I wrote the piece below for The Independent in response to Victoria Derbyshire’s Panorama program aired on Monday 17th August 2020. I wanted to respond to it. I wanted to use my voice. But even when you do a thing that feels important it can also feel terribly daunting.
Sharing this makes me feel vulnerable, but I acknowledge the necessity of writing it:
“I don’t feel safe,” I said to a friend. The words – sodden and heavy – felt true. It was the first time I’d felt safe enough, and trusting enough, to express how I felt, eight years after leaving my (now ex-) husband.
I experienced domestic abuse over many years and in many forms. I do not speak of what happened to me. When I told the authorities, who held so much power over my child’s life and my own, I felt humiliated and shamed. I did not feel believed, in fact I felt erased. The people who were meant to help me when I could find no other way to help myself did what the man who abused me had done for years. And still many years later I know he could return and un-root us, harm us again and there is no safeguard to prevent this from happening.
Due to the pandemic, society appears to be listening and domestic abuse is in the headlines and on our screens again. For example, this week’s Panorama documentary Escaping My Abuser. However, very little has changed in how we talk about it. Reports of domestic abuse may not take the perpetrators’ side, but they still take his perspective. And the use of reductionist language for women means their identity is condensed into the roles they had within the home. As I read about women and children killed by their partners, or ex-partners, I think: that could be me.
“No-one will believe you,” the abuser says and then he proves it by playing the victim when the police arrive. He proves it when your friends slip silently away. He proves it when criminal and family courts place his rights over yours and the children’s welfare. The system allows him to take and manipulate, use and abuse, and this is, somehow, your fault.
Victim-blaming is transference of ownership and official agencies use this to relinquish responsibility and perpetuate fossilised misogyny which leaves women silenced, confused and inevitably managing their abusers alone.
In June 2020, the government announced a major overhaul of family courts in relation to domestic abuse. The review found that the “pro-contact culture”, resulted in “systemic minimisation of allegations of domestic abuse” and children’s voices were lost. In five years four children were killed during ‘safe’ contact. We need this overhaul. We needed it yesterday. As the Panorama documentary showed us, women and children are having to navigate underfunded charities and organisations where workers are exhausted, but still doing life-saving, vital work. The chronic lack of funding and available space in refuges means women face homelessness, sofa surfing, or, returning to their abusers.
When the minister for safeguarding was asked during the Panorama documentary about further funding for refuges she included “perpetrator programmes”. Even in the allocated funds to support and safeguard women the rights of the abuser are in discussion and essentially have a share of the money available. Coupling the victim and the perpetrator financially ignores the needs of the victim and the organisations currently saving women’s lives.
I left the man who abused me eight years ago. Each year is a milestone. Each year is a triumph, but even after eight years I do not feel protected. Just because it is the past, does not mean it cannot be present, and that does not prevent it from being the future too.
I have feared speaking out, speaking the truth, but writing these words is a form of resistance. I am beside those who are as I was then, I believe you and I see you. I hope you see me too. You are not alone, change is possible and now, hopefully, people are listening.
Published by the Independent on Thursday 21st August 2020, you can find it there using the link below:
If any of this affects you, Women’s Aid is an incredible charity that always offer support. Also look out for some recommended books which have helped and offered me support during darker times past and challenging times present.