Some time ago, I wrote an open letter to our Prime Minister, here in England. I received a very polite response letter some time later – the usual – a thank you for my comments, a suggestion that I might want to add my thoughts if an appropriate opportunity came along at a later date… and then nothing.
This week, going back through old documents, I rediscovered that letter, and I realised that actually, the message it held was still strong and could be applied to a much wider audience than the UK.
So, for this week’s column, I’ve taken that original message – one I poured out from my heart – and adapted it to address the world. I’ve no idea who might see it, or what effect it may have, but it’s something. And something, dear readers, is always, always better than nothing.
Read on – and if you have any ideas, any thoughts on how we might address some of the challenges in your part of the world, please do drop me a line. If I can help, I’m all ears.
I want to say thank you to everyone in power, everyone in government – here in the UK and overseas where appropriate – for your admirable stance on domestic violence.
I can’t speak for every country, but I do know that many laws need to be clearer and more extensive and people need to know what help is available and how to access it.
There are campaigners doing wonderful work across the globe. But it’s not enough. Not nearly. And it’s not through lack of effort from oh so many… it’s because we need to educate more in the mainstream. We need media to show more than the stereotype and we need to smash some of the stigmas that still exist. Furthermore, we need to go further with the services we have available. We need to see our work with people who’ve been through domestic abuse as far more than a one-size-fits all box-ticking exercise too.
There are still so many grey areas, still so many people who will have lost their confidence, their zest, their sense of self. There will be many people out there for whom the abuse has happened so gradually they may not have realised until it was too late. In fact, there will be people out there going through domestic abuse right now who have been so drilled down, so slowly, they may not even realise they are being systematically mistreated.
Let’s take that a step further. There will be people out there perpetrating abuse who do not realise they are doing so. There will be abusers out there who need help themselves.
Most of us in my part of the world are raised to know that if someone physically beats us in a relationship we’re supposed to get out. I would hope most of us are raised to know that we should not set out to hurt someone we are in a relationship with in the first place.
And yet it happens. People hurt. People get hurt. Hurt people hurt. The cycle continues. The grey areas become wider.
We are not adequately taught about the huge swathe of unacceptable behaviours that lie somewhere between true love and flying fists. Our children, our teens, our adults, do not know enough about the signs to look out for – either as someone who may become abused, or may become an abuser.
Our media, our TV programmes, our belief systems are still so hooked into believing that domestic abuse is as simple as a man hitting a women. It’s not just that. It’s so much more. It’s not just men. It’s not just women. It’s not just physical violence.
There’s not enough education about ‘gaslighting’, about emotional abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse. There’s not enough education out there about the kinds of domestic abuse that happen to all kinds of people – all across the gender sphere – in all kinds of relationships, in all walks of life. I know, for instance, that there are countless men who’ve fallen victim to domestic abuse and dare not speak out. That’s without even beginning to look at those parts of the world where domestic abuse is still treated as the norm – the private business of a man with his wife that should not be interfered with.
Here in the west, for starters, we need to understand what’s happening. What could happen. How to prevent it. What happens if we end up in that situation. How to spot it. How to get help. And our kids need to have an awareness of this BEFORE they enter into relationship.
And if we still end up in those abusive relationships? Then we need more help and support.
Some of the charities and local authorities out there provide amazing services already, yet even they will admit more is needed. Over here, there are facilities and support to get people into a shelter, a safe house, to provide some counselling, perhaps some legal aid. But then what?
Support systems have to cut off at some point, I know. We do not have endlessly deep coffers – we’re reminded of that frequently. But we do need to do something.
There’s not enough to help people rebuild after domestic abuse. There’s not enough to help them regain their sense of self worth, their confidence, their hope. There’s not enough to help them get past the self-loathing, the anger, the sense of being stuck in some limbo between having ‘escaped’ and facing an uncertain future full of fear and anxiety. There’s not enough to help people build solid foundations, to understand how amazing, how powerful, how awesome they truly are. There’s not enough to help people break the cycle of hopping from one abusive relationship to another.
We’re not doing enough to help people rebuild their confidence and strength, we’re not doing enough to help them find their purpose. We’re not doing enough to help people beyond those labels of ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’ which, ultimately, keep them glued to the energy of their past.
As someone who’s been through abuse, I worked with local authorities to create a new kind of empowerment offering for people who’d been through abuse and the results were wonderful. We changed lives. We gave people hope. We helped people find new direction and start to get back into society with energy and confidence. The light reappeared in their eyes. We need more work like this. We ran fundraising campaigns to create more opportunities as well. We need work like this – the empowering work that is sometimes needed long after the relationship has ended – to roll out across the country – and then further. Who knows how far we might go? Who knows what positive impact we might create?
Whether it’s yours truly delivering this work or someone else matters not. But it does need to come from people who’ve been there and come back stronger, people with a strong skill set and plenty to offer. We need action, determination, compassion, understanding, education, options, hope. We need to help people find a different way to look at their past – we need to help them absolutely believe that they are worth more, that their past does not need to dictate their future.
So, people in governments who are prepared to at least look at these issues, I salute you for the work you’ve done so far towards improving offerings and regulations in respect of domestic violence, but please, please, help us achieve more. Help lead the way with new ideas, new solutions, new hope.
We need to go beyond the stereotypical ideals many assume are their only option – we need more than legal support, we need more than safe houses, we need more than a capped number of counselling sessions and a box of tissues.
We need people to understand there’s more available than this, and that it’s available when they realise they need it – and sometimes that realisation will not hit until long after the relationship and after that person has effectively left the designated support system.
Leaders of the world, when you’re ready to really look properly at domestic abuse, let us be pioneers in educating our young people and providing more. More understanding. More support. New support. New hope.