantly, and went on shopping trips and came back laden with designer bags. According to Melanie’s father, Jimmy ‘spent money like water’. Mel B said, ‘When Jim kept presenting the shop assistants with my gold AMEX card my dad was boiling over with fury.’
Within days of Stephen and Mel B’s marriage, he was her manager without even a discussion, controlling not just her private life but her business life too. Some who were close to Mel B often told her that Stephen had taken and used her card. He went from living in a standard house and driving an old Audi to living like a king, she says.
They will control everything
Abusive partners will control who you see, where you go and whom you associate with. ‘Party invitations would sit unanswered because – apart from going to work – I felt I shouldn’t leave the apartment without his approval,’ revealed Mel B.
Again, control. Why shouldn’t you go and see your friend? Why shouldn’t you go for dinner with your family and why shouldn’t you go to the shops by yourself?
Many controlling relationships involve a partner keeping a close eye on their spouse or not letting them go out alone for fear they will say something about what is going on in their relationship.
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It isn’t always about where you go either, it can be about what you are wearing and what you like to do in your spare time.
Mel B revealed that, ‘He (Stephen) checked all my emails and answered them, deleted them – same with my phone messages, Twitter and Instagram pages. He controlled all my bank accounts and my work schedule.’
When someone takes over your life so completely, it should be clear that they don’t have your best interests at heart. Why would someone want to make you feel like you have no control over your own life?
‘He never stopped talking about setting up meetings, telling me I should be doing this deal, that deal; who I should be hanging out with; which restaurants we ought to be eating at; what dishes we should be ordering and which celebrities I should be hanging out with.’
They pressure you into sex, drugs or alcohol
Although Mel B has been outspoken about her drug addiction, she admits it’s one of the things that made her realise that she needed help in order to take care of her three daughters.
Along with controlling her everyday life, Stephen also had control over Mel B by storing a collection of sex and drug videos to use against her.
‘He’d pull out his phone and video me while asking questions: Melanie, have you taken cocaine? Look at you, you are off your head, look at the state of you.’
Stephen also had control over Mel B by storing a collection of sex and drug videos to use against her.
Mel B also writes openly about how she had a threesome with her husband and one of her close friends after drinking plenty of Champagne. She admits she was mortified that Stephen had in fact filmed this, and over the years collected many ‘sordid sex tapes’ of Mel B to use against her.
Stephen often pressured Mel B into having threesomes. ‘It was pretty much always pre-arranged with women we knew, lap dancers we’d come across, or one of the very many LA party Girls.’
Although Stephen didn’t force Mel B to take drugs, his controlling behaviour forced her into seeing no other way out, other than to abuse both drugs and alcohol.
Mel B’s book Brutally Honest is available to buy on Amazon.
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