This weeks group fell at the beginning of the United Nations ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’. As a mixed group we wanted to open up a conversation about domestic abuse, acknowledging that the majority of cases occurs towards women from men but recognising that domestic violence or abuse can also occur woman to man, woman to woman, man to man, and be witnessed and experienced by children. We wanted to be open to whatever people wanted to say about the issue, especially in the current climate of many sexual harassment cases being exposed in government, Hollywood and other high profile institutions. Behaviours and attitudes previously and quietly accepted, even expected in society are being shaken and exposed and culture seems to be shifting its boundaries as to what it will and won’t accept.
Women’s Aid say:
“Every case of domestic abuse should be taken seriously and each individual given access to the support they need. Any form of violence is unacceptable.
Both women and men can experience domestic abuse. However, there are typically significant differences (in terms of the frequency and the nature of the abuse) between domestic abuse experienced by women and domestic abuse experienced by men.” (For full page click here)
Group participants were extremely brave today in sharing their experiences of either first hand, witnessed or heard about abuse. Classically, perpetrators are ultra charming for the first few months which is part of establishing control. Abuse is pretty much always about power and control. People ask “Why doesn’t she just leave?” but these relationships are so complex, people love their partners, and fear them. They may have children together. The group discussed how abusive partners often end up controlling all access to finances thereby trapping the other with no means to escape, and they may literally have nowhere else to go. Others talked about how abusive partners would make threats of harm to others so they felt too fearful to leave because others may get hurt or even be killed. This is not an irrational fear; the ultimate punishment for trying to leave an abusive relationship is sometimes murder:
In 2015/16, 44% of female homicide victims were killed by a partner or ex-partner, and 7% of male victims. 
People spoke about how the mental abuse was worse than the physical abuse; it erodes all self confidence and belief in self and causes doubt, is isolating, controlling and makes you believe there is something wrong with you and that the abuse is your fault and what you deserve. These are such lies and are formed over time and are so damaging to loving and valuing self and the reason why we often do work on how people think about themselves, which is long, slow work to build up again the person which got lost and instill again that sense of inherent value and worth.
These lies then cause the shame that stops people from reporting abuse, because they feel it’s their fault. Women feel a great deal of shame and men more so due to cultural stereotypes. Anecdotally I recently heard that a domestic abuse helpline used to use a double screening of male callers before they could receive support. This has recently been reviewed and the screening lifted, but it is easy to see how feeling shamed already, if a man encounters barriers to support he is less likely to report abuse. (Male victims of domestic violence are being failed by the system-The Independent)
It was also anecdotally discussed that often when men phone the police to report domestic abuse towards them, they end up being arrested!
We spoke about ‘what has become your norm?’ When people grow up in an environment where they witness or receive abuse, messages about what is loving behaviour or acceptable ways of communicating become very skewed. For example if a child is often ignored or neglected and achievements are not acknowledged or celebrated they can grow up to believe that they aren’t very important, that their feelings don’t matter and that they have nothing to contribute and are therefore, essentially of no value. Such messages continue into adulthood and in a relationship this person believes that being ignored and their needs and feelings not being addressed is normal and so leaves them open to abuse but not necessarily able to recognise it. When a person does receive value, love and care and attention to their needs this can feel very alien and so strange sometimes that they are likely to push away this person who wants to properly love them or even try to provoke them into abusing behaviours. So we spoke about the time and process needed to heal such wounds so that love can be received.
We spoke about the very current situation of much media coverage and unfortunately in some cases ‘trial by media’. Some people felt that the almost over emphasis of behaviours e.g. a hand on the knee (this still needs addressed if it is uninvited, uncomfortable and inappropriate-but is not necessarily the same as other experiences) meant that all the focus on these cases fails to address the real issues, and that as the pendulum swings to an extreme where anything tactile ends up in court people will become fearful of any appropriate physical contact. The group also agreed that swinging the power from one group to another also doesn’t solve anything, but that power balance and a mutual respect for each other is what is required for a better society to live in.
Office for National Statistics, Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, Year ending March 2016, Chapter 2: Homicide (Published online: Office for National Statistics, quoted in Woman’s Aid website.