Updated: Mar 7, 2021
I am a survivor of living with domestic abuse as a child. Before I was born the impact of my fathers abuse was being meted out on my mother body. Throughout childhood the secrecy of the domestic violence must have been known to those around us. We tried to leave several times, with the usual barriers for the time, no access to housing, lack of legal support and communities that hadn't come to terms with the horrors happening inside their own homes.
When I was 15 years old we moved to a refuge, something that was impossible 12 months before as it did not exist. Was it easy? No. Was it life changing? Yes.
Not only did the group give us physical safety and support, it told a shy, petrified, 15 year old girl I was right, it didn't have to be that way.
A Woman's Aid group of strong women, who tried to break down hierarchical barriers through collective working. Not only proving my father, but also the societal patriarchal father, that he was wrong. People with common experiences, working together can change the world.
It would have been great if the biggest benefit to the families was a progressive philosophy, but unfortunately the physical safety was even more important. Equality is not much use to you if you are dead. A very real fear for many of the women and families who shared our refuge. Constant fear of being found, of someone's ex partner or father getting into the refuge. How would we know who was dangerous? The men were as invisible then, as they are now.
We might not know their face, but we know the horrors they meted out on those they were meant to support and love. Women huddled at night exchanging stories, tears and support. Children done what children done, muddled through. Supportive workers held us when we cried, raged and laughed. They supported us to connect with mothers we had distanced from through fear and prepared us for life back outside. Was it perfect? No. Did it matter? No.
We knew we were valued, and as a 15 year old girl, who had grown up learning of the oppression that my father was capable of imposing on my mother, and how our community saw and silenced women's experience, it was life saving.
Male violence against women and children is not isolated incidents in individual families. It is a societal phenomenon that requires societal answers. Survivors need emotional and physical safe spaces to not only recover, but to change the direction of their lives and this means single sex safe spaces. This does not mean people cannot identify as they wish. It does not mean people cannot access services, including where appropriate women's services. It does mean however that the decades of feminist practice, that has saved the lives of literally thousands of women and children abandoned by others, needs to be preserved. At what point did things get so good for women that we can now stop single sex services, that are protected for them through Equality Law. There is just as much male violence now as there was when I was in refuge all those years, and theories, ago. Add the significant increase in pornography and things are much, much worse.
I can understand the desire to support all, but I cannot understand the lack of compassion and humanity for women and children fleeing male violence. I can only think that women who have survived male violence have been dehumanised so much that their physical and emotional pain is invisible. It would explain some of the attitudes towards women, that they "choose" violent men, be they husbands or punters. An attitude that makes both the men and women's pain disappear, so we can all feel better in our progressive philosophy. One that denies reality, but pontificates and screams for days on end about words. Meanwhile women are strangled to death for sexual pleasure or because men"can't cope". By men who receive minimum custodial sentences, but maybe we should be grateful if they are convicted at all.
We have reached an impasse. We are about to decide what type of world we are going to have and who we will be in it. Will we hear the screams from homes and open our hearts to support women's recovery? Will we create services vital to support others experiencing violence, giving them the respectful support they require, instead of stuffing them into services already bursting at the seams. Will we show courage to face the truth of this society and the price women pay to allow men to have the choice whether or not to act out their privilege. Or will we cower and enable the continuing pandemic of violence that damages all our lives.