A new UK domestic violence scheme, backed by domestic abuse charities, is being piloted in several areas across the UK. The programme known as Drive is aimed at the most dangerous domestic abusers, those who are known to have caused serious physical harm to their partners or plan to kill. They will be entered into the initiatives and offered one-to-one sessions to help them deal with their problems.
They will also be offered advice on social issues such as drug, alcohol, housing and financial problems.
Although I welcome any action aimed at solving the issue of domestic violence, such as raising awareness, I have grave concerns about this scheme and do not believe it will be effective. The money would be better spent on support services, such as safe houses, for victims and helping them get free and stay free from perpetrators.
The scheme takes the view that drug, alcohol, mental health and economic issues are the triggers behind domestic abuse. There is clear evidence, however, that this is not the case.
Violence in relationships can occur as a result of those causes but that sort of domestic violence is different to what I refer to as “serial abuse”. Those incidents can be one-offs or confined to a specific period in time. The abuse often ends once the underlying issues have been sorted or the couple splits. These abusers are rarely the exceptionally dangerous type that the Drive scheme is aimed at.
The more serious and dangerous offenders are serial perpetrators. For them, controlling their partner through domestic violence is a way of life. They do it deliberately by choice and have no intention of stopping. Why would they when this way of being works for them? It can lead to arrests, Police cautions, short prison sentences even but they don’t care, it’s all part of the game. Getting attention – whether it’s negative or positive – is one of the reasons they do it.
These type of characters are well use to manipulating their victims and “the system”. They will use the Drive scheme as a way of avoiding custodial sentences and they are experts at turning on the charm and false remorse when required. This they will do while in the treatment programme to deliberately make it look as though they are reforming. They will do it until they are ‘signed off’ and deemed safe whereupon they will revert to how they were, go back to their victim or find another one and abuse again – perhaps even more violently since they will feel as if they got away with it.
Out of the 900 offenders the Drive scheme is aiming to put through the programme, I predict fewer than 10 success stories of men who truly have been reformed by it. And that’s a hopeful figure, more realistically I think it will be fewer than 5!
While this (and other schemes aimed at the perpetrator) are being put forward by Government ministers and others with little or no true understanding of the issues, domestic violence victim support services are being axed in places like Portsmouth, which is all wrong.
If the same amount of money were to be spent on providing services for the 100,000 women currently living in high-risk domestic abuse situations, it could make a real difference to their lives and those of their children.
It’s on the news today that Oscar Pistorius is to be released from gaol and moved to house arrest after serving just 12 months of a 5-year prison sentence for shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013.
Pistorius claimed that he had shot her through a locked bathroom door because he thought she was an intruder. I personally never bought his story and I still don’t.
Aside from my own personal views on his guilt or innocence, the fact that he is being released from prison after such a short sentence in anyone’s view only serves to dilute the severity of what he did. It’s kind of saying:
“We get it, we understand. She pissed you off, you lost your temper. You didn’t mean it, we know. We understand how enraging these wilful, independent young women can be and it’s okay to do whatever you need to do to put them in their place.”
This is so damaging to the plight of domestic violence and something of a blow and backward step to those of us campaigning against it.
I can’t help but wonder if Pistorius had shot one of his male friends under the same premise, would he have got such a light sentence?
At the height of my ex-husband and I’s abusive relationship, I’d persuaded him to see a counsellor with me. It was at the point of last resorts. I’d tried fixing things on my own for too long. He, on the other hand, didn’t seem interested in fixing our relationship. Why would he, he was getting what he wanted.
Anyway, the counsellor asked us both to independently pick a rock from a basket in which she had a selection – from small beach stones to large meteor-type rocks. She asked us to choose but not to let the other see what we’d chosen until we were part way through the session. The premise, she explained, was for each of us to pick a rock that most represented the other person.
When it came to the point at which she suggested we show each other the rock we’d picked, we both held out our hands and opened them to reveal our chosen rock. Interestingly, they were almost identical. The same in both colour (grey/black) and texture. Each stone was gnarled, pitted and jagged, with sharp, menacing protrusions – not nice, smooth and tactile like some of the stones you see on the beach that have been smoothed and made beautiful over time by yielding to the sea’s relentless insistence.
Our rocks represented something ugly, cold, hard and dangerous. They were rough and battle-worn. These rocks hadn’t surrendered to the sea, they had become unlovely through fighting it – just like we had. We had become grisly and vile through fighting each other. As I looked at the rock in my hand, I thought yes, this is very much like him, he’s mean, nasty and savage. I could understand why I’d picked my particular rock. But then I looked at his and realised that what he held in his hand right there in front of me was me. That rock was how he saw me. I was staring right at my own reflection in someone else’s eyes and it was at that moment that I knew I had to leave. I hated myself – the me in the reflection but at the same time I knew it wasn’t really me. I’m not like that, I had become like that because of the relationship but I was only like that to him, in his eyes.
I got it then that he wasn’t interested, ever, in getting to know the real me. He never had been. He had forever been looking for the ugly rock or for someone he could easily turn into his ugly rock, someone who just so happened to be in the right place to be lured in to the sinister battleground that was his life, someone with just enough warmth to take pity on him and allow him in under their skin but someone who he knew was also strong and would put up a good fight so he could, over time, batter, bruise and bloody them like the sea did to those rocks and turn them into a jagged representation of himself.
I’d become that rock.
From that moment on, I realised I would never be able to calm this sea, that I would just become uglier and more battle-worn over time if I stayed in that marriage. It became obvious to me why he so desperately wanted to stay in it – even with all the ugliness. The fighting, the ugliness, the abuse to him was like a drug, a fix that he had no intention of ever doing without but for me, it was killing me.
I found an old photograph the other day of me and my ex in the office we used to share when we were in business. It was taken ten years ago, when the abuse was at its height. I was shocked at how much of the story of that time was written on my face. I hardly recognised myself. There was he, standing confident and proud (more like arrogant really) and there was me looking worn out, bloated and pained.
You will be glad to know, I did get out. It took time, some deliberate planning, a lot of cunning, huge courage and a miracle in order to muster the energy when I was at my lowest ebb. But I got there, I survived.
I was at the beach a few weekends ago, on the South Coast, enjoying the last of the warm indian summer we were having here in the UK and I found the smoothest and most tactile stone. It had been warmed by the sun and its energy was almost palpable. I held it in my hand next to my heart and I said to myself: “This is the sort of relationship I want.”
A headline grabbed my attention this week:
“I didn’t have a drug problem, I had a life problem.”
It was on the cover of the Daily Mail, next to a photo of a rather uncharacteristically dishevelled and tense-looking Nigella Lawson.
For those of you who don’t know, Nigella Lawson is a TV Chef renowned in the UK and described as “the domestic goddess” due largely to her creativity in the kitchen. She is also the (very recent) ex-wife of advertising mogul Charles Saatchi. The pair secured a ‘quickie’ divorce earlier this year following the publication of photographs of the couple, him with his hands around her throat and tweaking her nose maliciously (he later accepted a Police caution for assault).
Since ‘image gate’ in the Lawson/Saatchi household, there have been rumours about their relationship and marriage, rumours that have centred on domestic abuse. Due to the nature of the divorce (it being a quickie), details never got out, quite possibly a deliberate ploy on the couple’s part. Now, however, they are embroiled in a court battle with two former personal assistants, which means details of their marriage are now becoming public – and things are not looking good for either party. He is accusing her of having a drug problem and details of his less than pleasant characteristics have begun to emerge.
Anyway, whatever the truth (and we will probably never know), it’s a bizarre situation that has even seen the UK Prime Minister being ticked off by the judge in the court case for revealing to a newspaper journalist that he was “a fan of Lawson”.
I needed a drink
But back to the headline, which is something I can speak about with authority, having endured a five-year marriage to a psychopathic abuser before I was able to escape. If Nigella did indeed say this (and it wasn’t made up by the Daily Mail – and I don’t think it could have been because it’s too genuine), then I know and understand exactly what she means. I had the same issue towards the end of my marriage but my ‘self-medication’ of choice was white wine. It got to the point whereby I “needed” a drink every day. It started sort of mid way through the marriage and kept going way past the end of it until I just naturally stopped feeling the need anymore once the divorce and all the financial crap was out of the way and he had given up pursuing and trying to ruin me.
Am I an alcoholic?
Anyone who knew me at the time would have had all the evidence they needed to have labelled me an alcoholic. I often wondered myself if I had reached that point and if I would ever be normal again or if this was it for the rest of my life. Not only was I fighting to escape my abuser, I was also fighting alcoholism. I never got really drunk with it. I always only ever had a couple of glasses of wine a night, perhaps three and very occasionally, the whole bottle but only on weekends. Mostly, it was just a couple of glasses (half a bottle and the other half the night after). But the overriding thing about it was that I felt I needed it.
I’d never felt like that about alcohol (or indeed anything) before then. At the time it was worrying but now I am out the other side of it, I can look back and understand completely where Nigella is coming from. Like me, she quite possibly doesn’t have a drug problem as I did not have a drink problem but like me she is (or was) using drugs as a kind of self medication to get her through her real problem, which (as she says) was her life problem, which in her case could have been enduring an unpredictable and volatile marriage and in my case it was absolutely that.
Alcohol as a coping mechanism for surviving abuse
I rarely drink now and I never feel like I need one, which suggests I am not or indeed ever have been an alcoholic and that I am in complete control of my relationship with alcohol. If I drink now, it’s to be sociable usually and I can take it or leave it. I feel sure it is similar for Nigella and her relationship with drugs.