Thursday, 20 December 2012

What's in a name?

... I came to win, to fight, to conquer, to thrive, I came to win, to survive, to prosper, to rise...”

I love these particular lyrics from the song ‘Fly’, by Nicki Minaj, featuring Rihanna.  The pink haired pop star may not be to everyone’s taste, but these lyrics speak to me of a woman claiming her own power.

For the last 2 weeks, I’ve been reminiscing about my time as a public prosecutor and looking forward to the opportunities to make a change as a violence against women activist in Nigeria.  As a lawyer and as a writer, I’m always thinking about the importance of words.  Their meaning, how I use them to convey what I mean.  In the context of the law, a word that I have been using a lot recently is ‘victim’.  As you all know by now, I’m a sucker for a definition, so I looked it up.  The one I found, that properly expresses what I mean when I use the word is: “a person harmed, injured or killed as a result of a crime, accident or other event or action”.  In that sense, it’s not wrong to call someone who has experienced violence against women a victim. However, I’d like to explore two consequences of using the word and why I prefer the word ‘survivor’.

The first thing I’d like to say is that using the term ‘victim’ even when the person is no longer experiencing the violence keeps them in a place of powerlessness.  It doesn’t reflect the fact that they may no longer be in the abusive situation. For the woman who has either left the relationship or the perpetrator has been held to account through the courts, to continue to use that word keeps her stuck in a place that doesn’t reflect her anymore. I understand that other people may take the view that although the violence may have ceased, the harm or injury done, is ongoing and therefore ‘victim’ is the correct term.  To my mind, ‘survivor’ is a much more accurate description of where that woman is now and allows her to begin the journey back to her best self.

The second point that I would like to make, flows on from the one above.  Whatever terminology is used, it’s still about someone else making the decisions.  Someone else is labelling you.  As a prosecutor and even as an activist, no matter how sensitive I think I am being, when I choose to use the word ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’, I am doing the labelling. I am making the decision about how best to describe you.  For a victim of violence, one of the most corrosive consequences is when the perpetrator takes away your choices and labels you. When you are kept away from friends or family and constantly called abusive and derogatory names, it makes the job of destroying your self esteem and self confidence much easier.  The most respectful thing for us to do as people who work with those who have experienced violence is to ask how they would prefer to be addressed.  It may require us to change our way of thinking or even learn a different language, but in the end, if we are serious about being respectful, then it’s something we will have to do.

‘Survivor’ means “a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died”.  In the UK, 2 women a week are killed by their current or ex partners[1]; In Colombia, one woman is reportedly killed by her current or former partner every 6 days[2]; According to the World Health Organisation, 40-70% of female murder victims in Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, were killed by their partners[3].  Given these statistics, it’s clear that women experiencing violence should take the perpetrator very seriously, when he threatens to kill them.  They also demonstrate why I prefer the term ‘survivor’.

In this work that we do as lawyers, activists, policy makers, advocates, it’s important to remember that we get to work with women who are on a journey.  It is not our journey and we don’t get to take over.  It’s about affording people respect and dignity, whilst they make their life choices.|

I’ll end, the same way I started, with lyrics from Nicki Minaj, because I think she says it best:

“Everybody wanna try to box me in, suffocating everytime it locks me in...I am not a girl who can be defined...I came to win, to fight, to conquer, to thrive, I came to win, to survive, to prosper, to rise...”[4]

Born2bebeautiful is taking a 2 week break and will be back on the 3 January 2013.  Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season.


[1] Women’s Aid website
[2] United Nations website
[3] United Nations website
[4] Nicki Minaj ft Rihanna-Fly

Thursday, 13 December 2012

That was then, this is now...

“Use the buddy system: if you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you, while you are in public”

“Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’, you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do”

Before you wonder if I’ve lost my mind, these are just two of the sexual assault prevention tips-guaranteed to work, put together by the feminist law professors[1].  The other 8 are well worth a read too! Funny, but then again, not so funny when you realise that the law which is meant to protect victims of violence often ends up re-victimising them, by blaming them for the crime committed against them. If they look a bit odd to you, it’s because these tips are aimed at perpetrators of violence, rather than their victims, which is the more usual scenario.

This week’s piece is a sort of sequel to last week’s.  Last week, I was reflecting on my experiences as a prosecutor in the UK.  This week, I spoke at a domestic violence symposium and was looking forward, at the laws in Nigeria and how they can help victims of domestic violence.  What struck me was the fact that although I was talking about 2 different countries, there are certain principles that hold true, no matter where you are.  I’d like to look at my top three here, which are:

the law is a blunt instrument; it’s only as good as those who are implementing it and the law on its own is not enough to end violence against women.  For some of us, this is not news, but for others, it may represent a sea change in the way that they think about the law and how it helps in violence against women situations.

Are you curious about what I mean, when I say the law is a blunt instrument? I mean that typically the law looks at separate incidents of behaviour as separate crimes.  Apart from some specific crimes like conspiracy, the law doesn’t tend to acknowledge that seemingly separate incidents could actually be part of a bigger pattern.  In violence against women cases and particularly domestic violence, we are talking about a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. Incidents that could be explained away individually, take on a very different complexion, when seen as part of a pattern.  I mentioned back in October that the UK has recently amended its definition of domestic violence to specifically include the pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.  That’s a great start, but how well that’s understood and how it will translate in the courts, is something that remains to be seen and leads me neatly onto my second point, which is;

The law is only as good as those who implement it.  The law by itself is just a collection of words, definitions and principles.  It comes alive, when people use it and test its boundaries.  Something that seems very clear to the drafters of the law, can keep the courts busy for years as lawyers argue about the finer points of a definition!  That’s why training is such an essential part of improving the response to violence against women.  Training helps us to have the conversations about what is meant, long before we step into a court room. Training defines what behaviour is expected of every individual who will come into contact with a victim of violence.  From the police officer who makes the first contact, all the way through to the judge who will hear the case, there needs to be an awareness and sensitivity of the issues involved.  People don’t just need to know what to say, they also need to know what not to say! Victims need to be reassured that there is a standard that has to be met.

Finally, although the law is an important tool in the fight to end violence against women, it’s not the only weapon we have and may not even be the most important.  In order to end the scourge which is violence against women, there needs to be a combined effort, from different people and organisations.  The government, police, lawyers, educators and civil society players, all have a role to play.  We need to raise awareness of the issue, we need to come up with ways to prevent and protect victims of violence.  We also need to come up with effective sanctions for the perpetrators of violence.

Whenever I tell people what I do, they invariably tell me that there is a lot to do.  When I was preparing for my talk this week, I found that there is a very comprehensive law on domestic violence in the state where I live.  However, in spite of it being law for 5 years, hardly anyone seems to know about it and that was pretty shocking. For my part, I’m excited about being part of a movement that is still in its infancy.  The obstacles are many, but there are many more opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of the women and girls who experience violence on a regular basis.

Have you been affected by anything in this piece? Would you like to know more about how our coaching or training services could help? Would you like a free, 30 minute consultation to help you begin to make changes in your life? Contact us through the website, to start the journey to your best you.

Until next week, go well.




Thursday, 6 December 2012

The chronicles of a mad feminist

I fancy myself as a bit of a runner (questionable, given my current pace!).  I sometimes use visualisation to improve my runs.  Rather oddly, I always envisage myself bobbing along with a perfect ponytail swaying in the wind (odd, because I am currently sporting a red, teeny weeny afro).  As I visualise my perfect pace, stride –and hair, I’m reminded of my time as a prosecutor.  I used to dream of the ‘perfect’ domestic violence case.  The victim would be articulate and persuasive, she would support the prosecution and I would win my case without any difficulty.  

As I reflect on the fact that I’ve been a qualified barrister for 18 years now, this week I’d like to share 3 lessons that I’ve learned and the cases that reinforced those principles for me.  These aren’t exciting new revelations, just some principles to live life by, that we could all do with being reminded about.

“If you change the way you behave, you ‘force’ the people around you to change too”

The case that taught me that involved a man who had assaulted his girlfriend.  He admitted what he had done to the police and repeated it in his interview.  When the case came to court, his solicitor wanted me to drop the case, because the victim didn’t want to go ahead anymore.  I told him I wouldn’t and that I would prosecute on the strength of what he had said to the police.  This was a bit of a shock for his lawyer, because that’s not how things had been done, up until this time.  After a lot of grumbling, they finally came back and agreed to plead guilty.  It was as his lawyer was leaving my office that he paid me the best compliment ever.  He said “you’re just one of those mad feminists”.  I know that might not be a compliment to some, but if he responded like that because I was doing the right thing, then I’m okay with that.  I changed what I did, and it got me the result I wanted.

“Just because something’s not been tried before, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be”

I learnt this lesson by prosecuting my first case without the support of the primary victim.  Once again, it was a case involving an assault by a man on his partner.  They had gone out for his birthday, had an argument and it ended with him assaulting her and someone who tried to help her.  He was arrested very shortly afterwards and admitted what he had done to the police.  I was sure that he would offer a guilty plea straightaway. I thought I’d misheard when he pleaded not guilty! His partner said she didn’t want to give evidence against him and wanted to drop the case.  His lawyer said I had to drop the case because I had lost my main witness.  I refused because I was sure I had enough evidence-even without the primary witness.  We went to trial and he was convicted on the strength of the other evidence that I had.  Before I tried that case, I’d never done one like that before and I didn’t know anyone else who had done it either.  It was risky and there was the possibility that I would fail, but I thought it was worth a shot. If only to learn how to succeed next time.

“Work with what you have”

As I said at the beginning of this post, I used to dream of the perfect domestic violence case, with the perfect victim. My last illustration was none of these things. The defendant was a drug dependent, career criminal and the victim had a serious alcohol addiction, as well as convictions for prostitution. In short, it was the case from hell!  The victim had made complaints before and always withdrawn them, before they came to trial.  I remember being in court a few weeks before the trial came up and seeing her.  She said she had come because she thought her case had come up already.  I had a serious case of the jitters, thinking that my case was about to head down the toilet.  I had a chat with her about her drinking.  She told me that she was best in the morning, because she hadn’t had a chance to drink too much, first thing.  I went ahead and re-scheduled her case for the morning, she gave evidence and her partner was found guilty.  Fellow colleagues had dismissed cases involving her in the past and at different stages in the case, I was tempted to do the same.  What stopped me, was the fact that she was consistent about what she said had happened.  She never tried to hide the less than ideal aspects of her character as a witness- perhaps because she thought the case would be dropped anyway!  That case taught me, that if you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll probably never do anything, because there’s no such thing as perfection.

For me, these cases are a metaphor for life.  How many of us keep doing the same thing over and over and end up with the same unwanted result?

How many of us have big dreams and ideas hidden in our hearts, but are too afraid to step out, because no-one’s done it before and we’re afraid to fail?

How many of us are putting off living, until the conditions are perfect.  How often do you tell yourself you’ll go for that dream when you get the perfect job/lose the weight/meet the right person?

Today, I invite you to think about these principles and remind yourself of the areas where you could make a change and take that first step.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Are you feeling a bit stuck? Would you like help working through any of these principles? Sign up for a free, 30 minute consultation and see how coaching can help you to be the best you there is.

Until next week, go well.




Thursday, 29 November 2012

At the crossroads

The picture on the right is of a hairstyle that is common where I come from.  It’s called suku and it involves all the hair, being plaited upwards to meet at a single point.  When it’s done properly, every plait ends at the same point.  It looks beautiful, but the intersection where all the plaits meet can actually be quite sore, due to the pressure of the individual plaits. It’s not one plait that causes the pain, but the combined effect of all of them.

I have been interested in the concept of intersectionality ever since I first came across it, during my masters course.  Put simply, intersectionality is a way of taking into consideration all of the different facets of our identity, when describing our experiences and how they affect us.  Whether it’s gender, race, age, ability, sexuality, religion or socio-economic class, intersectionality is an important concept, that can help us understand why we feel like we do.  It helps us to understand the effects of multiple discrimination and how it links into things like race and gender inequality and discrimination. 

Most recently, I was reminded of the concept, when Viola Davis became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama.  I cheered like a wild thing!  As for her acceptance speech, don't even get me started!  It was a little bittersweet though.  I mean how come it's taken so long and why is it still so unusual?  I guess the answer lies in part of her speech: " you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there!"  Since she won, as well as accolades, there has been the predictable backlash as well.  Step forward Nancy Lee Grahn. Ms Grahn apparently took exception to the fact that Ms Davis referenced a speech by Harriet Tubman.

These are challenging times to be a Black person in the United States, what with the seemingly gratuitous killing of Black people  and the random appropriation of facets of Black culture (nothing new there then when you think about it). As I pondered all that is going on, it made me think again about the concept of intersectionality.  Parts of this week's post were first published back in 2012, but the issues are still as pertinent today and so I decided to republish it.  I hope that for those of you who haven't read it before, it speaks to you and for those of you who have already read it, I hope it says something new.

The first intersection that I would like to talk about is gender and race.  Ms Davis' win is important because for far too long Black women in Hollywood have been portrayed as hoochie mamas, baby mamas, any other kind of mama or the help!  If I am discriminated against as a Black woman, is it because I am black or because I am a woman? Why should I have to choose between one or the other anyway? I am Black and I am a woman.  One doesn’t trump the other. The important thing is the impact of that discrimination and the effect it has on me.  Ms Grahn's response to Ms Davis' speech smacked to me of a sense of entitlement and a bizarre sense of having been left out somehow!  Ms Grahn was speaking from a place of White privilege.  I'm not one to see the race bogeyman around every corner, but the refusal of White women to accept that in relation to Black women, they too are beneficiaries of White privilege.   I am currently living in a society where as a Black person I am in the majority.  And yet all around me, I see examples of preference being given to individuals just because of the colour of their skin.  I see the deference that is paid to them.  The assumption that they know better and are in fact better, because they are foreign.  It is a stark reminder to me, that people are still privileged by virtue of their skin colour- no matter where I go!

The second intersection that is important is that of gender and culture.  You don’t have to look far to see examples of how this intersection impacts women negatively.  Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality and it thrives in the intersection between gender and culture.  In my mind, every manifestation of violence against women that we see is rooted in cultural beliefs, assumptions and mores that categorise women as being ‘less than’.  The cultural context then works to reinforce and aggravate the violence that women experience.  A recent report on gender in Nigeria[2] makes for some pretty bleak reading.  In spite of the fact that we have a national gender policy, the inequality and discrimination faced by women and girls is horrifying.  Only 20,000 women, out of the 60,000 young men and women who enter the formal work sector manage to get a job and they are consistently paid less than their male counterparts-even where those male counterparts have fewer qualifications. In the North West of the country, 70.8% of young women aged 20-29 are unable to read or write compared to 9.7% in the South East. Early marriage, early childbirth and a general unwillingness to invest in the education of girls because they are viewed as second class citizens are just some of the reasons for this. In the age group 15-24, 1 in 3 women and girls has been a victim of violence.  Where there is an entrenched culture of violence and where perpetrators are rarely made to pay for their crimes, you can see why so few women ever report offences of violence against them.

The last intersection that I would like to look at is that of gender and religion.  It’s very closely linked to the intersection above as some might say religion is an aspect of culture.  I think it’s important enough to be mentioned on its own as an area where women are disproportionately affected. Ask a religious leader whether violence against women is wrong and you’re likely to hear that it is and the practice of it condemned.  However, scratch the surface and a different story emerges.  Where religion is significant in the life of a woman, one of the first people she is likely to turn to for help in a violent situation is her spiritual leader.  Some are very good and unequivocally denounce the violence.  However, the experience of many women is that they are somehow blamed for the violence.  Questions like: what did you do to make him angry?” or “why didn’t you have his food ready?” abound.  Women are ‘advised’ to modify their behaviour in order to avoid violence.  These questions and advice miss the point in my view.  The perpetrator chooses to use violence, to maintain his power and control in the relationship.  Violence isn’t caused by anger; it’s caused by the perpetrator seeking to retain control.  Some of the worst advice I’ve heard about how to handle domestic violence has been given by pastors.  Given the numbers of women experiencing violence, a modern day pastor needs to educate themselves about the causes of violence, so they can give advice that helps, rather than harms.

The fact of the matter is that we all have different facets to our identities and inequality and discrimination cannot be put away neatly in a box marked ‘gender’ or ‘race’ or ‘religion’.  We experience the pain as a whole and it affects us a whole.

As I end my piece this week, I invite you to think about where the intersections are in your own life.  How has gender inequality, discrimination or violence affected you? How has it been made worse by the intersections?

Have you been affected by anything in this piece? Would you like to know more about how we can help? Contact us through the website for a free 30 minute consultation.

Until next week, go well.

[1] The term comes out of a metaphor coined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Decisions, decisions...

My daughter has been reading some interactive Peppa Pig stories.  One of the stories is set at a fair and Mummy Pig keeps getting told that she can’t win the big teddies.  She gets very cross indeed and goes on to win all the teddies (my kind of woman!) I wonder if she’s a feminist???

At the moment, you’re probably wondering if you’re reading the wrong blog.  Never fear, you’re in the right place.  Reading the story with my daughter reminded me of the spirited debate I was involved in a few weeks back, in an online forum.  A contributor asserted that it wasn’t right to try and increase the number of women in senior positions, by means of a quota system or the threat of a quota system, or indeed by any kind of affirmative action.  The main thrust of his argument was that women made choices and those choices led to the outcomes that we see, in terms of lower numbers of women in senior positions.  Women aren’t occupying those positions because they work fewer hours than men and most women just want to be home looking after their children anyway, so they don’t go for senior positions.  I don’t know about all of you out there, but my brain didn’t go into retirement, just because I had a baby.  What I have noticed though is that my professional choices do seem to have narrowed considerably since I became a mother.

The issue of gender inequality is one that just won’t go away- partly because it’s so entrenched and partly because it’s so pervasive.  It’s important to recognise the fact that sex is biological.  I am a woman because I have breasts and a vagina. Gender on the other hand is a social construct.  It’s a whole set of ideas, theories and beliefs about how men and women should behave.  Because it’s a social construct, it is my hope that we can actually change the construct and move towards gender equality. 

Gender inequality starts early and you see it in the way that boys and girls are socialised and the codes of behaviour that each gender is expected to adhere to.  I remember my then 4 year old niece laughing when I said a man on the telly was cooking.  She said “aunty, men don’t go in the kitchen, only women do”.  She was repeating what she had seen and heard in only 4 years of life.  Gender inequality comes in many guises and a lot of effort is expended in maintaining the structure of it.  One such disguise is that all mothers want to leave the workplace once they have children.  That’s simply not true.  Some women do, others don’t. For those who want to work as well as have a family, it requires near superhero powers.  Women are still expected to take on the lion’s share of domestic duties and childcare.  Sometimes it feels like feminism just gave us the right to have 2 jobs!  Women have to find ways of adapting and managing their lives, in order to fit everything in.  One way that they do this is by becoming self employed.  The number of women entrepreneurs is growing daily-even in the current economic climate.

Lists, quotas or the threat of quotas, those things don’t change things in and of themselves.  They have to be backed up by action.  Action that makes a real difference in women’s lives.  Resources directed to areas that will genuinely empower women, not just in the setting up of new agencies to monitor/police gender.

Something else I’ve noticed is that when we speak about gender, it seems to have become synonymous with women.  When the discussion starts from that premise, it runs the risk of becoming a very polarised subject, with men and women each fighting their corners.   I see that all the time, in discussions with the language quickly becoming very divisive and inflammatory.   Gender equality is not about a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  It’s about finding solutions that works for both men and women.  A deeply entrenched belief is that all men are ruthless, driven and want to work every hour in the day.  Some men will identify with that.  On the other hand there are other men, who would like a bit more balance between work and family life.  I don’t know many people who would say on their deathbeds, “I wish I would have worked even harder”.  True gender equality has the space to accommodate the different paths that people wish to take in their lives.

Lastly, it seems to be impossible to talk about gender, without talking about feminism.  Contrary to what a lot of people think, they are not one and the same thing.  This post isn’t a treatise on feminism.  However, I think it’s important to remember that a lot of the gains that women who resist the label ‘feminist’ take for granted were achieved through the feminist movement.  Is it a perfect movement? No, but why would you expect it to be, since it consists of fallible human beings.  In the end, it all comes down to a simple question: what does feminism mean to you? In its broadest sense, feminism is about the fight to achieve social, political and economic equality. For me personally, it’s about choice.  My ability to make choices, unhindered by my gender.  At the moment, the rules of the game have been set by men, who don’t take time out to have children and who are usually not the main carers for those children.  The women who make it on these terms either have no children or have enough help, for it never to become an issue in the workplace.

As I end this week’s post, I remember Malala, the young Pakistani woman shot because she was pursuing her right to get an education.  A choice that the Taliban would deny her.  A choice that many of us take for granted.   Every day we get to make hundreds of choices.  Let’s commit to making choices that help to change our world, one woman at a time.

Are you feeling a bit stuck in life, unsure of what choices to make next? Contact us through the website to find out how coaching can help you.

Until next week, go well.




Thursday, 15 November 2012 we go again...

Those of you who read my blog regularly know how much I simultaneously love and dread Thursdays.  As soon as I’ve posted one blog, I start wondering about what I’m going to write about the following week.

I had fallen into that familiar groove this week, when I had an ‘aha’ moment.  I blog about things and causes that I am passionate about- my core values.  Because of that, I’m going to keep returning to key themes for me, like gender equality, violence against women, leadership and change.   So this week’s blog is about the benefits of repetition.  How does it help us learn? How many times do we need to repeat something before we master it? What can we do to help us remember things?

Repetition is actually the most basic technique for learning something.  Concert pianists, Olympic gymnasts and world class racing car drivers all know this.  That’s why they spend hours practising their skills, so that it becomes second nature.  Although we’re not all world class athletes, I’m sure we all have some experience of learning something new and having to practice and keep practising, until we felt confident about what we were doing.  I still remember that magic moment when I realised that rather than learning to be a coach, I was actually coaching my clients!

Increased confidence is a wonderful side effect of repetition.  The more we repeat something, the more confident we become about doing it.  I remember getting ready to sit for some important exams and just going over the material over and over again. I was extremely confident that I knew the material and would ace the exam.  That came in really handy when I realised I’d been revising for the wrong exam.  It was a choice between a re-sit or take my chances. I took my chances and it turned out to be my best grade!

Finally, what can we do to help us to remember things better? Well, on that front, there’s a whole plethora of techniques out there, designed to enhance our retention skills.  Some folk swear by mnemonics.  The most common form of a mnemonic is an acronym.  The first letter of each word reminds us of a key principle and the acronym itself usually spells out a word or phrase.  I came across a good one recently: H.A.L.T.  It’s to remind you not to allow yourself to get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (helps with emotional eating).  Other tips include linking a picture with whatever it is you are trying to learn.  I used to visualise the pad where I had written my notes, to jog my memory.

I’m sure some of you are wondering what repetition has got to do with coaching.  Well, most people come to coaching because they have recognised that there are things they would like to change in their lives.  However, change is scary-even change that we instigate ourselves.  During the coaching process, as you pick up new skills and techniques to make change, your coach supports you as you put them into practice.  I’ve read that it takes 21 days to form a habit.  If you repeat something for 21 days, you’re more likely to make it a long term practice.  A coach can help you identify what behaviours you might want to lose, what behaviours you might want to develop and hold you accountable on your journey.

Personally, I hope that as I re-visit themes, principles and ideas, that I do so in a fresh and exciting way every time.  That practice really does make perfect.

If you’d like to find out more about how coaching can help you, please contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

...when it hurts so bad...

If you’re a woman of a certain age, it’s likely that you’ve had your fair share of relationships.  Hopefully some would have been great, others, ok.  You are also likely to have had some bad ones and some really bad ones.  If you’re that 1 in 4 woman who has experienced domestic violence, then you’ve more than likely had a truly horrifying one. 

I seem to have written my second trilogy here, because I’m writing my third piece to mark domestic violence awareness month. I hope the two pieces I’ve already written have educated and informed you and made you think a bit more about the horror that is domestic violence.

The first thing I’d like to say this week is that not every bad relationship is an abusive one.  I dated a man once whose comments and behaviour made me so paranoid about my body, it was unreal.  So much so, that on one birthday, I locked myself in the bathroom to eat my birthday cake, in order to avoid his comments!  Were his behaviour and comments wrong? Absolutely.  Should I have ditched him? Definitely (which I did in the end).  Was his behaviour abusive? Looking back, I’d say no.  Others may have a different view, but I don’t recollect there being a pattern of coercive control that defines an abusive relationship. And that is what defines an abusive relationship for me.  It also takes me to my second point.

The UK has recently amended its definition of domestic violence.  The new definition is “any incident or pattern of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over, who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”.  The abuse in question includes psychological, emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse.  It’s good to see the pattern of coercion and control clearly spelt out, because there are still those who would argue that an incidence of violence is a ‘one-off’ and completely out of character for the perpetrator.  For the women and children who are living with that perpetrator, it is not an isolated incident, but a sustained and prolonged campaign of terror.  So for those who aren’t sure about whether or not they or someone they know is in a domestic violence situation, I’d say look at the pattern of behaviour.  Is the behaviour isolating you from your sources of support? Is the behaviour regulating your everyday behaviour, by causing you to try and avoid anything that might trigger a violent incident? is the behaviour humiliating or intimidating to you?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it is likely that you are in an abusive relationship and you need to get help.

Which in turn, leads neatly to my last point and that is help seeking in a relationship blighted by domestic violence. If you are on the outside looking in, you are likely to be very confused by some of the behaviour of the victim.  You may ask yourself why she doesn’t just leave?  You may ask why does she leave and keep coming back? And finally you may end up concluding that the victim doesn’t really want help.  I read a comment recently where a reader said she just couldn’t feel any pity for a woman who stays in an abusive relationship.  What she and others who feel like her must realise is that living in a domestic violence situation is like living in a nightmarish alternative reality.  One where your major aim is to survive, to stay alive.  If I sound extreme, it’s because many women have been told that if they try to leave/actually leave, they and/or their children will be killed.  I will always remember the words of an incredibly brave woman who said, it was easier to have the abuser at home, because she didn’t have to worry about him popping up out of the blue, which was far more nerve wracking! Also for many women, it’s a triumph of hope over reality.  She wants the violence to stop, so that the relationship can remain.   She wants to believe that this really will be the last time.  This is why expressions of remorse and promises never to do it again, have such an impact on the victim.  Think about how difficult you would find it to walk away from a relationship that you have invested time, emotions and finances in-especially when there are children?

As I end this piece, I reflect on the fact that the stakes in domestic violence are high.  A relationship with Mr Wrong could dent your pride a bit.  A relationship with Mr Abuser could see you battered, bruised or even dead.

If you have been affected by anything in this week’s post, or would like to find out more information, contact us through the website.

Born2bebeautiful is taking a 2 week break until the 15 November.  Until then, go well.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Now he loves me, now he don't

I don’t think there are many people who would go on a first date, get a slap and say “oh good, just the kind of relationship I am looking for, I’ll be back for some more of that!”  Domestic violence is much more insidious than that.  Abusers often appear charming, attentive and even loving at first.  So that when the violence starts, it is often shocking and the tendency is to try and explain it away or for the victim to feel that they are somehow to blame for it.

This week, as it’s still Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I’d like to look at some of the warning signs of a violent relationship.  There are more signs than this.  These are just the ones that I have chosen to focus on.

The first sign that I would like to focus on is denial.  When I use the word ‘denial’, I am talking about the instances where the abuser either denies that the abuse ever happened or puts the blame on the victim, saying she caused it. This is one form of psychological abuse that women mention often.  It can make you feel like you’re losing your mind, when a perpetrator either outright denies abuse or says your behaviour caused it.  In the latter situation, if the victim accepts that, she will begin to try and modify her behaviour or change in some other way, in order to avoid further violence.  In reality though, the choice and the decision are not hers to make.  The abuser decides, how, when, what and where he will perpetrate his violence. Taking responsibility for the behaviour often leads to feelings of guilt, shame, fear and hopelessness on the part of the victim, which can eventually lead to a complete breakdown of their self esteem and self confidence.

The next sign is equally damaging to a victim’s psyche and that is the use of destructive criticism, verbal abuse and threats.  Constant name calling, mockery, scorn and other forms of harmful criticism go to the very core of our identity.   As I have said before, the destruction of another human being starts and ends with the dismantling of their self esteem and confidence. Threats to kill the victim, the children or themself.  Threats to harm children and other loved ones.  Threats to use physical violence.  These are sadly a fact of life for the millions of women and children around the world experiencing domestic abuse. 

Finally, I’d like to mention sexual violence.  Rape, forcing you to engage in sexual practices (harmful or otherwise) that you don’t want to and the use of sexual threats or intimidation often plays a huge role in domestic violence situations.  Because of the very intimate nature of this type of abuse, it is often the last thing to be disclosed.  Throw into the mix, the possibility of compromising pictures and the increased use of social media and you can see how sexual violence would be a very effective way of controlling a victim.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned physical violence in this piece.  That’s not because it’s not a very important sign.  It’s because, physical violence and domestic violence are often seen as being synonymous and I want to use this post to highlight some other warning signs.  The ones that victims often experience, but are the hardest for other people to understand or believe.

A listening ear and a helping hand are two things that victims of domestic violence need and most times don’t get.  Would you know how to help? Would you know where to find out information on domestic violence? This month, take some time to find out more about domestic violence.  You just might be able to save someone’s life.

Affected by anything in this post? Want more information? Contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Back to basics

Imagine if your child came home from school one day and told you that they were no longer going to be taught the ABC- on account of the fact that it had been taught for too long!  You would be a bit peeved I expect. That’s how I feel, when people say we should stop talking about domestic violence, because most people know it’s wrong and there’s no need to keep going on about it.  The fact is that it’s still endemic and women and children across the world are being abused and killed by those who profess to love them!
October is domestic violence awareness month in America and I thought it would be a good time to go back to basics and tackle 3 of the most common myths about domestic violence.
The first myth that I want to highlight is that domestic violence is caused by anger.  This is the most pervasive and dangerous myth out there in my view and it has a catastrophic effect on the safety of women and children.  The fundamental cause of domestic violence is power and control.  If domestic violence were simply about uncontrollable anger, why aren’t the abusers out there, beating up bosses, beating up other drivers on the road or anyone else who makes them angry? Using violence is a deliberate choice by an abuser.  They choose when to use the violence, they choose what ‘offences’ merit violence, they choose how much violence to use, they choose where to use the violence and they choose when to stop the violence.  It in fact the very opposite of uncontrolled anger.  It is calculated and frighteningly random for the victim, because they can never be sure what will trigger an episode of violence.  It destabilises victims and keeps them perpetually off balance, thereby allowing the abuser to maintain their power and control in the relationship.  Stress, alcohol, drugs and mental illness can all exacerbate the violence, by making it more severe, but they are not the root cause.  That’s why anger management courses and treatment for addictions do not stop the violence.
The second myth that I’d like to challenge is that domestic abuse is just a fight between 2 people and that the victim is equally culpable. A fight implies individuals who are more or less evenly matched.  Not many women I know are able to take on a violent man.  They may try to defend themselves, but it’s highly unlikely that they would prevail in a fight.  I am not saying that there are no women who abuse their partners, because there are.  However, in my experience and in the research that I’ve seen, the majority of victims are women and the majority of abusers are men.  Factor in the emotional and sexual abuse that accompanies physical violence and it becomes clear that this is in no way a fight between equals.
Finally, I would like to challenge the myth that domestic violence only happens amongst poor or uneducated people.  Actually research has shown that it is slightly more prevalent amongst professionals.  This myth just serves to stigmatise one group of people, whilst silencing the other.  Abusers come from all walks of life.  White collar lawyers, accountants and judges, abuse just as badly as blue collar plumbers, electricians and taxi drivers.  The effect on their victims is the same: fear, shame and the knowledge that if they report the abuse, they are more than likely to be blamed, for somehow causing the violence.  So they learn to scream quietly, so they don’t disturb the neighbours.  They become adept at masking the outward signs of abuse, so that they don’t offend anyone with their injuries.  Most of all, they learn that they won’t be believed in the face of a charming and plausible abuser.
Although, October is not domestic violence awareness month here, we can still do our bit. Let’s examine our own beliefs about the causes of domestic violence.  Let’s think about how we would respond if we knew that someone was being abused. Let’s pay a little more attention to our sisters and our girlfriends who may be suffering in silence. Let’s play our part in shaping a world that is free from violence against women.
Have you been affected by anything in this week’s piece? Or would you like more information on how to help someone suffering domestic violence? Contact us through the website, for a free and confidential chat.
Until next week, go well.