7th December 2020
For our 16 Days of Activism campaign this year we wanted to champion the voices of the frontline and celebrate the work of people making a difference to those experiencing domestic abuse, in spite of the challenges brought on by the pandemic. As well as being a SafeLives Pioneer, Rachel Williams has done so much independently this year to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Rachel talks about her phenomenal achievements from this year in the below blog she has kindly written for us.
As we braced ourselves back in March for what was something all so new to us, Covid-19, we were also bracing ourselves for something that wasn’t so new and had been lurking around for years…domestic abuse and violence. Professionals, victims, and survivors knew only too well what this pandemic could do to those already living in an epidemic in the UK. I think I can speak for all those victims and survivors when I say we were entering into something where no one knew what the outcome would be.
I was now potentially leaving women to it!! Those ladies who had been coming to my Freedom Programme group each week were no longer able to do this, what could I do? I found zoom, zoom has certainly been a lifesaver to lots of women across the UK. I didn’t know how it was going to pan out, taking Freedom Programme to zoom each week but I was more than willing to give it a go. I shared a post on my social media platforms and had over 100 women sign up. So, I had gone from 8 in a group setting to over 100 women from across the UK wanting to attend my classes.
Fast forward, since March I have had the absolute pleasure of supporting over 200 women on Freedom Programme classes with one lovely lady attending from Russia!! Zoom really has been a life saver. I now find myself for the first time in 6 years being funded for something I love doing and that is supporting those who have been touched by domestic abuse and violence.
To date, over 118 women have successfully completed the 12-week programme. With 117 of those women saying that their knowledge had increased in relation to the personas of the perpetrator, and 117 saying they had a better understanding of domestic abuse and the effects on children within the household.
I received lots of wonderful feedback from the ladies, here are a couple of examples:
“Cannot recommend the presenter enough. She was extremely empathic, warm, compassionate, and engaging towards all people who took part in this training. I have come away with a wealth of knowledge that I did not know beforehand. The presenter ‘held’ us at all times, which was quite a feat as there was a lot of us”
“I do not feel anything needs improving. This programme is AMAZING ! Rachel is an inspiration, the knowledge, care, compassion, and passion that has been provided for all the women including myself was just breath-taking. It was like a little community and we all understood each other. Non-judgemental attitudes and support in every session made it a comfortable course to attend, and also some humour was added which is great ! Considering the covid circumstance and this course being delivered online I feel Rachel has absolutely smashed it.”
So, I think we can say that Freedom Programme on Zoom has been a success.
Not only did Zoom create the platform for Freedom Programme, but it gave me the opportunity to bring survivors and professionals together. For the first 15 weeks of lockdown I held weekly webinars with invited guest speakers, ranging from our very own Domestic Abuse Victims Commissioner Nicole Jacobs to Professor Jane Monkton Smith, Laura Richards, The Drive Project representatives, Professor Evan Stark and my latest two webinars to round off the year have been with Lundy Bancroft. He pulled in a good audience but the biggest I hosted was indeed for Professor Evan Stark who spoke for 4 hours and captivated 275 attendees. The zooms proved very popular and people said it made their week.
I also found myself doing some strange interviews. Not one to ever turn away an opportunity to raise awareness by sharing my story, I found myself being interviewed for Japan TV!! This interview was aired before they braced themselves for lockdown.
I also managed to end up on GMB, ITV live TV, along with lots of radio interviews too. I was surprised by the lack of knowledge around the “silent solution” calling when I mentioned it in my Jeremy Vines interview. I also released a video on social media around this which was seen thousands of times, I only hope that it helped saved a life.
I should have had my second annual Stand up to Domestic Abuse (SUTDA) event but thanks to Covid-19 this had to be postponed. This is now something a lot of people are much looking forward to in September 2021. As a taster and a little something for those who had paid deposits for the event, I decided to do a “SUTDA21 Zoom Taster”, yes, another zoom session!! I think I have now been called “Queen of Zoom” by a good friend of mine who is a police officer!
On this zoom taster, which I dialled in to from Spain, I had our after-dinner speakers join us; Terra Newell (Dirty John) who dialled in from LA, and Wales National Advisor “Nazir Afzal”. We had an amazing couple of hours of fun including a lovely poem from Michael Sheen, who is an amazing advocate, and a Q&A with Rachel Riley and Pasha, another pair of amazing advocates. All this was hosted by the amazing Chris Jones. To round off the event my friend and fellow Ambassador for Women’s Aid sang with her sister and I was presented with the most beautiful trophy which the ladies from the Freedom Programme had clubbed together for, with my lovely volunteer Natalie organising.
One of the many lovely things to happen to me this year was that I won Wales St David’s Award in the Humanitarian category, but what makes this so special is that I was nominated by all the lovely ladies who came to SUTDA19 and it was supported by Safelives too. The Award was such a lovely surprise and I do look forward to receiving the trophy as it’s currently in The Senedd!
To round off my awareness raising this year, after waiting almost a year for it to be aired, my story was re-enacted on Judge Rinder’s “Real Crime Stories” pulling in an audience of 1.2 million viewers without the downloads. This is incredible and the messages and emails I had through my website were amazing and I know some of those victims are now considering a new life, abuse free!
I will still continue using zoom and supporting the lovely ladies on my programme and also advocating for them. I will continue to answer questions on my Facebook page and signpost and help those who need it. This is now my life!
There have been many highs and lows this year and while a vaccine is looking certain for Covid-19, sadly the vaccine is still being sought for domestic abuse and violence. But I am sure that it is imminent and with all of us Standing up to Domestic Abuse we can make this happen.
It is all our problem, and we owe it to the next generation.