We are coming to the end of another Domestic Abuse Awareness Month and I'm happy to see there is lots of buzz surrounding raising awareness. Still, with the headlines screaming that over 4,000 women have died from domestic violence in the USA alone in the past year, we all know there is a great deal more to do in every corner of the world. I believe what frustrates so many people in this domain, from practitioners to campaigners, is that we so often seem to take one step forward, and then five steps back. For every single piece of progress and good news, there are situations that just should not be happening.
In September, a man who 'beat his wife black and blue' was allowed to keep his job. The problem is that his job was helping domestic violence victims. David Bird continued to work at council-run hotline Lifeline, which helps pensioners and abuse victims, after attacking his wife when she interrupted him during the football.
42-year-old Nichola Bird said her husband had been drinking all day and watching Euro 2016 when she approached him at half time of a game to tell him she loved him. He threw cider in her face before head butting her, slapping her to the ground, grabbing her throat and dragging her around their garden in Hull, East Yorkshire. She said, 'He deals with vulnerable people who have been domestically abused. He did not even get suspended on full pay. He has been going to work as if nothing has happened. It's a joke.' This situation was not a joke at all, it was a travesty. Despite his wife's injuries, Mr Bird was fined just £100 by Hull Magistrates for the assault. It wasn't until there was an uproar from Hull MP Diana Johnson and Women's Aid that he was suspended from his job. My question, why was that allowed to happen in the first place?
Over in Manchester, over 700 people have been arrested as part of the campaign Operation Scratch. during a month-long crackdown on domestic abuse. Greater Manchester Police were also raising awareness of domestic abuse, arresting wanted criminals and encouraging people to recognise the signs in their own or someone else's relationship. The campaign was very needed and clearly very effective, I cannot sing it's praises enough. Except for one major problem: it was 'a month of action' (which ended a fortnight ago) and the campaign is now over. In order for us to take a real crack at Domestic Abuse, this is the kind of police incentive we need on a national (and international) scale 365 days a year.
Two weeks into what is being dubbed 'DVAM2016', Merton Council proudly announced it was pledging support to the 'UK Says No More' campaign last month, which aims to 'get people talking about domestic violence and sexual assault and promote the local help available'. The campaign, which is a collaboration between the No More and Hestia, is brilliant and lots of people all over London were over the moon that Merton Council was taking action and standing up to Domestic Abuse by publicly joining the campaign. Then, just days later, a group of women in a refuge in Merton accused the council of failing to follow through in supporting them despite joining the campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault.
In fact, victims of domestic assault presently being sheltered in Merton have accused the council of all but ignoring them. Can you feel my frustration?
What good are countless campaigns and incentives if they are a temporary and 'token gesture' rather than a solution-focused, hands on effort to combat Domestic Violence? Just recently, Leigh Samms pleaded guilty to briskly assaulting his girlfriend Jasmine Henderson. He was handed an 18-week prison sentence. He was also ordered to pay £100 in compensation to his victim. Shouldn't we have moved forward from stories like these by now? Shouldn't they already be 'a thing of the past'?
DVAM2016 may be over but the year is not and I really do want to see change. I want to see campaigns that are successful in raising awareness and lowering Domestic Violence. Strength With In Me Foundation (S.W.I.M) is running an all-year social media campaign called #CanYouHearUsNow in which women from all over the world are invited to record (face concealed for safety if necessary) who they are, what their experience of Domestic Abuse has been and what they are most proud of today. With the recording ending with the women asking 'Can You Hear Us Now?' the idea is to stand up to Domestic Abuse and inspire it's victims. So far, campaigners Celia Peachey and Rachel Williams have made their moving contributions and the campaign has achieved a social media reach of over 800,000 people. Still, none of it will mean anything if we don't save any lives.
I'm asking anyone reading this to do something about Domestic Abuse. Write to your local MP, donate to REFUGE, look at those around you vigilantly (and safely), join our campaign, join any campaign. Just so long as it's meaningful.
If we continue to focus on gestures rather than real and tangible results, the Domestic Abuse pandemic will worsen. More women will be killed. More children will suffer. Do something meaningful today.
'Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek'. Barack Obama