Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Living in the shadow

Hopefully, you will not have to experience domestic abuse within your life although current statistics show that 1 in 4 women (womansaid.org) and a growing number of men (mankind.org) will be a victim of domestic violence/abuse in their lifetime so the probability of you personally knowing someone who experiences it (even if you don’t realise it) is quite likely. Sometimes people can believe it is not their place to get involved, for a variety of reasons, and while it may be difficult to decide what your role should be; the author of the poem below asks that sometimes all it takes is for someone to take them seriously, believe them or to listen.

Current media coverage can sometimes have us believe that it would be quite obvious if domestic abuse was occurring within a relationship but the reality can be very different; a growing number of domestic abuse cases do not actually involve physical violence (especially at first) so it is difficult for the victim to realise or recognise the warning signs of severe controlling behaviour or manipulative tactics before it is too late to simply leave; i.e. when they are threatened with murder, are severely isolated from friends/family or they have children that they worry will be harmed. For example, in regards to female victims; 2 women a week on average are killed by a current or former partner (womansaid.org). Which is therefore unsurprising to know that the Office for National Statistics (2013) reports that domestic abuse accounts for 14% of ALL violent crime. Sometimes the first actual experience of physical violence is fatal – and many victims report that the psychological and emotional impact of domestic abuse can have the most damaging effects long term.

A common misconception is also that perpetrators of abuse may act a certain way towards a partner but this does not mean they are capable of abusing their children. Yes, this can be the case. But many studies continue to find that “in 40-70% of the cases where women are being abused the children are also being directly abused themselves” (womensaid.org). Why? Hidden Hurt explain that “Children in a home where the mother is being abused are also at greater risk of being abused themselves, or being used to control their mother. Due to his own lack of self-worth the abusive partner feels the need to control all those to whom he considers himself superior. In a family, this includes the children”. Unfortunately it is common knowledge within domestic abuse circles that abusing children can be an effective way for a perpetrator to control their partner – understanding that their children are their partners ‘Achilles heel’. Hidden Hurt continue; “children are frequently used to threaten the victim to ensure they stay or submit to further abuse (threats such as the abuser will harm or kill the children, report the mother to Social Services, or gain custody of the children are all very common)”.

Some victims can stay in an abusive relationship simply to protect their children from being unsupervised with the perpetrator knowing that it is a very hard phenomenon to prove. WomensAid states that “unfortunately, even after separating from their abusers, many mothers find it extremely difficult to protect their children from ongoing abuse as a result of their requirement to comply with contact orders made by the family courts”. Child Contact can be the only way for perpetrators to continue controlling and abusing their former partners – and the overhanging damage of verbal threats can leave a victim paralysed with fear. This is unfortunately further illustrated by the Saunders (2004) Child Homicides: lessons still to be learnt on domestic violence and child protection study which found that 29 children were killed during a 10 year period while on a contact order. These cases studies continue in the media.

But, while domestic abuse agencies and charities and even gradually, the police, tend to recognise the power relationship between domestic and child abuse and even though safeguarding practice defines domestic abuse as a child protection issue; we hear the same thing over and over that social workers do not always seem aware of perpetrator tactics and some even ‘guffaw’ at the suggestion a perpetrator of domestic abuse could be capable of committing child abuse. And social worker reports hold the key to a Judge’s child contact decision in Court.

If a perpetrator is observed for 30 minutes with their children and doesn’t show any signs of aggression; then heavy focus is placed on whether the ‘survivor’ is in a healthy state of mind; maybe the accusations or ‘worries’ are a product of the victim’s mindset or even worse maybe the victim is not a victim at all but is bitter at their ex-partner so is being hostile regarding contact arrangements? And many Judge’s do not take kindly to their time being wasted over ‘bitter’ separations in which partners cannot agree child contact between themselves. Most perpetrators can be charming to the outside world; do people really believe they would make a slip in front of social workers within 30 minutes? The victim is blamed. And if the victim has been responsible enough to go to the doctors for help with their anxiety/depression caused after repeated bullying from the perpetrator; this can also be used against them – medical records indicate who is the most ‘unstable’.

The reality is also that children’s voices are not being listened to; little Jimmy who claims he is scared of the perpetrator cannot seem to articulately clarify why at the age of 5; so it is commonly surmised that he must be picking up on the neuroses of his other parent.

The author of ‘Living in the Shadow’ (below) got told by a social worker that while there was some evidence that domestic abuse had occurred in the past; it was time to ‘take control back’ and not react to the perpetrator’s endless games to make her worry about the children in his care. She was told her inability to rise above it was causing her children to be unnecessarily scared of their father (even though on separation he had informed her that if she left him one day she would hear her children were no longer with her and since child contact had began her children had both reported physical abuse from their father to doctors which included being grabbed by the throat, being hit in the chest and/or having their legs grabbed in which there were also accompanying injuries; the social report verdict had been recorded as inconclusive due to a lack of ‘evidence’). The Judge ruled that unsupervised contact should occur, if the verdict was inconclusive, therefore her youngest was forced to attend contact with his father the following week which happened to be his 4th birthday; he shook from fear and was so hysterical they had to leave the public place they’d agreed to handover. She wrote this poem that night...

Living in the Shadow:

Particularly dedicated to the Social Workers who close their eyes because it isn’t straight forward

Do you know what it’s like?
To send your children to him?
They might come back safe?
Or their lights come back dim?

Do you know the pain?
Seeing your children confused?
And when you beg why?
He just looks bemused

Do you know what hurts
More than a sneer
Is being told that one day
The kids won’t be here

Do you know how hard
It is to be disbelieved?
To be disapproved of
But keep having to breathe

Do you know how it feels?
To give birth to true love
Then know you can’t protect them?
And just rely on above?

Do you know i’m not crazy?
Do you know i’m quite smart?
But a roll of your eyes
Just breaks my heart

Do you know when you tut?
Why should you care?
There really is children
In danger out there

Do you know what it takes
to keep smiling for them?
& to know the best thing
is to keep going for them

Do you know they believe?
It’s normal to feel
Scared all the time
And it’s them that are ill.

Do you know why?
Things never change?....
Why it keeps happening?
Is it really so strange?

Do you know when you know
That something’s not right?
But it’s not your place
To get involved in the fight

Do you know all it takes
Is for someone to say
That they can also see
The games that they play?

Do you know that true evil
Is scared of the light?
That if enough people see it
It burns out in the night

Do you know it’s too late
When things can’t return?
When it’s obvious and sure
But next time ‘we’ll learn’

Do you know how to stop it?
Or what you can do?
Just open your eyes
And use your voice too

Do you know you feel scared?
of what people may say?
Just imagine the child
Who sits and they pray

Do you know when they pray
They are asking for you?
To do something about it
And just help them through...

 

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