Whilst I was speaking at an event recently my colleague and I forgot to put a trigger warning before my talk on Domestic Abuse. For those of you who don't know already, a trigger is essentially a 'heads up' about any issue that causes a trauma survivor to recall traumatic events. Preparing people with a statement before sharing potentially distressing material is something I do religiously in every single talk I have the honour of giving and I was hugely apologetic that in this instance I hadn't. Shortly after, I received some feedback that whilst the talk had been largely well received, a couple of my attendees felt that the content of the clips were uncomfortable because they were 'too raw.'
It's worth saying here that a significant number of universities in the U.S.A are finding the constant trigger warnings (except in cases of extreme content) a bit too much. Professor Metin Basoglu, a psychologist internationally recognised for his trauma research is opposed to the overuse of trigger warnings because he feels that "instead of encouraging a culture of avoidance, [the media] should be encouraging exposure. Most trauma victims avoid situations that remind them of the experience. Avoidance means helplessness and helplessness means depression. That's not good.' Some are pushing to scale them down and I think that like most things when it comes to the U.S.A and the U.K, similar conversations will eventually happen here.
I know that triggers are complex, unpredictable and create unique reactions. As a psychologist, I get that. What I don't get is how an honest and real talk featuring a few clips can be 'too raw' when it comes to the ugly field of Domestic Abuse.
You see, when I give talks like this one I don't speak as a psychologist, I speak as a survivor . I speak as a woman, as a mother and as an advocate for children and women. It comes from my heart and out of a deep part of me that for a long time I was too ashamed to talk about to anyone let alone at events. It's organic, difficult and my own experience is definitely not the most exciting or glamorous story I have.
One of the clips I played at this particular event was a daytime television advert that you've probably seen. Part of an excellent 'Disrespect Nobody' campaign by the Home Office, the advert, intended to help inform young people about domestic abuse, is called 'Would You Stop Yourself?' and I believe it's an excellent 80-second insight into the reality of teenagers and Domestic Abuse. The other was a recording called 'Lisa's 911 call' which is powerful, real and engaging and voiced by a child of a violent household who is now a DV campaigner; her recording has saved lives and inspired thousands of survivors. The third was a short documentary called 'Abuse Behind Closed Doors' by Our Generation. Yes, each of these are disturbing, but so is the reality. So, when people say the content in these clips is 'too raw', I say this: tell that to a person who has lost a family member to Domestic Abuse or to a child who is living that reality every day. Why don't we want to deal with the actual facts of Domestic Abuse?
Murdered by My Boyfriend was a one-off fact-based drama first aired on BBC Three in 2014. It was probably the most graphic and disturbing I have seen; but I was blown away by how REAL it was. So countless teenage girls, boys, parents and practitioners have gained insight into how a bubbly, beautiful, popular teenage girl can become a victim of abuse. It's honest portrayal was the reason it went on to win a Bafta.
This is the real world. I believe that most people in the U.K have seen a violent film. Still, yesterday I learned that the same 'Would You Stop Yourself?' advert drew 216 complaints when it was first aired with viewers claiming the TV advert was sexist and implied that only men engaged in abuse. Also, in 2008 a Barnardo's advert received 840 complaints. Again designed to raise awareness of domestic child abuse, the TV campaign featured scenes of violence, which many viewers found uncomfortable and not suitable for broadcast. The complaints were not upheld.
If we continue to sugar-coat the issue it will get worse and so as a survivor, I refuse to water things down. Where are we going wrong here? Why is it that we don't feel comfortable when we are faced with the harsh truths? Domestic Abuse thrives on silence. Believe it or not, us hiding from the reality that thousands of women and children (in this country alone) are facing actually enables abuse.
Our young people are dying.
Two years ago, 15-year old Kayleigh Haywood received an unsolicited message via Facebook from 27-year-old Luke Harlow. During the next 13 days, he bombarded Kayleigh with messages before she finally agreed to spend the evening at his house. She ended up staying there for some 36 hours before fleeing in the early hours, only to be pursued by Harlow's neighbour 28-year-old Stephen Beadman. A short while later, he dragged Kayleigh into some nearby woods, where he raped and then murdered the schoolgirl. It may not be nice reading but Kayleigh's family have to face these truths every day.
The newest research from Refuge shows that 56% of teenagers have already experienced controlling behaviours from a partner. If we cannot have these conversations then how are we going to stop this pandemic?
During my career, I've sat down with the perpetrators of abuse. I'll admit I felt very uncomfortable but I did it so that I understand abuse from every angle. In combatting Domestic Abuse I don't want to limit myself to the palatable bits. Abuse has to be understood in all its ugliness.
At a time when evening television soaps aren't afraid to address abortion, drug-use, bullying, and abuse do we really have such a long way to go that we cannot handle a reconstruction, an advert or a PSA? I believe that If we cannot have a completely honest conversation without feeling uncomfortable then there lies the problem.
Ultimately, I'd rather exposing the truth creates some discomfort, than another human being loses their life.