12th August 2015
What do a 26-year-old Irish woman, a 46-year-old mother from central Somerset, and a woman from Trowbridge have in common? They all made the choice to come forward and speak out about the abuse they’ve been living with – some for over 20 years.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen some very powerful testimony – both on social media and using traditional channels – from women who looked for a platform to tell their story. Emma Murphy from Dublin shared a video of herself, with a black eye, explaining how her ex-partner punched her in the face. She thought long and hard before posting the video, but she hopes it will inspire other women around the world to realise that "violence is not the answer". A woman from central Somerset is still too scared to be named as she outlines the horrors of living for 23 years with her abusive husband. She left the relationship thanks to the support from her friend and now decided to tell her story, after another friend, Lisa Winn, was stabbed to death in Glastonbury. And Sonia Saxby has waived her anonymity as she shares graphic pictures of her face after a beating.
So why did these women choose to speak up? They all name similar reasons: to raise awareness, to help others detect signs of domestic abuse before it’s too late, and to inspire those living with abuse to speak out by showing them that they can be safe and build a better life for themselves.
And they are not alone. Right now, 100,000 people in England and Wales are at risk of being seriously harmed or murdered by their partner. And they’re not the only ones at risk – 130,000 children live with this abuse too. Emma Murphy, Sonia Saxby, the unnamed woman from Somerset – they all tell a story that is, sadly, all too familiar for anyone working in the sector. All too often women don’t recognise what is happening to them as domestic abuse. The abuse gets worse. And the children growing up with this kind of harm continue to live with its damaging effects.
In this sector so many of us try to empower women and give them a voice. And here they speak about their experiences so openly, so honestly, of their own accord. Clearly, each of these women made a balanced decision and did what they felt was right and safe for them. We know that there are thousands of other families who are unable to speak up, for whom it’s not safe to so do, who would put themselves at risk by doing so. And that makes the testimony even more powerful – it's the voice of all victims – both visible and hidden.
What we hear endlessly, even from those experiencing severe levels of abuse, is that so many women just don’t see themselves as being in an abusive relationship. Often, sadly sometimes when it’s too late, we hear friends and families saying “I wish I had recognised the signs, I wish I had helped”. Our research shows that 85% of victims sought help five times on average from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse*. Each contact represents a chance for us to help the victim disclose and get support – a chance that was missed, leaving the family to live with abuse for longer. By speaking out, women like Emma and Sonia make the issue of domestic abuse impossible to ignore.
*In the year before they got effective help:
Four in five high-risk victims (78%) and two-thirds of medium-risk victims (62%) reported the abuse to the police
Nearly a quarter of high-risk victims (23%) and one in ten medium-risk victims went to an accident and emergency department because of their injuries. In the most extreme cases, victims reported that they attended A&E 15 times.