Domestic Abuse thoughts from Hull Women's Centre
Hull Women's Centre recognises that domestic violence is an emotional and complex issue. It is important that those responding to domestic violence in whatever capacity tell the truth about it. There are so many myths and misunderstandings about this subject. A recent Hull Daily Mail article describing the Strength to Change perpetrator programme described learning to be non-violent as similar to giving up smoking, drinking, or drugs. Our response is that it is not.
Domestic violence is often planned and repeated actions of violence and abuse using physical violence, emotional and mental abuse, rape, sexual assault, financial abuse, threats, intimidation, and humiliation and using children, all to gain control over ones' partner. Mainly men of all social and ethnic backgrounds towards women and children perpetrate this kind of violence. The reason it occurs is due to some men's need to have power and control over women. The reason it is not challenged is due to our society's sexist attitudes towards women, involving minimising, and denying the abuse while blaming the woman for it happening. The article also stated that we could all be hurtful or behave badly towards our partners as if domestic violence is an unintentional mistake. NO, it is not, domestic violence crosses the line into criminal activity - rape and physical assault are criminal actions and there are no excuses.
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The article explored how the service helped reduce perpetrators' levels of guilt and shame.
Perpetrators should feel shame as this might stop them committing such acts in the future. The harm and suffering caused to women and children range from physical injuries, mental and emotional scares, depression, panic attacks, anxiety, loss of identity, isolation from family/friends and avenues of support, homelessness, loss of pets and belongings/toys, flash backs, miscarriage, still birth, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, loss of children into the care system, poverty, lack of educational opportunities, loss of employment, permanent disablement and death. About two women a week in the UK die at the hands of a partner or former partner, whilst many often statistically unseen and uncounted women are left seriously physically and psychologically harmed (Department of Health, 2005.
The Strength to Change article did say that domestic violence was wrong but some of the statements in the article confused the reality of domestic violence, for example, most of the men involved in the programme were described as white and having social services involvement or reaching low educational levels. This could suggest that domestic violence affects only one part of society whereas research continues to show us that men commit domestic violence from all social, class and ethnic backgrounds (see for example Dobash and Dobash, 1980; Walby and Allen, 2004; Department of Health, 2005; Hearn and McKie, 2008) Would a middle class man with a professional job who has committed domestic violence enrol on the Strength To Change programme? If not, who or what is challenging such men about their behaviour.
Hull Women's Centre wants to challenge the very existence of domestic violence in our society and we want to clarify some common myths that still exist despite over 30 years of campaigning and education from women's agencies. Potentially damaging myths underpin storylines in popular soaps at present and the facts relating to domestic violence need to be outlined so that people have a greater understanding of the reality.
Below are some statistics and facts about domestic violence from Women's Aid.
MYTH: Domestic violence is not widespread and as many men are victims as women
FACT: Domestic violence is one of the greatest criminal problems facing the UK, accounting for a quarter of all violent crime.
Crime statistics and research both show that domestic violence is gender specific - i.e. predominantly experienced by women and perpetrated by men (2). Any woman can experience domestic violence regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, class, sexuality, mental or physical ability or lifestyle: 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence at some time in their lives. Women suffer the most serious harm, intimidation, threats, rape, strangulation and post-separation violence, and are most likely to be killed by current or former male partners (3).
When women are violent, their violence tends to have different patterns and causes, Women's violence should not be called domestic violence as this minimises the level of male violence towards women. It also gives the impression that women's levels and patterns of violence are the same as men, which they are not.
MYTH: Fathers are routinely denied contact with their children by the courts
FACT: Although there is no statutory presumption of contact, a pro-contact stance is implicit and decisions in leading cases have resulted in a strong assumption of contact by judges. The number of Contact Orders granted by the courts increased from 42,000 in 1997 to 61,356 in 2002, and over the same period, the number of contact orders refused by the courts fell from 1850 to 518 - in 2002, only 0.8% of orders were refused (12). Only 9% of non-resident parents say they never see their child (13).
Research that is more recent suggests that only 1% of contact orders are refused.
Bristol University some years ago examined the belief that women /mothers are hostile to contact between fathers and children. They found that in 90% of cases women allowed contact when first separated and only stopped it when they and/or the children were harassed, assaulted, or harmed by the father.
Behind these statistic are the lived realities of women and children's lives. They deserve to live without violence and abuse. Perhaps when our society can accept the truth and challenge such behaviour we will become a civilised society and future generations will wonder why it took us all so long.
Department of Health (2005) Responding to domestic abuse, London D.H.
Dobash R. and Dobash R. (1980) Violence against wives, London, Viking
Walby, S. And Allen, J. (2004) Domestic Violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey, London, Home Office