Domestic abuse: Why I shared my mum's murder story on TikTok

3 weeks ago 20

A composite image made up of two photos. On the left is Liv, a young white woman, black hair tied back in a high ponytail, sitting in front of a red brick wall. She's wearing a high-necked black blouse and smiling. On the table in front of her is a martini glass containing an orange cocktail. On the right, a black-and-white photo of Liv's mum Lisa Cubin, with short, blonde hair styled in a bob, smiling widely.Image source, Liv Shelby

Image caption,

Liv Shelby's mum was murdered in 2005 by Liv's dad

By Kirsty Grant & Jonelle Awomoyi

Hosts, Reliable Sauce podcast

When Liv Shelby posted a TikTok about her mum's death, she didn't expect many people to watch it.

Sitting in her car and speaking to camera, it was the first time she'd opened up publicly about what happened to Lisa, who died in 2005.

That was the year Liv turned three. It was also the year when, on the day of Liv's birthday party, her dad attacked and killed her mum.

While she was aware her mum was gone and her dad was responsible, Liv says her family never spoke about Lisa's death so she didn't know what actually happened.

She didn't find out the full story until eight years later, during a school IT class, when she searched for her mum's name.

And it took another decade for Liv, now 21, to share her story with the world.

In the seven-minute video, which has been watched more than 4 million times, she speaks openly and emotionally about the effect it's had on her life.

Liv, a content creator who regularly posts to 270,000 TikTok followers, says she's seen people "romanticising domestic abuse relationships" online and she uploaded her video to show the potentially devastating consequences.

But she also wanted to highlight the impact that losing a parent - or both parents, in her case - can have on the children who are left behind.

She was living in Canada, where she was born, when the attack happened, but moved to the UK with her maternal grandmother at age eight after a bitter custody battle between both sides of her family.

Her dad, Bradley Benham, was convicted of second-degree murder in November 2008 and given a life sentence with a minimum of 12 years in prison.

Liv tells the BBC's Reliable Sauce podcast he's since been released from prison, but the two haven't had contact.

Image source, Liv Shelby

Image caption,

Liv only found out the truth about what happened when she was in year seven

Liv says that she's held her feelings in until now and never really spoken about what happened with her nan or her boyfriend.

"I've just kept it all in forever - people that actually know me in real life, I don't talk about it," she says.

Despite eventually going to a school counsellor, she says she was "quite stubborn" and "didn't want to talk to someone".

"Because especially - no offence to the counsellor - but she was a very generic counsellor that you had an hour or a half an hour to sit down and talk to them.

"I don't think she was ready for what I was gonna say if I'd have really gotten into it."

Based on her experiences, Liv believes there should be a greater recognition of the needs of children who've lost a parent to domestic homicide.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, almost half (45%) of 70 adult female homicide victims in England and Wales in the year up to March 2023 were killed in a domestic homicide.

All but one of those was killed by a male suspect, according to the figures.

Only 8% of male homicide victims died in domestic-relating killings, the report says, a total of 30 deaths, with a female suspect in 11 of those cases.

Violence against women and girls, and efforts to tackle it, are often headline news, but there is less discussion of and research about bereaved children.

Image source, Liv Shelby

Image caption,

Liv says the worst thing is that while she has no memory of her mother, she has happy memories about her dad

John Devaney, a professor of social work at the University of Edinburgh, says data is not officially recorded but he predicts about 100-250 children a year are grieving parents lost to domestic homicide in the UK.

"When a parent is killed by a current or former intimate partner, in many cases it is the child's other parent," he says.

He agrees with Liv that there should be more support offered to affected children.

"I think it's part of a general lack of awareness when we talk about domestic abuse, that this is something that isn't only between adults, but it also impacts on children and families," he says.

"There's no one agency that's responsible for either providing services or having an overview of these children's needs, because it's relatively rare.

"And yet, because it's such a small group, it should mean that there's something we're able to do."

The UK government told the BBC that "domestic homicide in an abhorrent crime" and it "has announced a package of measures which go further than ever before in protecting women and girls".

Liv thinks a possible solution would be a designated specialist counsellor for each child, something that would have helped her growing up.

"There's no reason why someone couldn't be allocated to a certain person," she says.

"It would help that you're not just getting a random social worker.

"You're getting someone that's gonna walk through it all with you or knows your story already - you don't have to sit there and explain it."

Liv says the reaction to her video, with others sharing their own experiences of domestic homicide, helped her to feel less alone.

"There were loads of people," she says.

"So many of them knew someone that it happened to, so everyone could connect to it.

"Which is quite sad, really.

"I realised there are actually other people that have gone through this."

If you've been affected by the issues in this article, visit BBC Action Line for help and support.

Image caption,

Reliable Sauce with Kirsty and Jonelle is available to listen to on BBC Sounds

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