The Duchess of Cornwall was reunited last night with Rachel Williams, a survivor of domestic violence whose extraordinary courage brought the kingdom to tears during their first meeting four years ago.
Mrs. Williams, who suffered 18 years of abuse before being shot in the leg by her husband, had a deep impact on Camilla, 72, when she, along with five other women, shared their stories of abuse and survival at a charity event in January 2016 .
The experience had a lasting effect on the Duchess, who had already visited at that time in connection with the issue of rape and sexual violence, and strengthened her conviction that she “had to do something.”
The duchess said about that crucial meeting last night: “One after the other, these ladies stood up to tell their stories and they were so brave – it was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. And I thought to myself, this is going on, what are we doing about it? You know people, I know people with whom it happened. But I don’t believe we ever believed it was that bad. “
Since that day, Camilla has maintained personal contact with Mrs. Williams, now a committed campaigner and pioneer for SafeLives for domestic violence.
Last night Mrs. Williams was among the guests at a reception organized by the Duchess at Clarence House to celebratehe 15th anniversary of the domestic charity SafeLives and the launch of the Valentine campaign.
The Duchess of Cornwall was reunited last night with Rachel Williams, a survivor of domestic violence whose extraordinary courage brought the kingdom to tears during their first meeting four years ago. Pictured, Mrs. Williams, the Duchess of Cornwall and Celia Peachey of SafeLives
Mrs. Williams, a mother of two, endured 18 years of strokes through the hands of her steroid-abusing 6ft 7in, 22nd bully of a partner, Darren. In addition to being beaten, smothered, spat and abused, every aspect of her life was jealously controlled.
She has believed for 18 years that things would get better; that the most recent battle was really the last. That he was really sorry this time.
During all those years, she was beaten, smothered, spit on, abused and controlled every action. Yet she remained silent – terrified of the consequences of speaking.
The terrible final attack came soon after Rachel finally decided that she had enough. Darren had tried to strangle her before he hit his wrist for their traumatized 16-year-old son, Jack.
Six weeks later, after receiving divorce papers, he burst into the salon where she worked and shot her in the legs before she hit her black and blue.
Later that day he was found hanging in a forest area close to their home in Newport, South Wales.
In a twist of unfathomable horror, Jack — unable to cope with the devastation that worshiped the mother he worshiped from the father he still couldn’t help — committed suicide six weeks later. He is undoubtedly also the victim of domestic violence.
Mrs. Williams, a mother of two, endured 18 years of success at the hands of her steroid-abusing 6ft 7in, 22nd bully of a partner, Darren, pictured on their wedding day. In addition to being beaten, smothered, spat and abused, every aspect of her life was jealously controlled
Rachel met Darren when he was 26 and she is a 21-year-old mother of her oldest son, Josh. He was dark handsome and both shared the same silly sense of humor. Eight months later they moved together.
However, Darren did not know that Darren already had a history of violence: an earlier girlfriend had ordered him, and there had been numerous cases with the police.
Months in their own courtship, his malignant mood overflowed for the first time. An innocent remark from a friend about a boy Rachel used to date got him going.
I remember thinking: I’m 39, do I really still want to do this when I’m 49? Pulling my hair, being spit in the face and being spoken as something he had stepped into?
On the way home from their night out, he pushed Rachel along a dike in nettles.
Darren could not be comforted afterwards – this had to be a performance that Rachel knew well – apologetic apologies and promises that it would not happen again. But of course it did.
Jack even experienced the violence of his father before he was born: Rachel was seven months pregnant when Darren lifted her from the floor by her throat during an argument while she screamed in her face.
Jack was two when he saw his father dragging his mother’s hair through the kitchen of their house and leaving clogs on the floor.
It became the little boy’s idea for normal family life – and for his older brother Josh.
The last straw for Rachel came in July 2011, after a particularly vicious assault.
She said in an interview in 2016 with the Daily Mail: “I remember opening my back door and looking with tears down my cheeks at the forest and thinking,” I’m 39, do I really want to do this when I’m 49? Pulling my hair, being spit in the face and being spoken as something he had stepped into? “
Camilla was visibly moved to tears in 2011 after hearing her story and that of other victims. The duchess praised the women for having the courage to speak and help others
Three days later, Rachel left and finally filed for divorce. Gwent Police arrested Darren for assault.
Inevitably, he was unable to accept his wife’s decision and repeatedly broke his bail conditions not to come within three miles of her or to contact the children.
All in all, Rachel was forced to call the police seven times in just six weeks.
On August 18, 2011, the day before she was shot, Rachel decided to return to the marital home after officers agreed to install a panic button. The boys, then 16 and 20 years old, wanted to stay.
But on the same day, Darren returned to the court where, following a request from his legal team, magistrates inexplicably raised his bail conditions, despite his history of aggression and self-harm.
At about 3.15 p.m. I was chatting with a customer when the window in front of the salon door suddenly became dark. Then I saw Darren walk through, pulling a gun out of his bag
Rachel was not even told about the hearing until it had taken place. Her mother told the police that she had signed her daughter’s “death sentence.”
The next morning Rachel just went to work, but remembers: “I was so tense, constantly looking at the window and even calling my sister to find Darren.
“At about 3.15 p.m. I was chatting with a customer when the window in front of the salon door suddenly became dark. Then I saw Darren walk through it and take a gun out of his bag. “
He aimed the gun at her chest, but hit her legs after she had instinctively rolled up to protect herself.
She was taken to the hospital with a catalog of injuries: the explosion of the gun completely destroyed her knee, which had to be replaced during ten hours of operation.
At 8 o’clock in the evening, Rachel was told that Darren’s body had been found in the nearby forest.
“The only thing I could do was to thank God that it was over, to be honest,” she said in 2016. “The feeling of knowing that I shouldn’t experience that fear again … not for the rest of my life looking over my shoulder. “
The Duchess of Cornwall spoke with Celia Peachey, center, and Mrs. Williams last night. Mrs. Williams said she would always be grateful to the Duchess, 72, for her help and support
Rachel’s sons came to see her at the hospital. Jack was “whiter than white” and grabbed her and said, “Mom, I never thought he would ever do it.” But with his mother recovering from hospital for six weeks, Jack returned to his father’s family who – according to reports – was unable to come to terms with what Darren had done.
Jack’s texts to his mother became cruel and offensive. He even cut his wrists in a “cry for help.”
Rachel called her local social service for help, but was told that they could do little because he was considered an adult at the age of 16.
Three days after her release from the hospital in September 2011, Jack, who since the day of the shooting refused to see his mother, went missing. His body was found in the same place where he had scattered his father’s ashes.
A coroner later described his death as “tragic” and said it should never have happened.
Rachel has turned her raw, deep-rooted grief into something positive: campaigner and advisor are turning to the SafeLives charity for domestic violence.
Yesterday, Camilla organized a reception at Clarence House to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Safe Lives and the launch of the Valentine campaign that appropriately celebrates the collective strength and resilience of thousands of female – and male – survivors of domestic violence.
Mrs. Williams said yesterday she will always be grateful to Camilla for her support.
Regarding their meeting in 2016, she said: “It was very important for me to speak with that member of the royal family to help us. I remember seeing her for the first time so clearly.
“Everyone judges someone within the first ten seconds of meeting them and I immediately got warmed up for the Duchess because you could see it was clearly not a sign gesture for her – she wasn’t just there to check off a duty that day.
‘You could clearly see that she wanted to be there, was really interested in what we said and was physically touched by it. That meant a lot to her. “Since that day, Camilla has been in personal contact with Mrs. Williams, in support of her inaugural Stand Up to Domestic Abuse conference last year.
She said, “Her support was fantastic.” Mrs. Williams continues to campaign on a wide range of issues, including making it compulsory for all judges to attend mandatory specialist domestic violence training.
She emphasized: ‘I want everyone to turn domestic violence into their cause. Everyone can suffer from it. There is no dividing line here.
“I could only leave Darren when the fear of staying with him became greater than the fear of living with him.”
If you or someone you know experiences domestic violence, you can call the national domestic violence helpline (in collaboration between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on 0808 2000 247, visit the Survivors’ Forum at womensaid.org.uk, Resort at refuge.org.uk or SafeLives safelives.org.uk.