New Women's Aid patron Mel B pays an emotional visit to a domestic violence refuge in her home town of Leeds

The 43-year-old Spice Girl was launching her new high-profile role as a patron for the UK ­charity which supports women and children who have experienced abuse.

She arrived at the secret secure location and listened to women’s shocking stories of violence for more than two hours before sharing her own experiences.

She told them: “My name is Melanie. I was in a horrific, abusive relationship for ten years and, for all that time, I was living a lie.

“I left two years ago last Christmas, but I’m terrified every day.

“Real girl power is what Women’s Aid does for me now. It’s Women’s Aid power. They give a safety zone where you can feel free to talk about everything, including mistakes.”

The singer, who made three suicide attempts during her marriage, listened to the stories of other women during her ­visit on Friday to the ­refuge in her home town of Leeds.

Rochelle Siviter, 34, told Mel how she was beaten, manipulated and ­subjected to cruel sleep deprivation during her 18-month ­relationship with Monces Kaddouri, who died last year.

Rochelle said: “I thought there would be a party when he died, but it’s not as simple as that.

“Our wounds take time to heal. My son suffers from extreme anxiety.”

Rochelle’s beatings at the hands of her partner left her hospitalised. While pregnant with their son, now eight, he continually made her vomit by force-feeding her food she detested.

The mum-of-one, who now educates schoolchildren on the perils of controlling relationships, added: “Domestic violence doesn’t care about money, fame or class. You can be in a council house, an LA mansion or working for a law firm like I was.

“You can be me or Mel B — you are still trapped.”

Mel claims ex-husband Stephen Belafonte abused her on their wedding night in 2007. It was the beginning of a “reign of terror” which lasted a decade.

In her new autobiography Brutally Honest, Mel explains how the couple appeared to enjoy a millionaire lifestyle in ­Hollywood.

They had a daughter Madison, seven, together. Mel also has two other daughters — 19-year-old Phoenix, from her marriage to Spice Girls backing dancer Jimmy Gulzar, and Angel, 11, from her relationship with comedian Eddie Murphy.

She says that behind closed doors Belafonte hit her, strangled her and made degrading sex tapes to blackmail her into staying with him.

Belafonte insists the tapes and the sex filmed were consensual.

The ­videos were evidence in the couple’s court battle, but were not publicly shown.

He also allegedly subjected her to emotional abuse, branding her with words such as ugly, slut, fat, stupid, b***h, worthless, drunk, and pathetic.

She says Belafonte forced her to cut off contact with her mum, dad and younger sister Danielle and told her not to speak to her old friends.

Mel’s explosive allegations were laid bare in US court documents from their divorce which Belafonte dismissed as a “smear”.

Mel recalled: “The mental abuse was worse than the hitting because it affects the whole core of your being and it affects trust. I’m always looking over my shoulder.

“Women’s Aid is about having a support group. Women want to be there for each other.

“I thought women in our situation went through just one form of abuse.

“I didn’t realise people often experience physical, sexual, mental abuse as part of a pattern. It’s the same story on repeat. These women have gone through it all.”

At the refuge, Mel listened as one woman broke down, explaining how she has been in hiding from her husband for five years after trying to take her own life a number of times.

Another spoke of attempting suicide by swallowing bleach following countless episodes of sexual torture. A new mother revealed she had been forced to give birth in the safety of a refuge while trying to support her ten-year-old son who has seen her being beaten on numerous occasions.

And Mel shared with the group her flight from Belafonte.

She told the women: “One day, I told my ex I was going to get some milk — and just like you, I took my kids and left.

“He never believed I would go, because he controlled everything. It’s the hold these men have on us which is so deep.

“Even if someone waved a magic wand and said, ‘We’re going to take him away’, I would still feel like there was a hold over me because we all live with that fear.”

Mel began divorce proceedings last year. The couple’s £10million battle played out in public in an LA court.

In August this year, they reached a settlement with the abuse charges against Belafonte being dropped.
They now share custody of their daughter Madison. It means Mel is regularly forced to face Belafonte in LA’s family court system.

Mel said: “The night before the hearings I can’t breathe and I can’t sleep because I know I’m going to be sitting four seats down from him.

“It’s like I’ve been thrown back into an abusive situation.

“He can bring me back to court whenever he wants whether it be for more spousal support, more child support or my nanny got the time wrong for a drop off or pick-up. I have a restraining order but he can email me ten, 15, 20 times a day.

“The laws are more protective of women here than they are in America. When I was going through my divorce my mum said, ‘Why don’t you come home? At least you’ll have lawyers who take care of you’.

“But two of my kids were born in America, so it would be a case of me having to leave my kids.”

Now Mel plans to work with Women’s Aid. She wants to highlight the importance of the Government delivering sustainable funding for domestic abuse services, so that every survivor can access support as part of a forthcoming domestic abuse bill.

In recent years, a funding crisis has led to services closing or being reduced. One in five community-based services polled for the latest Women’s Aid annual survey received no local authority funding.

And in 2016 and 2017, less than 300 offenders were convicted for coercive and controlling behaviour which was made a criminal offence in 2015.

Mel said her abuse included coercive control. She explained: “I’d be doing 15-hour days and he’d say, ‘I’ll go and meet the accountant for you’.

“I thought he was taking care of me because I was busy working but, actually, he was taking control away from me bit by bit.”

Leeds Women’s Aid chief executive, Nik Peasgood, 48, praised Mel’s courage and the importance of her visit.

She said: “Mel’s involvement with Women’s Aid will take the understanding of domestic violence to another level.

“Many women think their experience is isolated, but knowing that someone famous has been hit and controlled just like you shows that domestic violence knows no boundaries.

“Now millions of women will be able to say things they might never have said.”

  • Domestic violence and coercive control is against the law. The Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, below, is run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge.

Are you a victim?

  • Is your partner controlling or coercive?
  • Do they cut you off from your friends and family?
  • Do they monitor where you are and check your emails and social media?
  • Do they always put you down and sometimes threaten or intimidate you?


Buy Mel's t-shirt and support Women's Aid

PROUDLY posing in her ‘Unbreakable’ Women’s Aid top, Mel says: “My T-shirt is important. There are lots of slogans around – ‘She did it better’ or ‘I’m with her’ – but this is one word that says so much.

For women who have gone through this, or are close to it, I want to let them know that they are
unbreakable. They are superheroes.

“No matter what the abuser does to you, you have to carry on, you have to get up. I tried to commit suicide so many times throughout my marriage but the one time I wrote my note and went the furthest, something saved me ­– it was me, because I couldn’t let him take everything.

“I was unbreakable.”

To buy the T-shirt, priced £19, visit womensaid.teemill.com


 

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