December 2015 was memorable for me.
I published my first book Fools' Words, a fictionalised memoir drawn from my own experience of domestic abuse. The process of writing; was one that carried me through a long journey of reflection and recovery. I also, finally, got to celebrate Christmas living in a house that felt more like home. Having recovered at least somewhat, from losing everything I'd ever owned, including my self-confidence, life orientation and sense of trust and security.
Less than a week after publishing, the British Justice System got its arse into gear and introduced a new law. One that has criminalised, Coercive Control. One that can issue a punishment of up to five years imprisonment.
For those of us that are more comfortable with layman's terms, it's referring to mental abuse.
The news was bittersweet for me. I breathed a sigh of relief for the many; I know who are subjected to existing under what is the darkest of clouds, usually in secret. And I cried for those whom this law came too late.
Some of those tears were for me.
Needless to say, as soon as the Statutory Guidance Framework was released I went through it. My experience was mild in comparison to many. And yet, still, I was able to tick off the majority of the defined 'types of behaviour'.
Ten years was the time it took for another individual to strip me of everything I was, and everything I had.
Naturally, I've been asked what my thoughts are on it, and after getting over the initial elation, I find myself unexpectedly, not really knowing.
Yes, I think it's an incredible development and one that is long overdue. The problem I have; is that at this present moment in time, I am unable to envisage how the abuse is going to be evidenced and thus pursued in court. I am also worried that many of the cases that do make it will end with 'You've been very naughty, don't do it again!'
There are three main hurdles as far as I can see.
Primarily, I know, first hand, how swiftly these abusers work to normalise their behaviour, often following a well-practiced script and pattern. I was making excuses for 'him' up until two weeks before I ran. It took the fear for my own life and potentially that of my loved ones, to snap me out of what had essentially been a decade of brainwashing.
I didn't know I was being abused. I had become so adept at covering things up that I didn't know I was doing it. Neither did anyone else. I did, however, know that I was incredibly frightened. The fact that two such extreme emotional states (numbness/terror) co-existed is an indication of how surreal, detached and confusing it all was. And is for many in a similar position.
How can someone battle against a crime if they don't even realise they are a victim?
Secondly, how are victims (that do know) expected to gather the information required in order to bring about a case that will hold? When their every move is being watched (with that watching, often as extreme as being unable to go to the bathroom in complete privacy) there is little opportunity to keep diaries, send texts, or get help ... and if they get caught, the punishment is generally much worse than the other option of simply putting up and shutting up.
My third and final concern rests with the authorities and their understanding of mental abuse. I experienced both positive and not so positive. Victims frequently speak of not being believed and even more so, of not being understood. This, I feel is where a lot more work needs to be done. When the people you are relying on to save you, to make you safe, are amongst the crowd who are thinking 'Why don't you just leave him / her?' it demonstrates just how little insight they have.
It wouldn't be difficult to make a difference to that mindset. There are lots of survivors who want to share their story; want to help the authorities not only to have a better understanding but also to grasp an inkling of how it feels, because that is how the perpetrators keep their control. With feelings. Emotions.
I've offered a copy of my book to a number of police forces. Free. To date, not one has accepted. I don't want their endorsement. I just want them to read. To step into my shoes for a while.
I'm proud of all the individuals and organisations that pushed for, and achieved, this law. It's early days, but it's a start.
I shall be watching what happens with interest.
If you are affected by domestic abuse, please call the Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Helpline on 0808 2000 247