When the system fails

So when the system fails, who can people really turn to for the Justice they deserve, need and want?  With many encouraging words and probes to speak out about such horrific crimes, what actually is put into place to keep those people safe enough never to go back to the arms of their abuser or become a repeat victim again?

When isolation surrounds you as a person experiencing domestic abuse, how can a failed system provide anything else?  What other option can be given if domestic abuse has isolation to offer and so too does the Justice System?

Encouragement is often given to a person experiencing domestic abuse to leave the relationship but how can they be supported safely when they can’t rely on the ones supposedly protecting them that just feels like out of the fire, into the frying pan.

Power is what domestic abuse is all about, the perpetrator having power over their partner but also those IN power who are there to serve and protect abuse their trusting position, giving no hope or encouragement for anyone to seek help from.

More often than not, the Police are the first port of call a victim will reach out to for help.  They don’t make that call as soon as the abuse takes place; they incur many incidents of abuse before reaching out for help.  Police abuse of people in vulnerable situations is not only unfair but is also a system that is failing those who most need it.

The system exposes at best a failure to understand let alone support those affected by the traumatic experience of domestic abuse and if, those experiencing domestic abuse don’t have the Police to turn to for protection, then who else can they go to?

Cuts to Legal Aid, slashes in funding and the closure of much needed refuges are all safety networks being taken away from victims so there can be no transition from victim to survivor with no other alternative than staying in the relationship that they are in. Thus having a ripple effect of putting a stain on the NHS attending as a repeat patient, incurring costs through the Court procedure and taking up time of making statements and with drawing them.

It feels very much like two steps forward and three steps back where domestic abuse is concerned.  There isn’t anything strong and sturdy enough in place to reduce the number of victims and stop the abuse from taking place with early prevention.  There is far too much pressure on the victim to leave yet no safety net around them to help them do this.  It’s utterly undermining people and endangering them further.

We have got to see a positive change all round before we see a radical change in the number of people experiencing domestic abuse.  There are still 2 women each week killed by a partner or a former partner and the terrifying thing is that number has not changed for far too long.  Why not?  What needs to be done to decrease this number because whatever needs to be done isn’t being done?

Education is first and foremost, it’s about raising awareness of what is healthy and unhealthy in relationships so people can identify the early warning signs as soon as they start happening rather than being is so deep they can’t see a way out and when they can see a way out, it’s too late.  It’s about early prevention, not waiting for people to die so we can hear those famous words, “we will learn from this” but the question is, will we really?

If my partner ever hit me, I would just leave

If domestic abuse was as straight forward as a slap we wouldn’t be seeing 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experiencing it during their lifetime.  2 women each week wouldn’t be killed by a partner or a former partner and thousands of children would not be witnessing it at home or going on to becoming a perpetrator or victim in their own relationships.

In fact, if domestic abuse was “just about a slap” it would be a lot less painful than what the complex cycle actually is.

A clear lack of education shows that many people don’t even know they are in an abusive relationship because they ARE NOT physically hurt, they don’t believe or think that coercive control is abuse they see it as care and love because it’s done in such a subtle way.

Of course, not all relationships are a bed of roses, couples do have their ups and downs, no one is disputing that fact at all but people who say, if my partner ever hit me, I would just leave are wrong.

When you have an argument, disagreement or shout at each other, you don’t just end the relationship there and then, do you?  Your pride is hurt, your feelings are hurt, your heart hurts because the person you love has said something to hurt you.  You want to kiss and make up, say sorry, start again, put it behind you, pretend it never happened.  You don’t just leave.

Many people in abusive relationships are psychologically abused numerous times before they are hit, if they are hit at all.  Domestic abuse is about power and control whether that’s physically, psychologically, sexually or financially – it is not under any circumstances all about physical abuse, far from it.

You recoil in horror, you are hurt and shocked when the blow of the physical abuse happens, you think that is the first time you have been abused but you don’t think of the times, you were told what to wear, when you were told you couldn’t go to the family party, when you were told not to see your best friend tonight or any other night, when you were humiliated in public, when you were told you were fat, ugly and useless.  You don’t think about the times you text messages were read, your password change or the bombardment of calls as you went to the corner shop.  You don’t take into consideration the times you were accused of having affairs, when you made eye contact with someone of the opposite sex or when you were made to beg for your own money to buy sanitary products.

Being hit by someone you love, comes as a shock, just the instant reaction your perpetrator wants because you are so shocked by their actions, it gives them time to get into their own role play, into the character of the caring partner who is so very sorry by what they have just done and they profoundly promise never to do it ever again and because you are so in love with them you believe every single word they say and as they hold you tight, soothing you as you silently weep into their shoulder they secretly smile, knowing you have just given them the green light to carry on abusing you.

After that point, they might never raise a hand to you ever again but that does not mean the abuse has stopped, far from it.  It has increased but so subtly that you still don’t see it as abuse and if you do dare to question it, it is quickly swaddled with the victim blaming answer; it’s all your fault.

It never even enters your mind, to pack up, throw the relationship down the drain and just walk out, you don’t even think that at all.  Your partner is too busy covering their actions with the words you want to hear, they even cuddle and hug you in the process for added effects, how can you possible consider leaving now when they are clearly so very remorseful for what they have just done that it will never happen again anyway and after all, maybe it was your fault, for pressing those buttons.

You are still in complete shock because they have never done that to you before and the coercive control that you have more than likely been experiencing from day one is so subtle and seen as love that you don’t automatically connect the two together because after all, if you’re not being hit, then you aren’t being abused.

And if you did leave, what do you really think is going to happen, that your partner is going to disappear into the distance and never contact you ever again?  Come on, live in the real world.  They will cling onto you like there is no tomorrow, they will call you, text you and be at your front door, telling you how sorry they are and declaring their undying love for you, doing whatever they can in their power to get you to go back to the arms of your abuser.  They will succeed.

Without realisation, you are in a much more vulnerable position when you leave your perpetrator than if you stay with them.  You learn to work out there moves when you are with them, tell tale signs of a glare or a tapping foot can often be an indicator that something might erupt at any given moment but without them in your sight you have no other option but to keep looking over your shoulder wondering what’s going to happen next and it’s the not knowing that is so very dangerous.

You suddenly realise what your partner is actually capable of and those verbal threats do come to the forefront of your mind and you being to think it’s no longer a matter of will they but when will they; when will those threats become a reality.

If it were so easy to leave, do you really think people would stay in such a hostile environment for so long that they don’t know that any time soon they could be killed at the hands of their partner.  If leaving were easy people would leave a lot sooner, they wouldn’t wait until they were left for dead before doing so.

 

Fight flight or freeze

I don’t think he will ever know the impact he really had on me during our 3 year relationship.  He was a man who I thought I loved but toward the end of the relationship, that love turned into fear.  It came to a point where I couldn’t bear him near me, let alone to touch me, I would hold my breathe and cringe whenever he got close to me and if he did touch me I would feel repulsed by him.

I would feel numb whenever he was near, holding my breath as if the sound of it might anger him, my soul would always be filled with dread because sometimes I would never know what was coming or when.  My heart would pound so loudly through my chest it sounding like a beating drum.

At the beginning of our relationship, you could say it was the honeymoon period, where I thought he wanted to spend time with me because he loved me but the reality was he wanted to control and isolate me away from my family and friends.  I breathed every single second around him, couldn’t wait to snuggle on the sofa with him, had to have him near me all the time and could wait for bedtime.  Then things changed.  I changed.  He changed.  We changed.  Everything changed.

My sense of identity was lost, my friends, family and life had just disappeared before my very eyes and instead of living, I was just existing, for the sake of someone else.  I revolved around him, jumped up and cooked for him each time he came home from the pub, got him his beer whenever he was running low and gave him what he wanted in the hope he wouldn’t hurt me anymore.  Some days were good days, they were far and few between, and when they weren’t good days, they were very bad days.

I did everything I could in my power to make him happy, or should I say, what I was allowed to do because that gave me hope that if he was happy, he wouldn’t hurt me, the abuse would stop.  Sometimes that method worked and other times it did not.

Although he wore me down physically and psychologically, the fight that I did have in me were shown in tears, the fight in my eyes – he always knew how to make me cry!  He never saw the knotted feeling in my stomach that his very presence gave me and nor did he know about the suicidal thoughts and feelings I had, because of him and how he treated me.  All I wanted was for him to love me the way I loved him, but that wasn’t to be.  I never said a work to him nor did I stand up to him either, I wasn’t that brave.  He would have given me what for if I had.  I just meekly took everything he dished out to me, without saying a single word to him.  It felt as though it was easier for me to accept and tolerate his behaviour toward me rather than provoking him or screaming at him that would just have made the situation a whole lot worse, for me.

My 4 ft 9 inch frame would never ever match his and I knew what he was capable of and what he would actually do.  There was nothing at all stopping him from killing me, if he really wanted too.  I never spoke out about what was happening behind closed doors and no one ever asked what was going on, people knew, but never approached me to ask and I was never strong enough to tell them.

The flight that domestic abuse gave me lived within me for a long time after I left him, the anxiety never leaves you.  It stays with you and you learn how to cope and deal with it as best you can.  You take one day at a time, you have to, you have no choice sometimes.  It’s difficult talking to people who haven’t experienced the trauma of domestic abuse, they don’t understand.  You are make to feel everything is your fault, you are brainwashed into thinking they treat you this way because they love you.  They do everything they can to gain and maintain that power and control over you in every aspect of your life leaving you with nothing but flight, fight or freeze.

Christmas Time, Mistletoe and Wine

Bright lights shone all around, freshly decorated Christmas trees filled living room windows and decorations sparkled through the windows.  Excitement dazzled through the streets, an atmosphere buzzed through the community as the countdown to Christmas had began.

I remember my childhood Christmases were just fantastic, a real family affair, lunch in the living room as Dad brought in the table from the kitchen.  Dad had always cooked at Christmas time, come to think of it that was the only time he did cook, starting the big day off with a cooked breakfast.  He always carried me down the stairs on his back, opened the living room door to a magical view of so many presents buried underneath the Christmas tree – obviously, my name was on most of them!  It was a day of rest for my Momma Bear as they watched me unwrap my gifts with much excitement, big, fat, huge smiles all around as I opened, what felt like, gift after gift.

The ceiling was filled of brightly coloured decorations, gold, red, green and silver glistening from high above, flashing lights twinkling from the corner of the room from the Christmas tree that stood proudly in the corner of the room.

Lunch was served in the style of a 3 course meal, crackers laid on the table and party hats at the ready.  Christmas was so very special and I felt like the luckiest little girl in the whole wide world.

As we grow and find our own way in life, Christmas can have different meanings to every single one of us and how we celebrate is as different and as unique and each of us.  I was to learn this as I left home, two weeks after meeting my ex partner, how Christmas wasn’t always magical.

Christmas time is far from mistletoe and wine, logs on the fire and gifts on the tree, for 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I was trembling as I sat on the edge of the chair, tears streaming down my thin and gaunt face, tasting salty as they wetness dribbled over my mouth.  He came in from the kitchen and handed me my dish of “Big Soup” for our Christmas lunch.  Looking around the living room, it was so bare, no decorations, the Christmas tree and all its decorations lay splattered across the carpeted floor from the night before.  The strong smell of alcohol echoed around the room, making me feel sick to the stomach.

Looking down at the unapetising dish of soup, I felt my soul crumble inside as I sighed heavily; wondering what on earth I was doing here.  Christmas wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Christmas had never felt like this before and right now, I wasn’t liking how I was feeling.

“I’ll go and get your presents from my mum’s” He said, closing the living room door behind him and locking the front door.  As he left the flat, leaving me alone, I broke down in floods of tears.  I knew he would be a few hours, with his family, at their brightly coloured decorated home filled with love and laughter, just how my home used to be.  Then he’d probably have a drink or two and he might even go to the pub, whilst I sat here, waiting for him to return, not daring to leave the flat.

I knew there presents that he had gone to fetch had been brought and chosen by his mum, not him.  No love and care would have gone into the effort of purchasing them; after all there was no love or care in the relationship at all, let alone at Christmas time.

This Christmas felt dark, lonely and scary, nothing at all like all the other Christmases I had had.  As I sat alone in the empty flat, my heart sank.  At least I was safe for while at least, until he got back and then who knew what would happen.  It all depended on what had happened whilst he had been out.

Dread and fear filled my stomach when I heard his key turn in the lock of the front door.  I had to compose myself and try to look a little excited, after all it was Christmas and I was getting some presents.

“Here you go” he said, as he handed me the gifts.

And that was Christmas as a partner experiencing domestic abuse; just another day.  The physical and psychological abuse didn’t stop, it carried on as normal.  I didn’t get a day off because it was Christmas, the magic never started but the abuse never stopped.

The build up to, what should be the most magical time of the year, is juts intimidating and frightening, never knowing what is round the corner.  Constantly worrying about walking on those eggshells and cracking them, not even knowing what “you did wrong” and for the goalposts to constantly be moved.  Christmas is the hardest time of the year and the most feared with the abuse and violence much more poingnant.

Alcohol at Christmas time enables perpetrators do drink so much so it “allows” them to lose their temper because of drink being on tap but going into apology mode after a violent incident.

There is a definite spike over the Christmas period of domestic abuse incidents, they dramatically rise with things escalating and spiralling out of control.  Christmas looks bleak, not magical.

This is not normal behaviour and should never, ever be accepted or tolerated as such which is why support at this time of year is important and imperative for those experiencing domestic abuse to give a helping hand to those wanting to leave the abusive situation, aftercare and support has got to be there.

Many leave with nothing at all, just making a quick escape with only the clothes on their back to show for their braveness and courage.  The essential needs that we take for granted every single day are the wants of so many.  Isolation gives rise to the additional angst of hiding injuries from loved ones.

For many people, this Christmas will be harder than you could ever possibly imagine; not everyone has a magical Christmas or even a Happy New Year.