domestic violence


Three years later, I’m still not sure what to say about Domestic Violence

Statistically, you know someone experiencing domestic violence.

I wrote almost three years ago about a friend, H, going through a truly fucking awful time. We chatted online about her partner, the destruction, what it did to her. H sent me photos of things that had been broken. We talked about the woman she saw at the school gates who H knew in her gut was experiencing something similar, and I received long messages about where H’s abusive partner’s problems started, where the anger, frustration, and violence came from. His difficult start, how he’d been let down.

Scrolling back through our messages and seeing a screenshot of a text conversation between H and her now-ex, including a glimpse of an injury; it’s very dark and very sobering. H very generously thought of me to tell her story and thought I could do it justice, and for a while I thought I could too. It’s a feminist issue- as well as a human one- and I like those a lot, so why wouldn’t I write about domestic violence? It’s so blunt and cruel and often so nuanced and complicated. It’s not like I haven’t been around manipulative people and I definitely know what a twisted relationship looks like. That sick feeling I get seeing a huge imbalance of power between two people. The subtle abuse, the not-quite violence: these are things I recognise. But I soon realised that I didn’t have anything original to say about spousal abuse. It’s something I care so deeply about but beyond my own feelings and paranoia, I didn’t feel the words come. It simply felt like a story that wasn’t mine to tell.

I offered to proof-read H’s words, edit and present them, but I found myself unable to write anything myself, even when she asked me to. We talked about this but the discussion petered out until H got in touch again in April.  The media hysteria surrounding the breakdown of Mel B’s marriage was peaking and the Mail Online was having a jolly good time with it.

Check out the comments, that right there is every last one of the reasons why it took me 15 years to leave.” 

They were obviously hideous.

The notion that if a woman doesn’t leave then whatever she suffers is her fault belongs in the last century, but let nobody accuse Mail Online commenters of subtlety or human empathy. It’s a website that sexualises children and then judges young people for dressing sexily. Of course it’s massively, stonkingly popular. It’s really easy for me to laugh at the online cesspit but the reality is so grim.

Because ultimately the biggest fear in breaking silence is that no one will believe you……… it’s what the abuser grooms you to believe and this sort of comment and debate reinforces that… [it's] just awful. “

All that your abuser has done, all the hope kicked out of you and the amount of self-worth lost, beautifully topped with the cherry of a society that can’t look at a woman being controlled or beaten by their partner and feel anything but disdain. And yes, obviously not everyone feels that way but we see and hear these messages so often that one has to actually question one’s own thinking on the subject. Still, at least the government is on our side, eh Philip Davies MP? H found these comments so depressing and angering that again she asked me to write something and again I was hit by the feeling that I couldn’t say anything important or new and therefore should probably not say anything at all. Understandably, H found this a shitty response. So then she sent me her story in her own words and it was brilliant. But man, I felt bad.

Here’s an edited extract (taking out some very complimentary stuff that I definitely don’t deserve):

“The top two searches on my browser history right now are ‘pity party’ and ‘Mel B’. Random combination I know, a little-known hobby blogger and a former spice girl! Pity Party is a collaboration written by my oldest friend and her sister. A friend who has always been in the background, always been the one, stable, non-judgemental voice of wisdom in my life. The person who has known what is right for me often years before I was inclined to agree, a friend that is younger than me but who I never managed to quite achieve peer status with as she was always that bit further evolved than I was…… until now. Until tonight as I write this post. If you’re reading this blog then I’ve finished it and convinced Laura to share it in one of the.. places that house her [writing]. In her writing, Laura is the perfect combination of empathy and logic, of straight talking and compassion that would make her the perfect person to give life to my thoughts. When Laura writes…… I listen and I want people to listen. I have stalked Laura’s blog daily, I asked her to make a comment on the storm that is surrounding Mel B right now, I asked her to put words to the absolute devastation that is invoked when as a survivor of domestic violence you are faced with everything that a google search of Mel B on the internet gives birth to.”

Yeah. I felt like a total fucker. The rest of the writing was so great, and H has said that she’s not ready for it to be out there yet but I hope she will be soon. But holy shit, I really, really felt that I’d let H down. I’m very aware of not making this about me as it truly isn’t; ultimately though, I’d been asked for help and not responded. Which is shitty. It was still another month before I could put any of this into words though, despite starting this draft immediately. I didn’t want to write just because I felt bad or guilty, but I did want to comment somehow.

Last week Refuge shared an incredible piece from The Guardian: ‘We didn’t recognise that he was dangerous’: our father killed our mother and sister. Terrible stories of heart-rending abuse are not that hard to find; one of the most moving accounts I’ve heard was Jahmene Douglas’ Woman’s Hour appearance with his mother. What that woman- and her children endured- is beyond my comprehension. The brilliance of the Guardian article is that there wasn’t physical violence in Luke and Ryan Hart’s childhood, but their father Lance was an emotionally abusive, controlling, and manipulative father and husband who turned to violence when he finally lost control of those he had sought to have it over. These behaviours- and the excuses we make for them- can have terrible effects.

From the piece:

Lance was not physically abusive – largely, the brothers believe, because they all worked hard to orchestrate a calm atmosphere at home, and because they gave in to his emotional demands. They didn’t think of his behaviour as domestic violence, because they had only ever considered domestic violence to be a man hitting a woman. Lance didn’t consider his actions to be abusive, either. “Yes, we bickered, but it wasn’t serious,” he wrote in his suicide note. “It was normal marriage stuff. No violence.” For some months, Claire had been keeping a diary of everything Lance said and did, but didn’t feel she could take it to the police because there had been no physical harm.”

If you’ve ever known a person who dictates the atmosphere and outcome of a situation according to their own feelings, this will resonate. It’s real behind-closed-doors stuff, it doesn’t leave a physical mark, but it’s devastating whether it ends in violence or not. And finally, I felt like I had something to say about spousal abuse and domestic violence; I couldn’t put into words anyone else’s experiences but I kept thinking about how these behaviours are so easily excused. How we allow people to be ‘grumpy’ or ‘sensitive’ or excuse their behaviour as being a foible of their personality when actually they are acting as a dictator, taking more than their share. Since I read the piece in The Guardian, I have thought about it a lot. I’ve thought about it in terms of behaviours I’ve witnessed, and in terms of how I act as a very emotional person. In terms of my own life, and in terms of seeing an interaction between a couple and having that gut feeling that something isn’t right. It’s reminded me that abusive behaviour can lead to violence but it is destructive in and of itself. I haven’t directly experienced domestic violence but there is a lot in the Harts’ story to recognise.

I’m still not sure what to say on this huge subject, but I know I want to remain vigilant.  I’ve taken some of H’s writing and used it here and I hope she doesn’t mind. I just couldn’t para-phrase what she had said and not include the actual power of it. One thing I can rely on is that she’ll tell me if she’s pissed off, but it’s my sincere hope that she will see this as my effort to say something. I’m sorry it’s a bit late.

I know H has incredible words and I hope one day I can help her to shout them.






Image credit: Jessica Lock at the Noun Project.

Category: Life
save the male CALM

Men need Feminism too…

If you buy, or spend time with someone who buys, any magazine aimed mainly at men, you will most probably have seen the ‘Save the Male’ campaign being run by CALM. Even if you haven’t registered the message, you may have seen the eye-catching image of a man’s body, mostly submerged in the sea.

I first became aware of CALM when I worked at the British London 10K this year and spotted just how many runners CALM had; they stuck out because their fundraising t-shirts are orange, the same as our runners’ were, but the sheer number struck me too and I sought out the charity to see what they were about.  CALM is ‘the campaign against living miserably, .. a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, the biggest killer of men aged under 50 in the UK.’  Later, I started seeing the adverts on magazines, and buses, and it got me thinking.

There is some controversy around the oft-quoted statistic that claims that the biggest killer of women aged 15 to 44 is men, but there is no doubt that, while instances of crime in general continue to fall in the UK, we still see two women killed a week by a partner or ex-partner.  The TUC estimates that one in four women will have to take time off work at some point due to domestic violence, a statistic that sits uncomfortably in as rich a country as the UK. We all know, right now, a woman who is suffering from intimate partner violence. And the prejudice of “why doesn’t she just leave?” is deeply ingrained in our societal consciousness, as well as a belief that some arguments just get out of hand, some couples just wind each other up, some women could do with a slap. But what story starts to emerge if we think about CALM’s statistics on male suicide in conjunction with rates of domestic violence? What is our society saying about men if violence towards themselves and others is so prevalent? Surely both domestic violence and suicide are symptoms of not knowing how to cope, a deep unease with the world, even if they do present in very different ways.

An initiative in Hull which helps men who want to stop being violent
An initiative in Hull which helps men who want to stop being violent

I feel that it is appropriate at this point to write a few words on domestic violence experienced by men, inflicted by women. Intimate partner violence, whatever the gender of those involved and whatever the sexual orientation of the couple, is disgusting. We all feel anger with our loved ones at times, especially in romantic relationships, but to physically abuse another human being is truly immoral. And when it is an intimate partner, a husband or wife, the pain of domestic violence goes so much deeper than the physical, and the feelings of shame are well-documented. Estimates on DV experienced by men in heterosexual relationships do vary but around 1 in 4 of DV incidents seems to be an accepted statistic, and this points to it being a huge problem. My caveat on mentioning this statistic would be that the remaining 3 in 4 violent incidents are against women, who physically are more at danger from the violence, have a higher number and more serious injuries, and that around 80% of continuing violence is perpetrated by men on women. I have always said that there is room around the table to discuss all types of domestic violence, and I am not dismissive in any way of men suffering intimate partner violence; we need to support those men, but it doesn’t negate the extent of violence against women.

One of CALM’s three mission statements is “We believe that if men felt able to ask for and find help when they need it then hundreds of male suicides could be prevented.  We believe that there is a cultural barrier preventing men from seeking help as they are expected to be in control at all times, and failure to be seen as such equates to weakness and a loss of masculinity.” I would hazard a guess that a very similar statement could be made regarding domestic violence, that men feel too much shame to ask for help and feel that there is a cultural assumption working against them. Deeply-entrenched cultural assumptions are massively, indescribably harmful to men and to women; assumptions based on gender only serve to pigeon-hole, and ignore individuality and difference. The same assumptions that tell women that they’re too emotional, too bossy, can be valued only on their physical attractiveness, attack men for not being traditionally masculine enough, dissuade them from seeking help when needed, and use the word ‘mangina’ to try to nip progressive thought in the bud. Male suicide rates are another way we’re reminded that the world needs feminism, for men as well as women.

For help and information:

The Samaritans:
Mankind Initiative:
Respect UK:


Category: Comment

I got an email from a friend about domestic violence today

It’s no exaggeration to say that her email made me shiver. I walked out to buy some lunch afterwards, mainly because I wanted to walk somewhere, and I obviously couldn’t think of anything except what she’s going through. I wanted to smoke a lot of cigarettes and drink; not something comforting, like wine, but something that hurts as it goes down. I felt angry, and sad, and lucky, and really tired.

The friend is a person I’ve known a long time but have probably only seen once in the last ten years. I won’t say any more than that but we’ve known each other on and off for a long time. I’ll call her H. H read an article I’d written for an Essex-centred website, which I’ll link to elsewhere, that was sort of snarky, sort of political, and dealt with issues of class, via Jamie Oliver. She told me that I was able to give a voice to a group, and that she admired that. And then she said there was something she’d like to discuss with me, and ‘see my slant on it’. And then she emailed me about domestic violence.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; it’s on my mind in general and it’s always been a subject I’ve been drawn to, for various reasons. But high-profile stories like those of Janay Rice and Christy Mack put this firmly back in front of me, and prompt a cultural dialogue that gives me hope but is also utterly depressing. The fact is, this happens too often for you not to know, not to work with, not be related to, women going through this right now. Living with violence and in fear every day.

H played down her own abuse to begin with, framing the email in terms of witnessing an episode that looked like abuse and asking why, in quite a small community, nobody seemed to care. H sees this woman on a regular basis, and she bears all the hallmarks of someone beaten down by life. It’s quite characteristically female to play down your own worries and fears until you’ve justified them by declaring that it happens to other people, it’s not that you’re trying to get help for yourself.

H wants us to write together, and she’s now started to be more open about the history of her relationship. She doesn’t give herself permission to define it as ‘high-level’ domestic violence but it sounds as if she knows now, finally, that it is. I think the floodgates have opened, and I don’t even know whether we will end up writing together; I think our voices could be distinct and complementary, but maybe now she just needs a friend? Hearing her describe how people she has confided in have given suggestions then disappeared is almost as fucking awful as reading descriptions of the control, the rages, and the injury. It lends itself to the hyperbolic but I’m trying to avoid that: it’s scary enough without excess adjectives. The photos of the damage after a rage make me feel sick and then I feel really guilty that I have reacted that way. What right do I have to feel uncomfortable?

You think you know how you would react to violence in the home. I have always told myself how I would react, and there would be no forgiveness; and I know that the truth is that I tell myself that, repeat it, reconfirm it, because I have to believe it. When I’m strong, I do believe it, but when I’m feeling weak, or less than, or I look at M’s face and feel the love I have for him as something physical, I wonder.

Category: Life