"Sometimes it seemed safer to stay, than die trying to leave"

10 December 2007

by Joanne Miller


WAITS' mission is to enable women disadvantaged by low self-esteem, status, poverty and domestic abuse to take a positive step forward in their lives and become role models in their communities.

Although violence against women and children is widespread, it is especially hidden in Black and Minority Ethnic women in the UK. Many of them still find it difficult to receive appropriate support, information and access to services. Many encounter specific barriers such as language needs, immigration and lack of financial status. Asylum Seekers and Refugee women are usually in total dependence on their spouse/partners or families because they do not having any recourse to public funds. These women may seek low paid work, or beg on the streets to support themselves and children. As the children are usually with their mothers they also suffer because of the mother's status and sometimes end up in care. When the woman leaves her husband, protection, housing and welfare benefits are restricted, hence they end up in the community living destitute lives.

Joanne Miller is WAITS' Women's support and Development Officer I am a survivor of domestic violence for 24 years and I have worked at WAITS as a lead support worker for nine years I now. I have developed many life-skills and self-awareness training programme and deliver the workshops to women WAITS supports - women who have left violent partners or husbands, and have said that they feel abused all over again - but this time by the system. Violent partners have been given access to their children through the court system, even if the children have witnessed abuse and said that they don't want to have contact because they are afraid. When the non-violent parent expresses this concern to the local authority they are sometimes blamed for leading the child's thoughts and emotionally abusing the child and risk the child being put on the Child Protection (CP) register or removed from the non-violent parent. CP is one of the main issues that is affecting the women we support - nearly 80% of our clients have CP orders against them. One result of this is that when we meet women who are suffering domestic violence, we are unable to get down to the issues of her experiences and why her self-esteem and confidence is low because her main issues are everything but! Straight away we are having to deal with CP and civil courts actions, housing, and financial issues, rather than with her safety and well-being.

These women are often afraid to report domestic violence due to the whispers in their community from victims who have lost their children to the local authorities. One woman said that her fear is no longer the perpetrator, but the social worker knocking on the door and blaming her for not protecting her children and having them removed from her care. Women feel that they are being blamed, often by the police, for not protecting their children from violence, even when their own self-esteem is low and they lack confidence to do anything about it. Even when she turns to drugs and alcohol to kill the pain, even when their lives have been threatened by guns, knives and hit men, even when they believe that they will experience institutional racism and face language barriers, finding it difficult to express themselves. Even when they know that their best friend has died because they had no protection and the injunction failed. Even when they values, pride and shame are laid bare, they still feel that they are being blamed. One woman said " sometimes it seemed safer to stay, than to die trying to leave".

Anther woman said " domestic violence does not start with a 'slap', it is a series of emotional and psychological episodes that finally break a person's spirit and self-worth, the physical violence is an eruption and the final destroyer that exceeds your imagination".

Women are starting to speak out, they just need to be believed. They have told us that they have been beaten in public, in the streets, in their homes, in front of their children and friends, they have been strangled, punched, hammers struck in their faces, objects thrown at them, teeth kicked out. They have been tortured and sexually abused which has been witnessed by their children, their children have been sexually abused and live in silence. It is like a war zone but it's happening in their own homes on their door step, and the victims are innocent, wounded and left alone to pick up the pieces.

No more is it 'the victims' problem, no more is it a 'domestic', it's a crime, it's a community business. Domestic violence is still portrayed as a ‘woman's issue' and the onus is still on the 'woman' to sort it out. Through WAITS we will encourage and enable non-violent parents to have a voice and we were able to demonstrate some of the barriers women face when accessing services though a conference that was written, organised, and acted out by the women themselves about their experiences.

The most empowering thing that the WAITS domestic violence team does for a woman is to take her seriously, believe her story and assist her in a safety plan for her and her children.

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