Cry of the vulnerable
Violence against women
I have worked in the social care field for almost twenty years. During this time I have also supported women and children fleeing domestic violence to move on in their lives into a more positive, healthy environment where they feel safe and not threatened by their past experiences. Violence against women has been an issue throughout history. It wasn't until the opening of refuges that these issues were brought to public attention and that the hidden demand for a means of escaping was recognized. Refuges unlike hostels provide protection from violent partners,as well as mutual support and practical help to 'move on' in life. Although several attempts have been made to estimate the scale of the problem, no-one really knows the extent of it as it usually happens behind closed doors and is a very private crime. However statistics show that refuges are presently catering for a substantial number of families each year.
For most women leaving the family home is a traumatic experience especially if there are children involved and although this may appear strange to many given the situation they are fleeing, most women have tried to leave several times before they actually recognize the significance of remaining in a violent relationship. The violence women suffer is usually serious and prolonged, statistically showing the average time being roughly seven years.
Today in 2012 there is still alot of ignorance around domestic violence. Society has been guilty of passing this off as "marital tiffs" which should and could be resolved in the home. Women are embarrassed and ashamed of the situation they find themselves in making it awkward for them to talk about their experiences, and more importantly to seek help and support.
Hidden behind closed doors, a high percentage of women facing abuse have suffered life threatening attacks or have been hospitalized for serious injuries such as broken bones. My experience of supporting these women has been that this abuse was usually for trivial actions which in some way had offended the other person. The assaults often lasted for hours and only when this was turned onto the children have the women found the strength and courage to seek help and leave the situation.
Many women have and still do suffer sexual abuse by their partners.This has always been a very controversial subject especially if the woman is 'married' or 'co-habiting' with her abuser. They describe being brutally raped, and forced to perform sexual acts against their will. Unfortunately, in the past parts of society have not always viewed this as a crime if the women were in intimate relationships with the perpetrator and therefore the abuser was often not punished for their crime. However, today domestic violence is better recognized by Statutory agencies such as the police and can be dealt with in a court of law where measures can be taken to place the women in a more empowering position.
I know of women who have been tormented and threatened for years until eventually they were even confused about their own sanity! Unfortunately mental abuse is silent. There are no obvious physical signs and the effects of this type of violence is purely to destroy the woman's confidence and ability to leave the home and it can be as debilitating as physical abuse.
Depriving women and often their children of finances is another form of abuse perpetrators use to control their victims. Many women are living in extreme poverty regardless of how much their partners are earning. Those with very young children are particularly vulnerable as alot of them are either wholly or partly dependant on their partners or husbands for material resources.
Why do women remain with violent partners?
This is probably the most asked question when discussing domestic violence against women. However, the answer to this is not as straight forward as we'd like to believe and it isn't until we have spoken with these women about their experiences do we begin to realize the complexities of domestic violence, and the real affects it has upon them when trying to escape their situation. My personal experience of supporting these women is that there appears to be two main factors which explain why they remain for so long with the perpetrators. Firstly, it is in the desperate hope that they can and will change the abusers behaviour. As well as bad times women also describe the 'good' times and become suseptable to promises of "changing". Reconciliations take place and after a while the violence starts again. Secondly, women say that they stay for the sake of their children and the family unit. Often the belief that children need two parents, even when one is violent unless or until that violence is turned onto the children. Of course these are not the only reasons women remain in violent relationships. Confusion about financial assistance, appropriate accomodation and where to seek help, support and advice especially for BME women where things such as language barriers, culture and expectations often force these women to stay in their relationships.
I feel privileged that I have shared experiences and have contributed towards families moving on in their lives and waving goodbye to the often desperate situation they were living in previously. Thankfully in Britain the Homeless Persons Act gives women the right to be re-housed if they are forced to leave their home due to domestic violence. Despite this, I feel attitudes need to change if services for women are to continue improving.Prompt attention from front line services such as the police when an assault takes place is needed as well as good temporary accomodation to keep them safe. Failing to provide a good escape route only forces women to suffer violence for longer and live an unnecesary life of brutality and unhappiness.