How women can break the silence over domestic violence
Experts say it's likely everyone knows a woman who is a victim of abuse in the home, so what can we do about it? The answer starts with awareness, says Nel Staveley
In recent weeks, hundreds of people, including celebs, politicians, professional athletes and plenty of regular folk, have tweeted 'Shh' selfies, holding a finger to their lips in a show of support for #wallofsilence. The initiative, part of Avon's ongoing Speak Out Against Domestic Violence campaign, challenged the UK to suggest how to raise awareness of the often hidden horror of violence in the home - and the result was #wallofsilence, encouraging people to post a 'Shh' snap of themselves on social media, and for each one, Avon will donate £1 (www.avon.uk.com/wallofsilence). Supporters can also donate £5 by texting WALL to 70500.
Whatever you normally feel about the now saturated hashtag charity campaign market, #wallofsilence stands out. And it stands out for the very reason that so many victims stand back.
Take the most recent statistics; in 2012/13, 7.1% of women reported domestic violence of one type or another, which equates to an estimated 1.2m females. Overall, however, 30% of women have experienced some form of domestic violence - equivalent to an estimated 4.9 million.
That means a lot of cases are not being reported, and horrifyingly, on average, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. And it's not scaremongering to suggest those women could be someone you know.
"Domestic violence is an insidious crime which cuts through all social barriers - it can happen to any woman," says Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge. "Given that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime, it's likely that we all know someone who is experiencing it - whether it be a sister, daughter, friend, colleague or neighbour."
So what are those signs? And what do you do about it? Women's Aid (www.womensaid.org.uk) has this advice:
If your friend is being open and acknowledging the violence, this is a positive sign. Try to keep the lines of communication open so that she doesn't become more isolated. This is often a danger in an abusive situation. However, the decision to leave the relationship has to ultimately come from her and sometimes it can take women several attempts before they do so for good.
She may feel she's to blame for the violence. An abusive person will often tell the person they're hurting it is their fault. Domestic violence is always the responsibility of the abuser. There's nothing your friend could do that would make it ok for him to abuse her.
Her self-esteem will probably be very low as a result of what has been happening. This can make her feel as if she wouldn't be able to cope on her own. However, in reality she could probably cope a lot better than she thinks. If she wasn't being abused she would be able to gradually build up her self-confidence and she would start to feel better about herself.
She may still love him and believe that he may change. This is often why women stay in abusive relationships for a long time. Unfortunately, unless he acknowledges he has a problem and seeks professional help, the abuse is likely to continue.
Try not to be judgemental if she isn't ready to do anything yet. One of the best things you can do is point her in the direction of an organisation that offers practical and emotional support.
If she wants to leave, she could think about accessing some emergency accommodation. There may be legal options she could pursue, such as an injunction against him, or involving the police. She could also get in touch with a local domestic violence service for support, whether she wants to leave or to stay in the relationship.
HOW TO GET HELP
If you or a friend need help, you can call the Freephone 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge tel: 0808 2000 247. Or visit www.womensaid.org.uk. If you or anyone else are in immediate danger, call the police on 999.
When a woman experiencing domestic violence calls the National Domestic Violence Helpline, the specially trained workers will listen to her experiences, believe her, and work with her to find her the best support according to her needs. They can offer emotional support there and then, and can also refer her on to services which can provide ongoing support and help to build an independent life.
HELP IS OUT THERE
If you think you might be experiencing domestic violence, there are things you can do:
- The first step is to recognise you're being abused. Just because a man doesn't hit you, it doesn't mean you're not being abused. If you change the way you behave because you're scared of how he will react, he is abusing you.
- You're not alone - one woman in four experiences abuse in her lifetime. Thousands escape to a life free from fear. You can too.
- Reach out - speak to someone you trust or get in touch with a specialist organisation like Refuge who can offer you help and support. But don't let anyone rush you into any decisions.
- It's not your fault - abuse is a choice your partner makes and only he is responsible.
- Domestic violence is a crime. Every woman and child has the right to a life free from violence.
For more information, visit www.refuge.org.uk