Closed Doors Etched With Stories To Tell
Imagine being 5 years old, sat at the top of the staircase listening intently to your parents arguing downstairs. This isn’t just any old argument. This is an argument where yours dad’s voice has that slight edge, the slight slur of the Famous Grouse hitting his bloodstream. You’re scared but you daren’t move in case this time he comes to you, to tell you how much he hates you, to show you exactly how little you mean to him. It crosses your mind that maybe if you cough, maybe they will realise you are awake and go back to pretending to be friends, like they always do. Or maybe your mum will come upstairs and say they are play fighting, just like she always does, and then she’ll tuck you into bed with handprints etched around her neck.
There has always been this unwritten rule that when things go wrong, ‘you keep in the family.’ That we should not speak about the things that matter. When in reality, they are the topics that need to be spoken about the most.
Domestic violence/domestic abuse (DV/DA) is a pattern of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, that is aimed to affect a person both mentally and physically. It can include sexual abuse, stalking, financial abuse & the list goes on. At least 1 in 3 women will experience some form of DV in their lifetime, and for every 3 victims of DV, 1 is male. Yet more scarily, on average 2 women a week are killed as a result of DV within the UK.
I have grown up in a community where there are closed doors etched with stories to tell. I've turned a blind eye to the dents in the doorway, to the minimal eye contact and the dismissive nature, when I know exactly what is going on within a household. I know the signs, I see the behaviours, but even I am guilty to turning a blind eye to what is going on. As an Indian girl, I know when to talk, when not to respond and I know when to let a perpetrator think he is in control. I am guilty of making an active choice to 'not get involved', when really I should do better and raise the conversation.
I’ve grown up around people whispering about men that have “misbehaved”. I remember being sat in the Gurdwara, I must have been about 10 years old and an auntie was speaking about her daughter in law, and how she couldn’t be here today because she had a black eye. It was a story said with no emotion. There was no mention of help and support for her and there most definitely wasn’t any consideration into how wrong the actions were from her son.
There is this underlying attitude that women get what they deserve. I’ve heard the whispers, “Well, she should stay at home and make sure her husband is okay.” “He’s under so much stress at work.” “It isn’t his responsibility to look after the kids.”
Honestly, I’ve heard so many bullshit excuses that sometimes I hate being a part of a community that widely hasn’t supported or raised awareness around DV, and offered a safer platform for woman to leave their partners, when they find themselves experiencing abusive behaviours within their relationship.
How do we challenge this behaviour?
I always believe that change starts from having the conversation. Let’s be open enough to show our family and friends that we know what ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviours look like. Despite our cultures way of masking the cracks in the walls, if someone is doing something wrong and it is safe to do so, challenge the behaviour at a calm time, or confide in someone that you have concerns. There are helplines such as the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, Womens Aid, Karma Nirvana and Refuge that can support and offer safety. Call them for advice if you are concerned about a friend or family member, or even yourself.
What if I’m unsure about my partner because sometimes he gets weird when I go out with my friends?
Trust the signs and feelings you get. The problem is, if you give an inch, people often take a mile. In context, that girls night you cancelled months ago because he was in a mood, has now set the precedence that you will cancel whenever he isn’t happy. It’s a cycle, whether to keep the peace in your relationship or actually go out and live your life and deal with the consequences when home.
Under Clare’s Law, a member of the public can ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them. If you’re currently in the dating world, I think this is a very good tool available if you are little unsure about your partners past or something doesn’t quite add up. It gives a person the ability to have the ‘right to ask,’ and after the awful case of Clare Wood, it recognises the need for partners to have access to information.
Will life get better if I leave?
The saying that 'the grass is greener on the other side' always leaves me feeling uneasy, because how can you guarantee that anything will get better at first? However, I do believe that the wrong type of relationship can chip away at a person, and when you are a victim, your life revolves around pleasing someone else before ever even considering your own needs.
If you have children, no matter how young they are, I promise that they are safer where this behaviour doesn’t exist. Children remember things. I’ve seen so many of my peers left traumatised as a result of their childhood and this is most often linked with domestic violence, mental health and substance misuse, also known to professionals as the ‘toxic trio.’ Let’s teach children that these behaviours are not okay, and set an example for what relationships should look and feel like.
I can’t promise that life is going to be wonderful immediately. However, I can hand on heart promise one thing; life gets better when you choose yourself. You can only ever give someone the best, when you are at your best. One of the biggest luxuries in the world is feeling safe, and when you feel safe, with the correct help and support, things will fall into place. You are in control of what happens next.
How can I help someone experiencing domestic abuse?
Be sensitive to the situation. Be a listening ear whenever they need it. Pass no judgement. It takes real courage for victims to speak out and we must acknowledge their strength and agree that this situation is not okay and not how a normal relationship should be.
Be careful. Abusive partners often check phones, social media etc, so it is never safe to assume that someone is in private . Have a code- for example, “what perfume were you wearing yesterday?” Could be a code for, ‘I’m in trouble I need help now,’ or ‘call the police’ and consider a plan to support the victim if they do decide to leave, considering the risks to you both. If you hear stories in our community, offer words of support towards the victim because we never know the circumstances it took them to leave. We must begin to challenge stereotypes and support victims so they feel there are safe spaces available.
It can be incredibly heartbreaking and frustrating watching someone go back to something that we know is destroying them. However, patience is key, and we must support the individual and ensure they know and feel they have control over their life. They are in charge of the decisions being made and they can choose what happens next. There is professional help available, as and when a person is ready to reach out and accept it.
The harsh, heartbreaking reality is, that a victim will go back to their partner at least 7 times before they draw the line for good, and that is if, and only if, they make it out alive.
Imagine being 5 years old, sat on the top step of the staircase listening intently to your parents arguing downstairs. This isn’t just any old argument. This is an argument where yours dad’s voice has that slight edge, the slight slur of the Famous Grouse hitting his bloodstream. Imagine hearing the impact of a fist hitting the wall, knowing what is coming next. You tiptoe back to bed. Maybe if you close your eyes and count to a hundred, you’ll eventually fall asleep and it’ll all be okay in the morning. Maybe mum is sleeping downstairs tonight; maybe she’s forgotten to tuck you in, but she never forgets. Mums never do.
National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247