I am a survivor of domestic violence.
Those seven words are incredibly powerful. I am proud to be a survivor, but it took me a long time to stop being ashamed of being a victim. I am the daughter of a welterweight boxing champion father and a formidable mother, I was raised to be confident, discerning and vigilant. Like so many others, I presumed DV was something that 'happens to other people'.
I now know that the question every DV victim asks themselves is 'who do I tell?'. Personally, I was terrified of being seen as a fraud for all the years I had appeared to 'have it all' whilst lying to my family and friends. Despite those fears,speaking up and seeking help was the best thing I ever did.
It is the reason I am here today.
In July, Emma Murphy's video recording went viral. It attracted over nine million viewers, and it wasn't hard to see why; her testimony was powerful, raw and incredibly brave. She felt compelled to do 'what is right' and took the steps that were right for her. I applaud Emma. Speaking up and seeking help in a violent relationship is certainly always the right thing to do, yet it does not necessarily mean that 'going viral' is the right path for every victim. I feel we must explore some of the considerations. The route to action you choose is vital to your recovery, well-being, safety and healing. My first port of call is always safety.
Safeguarding yourself in the earliest stages is imperative. Organisations such as REFUGE are a confidential, safe haven for women escaping DV. An abuser has typically derived satisfaction in controlling and silencing his victim. So, discovering the courage to leave and expose him is likely to anger him. This is absolutely not a reason to stay (though for most of us fear is, understandably, the reason we stay), it is simply a reason to reach out to as many professionals as possible, the first of which should be the police. A viral recording that lays bare your abusers shameful actions when you are not yet in a safeguarded environment brings the possibility of harm.
Having worked extensively with children exposed to DV, I know that a delicate handling of their feelings during the transitional phase is vital to their emotional growth. By leaving an abusive partner you are doing the very best thing for your child. However, a worldwide declaration of your personal life without the right support network around you may be damaging. Showing your child's face on any video of this nature is highly unadvisable. Socially, they may face questions they are not equipped to answer from school friends. Being interrogated by their peers may compound the feelings of confusion, shame and hurt they are grappling with privately.
As a psychologist I can tell you the trauma of DV is highly complex, so being thrust into the public eye is not for everyone.Yes, online 'naming and shaming' has major advantages in raising awareness (ideally after filing a police report and contacting a Domestic Violence outreach team) but it requires considerable forethought because it can never be 'taken back'. Once you have uploaded a video to the internet you have shared your voice and face with the world for years to come.
Vitally, there are legal implications to consider. When a young Hilary Adams exposed her father by uploading a video of him assaulting her on YouTube, it was her way of finally discovering her voice. The video received over six million views. The trouble was, the five-year statute of limitations had expired; her father was issued a restraining order but he could not be prosecuted. Some years on, Hilary is still happy that she 'held a mirror up to his behaviour' but admits he remains 'unapologetic' and she . It is worth saying here that Emma Murphy's ex-boyfriend has not (according to latest news reports) been arrested by the police. Reporting abuse directly to the police is a vital step in bringing your abuser to justice. It's worth considering that the viral success of a video can affect legal proceedings because if millions of people have watched, read and developed opinions about you or your abuser, the court may struggle to find an impartial jury.
SafeLives have reported that it takes an average of three years and 50 attacks before a victim seeks help. Statistics are through the roof. We need to encourage victims to speak up as much as possible. I will always admire Emma's efforts to 'inspire others to leave'. I will continue to applaud those who take a stand. Whatever the method, it is an unbelievably daunting task.
Please though, be aware, be clued-up, be sure, and most of all, be safe.