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'When are we safe, when are we home?'

“I still refuse to believe that it’s beyond us to find a way to protect vulnerable people at risk of murder or serious harm.” 

We talk a lot,  as a sector working to end domestic abuse,  about the concept of being safe at home. SafeLives even published a housing report with that very name. We’re individuals and organisations who understand that ‘safety’ and ‘home’ are complex and bittersweet concepts for many people in this country. 

Imagine, then, that not only does a lack of safety at home relate to the front door and four walls you live behind, but it also relates to your status in the country. Today, we found out that Ministers and immigration leads in the Home Office are not willing to adopt the recommendations made by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and specialist charities regarding the relationship between police and immigration enforcement, when it comes to domestic abuse cases. Charities such as Southall Black Sisters and Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) had been calling for careful mechanisms and methods to prevent sensitive information leaking through from police reports of domestic abuse reports into immigration enforcement agencies. The worry – and current reality – is that disclosure to the police could translate into action taken not against the perpetrators of abuse, but against adult and child victims of abuse. Crucially, this is a barrier to individual victims and the services who support them feeling confident that being in touch with the police is a safe option. 

This is part of more systemic concerns that many victim-survivors of domestic abuse in this country have. The draft Nationality and Borders Bill, about to go to the House of Lords for debate, contains provisions that would make it easier to remove someone’s citizenship, and remove them from the country that is their home. Just this week, the Justice Secretary has talked about changes he would like to see made to the Human Rights Act. 

I worked at the Home Office for a decade. I saw for many years the intrinsic struggle between policies on immigration control (and the frustrations, in some instances, of not being able to remove harmful individuals from the country). I still refuse to believe that it’s beyond us to find a way to protect vulnerable people at risk of murder or serious harm. If we don’t do that, which domestic abuse victims can ever gain that sense of being ‘safe’ or of being ‘home’? Can my friend, colleague or neighbour who’s been here since the 1990s feel secure in having contact with the police about an abusive situation? Can my family, who arrived in the 1950s? The Windrush scandal has already ripped out the roots some people felt they had in this country. When we commonly agree the word ‘scandal’ applies to what happened, why are we continuing to make it more likely to happen again? 

Being safe at home is a basic physical and psychological need. I deeply regret today’s decision and I hope that Peers who scrutinise Government legislation in the new year will recognise the right both to safety, and to a secure sense of being home. 

SafeLives' response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Race Report

The recent race report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is relevant to us all. Too few individuals and organisations have been carrying the burden of tackling racism and bringing attention to issues of race on their own for too long. Since this report was released, we’ve heard frustration, anger and sadness from those who have been doing this work relentlessly for many years. We are adding our voice in solidarity.  

For many adult and child victims and survivors, experiences of racism cannot be separated out from experiences of domestic abuse. Persistent experiences of racism may make a person vulnerable to an abusive situation, and that is then compounded by discrimination against Black, Asian and minoritised victims and survivors who are less likely to get access to an appropriate service, or their service provider is also discriminated against on the basis of race. Thinking about race and racism is not an optional extra – it is at the heart of identity, societal structures and daily life. 

All 258 pages of the report merit proper scrutiny and while we quickly signed the letter by the Runnymede Trust asking the Government to withdraw the race report, we have read the document carefully before setting out our concerns and suggestions in more detail. We publish that detail now and will be sharing it with colleagues in Government, asking for constructive engagement on the content. This document was a collaborative process across the organisation.  

We know that Black and Asian women are disproportionately at more risk of being killed by a domestic abuser, despite being as likely as any other racialised minority group to experience domestic abuse overall. We know that specialist services run by and for minoritised groups are underfunded compared to more generalised organisations. We know that migrant women have been left out of the Domestic Abuse Bill. And we know that systemic racism is woven through all stages of a victim accessing support - from healthcare to the courts. That is why we cannot pledge to eradicate domestic abuse if we don’t offer the same fight against racism.  

In July 2020, we published a statement of intent and an action plan regarding equity, equality, diversity and inclusion. We noted, specifically, that it was overdue that we as an organisation acted with more leadership, structure, pace and explicit reference to racism. Since July last year, we have published a stocktake on our progress (December 2020) and monitoring data giving public information about the composition of our staff, Trustee, Pioneer and associate teams (February 2021).  

We still have a long way to go but commit to taking due steps to be more actively anti-racist. In line with that intent, we believe it is our responsibility, on behalf of survivors and staff, to echo concerns about the Race and Ethnic Disparities Commission Report which fails to offer an honest reflection of racism in the UK today.  

 

 

 

#ReachIn: Nicola's story

This blog was shared with us by Nicola, a survivor of domestic abuse living in Scotland, as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

When I was with my abuser, the abuse was a kind of a hidden secret. I kept up work and had the kids immaculate, always on time for nursery – to an outsider looking in it looked like I had the perfect life. Except to one woman I worked with, Yvonne, she noticed some bruising on me completely by accident when I reached up to a top shelf for something. She became an anchor for me. She let me know that I wasn’t alone and listened and tried to help me find the courage to leave. I couldn’t have got through some days without her; a work colleague that became a forever friend.

My neighbour also turned out to be a great help to me. He was a quiet man; kept himself to himself, said hello in passing. I remember one time after a fairly ferocious beating I waited until my husband fell asleep in a drunken stupor, then passed the kids out of the bathroom window then climbed out myself. We ran to the top of the path and my neighbour had witnessed it all. He never asked any questions, he never judged me, he simply told us to get in his car and drove us to my dad’s house. He ended up a key witness in the court case, his help was invaluable.

I think what would have helped me when I was with my abuser is if my GP had asked me about the abuse. I displayed all the classic symptoms: stress, weight loss, reliant on anti-depressants, constant pregnancies and losses. I think the warning signs were there but my GP was an elderly gentleman and it possibly never occurred to him to look for these warning signs. I think if he had confirmed to me that he knew I was being abused I would have been able to confide in him. Sometimes someone just recognising what’s going on can make all the difference. 

After losing my second child – I was 20 weeks pregnant and had to have an operation, the baby had died at 15 weeks – I was hysterical and had to be sedated. After I came round there was one particular nurse that was assigned to care for me. This nurse cared for me and spoke to me but my husband was in the room. We shared a knowing look. I’m convinced she knew what I was going through due to the bruises on my body, I think if I had had some time alone with her she could have assisted me in confessing  to someone and reaching out for help. 

                                                                                        

#ReachIn: Sophie's story

This blog was shared with us by Sophie*, a survivor of domestic abuse, as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

When I was 19, I reached in, together with another family member, to help a friend who suffered physical violence and self-harm in an early relationship, but I didn't feel I deserved the same help when I was living with coercive control and emotional/financial abuse because it 'wasn't physical'. The person I helped then helped me years later to see that it was still domestic abuse, that I could ask for specialist help, that I was at risk.

Living with domestic abuse is like living in physical and emotional lockdown. The view from outside, from supportive friends, family and neighbours, is so important - it shines a light, gives you a glimpse of how life should or could be, and shows you that others have a different view from the person causing harm.

A few words, a gesture or sign of support, and information when it is safe to give it, can make all the difference, now or even years ahead. You don't have to build the whole road ahead to safety, you can put stepping stones down for people to begin a journey, to make changes that could even save lives.

*name changed

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#ReachIn: Ruby's story

Ruby* shared this blog with us as part of our Reach In campaign. Find out more about the campaign and what to do if you're worried about someone.

During lockdown I’ve been thinking a lot about what this experience would have been like if I was still with my emotionally abusive ex-partner, and what I would have needed from the people around me.

A lot of survivors have said that living with domestic abuse is like living in your own personal lockdown. If someone else controls who you speak to and where you go, the lockdown measures may be a tightening of the ‘rules’ you already live under.

The emotional abuse and manipulation I experienced was always centred on my ex’s portrayal of himself as an anxious, vulnerable person who needed me to look after him. Very gradually, I made myself and my world smaller in order to accommodate him and make him feel bigger. This is part of why what happened to me was so hard to name; he never raised a fist or threatened me in order to make me do something, instead he manipulated me until I did it to myself.

Eventually, I was (or at least I felt) completely responsible for his emotional wellbeing and his moods, which could change without warning and make the atmosphere unbearable. I was often tired and got used to a tight feeling in my chest.  

We lived in a tiny fifth floor studio flat with no outdoor space, that was too expensive for one person but not quite big enough for two. Apart from the front door, the only other door in the flat was to the bathroom – the only place it was possible to shut the door and be in a different room to him. As I discovered during the year we lived there; there are only so many long baths a person can take.

If I’d been in that situation when lockdown was introduced, I honestly don’t know how I would have coped. Even my outdoor exercise would have been with him, for the sake of avoiding the sulking and silent treatment that would have followed me ‘not wanting to spend time with him’.

One comparable glimpse I have into what lockdown might have looked like for us, is a time when we were stuck together in a campervan in the pouring rain. His quiet, simmering rage was suffocating me, and there were times when I actually thought he might crash the van on purpose. Somehow I found the resources inside myself to keep going, keep finding ways to try and make him calm, keep absorbing everything he threw out because I had no other choice, nowhere to go. That situation only lasted a few days, but I’ve never felt so trapped.

If I was living with him now, there’s no way I would have even framed what I was going through as abuse – it had become my ‘normal’ so gradually. The chances of me reaching out for help or support would be zero unless things escalated to physical abuse, and maybe not even then. I wouldn’t have talked to my parents about it as I wouldn’t want to worry them. I would need my friends to reach in and ask the right questions, when he wasn’t around.

What I always needed – and would need in lockdown – was people to leave me with space to talk about how things really felt at home. Our friends always told me how cute we were together, how good I was for him, how nice it was that we’d set up a little home together. If those are the only messages you’re getting from everyone around you, how are you supposed to recognise that something isn’t right?

If you’re worried about a friend right now – maybe you haven’t heard from them in a while, or their partner does most of the talking on your group Zoom calls, or it’s a gut feeling you can’t quite put your finger on – find a way to reach in and ask them how they’re really feeling. Listen without judging. Reassure them that it’s not normal or ok to feel like this, and it isn’t their fault.

And even if you aren’t specifically worried, please leave room for all of your friends to talk to you openly about their relationships. Stay curious and try to resist saying things like ‘I’m sure he’s just stressed, you two are so great together!’ because you can never really know what it’s like to live on the other side of that door.

*name changed

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