It's easy to write about domestic violence as statistical figures, as if it's happened to others, possibly those with backgrounds dissimilar to your own. But writing about it as an experience not only of yours, but of others around you, is another matter. I came back to my parental home over Christmas only to find my youngest sister, still studying for her GCSEs, with a bitter hatred for my father. Sadly, it was only until Boxing Day that I witnessed (again) a family violence that I thought I had long forgotten.
I saw my father threaten, beat and kick my fifteen-year-old sister for attempting to protect our dog in a family quarrel where my father hit our small dog. He was successfully restrained when he lifted a stool in a threatening manner.
My sister recounted to me afterwards in tears that this was not the first time she had been beaten. Earlier in the year, she had been hit and slapped across the face in public near a playground where mothers and their children quietly observed the scene. She came home with a swollen face that day, and a father who "boasted" about having hit her. My father continued to vent his anger on my mother when she came home from work that night.
What my sister did not realise of course was that this was not her second time. I remember hearing the cries of my sister as she was beaten up. She was five or seven then. I sat in my room with the police number typed up on the my phone and my thumb frozen at the spot of the 'call' button. Later, I had crept into her room saying: "tell me what happened. Do you want me to call the police?" I remember seeing my parents fight another time as a young teenager. My mother's arm was covered in scratches and bruises the following morning. In first year, I wrote about having my ears bashed against a wall and gasping for air as I was clasped by the neck.
The problem with domestic violence is precisely that it is domestic. It is not a danger that comes from the dark alleyways of the outside, a danger that you can physically run away from; it is a danger that comes from a place you call 'home', a place that is hard to escape from all at once.
Traumatised and angered by her experience earlier in the year, my sister had attempted to talk to a counsellor at school about the problem but opted out last minute as she was afraid of "being known in school as the girl with the abusive dad". As an older sister, I would have liked my sister to grow up confident and sure of herself. So it saddens me to think of my sister's inability to consult others about her problem, for being afraid to speak up is just another sign of insecurity and vulnerability.
My family is not alone in the problem of domestic violence and abuse. I had a friend who wrote a creative piece with a distressing imagery of wine spilling from her mother's hands. "But what do your parents do about it?" I asked her. She only replied, "these things happen and we just have to deal with it."
Each time I saw or heard my parents fight as a child, I remember wishing over and over again that they would get a divorce. I never really understood the idea that children were relatively disadvantaged under divorced familes. As a child, I envied people with divorced parents - at least their parents had the guts to do it. My mother, as a full-time professional with a loud and sometimes unpleasant voice (which has provoked some fights), is by no means a weak or submissive character. But it is her conservative stigmatism towards divorced women and her conviction to make a failing marriage last that holds her back.
It upsets me that there is such stigma towards family violence, divorced families and divorcees (divorced women in particular). Abuse becomes something that is accepted and unspoken of by those affected and leads to a lack of awareness that the problem is or can be close by. Domestic violence, as a result, is not real enough for the majority of us. My sister told me that she had once put up a suicidal post about death, she said: "but everyone just seemed to think that I was the happy person who made jokes all the time".
But you know what? I am not 'just going to deal with it'. This is me saying that domestic violence is very real, and that it is not okay.