I deal with domestic abuse all year round, so I’m not as horrified or surprised by the statistical spike we see at Christmas as other people are.
I am always surprised though, by the lack of understanding most people still have about it.
So, here’s a blog series unpicking the mysteries of domestic abuse.
The first thing I’d like to say is that as with everything, prevention is better than cure. Only supporting victims after they’ve already been victimised is like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.
Almost all our DA services are female-focussed, adult victim-supporting charities who do an incredible job of keeping their clients safe at the point of crisis. That’s what they’re funded for… crisis intervention. If you’re not considered a ‘high risk’ victim, you’re unlikely to find much support, unfortunately. Services will tell you they’re not funded to deal with low-risk cases (and they’re right) but this position underlines the need for preventative work, doesn’t it? If services can only afford to help those in immediate peril, how do they propose to improve anything? Especially with the exceptionally low rates of prosecution for perpetrators… We’re telling victims that they’ve not been hurt badly enough yet and that’s terrible.
DA charities suffer the same problem as all charities do though - if they resolve the issue they’re campaigning about, they’ll cease to be needed. If they cease to be needed, there’s an awful lot of people who will find themselves out of (usually VERY well paid) jobs.
Further compounding this issue is the insistence of funders that charities are painfully specific about exactly what or who they’re supporting. JLTS, for example, struggles to get funding because we don’t specifically support any group of people - we don’t do only women, or only black people, or only green-haired lovelies, we understand that ANYONE can be a victim (or perpetrator). ‘Child victims’, it seems, isn’t specific enough for funders, but ‘female victims of male violence’, is.
Violence against women and girls is a massive issue, and one that attracts hand-over-fist funding, but it’s also very divisive - if services have to focus on only women, they’re likely to promote the idea that only women can be victims. Because VAWG funding is relatively easy to access, services are inclined to go where the ‘easy’ money is. Trying to make a case to funders for a generic victim support service is really tough - Victim Support already exists to support ‘generic victims of crime’.
Over the past few years we’ve seen huge steps in making DA a conversation, not just an unspoken ‘thing’ that happens to women who should just leave; but the inevitable way of the world is that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease…
Services with million-pound budgets for ‘awareness raising’ are only going to promote their own services. (That’s their job!) And the million-pound funding goes to those services who are most well known and considered reputable. None of those services claim to work to prevent perpetration, they all work to prevent further victimisation. If we stop and think about that, just for a hot minute, we start to see that services are backhandedly advocating for continued abuse.
That’s a bit like moving house because there’s a spider in the bath… It’d be MUCH easier to remove the ‘perpetrator’ than to move the ‘victim’…
Nobody’s livelihood relies on that spider being removed though, does it?! In fact, their livelihoods rely on the spider staying put and them being available to support every fly that ends up caught in its web…
Domestic Abuse is ONLY a gendered crime if the service’s funding relies on that narrative. If there are enough services accessing the ‘easy’ money and promoting their niches, it’s not hard to see why people are fished in to thinking that it is a gendered crime.
Yes - mostly, reported DA is male on female heterosexual abuse.
Yes - Not all men.
Yes - women can be abusive and unpleasant too.
The professional DA world is a strange one. It’s made up mostly (IME) of female survivors who desperately and genuinely want to help other women not suffer as they did. This is all very noble, but there’s little (if any) conversation around the amount of stereotypical biases an all-female team of survivors of (mostly) male-perpetrated abuse will carry with them. (I expect an all-male team would be the same, by the way - it’s not gender that’s important here but the strength and empowerment that comes from discovering you’re not the only one in the village and someone else shares your experiences).
If we really wanted to end DA, we’d be educating young people to be respectful to each other to prevent abuse, not just educating them to recognise when they’ve become a victim. It’s all well and good to share all the ‘Red Flags’ we commonly see in abusive relationships, but what use is that if we’re not also sharing the Green Flags? If our young people are only educated to identify unhealthy relationships, they won’t know what to look for in a healthy relationship - especially if their model for relationships at home is unhealthy too.
The Domestic Abuse Bill was updated in 2021 to specifically include children as victims in their own right. How many of the big DA charities have you seen changing their service offers to include anything more than incredibly superficial (and half-arsed, frankly), attempts at providing access to generic group recovery work for children? It goes without saying that this generic work will not promote prevention, rather, it will follow the established pattern of ‘awareness raising’. The problem with awareness raising is that as much as it helps victims to identify their predicament, it also provides a very handy checklist for perpetrators, potential perpetrators, and dare I say it, women who wish to exploit the system.…
I can only imagine that DA charities are struggling with this latest development for two reasons:
Child abuse is genderless. We don’t talk about male or female child abuse, we talk about child abuse, full stop. Statutory services (Social Services and so on) aren’t particularly interested in gender split statistics, they’re interested in safeguarding children. Who come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and genders. If DA services acknowledge this as truth (and often they’re incredibly critical of Statutory Services; sometimes justifiably, but often because they don’t understand how the statutory systems work – Social Services don’t care if you were an adult victim of an abusive partner (that’s the job of the DA services) they care about the fact that if you were the ‘non-abusive’ (or ‘safe’) parent, you have a duty of care to protect your children. Many DA services see this as ‘victim blaming’ instead of choosing the more realistic framing of ‘responsible parent’.) then they’ll have to acknowledge that victims aren’t just female and poof! there goes all that lovely VAWG funding…
Acknowledging children as victims means acknowledging that there IS an obvious route to prevention… Getting into schools and talking about healthy relationships with young people of ALL genders would go a significant way to promoting prevention, improving knowledge of warning signs, and opening up in a safe way, lots of conversations about things like cultural differences and expectations. We agree, mostly, that the children are our future (Whitney Houston said so, so it must be true!) so surely, educating them BEFORE they become victims, perpetrators, or even survivors would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? Only for the people though, not for the bank balances… Those posh offices in Central London won’t pay for themselves…
It sounds like I’m really down on the DA charity sector, and I’d like to clarify that I’m not! The whole idea of ‘charity’ has become such a political football that the notion of what charity actually is, has been lost to the benefits felt by Big Business, I think.
Even the fluffiest of charity advocates would have to admit that whilst in theory, the idea that we shouldn’t need charity in the 21st Century is true, the reality is that charities provide such a virtue-signalling tax haven for Big Business, that the actual business of helping people (who shouldn’t need it) is irrelevant. If all those Big Businesses changed their game away from identifying legitimate tax avoidance and aimed it more towards providing genuine support for their communities – y’know, stuff like making good food affordable, or subsidising childcare costs for their employees, or providing genuinely low-cost or free options for those who would inevitably otherwise have had to access charities, wouldn’t the world look different…?
In other words:
Big Businesses contribute to charities (in a tax-efficient way, of course!) and they get All The Feels (and all the praise) for Doing The Good Sh*t and Helping The Feckless…
Big Charities get All The Money from Big Business because Big Business wants to be sure it’s donating to a charity who have enough clout to promote all their goodness and selflessness. Big Charity then has to spend all the Big Business money (and there’s billions of pounds worth) on specific things like premises and salaries. The bigger the ‘donations’ then, the bigger the offices and salaries have to be. That’s not specific to DA charities, just have a look at the salaries of the CEOs and the Head Office addresses for charities like Oxfam or The Dogs Trust…
What IS specific to DA charities (and really makes my sh*t itch) is their stubborn refusal to acknowledge that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator. I’m not going to turn this into a fangirl piece for Erin Pizzey*, but if you’re interested in how determined DA services can be to rebuke any suggestion that it’s not only the poor women who’ve been beaten (up or down) by the patriarchal misogynists, look her up…
Sadly, this attitude remains today. I’m a passionate advocate for victims of DA, but because my drum plays a song for ALL to dance to, I’m usually considered NOT to be an advocate or ally, despite my having more professional qualifications in what I do than most IDVAs. I have been accused of victim blaming when I’ve suggested that parents (whether victims or not) should be responsible for the recovery and ongoing safety of their children (always by women, incidentally), and told that it’s not ok to point out that as soon as a victim realises they’re in an abusive situation, they become IMMEDIATELY responsible for their children remaining in that abusive situation too. I’ve given up commenting on the posts of DA ‘advocates’ because they don’t want to talk about child victims or the (unquestionable) ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) that is DA, they want to continue to maintain the narrative that the patriarchy is standing on women’s necks and women are the only and perpetual victims of said system.
When victims ‘get out’ and start surviving, they’re praised and called ‘inspirational’ for their ongoing work and advocacy (otherwise known as telling one’s own story over, and over, and over again…) but nobody EVER asks, “How are your kids doing?”
The answer is depressingly predictable, unfortunately… Their children will often feel like they can’t move forward with THEIR lives because their so-called safe-parent can’t let go of the past they’ve used to create an income-stream and professional reputation for themselves.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t share their experiences or talk about stuff – hell, that’s how I make my living! I am saying though, that if we really want to make a change to Domestic Abuse statistics, we need to make a change to Domestic Abuse Services.
If we keep putting the same things in, we’ll keep getting the same things out and currently that means:
1 in 4 women
1 in 6 men
EVERY SINGLE ONE of their children...
will have to suffer ‘high risk’ abuse BEFORE they can access any support and have any chance of staying safe. Given that the narrative remains as it does – women are victims – then surely our DA services are the ones standing on women’s necks, aren’t they?
*I’m so pleased that Erin Pizzey’s work has been recognised in the Honours List this year – I’ve not seen any posts from the big DA services (even Refuge, which she founded) offering her any congratulations though. Refuge have however, been very publicly congratulatory of the current Chairperson of their Board who was also honoured in the same list…
If you and/or your children have experienced Domestic Abuse and you would like some help, support or advice please get in touch with us. We have a fantastic Peer 2 Peer Support service for survivors of Domestic Abuse where you can talk things through and gain practical support from someone who's been there; in addition we provide therapeutic support for children and access to a range of further support services. See our Domestic Abuse Support page or contact us for support:
JLTS also runs an Understanding Domestic Abuse training workshop for schools and other profressionals - please get in touch or see our Workshops page for more information.
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