High street stalwart Topshop has partnered with jewellery designer Solange Azagury-Partridge to create four pieces of jewellery to raise money for the organisation Eliminate Domestic Violence, whose patron is Baroness Scotland.
Specialist services for domestic violence in the UK have suffered severe cuts in the recent austerity measures. Some refuges have been handed over to generic organisations that have no specialist training in domestic violence and do not understand the specific needs of women and children. Some localities have instituted "local women only" policies forcing women at high risk of murder to stay within their local area, making it easier for the male perpetrator to find them. Other localities have gender-neutral policies requiring a set number of beds for male victims, despite the fact that 90% of victims are women and that these beds frequently remain empty whilst women are turned away. We know that the vast majority of perpetrators are men - even when the victim is male. We also know that violent men have claimed to be victims of domestic violence in order to access the refuge where their former partner is hiding. One day last year saw 155 women with 103 children turned away from refuges due to lack of space.
Domestic violence is a pattern of coercion and control that can involve physical and sexual violence, but the most common forms are emotional, psychological and financial abuse. A campaign to end domestic violence must make it clear that the perpetrator makes a choice to abuse - and that women living with domestic violence are surviving a level of state approved torture due to failings within the criminal justice system, the Home Office and the NHS. We need to be clear that police failures to take domestic violence seriously, and the failure of the judiciary to implement appropriate punishment, as well as lack of specialist services all conspire with abusive men in continuing to perpetuate domestic violence.
Women living with domestic violence are not weak - they are survivors.
These women negotiate their own survival, and that of their children, every single day. The most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves an abusive relationship. This is when the majority of fatal violence takes place. Much of the physical violence occurs when the male perpetrator is no longer living with the woman. These women end their relationships knowing that the violence may escalate. Others remain in the relationship because they are all too aware of the violent potential of the male partner - that men who threaten to kill their children if their partner ends the relationship are quite capable of doing it.
Services for domestic violence require an immediate investment in money, not only to maintain the services they are already providing, but to allow them to support more vulnerable women and children. Unfortunately, we cannot support the jewellery designed by Solange Azagury-Partridge, which is being sold online by Topshop as this jewellery fetishizes, glamourises and glorifies domestic violence.
The jewellery consists of gold and silver plated pendants and earrings in the shape of a woman in a foetal position, with her head in her hands. Azagury-Partridge, in an interview with the Independent, has suggested that this image is meant to represent "female empowerment". The image of a woman in a foetal position is anything but empowerment. It is nothing more than the age-old myth of women as weak. It insinuates that domestic violence only involves physical violence and it erases the perpetrator. The use of this image actively harms survivors of domestic violence because it reinforces myths about the "type" of women who live with it daily.
We were extremely disappointed to see that the organisation involved is The End Domestic Violence Global Foundation, which helps support a number of very well-respected British charities. We have had reservations about the work of EDVGF in the past, particularly in their insistence on remaining gender-neutral thereby erasing the reality of the gendered nature of domestic violence, but this jewellery collection still shocked us.
We have reached out to Topshop, The End Domestic Violence Global Fund, and Azagury-Partridge to raise our concerns and that of the survivors we campaign with. The EDVGF responded with this comment, which ignores all of the concerns raised by survivors:
Violence and abuse to women and girls in all forms is devastating. The thought provoking image will raise awareness. With specialist help, safety planning and support a victim can emerge as a survivor. The global epidemic of VAW must end.
We don't need to raise awareness of domestic violence. We all know it exists and we all know the statistic that one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime - although, recent research in the EU suggests the correct number is one in three. What we need to do is to take it seriously. We need the criminal justice system to hold perpetrators accountable. We need immediate investment in specialist services. What we don't need is jewellery which fetishes domestic violence, designed by a woman who responds to constructive criticism with this patronising statement:
We need to protect this woman. Wear her close to your heart.
We want Topshop to remove these pieces of jewellery from sale immediately, whilst making a large donation to any number of the specialist organisations working in the field of domestic violence in the UK. We would also like the EDVGF to apologise to survivors and to reassess how they came to support such an offensive image in the first place.
We have the power to stop domestic violence without resorting to infantilising myths about survivors and fetishized images of women in pain.