Bethan Thomas-Rowlands, 23, from Bridgend, south Wales, was besotted with handsome bodybuilder Garth Rees, 22.
But he went on to throttle her, punch her so hard her ribs fractured and pour a kettle of water over her head.
Rees, who went on to abuse another woman, was sentenced to 16 months in September last year.
Bethan said: "Please, please be cautious on Tinder. When I first met him he was so charming but he changed… he was a monster."
Here, she shares her story with Fabulous Digital…
WHEN I first saw Garth Rees, I was bowled over by his charm and good looks. We matched on Tinder, became close and quickly were a couple.
He took me out for dinner in beautiful restaurants and told me to order whatever I wanted.
I really liked him and couldn’t wait to introduce him to my family, who I’m really close to.
They loved him. If I was busy upstairs he’d choose to stay downstairs, chatting to my mum and dad. He’d even help my mum with the washing up if she had cooked for us all. Things were great – Garth was perfect.
So, when talk turned to us moving in together just four months later, it felt like the natural step in our relationship.
But just as quickly as everything had fallen into place, it all fell apart.
How can you stay safe on Tinder?
The dating app Tinder now has millions of users looking for love and has helped thousands of people find their perfect partner.
Tinder is a free app available on both iOS and Android that allows users to view potential suitors within a pre-determined radius and age bracket – ranging from 18 upwards.
Daters can swipe right to "like" a profile and left to reject it.
Two people who have "liked" each other's profiles are deemed a match, and can begin messaging via the app.
The app includes the option to unmatch and delete other users, and report people who may have been offensive.
Users must be aged over 18 and have a Facebook account to join Tinder.
The app has now integrated optional Instagram and Spotify features which display images and songs from a particular person's profile.
Research has revealed that there are 50million active users on Tinder who check their accounts 11 times per day and spend an average of 90 minutes per day on the app, reported Marie Claire.
The app is now available in 196 countries around the world, and it is estimated to make up to hundreds of matches every second.
In 2016, there was a record number of offences related to dating apps – with 50 sex crimes involving Tinder and Grindr being reported to Scotland Yard in the six months to June.
These are sex and relationship expert Dr Pam Spurr's top tips for staying safe while dating online…
- If someone sounds too good to be true, they probably are
- It’s easy to check people out online and discover if they are really who they say they are
- Once you get their name, a simple Google search can help you check everything – from where they claim to work, to their social media profiles
- Take things slowly and, if you decide to meet up, suggest bringing a friend along for safety.
- If they are strongly against the idea, question their motives
- If you would rather go alone, meet somewhere public, like a pub or cafe, and try to make it during the day if possible
I planned to visit my mum on her birthday but Garth had other ideas. He told me I was going nowhere, before wrapping his hands tightly around my throat and squeezing hard.
I sobbed, begging him to stop. I could barely breathe. Then he told me: “Look at the size of you. If I wanted to hurt you or kill you, I would.”
Then, moments later, he staggered backwards. He couldn’t apologise enough and told me he didn’t know what had come over him.
Garth’s apology seemed sincere I forgave him. But I snapped a couple of photographs to document the red marks he’d left around my neck.
I prayed that Garth’s violent outburst had been a one-off. I made every excuse I could think of for him. But from then on, his vile behaviour became the norm.
He’d fly off the handle over the smallest inconvenience, kicking or punching me and telling me to blame the bruises he left behind on something else entirely.
“Tell your mum you fell down the stairs,” he’d say, kicking me to the floor. He’d tell me I deserved every beating as it was the only way to make me ‘shut the f*** up’.
In a moment of desperation, I confided in my sister about the abuse and she begged me to tell our parents. But I feared what Garth would do if he knew I’d told them the truth.
When Christmas Day arrived, I had to plaster on my most convincing smile. It was the worst Christmas of my entire life, but I couldn’t bear to spoil the occasion for my family.
It made me sick to my stomach to see him putting on a show for my parents – playing the impressive, doting boyfriend whilst knowing he was abusing their daughter behind their backs.
Garth had total control over me. He loved dictating who I could be friends with and he’d fly into a rage if I did something he didn’t like.
Before long, my sister told my mum about the abuse. She begged me to leave Garth and told me I always had a safe and loving home with them.
When Garth discovered my parents knew about the abuse, he was furious.
Grabbing me by the throat, he pinned me to the wall, lifting me off the floor. “You deserve this,” he said. I sobbed as he beat me.
When he finally disappeared into the bathroom, I collapsed to the floor.
In the weeks that followed, Garth started hitting the gym and taking steroids and I watched him double in size before my eyes.
On another occasion he accused me of cheating, hitting me so hard he fractured several of my ribs.
What constitutes controlling and coercive behaviour?
- Stopping you from seeing friends or family
- Controlling your cash
- Criticising you
- Controlling what you wear
- Spying on you
- Scaring you
- Embarrassing you
- Forcing you to do something you don’t want to do
- Monitoring your time
- Threatening to reveal your secrets
I begged him to stop but it was useless. He squared up to me, shouting: “You are fat and ugly, nobody else would want you” before spitting in my face.
I had no option but to lay quietly on the floor, silently willing him to stop. I worried I’d never break free.
But one night soon after, Garth came home from the gym smiling. “I’ve met somebody else, I don’t want you anymore,” he said without a flicker of emotion.
That night, I packed my bags and went back to my parents’ house. They welcomed me with open arms, delighted I was home in one piece.
Although I was finally free from Garth’s abuse, the flat we'd co-rented meant I was still tied to him. He told me he couldn’t afford to pay the rent on his own and said that if he was made homeless because of me he’d kill himself.
Soon after, I bought myself a beautiful house and I even started talking to a lovely new guy.
I wasn’t in a rush to move on, but it felt good to have somebody to talk to, especially living alone.
But three days later, Garth broke in. He’d been calling me all night, but I’d refused to answer. As a last resort he messaged me through Instagram, begging me to call him.
He told me he wanted me back. I told Garth I had nothing to say to him and blocked his account, before climbing into bed. I was drifting off to sleep when I heard a loud bang.
Throwing on my dressing gown, I ran downstairs and to my horror, I found Garth standing in the hallway. “You ruined my life, now I’m going to ruin yours,” he yelled, punching me.
He then accused me of messaging his new girlfriend and poured the kettle over me – thankfully the water was cold.
I screamed as he dragged me to the floor, stuffing the cord of my dressing gown in my mouth.
He then stole my phone and ran out in the street, before jumping into his car. A passer-by called the police.
In time, Garth Rees, 22, of Bridgend, appeared at Cardiff Crown Court, where he admitted two counts of controlling or coercive behaviour.
I wasn’t surprised to learn he’d also been abusive to his new girlfriend.
Sentencing him to 16 months in jail, Judge Jeremy Jenkins told him: “Your behaviour demonstrates that you are a man of ungovernable temper – a bully who picks on people physically weaker than yourself.”
A five-year restraining order was also imposed, banning him from contacting me and his other victim. I was sorely disappointed by his sentence.
He’s a danger to himself and to the public – and I don’t think he’ll ever change.
If he doesn’t hurt somebody else, he’ll come back for me and finish what he started.
I just hope my story will encourage one other victim of domestic violence to speak out. I might not have got the justice I’d hoped for, but that doesn’t mean you won’t.
If you are being abused contact the National Domestic Abuse Violence freephone helpline on 0808 2000 247.
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