Warning: This article deals with domestic abuse.
The thing that first drew me to the new LA Time’s podcast ‘Dirty John’ was that it was likened to the first season of Serial – the podcast that had the world hooked back in 2014.
The thing that kept me hooked on Dirty John was it’s detailed insight into domestic abuse.
Having an avid interest in murder mysteries, I thought Dirty John would be right up my alley. But over the course of the six 50-minute episodes, I realised this was less of a murder mystery and more of a battle cry to all women.
Dirty John tells the true story of a family who encountered a dangerous man. Set in Newport Beach, California – famously associated with beloved 00’s TV show The OC – we meet Debra Newell and her daughters Jacquelyn and Terra.
Through a series of interviews, the three women describe how Debra, a four-time divorcee with a successful interior design business, met John Meehan on an online dating website.
After a date that left Debra feeling deflated, John was persistent and the couple ended up getting married within two months of meeting each other.
The warning signs began at a Thanksgiving dinner where Terra, Debra’s youngest daughter, and John got into a row. Over the course of the series, we hear how John isolated Debra from her family. He told her how much he loved her, how her kids were spoiled and were waiting for her to die so they could inherit her money.
He installed video cameras in their house after an intruder broke in one day, but Debra suspected he was watching her. He even put a tracker on her car without her knowledge.
John was a professional conman and Debra was not his first victim. He lured her in, promising love and security, using words to control her.
Anyone that’s ever been in love knows that at times it can be blinding. You want to see the good things about the person and you end up wearing permanent rose-tinted contacts.
Emotional abuse can be difficult to spot when you are in the relationship, it can be small manipulations like encouraging you not to spend time with your friends or making you feel isolated and that your partner is the only person you have.
There are many reasons why women stay in an emotionally abusive relationship: they might love their partner, be scared of becoming financially unstable, they might have kids together or they might be scared that if they leave the emotional abuse could turn physical.
In the UK, domestic abuse is a largely hidden crime but an estimated 1.3million women suffer from it every year.
In England and Wales alone, two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week.
So what are the signs of emotional abuse?
The behaviour of emotional abuse can often be mistaken for a deeply caring partner, who draws you in with their love and then begins to control you.
Domestic abusers may stop their partner from talking to certain people or from leaving the house. They may threaten to physically hurt you or the people you care about.
Attempting to control what you eat or wear is another sign as is refusing to trust you. Monitoring your movements through tracking, or having to know your every movement and who you are seeing should also spark red flags.
If you are in an abusive relationship, it is never your fault. Your partner will try to make you feel worthless and like they are the only person you have, but this isn’t true. You should never feel helpless, there will always be a way out.
Debra’s retelling of her relationship with John made his emotional abuse look glaringly obvious, but this is an easy thing to see in hindsight.
John’s emotional abuse of Debra escalated into physical abuse to the point where she was afraid for her and her family’s safety. While Debra and her family were lucky to escape John, not all women are lucky enough to escape their abusers.
If you see any of these warning signs please talk to someone you trust or call the victim’s support helpline on 0808 168 9111.