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Mel B is reminding the world that healing from abuse doesn’t follow a neat timeline

mel b pictured smiling as she turns away from the camera wearing a sequin dress on a red carpet
Mel B reminds us recovering from abuse is complexMondadori Portfolio / Getty Images

Singer and advocate Melanie Brown (best known as Mel B) is speaking out, saying she wants to share her personal experiences to issue the world with an important reminder: domestic abuse survivors continue to need support even once they’ve left their harmful relationship – and healing doesn’t tend to follow an orderly timeline.

Brown, a patron of Women’s Aid and a "survivor", says she has added additional chapters to her poignant memoir, Brutally Honest, to highlight the need for better long-term support. It comes at a time when data shows one in four women in England and Wales are believed to experience domestic abuse; meanwhile, a recent survey of domestic abuse services found 49% of organisations were forced to operate part of their service without dedicated funding and nearly 45% of organisations delivered services that should be provided by a statutory agency (a government body).

“You can’t just erase what’s happened to you. You live with it,” Brown tells Cosmopolitan. “For a lot of survivors, when they leave everybody seems to think, ‘Oh, it's fine now’. But actually, it's not. You've got a whole journey to go through.”

Brown alleges she was abused emotionally and financially by Stephen Belafonte, her film producer ex-husband during the course of their ten-year marriage. The pair, who have a daughter together, were married from 2007 to 2017. Stephen Belafonte has always denied any abuse.

Her account of coercive and controlling behaviour was first shared in her memoir back in 2018, over a year after she filed for divorce. However, Brown has since updated her memoir to reflect on her “ongoing journey” of self-healing, in a new edition expanded for 2024. She tells how she “left with nothing” - eventually moving into her mum’s house after the 2019 Spice Girls' Spice World tour - and how she has lost millions of dollars in legal battles.

london, england may 04 former spice girl melanie brown poses after she was made an mbe member of the order of the british empire by the duke of cambridge during an investiture ceremony at buckingham palace on may 4, 2022 in london, england photo by dominic lipinski poolgetty images
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For the singer, it was important to share what she says “happened to me and what happens to a lot of survivors when they leave”.

“Obviously, you’re left with trauma, but you’re also left with so many things that you have to [rejig] in your brain,” she says. “There’s a lot of self doubt, questioning, ‘Did this really happen to me? Can I trust myself?’”

For many survivors, these feelings may be accompanied by a sense of shame. “Shame and guilt are just a couple of the things that keep you quiet. That’s what kept me quiet for ten years and had me living a lie.”

“I think we can somehow dispel the blame and the guilt by sharing stories, by talking about it. As horrible as it is down on paper,” Brown added.

For her part, Brown says she has been learning to trust and love herself again. She recently celebrated buying her own house with her own money and she’s planning her wedding to her partner, Rory McPhee. But she wants to emphasise that despite all this progress, she still has good days and bad days.

“It's a real kind of balancing act that you have to do day in, day out. Some days, I don't want to think, I want to stay in my pyjamas with my dogs and not think because sometimes if I overanalyse too much of it, I end up crumbling.

“I have to remember how far I've come, I have to remember that not everybody gets out of those kinds of situations. You have to be kind to yourself.”

Brown says the abuse was a secret she guarded fiercely at the time - appearing on screen as the larger-than-life popstar who shot to fame as Scary Spice all the while.

It can be difficult, recognising what has happened to you, Brown acknowledges, and she is clear domestic abuse can happen to anyone, loud or quiet, famous or not. “But I’ve got an army of warriors behind me and I know I can use my platform for good and to talk about it, so that is my mission and I won’t stop.”

Along with legal reforms to help survivors seeking justice, Brown wants to see more support for survivors and their families. "We need more support groups. We need more refuges. We need more charities like Women's Aid,” she said. “They understand and believe and support.”

For more information and support, visit Women's Aid's website or call the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Women’s Aid in partnership with Refuge, on 0808 2000 247.

Brutally Honest by Melanie Brown and Louise Gannon is available now (Quadrille, £10.99)

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