Why the conversation about violence in the home is more urgent than ever – and how to talk about domestic abuse

It was recently reported that there were 173 domestic killings (murders committed by partners, ex-partners or family members) in the UK in 2018, making it the highest rate in five years. The vast majority of the victims were women. 

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Today we launch the No Woman Turned Away report, ‘Nowhere to Turn 2019’. This year we worked with 17 survivors of domestic abuse who used arts-based methods to document their experiences in finding refuge. The report tells the story of women who have endured unsafe living arrangements, overcrowding, broken friendships and further abuse while sofa-surfing, rough sleeping, or living in inappropriate accommodation. We are facing a chronic shortage of bed spaces in specialist refuge services. Survivors of domestic abuse are being repeatedly turned away from refuges because they do not meet the criteria to fund their space. Women’s Aid has been working with these women and their children to ensure they aren’t turned away. #NoWomanTurnedAway Read more here: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/no-woman-turned-away/

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In the same week, news broke that departing Prime Minister Theresa May had awarded a knighthood to former cricketer Geoffrey Boycott OBE, who has a 1998 criminal conviction for domestic assault; in 1998 he attacked his then girlfriend Margaret Moore, leaving her with two black eyes. Moore herself has called Boycott’s knighthood ‘disgusting’ and the move by Theresa May has been widely condemned by women’s charities, claiming that it sends a terrible message of disrespect to abuse survivors. 

Thanks to social media, our limited attention spans and the frenetic pace of the media cycle, it’s all too easy to hear stories like this, be horrified by them, and then get caught up in the next wave of stress-inducing headlines. But issues like this need to be confronted, abruptly, in order to stem the tide. In recent years, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have successfully heightened awareness of sexism and violence against women, especially in the workplace, but these recent news reports indicate that there is a very necessary conversation to be had about attitudes and relationships with those closest to us. 

Sandra Horley, chief executive of the charity Refuge, told the Guardian: “Now more than ever, violence against women and girls must be taken seriously. But change will not happen without pressure, and we know that women and girls depend on us to keep pushing for action.”

While the Government is currently pledging to pass stricter legislation for these crimes, academics are investigating the root causes of abuse. Professor Elizabeth Yardley, a criminologist at Birmingham City University, told the media that domestic homicide isn’t a random occurrence: “Perpetrators don’t ‘lose it’ and victims don’t ‘provoke’ it. A perpetrator’s desire for control is what drives domestic abuse and homicide.” The National Rural Crime Network has also reported this year that women living in isolated countryside communities, which often still operate under patriarchal, ‘traditional’ systems, are much less likely to report abuse and when they do, those communities are less likely to help them. 

All of this information adds fuel to the fire of the feminist movement; there’s a clear positive motivation for eliminating the power imbalance of gender roles and the patriarchal hierarchy. Some good news amongst the bleakness of the headlines: several charities are also fighting hard to make the world a safer place for those vulnerable to domestic abuse, which anyone and everyone can get involved with. 

Women’s Aid run the ‘Change That Lasts: Ask Me’ scheme, which offers local people free training to become Community Ambassadors, enabling them to learn more about domestic abuse, how to identify it, how to spark conversations with those who may be at risk, and ultimately, how to help victims, including guiding them to further support. The Ask Me scheme aims to break the silence about domestic abuse within a community and remove the barriers that make it hard for survivors to tell others about their experiences. In our home city of Brighton, this scheme is run by RISE UK, who are always looking for Community Ambassadors; anyone who wants to eliminate this problem and be part of the change that makes that happen. 

Find out more about the scheme and how to get involved here

Guest post by Georgina Langford-Biss

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