The public and the political sphere may well be blind to many things, however the issue of domestic abuse arguably does highlight just how blind we can be in the place of honesty and integrity. I believe this issue is core to any progressive development for humans and it is high time that society faces all its dimensions.
For example, black women and women from all ethnic minorities struggle to get the support they need. Not only are they victims of violence and abuse but also endemic racism that often pervades this country. These women can be judged more harshly as not helping themselves and they have additional difficulties accessing the justice system.
People may often dismiss their domestic abuse as cultural or perhaps linked to their religion when, in fact, domestic abuse is domestic abuse whatever that culture may be.
Funding is an issue for all victims of domestic abuse (male or female) and obviously it can be more difficult for people in same sex relationships too especially if you need to use a refuge and the residents are the same gender as your perpetrator.
Being female seems to be a culture when so many women experience the same issues. There is a culture of domestic abuse for such women which doesn’t always include violence but certainly includes low pay, high childcare responsibilities, being told what to do, wear, say and be by the males in their lives. The expectations on women to do domestic duties is a badge proudly worn by males on social media and the backlash should a female question anything is immediate and violent.
I contend that the full truth of the situation needs to opened up and examined – from both sides of the gender divide. And a closer and fearless examination of cultural tendencies would also help – if we’re brave enough to face that one.
The general attitude still tends to be “Why doesn’t the stupid woman (man) leave? Yet there is often the case of women woman who DO leave, only to be stalked and murdered by their very aggrieved partner with the police doing very little to prevent it.
And when you read about the horrific physical violence that some suffer, and the very unappealing options open even in extreme cases, then those being subjected to the less blatant coercive control can end up feeling even more marginalised and bemused. In that respect, prosecuting the perpetrators isn’t the issue, stopping them is.
It has taken a long time, but attitudes to sexual harassment have been changed – and it is those who inflict it who have to take care. I didn’t think bringing in a law on coercive control would make a whole lot of difference, but making it more widely understood and discussed just might.
There are amazing, committed people such as those in The Sharan Project working in the sector battling against a popular perception which the sensational press stokes that says that solutions to these issues cannot be socially-based nor consensus-based.
Any solutions which are based on central authorities providing expertise and money have been derided and patronised over decades by the popular press. Add to that an economic system that works tirelessly to atomise everything from individuals to government intervention then people no longer believe in nor want to campaign for anything that the Daily Mail will label A Waste of Taxpayers’ Money.
Usually when a woman becomes a victim of domestic violence, the control has also gone even further than physically beating her to also control of the finances, to control of the means of escape (motor vehicles), control of any children (making sure she can’t leave with the children) and much more.
There are people who will make excuses that it is the woman’s fault, and the woman should have left and all the other excuses, and I know that some are violent abusers themselves and will try to excuse their behaviour, and others just have no real idea about it and dismiss it as not plausible.
The shelters that are for women and children become full due to domestic violence and can’t take on any more women until a spot opens, so it leaves a woman vulnerable until that time. And it can be hard to get away without money and transportation away for her and her children.
The subtlety of control mechanisms within societies built on belief systems are that they don’t need anybody to be particularly nasty in order for them to function effectively – although nastiness is often tolerated through the sense of powerlessness generated by the culture of that system.
Our economic system is built upon explicit rights to exploit and implicit rights to abuse other people. Indeed because of the nature of our money system, the system cannot function without this.
With regard to women, the above, combined with the long-standing patriarchal nature of society, has helped to ensure the long-standing oppression and abuse of women.
However, it is the “legitimisation” (i.e. in practice, rather than what is written in law) of the oppression and abuse of people which needs to be addressed. Focussing on one group, whether women, children… or whichever) does not address the underlying problem, although it may help to bring more light to it.
If we’re to secure real progress in tackling domestic violence we have to engage men and women in the debate. Only then can we understand the different types of physical and psychological violence suffered by women and men in the home and develop effective ways of tackling it.
Even researching my book “The Butterfly Room” and being around long enough to speak to survivors of domestic abuse, I can witness the aftermath of a lot of relationships and one of the things that still shocks me is how deeply hidden violence and dysfunction is. Couples who seemed happy, caring and comfortable with each other are frequently exposed as something out of a horror movie.
I’ve given up trying to second guess what happens behind closed doors. The importance of bringing domestic life out in the open and providing support for victims is self-evident, but there’s a lack of discussion about behaviour within relationships that goes back to childhood and acts as a petri dish for concealed abuse.
As families become more insular and disconnected from their wider families and surrounding communities the likelihood of abuse being hidden is increased. It’s not helped by the scale of cuts in local authority provision and support, and the absence of relationship education at school.
Maybe we ought to move away from the simple binary of victim and villain? The person who needs to control is the problem, and that probably comes from weakness as often as villainy. Real physical violence is always clear cut and black and white, but coercive control is a lot greyer.
The Sharan Project is part of opening up that consensus and providing a clear window through to those who need to understand what their options are, that being the victim is a lonely ride indeed but a journey that need not be experienced alone. There are people who understand full well the complexity of these experiences and they are here to help.