In the summer of 2016 Ryan and Luke Hart’s mother and sister were shot dead by their father, just five days after they had made the brave decision to leave him.

It wasn’t until after their deaths that the brothers really began to understand the contr​​olling and abusive behaviour they had grown up with.

Two years on they have written a book​ which they hope will help others living with domestic abuse.

Why did you decide to write t​his book?

Luke: “I actually started writing a year ago and at first it was just a way for me and Ryan to communicate​ – it was easier to do that in writing and that’s sort of how we began.”

Ryan: “Yes, the idea to write a book came about quite organically over the past year or so through our work with charities and talking about our experience, but it wasn’t until we spoke at a Safeguarding conference in Lincolnshire that we realised it was really ​important to share our story to challenge the myths around living with domestic abuse. So it wasn’t that we had planned to write it but in sharing our story with others and seeing the reaction that we got – which took us both by surprise – we decided we had to do this.”

Luke: “The more we spoke at training events with Surrey Police, Crown Prosecution Service and at a number of conferences, the more we were asked to do so and it kept growing – turns out our story was helping others. It’s opened up into a broader dialogue with society allowing a very honest conversation to happen around domestic abuse, which is often kept hidden.  We want to help reduce the shame around the topic. Many victims can’t talk because it’s not safe for them to do so and so we feel we have a responsibility to speak out and our book is an acknowledgment of our responsibility to help others going through something similar to what we did.

Can you tell us a bit more about​ the book?

Ryan: “It explores our whole life from growing up as kids through to teenagers living with an abusive father. We also talk about our mother and sisters’ murder – how we first found out the news and then those weeks and months after it happened when a lot of things came to​ light about our family that we didn’t know – dealing with the realisation that we had been the victims of abuse our whole lives.  We were living in this world that our father had made up – under a veil he had constructed – and it was only through talking to family and friends after, that we began to understand more about what had been going on. We also look at the support networks that have helped us to move forward and ultimately we challenge the narratives around domestic abuse and what can be learned from our story.”

Luke: “The victims’ voice is often silenced through the nature of the abuse and the fact that many victims are killed and ne​ver have the opportunity to speak out. The abuser is often left to construct the narrative and we want to amplify the voice of the victim. As men who grew up in an abusive environment we also feel it’s important to challenge these predominantly male behaviours.”

Ryan: “Growing up we were completely unaware of our situation – we didn’t understand domestic abuse and never reached out to anyone for help or support as we never knew what was going on. We didn’t recognise there was anything we could do and it was only after the murder we realised what had been happening.  When we were first at the police station we saw poster on domestic abuse and coercive control and it was only then we realised that that is what we had been living with.”

How did Victi​m Support help you?

Luke: “It’s so hard to describe what it was like following what happened, especially in the early days. All your motivation and energy is totally gone and there are so many administrative and legal things to do – all while having to cope with the most traumatic experience of your life. Our Victim Support case worker came to talk us through all the processes and it was so helpful to have someone who can do these things for you. Someone who can give you the guidance you need – when everything is new and you have no idea where to start.  We were also supported by Women’s Aid and Refuge, who helped to g​uide and encourage us when we were ready to share our story. We were invited to attend Walk4 in September 2017, to walk with other survivors and domestic abuse advocates.”

Ryan: “We also worked with Surrey Police, helping to train police officers, which is where we began to gain confidence in telling our story. At first, we didn’t know what to expect or where it would lead. We were invited back many more times, and began to receive invitations to speak at other events around the country, and we realised that we had a platform to bring about change. Our story was powerful and we were changing people’s perceptions about domestic abuse.”

What message would you give to anyone l​iving with the effects of domestic abuse?

Ryan: “We need to remove the burden from the victim so they don’t have to deal with the abuse on their own, suffering in silence. We need to empower people and ed​ucate them to recognise signs of abuse in others – friends, family, colleagues – as it’s very isolating and the victim starts to really believe they are the problem which makes it hard for them to break free.”

Luke: “The message would be to talk about it to your friends – our mum was very isolated and she only started to talk to her friends and begin to understand what was happening at the end. You need support to break the abuser’s narrative – they try to isolate their victim so it’s important that the victim breaks out of that and maintains in contact as much as possible with friends and family. If you can, speak to organisations that can help you such as Women’s Aid, Refuge and Victim Support. We need to empower victims to challenge abusive behaviours and to understand abuse beyond the physical, educating people on coercive control. We thought abuse was just fights and confrontation but it’s so much about control and if you’re being controlled you’re already in danger. If you have any doubts you should speak to someone – you won’t be wasting anyone’s time in doing so.”

About the book

Ryan and Luke’s book Operation Lighth​ouse: Reflections on our family’s devastating story of coercive control and domestic homicide is available to buy now in paperback and kindle edition.

If you need help

If you – or someone you know – may have experienced domestic abuse, we can help. Please get in touch or find out more about domestic abuse and the signs of an abusive relationship.