New UK scheme for violent domestic abusers

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 17.56.50A 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.


Pistorius – sending out the wrong message on domestic violence

imagesIt’s okay to shoot dead your girlfriend in a fit of rage.

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?


Are you choosing jagged rocks?

imagesAt 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.

oOo

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.

oOo

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.”


Self-medicating to cope with abuse

Using alcohol to cope

Using alcohol to cope

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.


Domestic abuse – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

It was a Friday night, the end of a busy working week and the beginning of what promised to be a relaxing weekend. No sooner had a put my key in the door when I saw my husband through the glass put his newspaper down, get up from the living room sofa and hurry  to the kitchen where the light was already on. I entered the house, put my bags down and peeled off my coat to hang on the banister as I always do. I turned and my husband was standing in the kitchen doorway with a big smile on his face.

“Hi honey.” he grinned.

I moved to where he was and leaned forward to kiss him. He turned towards the fridge, opened the door, drew out an already poured glass of wine and handed it to me.

“I got this ready for you.” he breathed. “I know you’ve worked hard this week. I’ve also ran you a bath and put your favourite smellies in it. I want you to just relax tonight, you deserve it. Don’t worry about dinner, I’ve ordered a take away.”

This was a typical event in my three-year marriage – as was him phoning me several times a day just to tell me he loved me, ask how I was or reassure me about something that he knew had been bothering me. On a Sunday morning he would often leave the house while I was still in bed, go to the newsagents, buy my favourite newspaper and bring it to me with breakfast in bed. He bought me flowers (often) items of jewellery and my favourite sweets (all the time). He told me how special I was, how lucky I made him feel and that he’d never dreamt he would ever be with someone like me.

He made me feel like the centre of his universe.

Friends often lamented about how their boyfriends or husbands barely acknowledged them, rarely spoke to them (except to ask what was for dinner and what time it would be ready) and never made them feel anything other than taken for granted. Not me, my husband was different.

Which is why it took me a further three years, following my first battering by him, for me to leave him. It was because of times like this, after a particularly hard week at work when he would be the charming, romantic and attentive man I fell in love with and I would relax somewhat and hope that maybe – this time – he would stay like this forever and never be abusive again.

Many of my friends and family only saw the charming side of him, which is why it was difficult for them to begin to imagine why I would want to leave. Some even thought there must be something wrong with me that I should want to end this “perfect” marriage to this “perfect” man. Having only ever been party to or witnessed the charming husband, many of them refused to believe me when I disclosed about what it was really like: the beatings, the mental and emotional bullying, the humiliation, harassment and verbal assaults. No, see, to them, I must have been making it up, after all, there were times when I had been very sullen and emotional in the past few years. They didn’t see what I had to endure in the in between times.

After you’ve been abused enough, the glasses of chilled Chardonnay, jewellery, sweets, favourite newspapers stop being pleasurable loving and romantic gestures. I could almost see them visibly morph in my hand into barbed rats ready to leap at my throat. I looked at each and every one of them after a while and though to myself “what price am I going to have to pay for this?” For there was always a price – and usually a very painful one.

Oh, and go back to paragraph two and you will see there’s a clue to his ‘real’ personality right there in his behaviour: the fact that he didn’t allow me to kiss him. Even at his most charming, he still had to retain complete control.


Domestic violence – give control back to the victim

Fearing the Enemy

Fearing the Enemy

One of my Facebook friends shared a quote last week, which was: “Try being more informed and less opinionated.”

It’s probably one of the best bits of advice I’ve read in a long time. Like the majority of people, I know lots of individuals who spout advice like fountains of knowledge, convinced they are supreme sages when really their ideas are based on little but popular opinion, guess-work and their own limited experience. They are, at best, ill informed, and at worst, downright dangerous.

I confess, I myself have been guilty of it in the past and probably still am at times. It’s a natural human instinct to think we know what’s going on and exactly what people should do about it to sort it out. This is particularly true for other people’s relationships. So, when pictures of Nigella Lawson with her husband Charles Saatchi’s hands around her throat come to light, we all suddenly become experts on domestic violence and on their relationship in particular.

When Charles and Diana (Prince Charles and Princess Diana) were going through their break up and divorce in 1995-96, I vowed myself an expert on their marriage and thought nothing of throwing my opinion around like wedding confetti at many a dinner party, even though I had never met either of them and all I had to go on was what was in the tabloid press and a couple of badly written, unauthorised biographies.

When it comes to discussing art, sport or what you think of Dubai as a short break destination, being opinionated is a good thing. People who value your opinion may choose to be influenced by it.

But when it comes to whether or not you would wade in and intervene in a celebrity couple’s hostile domestic row, a decision based on your opinion could be the worst one of your life – not necessarily for you (although it could be) but for the poor victim of the perceived domestic violence.

Domestic violence is the one area in which intervention should only come from those who are informed and even then it should be metered out with extreme caution, judiciousness and an appropriate sense of timing.

Nice, then, of UK politicians Ed Miliband (leader of the Labour Party) and Neil Kinnock (former leader of the Labour Party) to puff out their chests and state that they would have waded in to the Charles Saatchi/Nigella Lawson incident and saved the day.

Quoted in the MailOnline yesterday (23/06/2013), Mr Miliband said: “I thought they were horrifying pictures. Honestly, if you are passing by something like that happening, our duty is to intervene.”

In the same article, Kinnock is quoted: “It’s the kind of thing where I would have no hesitation to step in – even if the woman wasn’t Nigella. There is no circumstance in which a man should physically assault a woman.”

Clearly, these two men are misguided, ill informed and expressing such views to try and gain political advantage in light of the fact that their opposite (Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg) was caught out earlier in the week by refusing to condemn the incident in a radio interview.

How stupid of these men to assume that they know what’s best for the victim in such situations. They think so little of the issue of domestic violence that neither of them even bothers to seek the views of professional or expert organisations about whether or not intervention in such incidents is the right thing to do. It would not have taken much effort on their part (or the part of their many so called political advisers). Such organisations have been regularly quoted in the press this week since the Saatchi/Lawson story appeared in last Sunday’s newspapers.

Although it isn’t wholly surprising to find that politicians are more inclined to express an opinion that they feel is more aligned with popular opinion and that may win them some support rather than do the ‘right’ thing.

Mr Kinnock could be forgiven. He has known Nigella since she was a little girl (through her father, politician Nigel Lawson) so his desire to wade in is probably motivated by personal reasons but to say so publicly doesn’t help the domestic violence cause in this case. And the fact that he said there is no circumstance in which a man should physically assault a woman shows that he is ill informed about domestic violence which affects men too. Men get hit and assaulted by women (their wives and girlfriends) and that is wrong too.

Mr Miliband, however, is just trying to exploit a political opportunity – well why not do so by stepping up to the plate, recognising that you don’t know what you are talking about and becoming more informed by seeking the advice of the experts.

If you see an incident of domestic violence going on – do NOT wade in! Instead, call the authorities (if it’s serious) or offer support to the victim privately, away from the public eye and out of sight of the perpetrator. Offer evidence, take pictures – surreptitiously of course – and offer your support in a way that gives the victim complete control over how s/he deals with the incident.

Control is the one thing victims of domestic violence don’t have as it is the first thing the perpetrator takes away. So, the very last thing she or he needs is some other person wading in and taking control – no matter how well-meaning their intentions.


Nigella Lawson – domestic violence, should you intervene?

An article appeared in the Mirror today showing a series of shocking images of glamorous UK TV cook Nigella Lawson with her husband’s hands round her throat as they appeared to be having a heated exchange in a top restaurant in London. He is Charles Saatchi, famous art collector and founder of ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi. The couple has been married for 10 years.

I feel for Nigella but what seems to be shocking most people about this story is that no other diners in the restaurant intervened, even though many of them must have witnessed what was happening. Are we so willing to accept hands round a partner’s throat and a heated verbal exchange as normal marital behaviour and something we “really have no business getting involved in”? It’s a genuine question. I don’t know either. What would I have done? I’d like to think that I would have intervened but I cannot be sure I would, which surprises even me – someone who runs a domestic violence blog! And it got me thinking about my own situation and why that is.

On the one hand, we need to educate society that this sort of behaviour is totally and utterly unacceptable – in any situation (domestic, workplace, in sport and so on) and in any relationship (personal and professional). Passionate people having heated exchanges about art, culture, politics, food, their kids, is one thing and there may even be raised voices at some point (see my post on the difference between volatile and abusive relationships) but heated exchanges demonstrating even a mere suggestion of physical violence are something different. If that’s what he’s demonstrating in public, it begs the question: what’s going on behind closed doors? A partial strangling? A blow to the head? We don’t know but in my experience of living with and being married to a narcissistic, psychotic abuser for three years shows me that what abusers show in public is a mere fraction of what they do in private. Like the proverbial iceberg, what we see on the surface is a mere fraction of what lies beneath.

And that leads me on to the point about whether or not I would have intervened or whether or not anyone should  intervene.

The reason why most people do not intervene in incidents such as this is because of the very fact that they are outside of the marriage, above the water line (using the iceberg scenario) and don’t know or understand what’s really going on and also because in our society today marriage or relationships are largely private. We know longer live in the extended family communities of yesteryear.

Intervening in any violence is risky. If you happen upon two blokes fighting in the street, unless you’re a security guard or Police officer used to dealing with such incidents, the likelihood is you won’t get involved in fear of your own safety. Most people would probably call the Police but wouldn’t try to break up the fight. Unless there is a distinct size or age difference between one or other of the scrappers that is. I know a lot of men in particular who would probably wade in the save the underdog – and some women too! But if they are both a similar size, many people would ignore it, assuming it to be a drunken brawl or at best call the authorities.

In the case of domestic violence, however, society currently has a confused conception of what the below the surface part of the iceberg in domestic violence relationships really looks like so it is difficult to gauge whether the kind of behaviour demonstrated by Charles Saatchi to his wife Nigella Lawson is anything more than a one-off heated exchange. And it is, therefore, very difficult for people to decide whether or not intervention is either required or that it will do any good. We shouldn’t be too hard on the poor, innocent and perplexed fellow diners for not having done or said anything in this case.

Also, I am definitely NOT making assumptions here but it may not be as it looks. Thinking back on my own marriage, anger (his and mine) was an emotion I became very familiar with for the whole three years I was trapped in my relationship. His anger I would witness almost daily, in his outbursts towards me, his mother/father/other people. It was always there, lurking, like a prowling lion waiting for the right moment. My life was like permanently walking on egg shells for fear on antagonising him. But because of that and the abuse, I felt my own anger too, constantly. It seemed I was always angry because I was always reacting to him and his abuse. That was the key difference between his anger and mine – mine was reactive, his was controlling. He allowed it to burst forth anytime he wanted to get me back into my cage and then as soon as I was back there, trapped, he stopped it – just like that. My anger was reactive, an “understandable and justified response to his treatment of me” is how my therapist described it but because of that, I often felt out of control with it. I did stuff I would never ordinarily do and have not done before or since. I got angry at situations and people that (prior to being in my situation) I wouldn’t have. Mostly (thankfully) I let it out in private. I did a great deal of pillow-beating and screaming when I was in the house alone. I often screamed so much I would make myself hoarse but I felt I needed to vent and it seemed safe to do it alone.

There were occasions, however, mostly at work (my ex and I ran a business together) when he would be dishing out his best mental, emotional and verbal abuse and would do it with such tenacity and persistence – even after several pleadings from me for him to stop because (aside from anything else) I had work to do. It was pointless me trying physically get away from him either as he would follow me. If I left the office to go home, he followed me. If I left home on a weekend to go to the office, he followed me) I couldn’t help getting angry and lashing out. Mostly, my lashing out entailed picking up a pot (whatever came to hand) and throwing it but there were occasions when I put my hands on him. These gestured were not meant to injure but to get him to back down and back off. At such instances, anyone looking from outside would have assumed I was the perpetrator and he the victim because that’s what it looked like. I have had to deal with the guilt of this and still am to a degree because I believe there is not justification for violence at all – intense provocation or not. But the truth is that in the 40 years I lived on this planet before I met my husband and in the five years I have lived since our marriage ended, I have never thrown a pot or put my hands on anyone. He, on the other hand, has been arrested and taken away by the Police several times for violent behaviour.

Looking at it from the recipient’s (victim’s) point of view now. Would Nigella have wanted someone to intervene? Well, of course, I can’t speak for her, I can only speak from my point of view but there are a few things here:

1) It’s embarrassing

Having a row in public is embarrassing enough but usually more so for the people around you than you and your spouse. Admitting that you are in an abusive relationship is doubly embarrassing because it makes your whole marriage (if you are married) a sham – and none of us likes to air our dirty laundry in public. Nigella may be glad that no one intervened for this very reason. She is, after all, a public figure – and so is he. Knowing that may also be a reason why none of the other diners said anything or intervened not wishing to exacerbate the embarrassment.

2) Fanning the flames

If Nigella is in an abusive relationship, any public acknowledgement of what was going on could have resulted in intensified abuse at home. There would often be heated exchanges between my husband and myself, sometimes in public and I was glad no one intervened in our situation because doing so may have dampened down the situation there and then but I would have paid for it later when we in the privacy of our own home. Rather than diffusing the situation, intervention would have made the situation worse for me. He was also good at talking people round and getting them on-side. There was once when he pushed me down the stairs at work and I ran out of the office crying. It just so happened that the Landlord of our office complex was getting out of his car in the car park and he saw me and asked if I was okay. I was struggling through the tears to get into my car and drive off. My husband came out of the office, saw our Landlord and went over and started talking to him. I heard the Landlord ask if I was okay and my husband say: “Yes, she’s fine, just a bit over tired and emotional, you know how women are sometimes.” As if he found that explanation acceptable, our Landlord then ignored me and continued talking to my husband. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered the bruises on my back, legs and hips from the abuse. When my husband arrived home he claimed I’d embarrassed him in front of our Landlord.

I was always glad that people didn’t intervene because I knew, from experience, that every time they did, he would talk them round and I would be left playing the role of the “emotional” or “slightly crazy” woman for whom it was the “wrong time of the month” and he would have (once again) made a friend who “saw it his way”.

3) It may well be a one-off

Things like this often happen and if as a bystander you wade in and make a fuss, it could be perceived as hypersensitivity if it is indeed a one off and if we all did it all the time we could inadvertently create a “cry wolf” situation so that when something really is going on with a couple, no one bothers.

Well-meaning citizens wading in to other people’s problems can often do more harm than good if those citizens happen to be uninformed, which let’s face it is the majority of the general public right now – certainly where domestic violence is concerned. In which case it is best to stay out of it. If you see real violence, of course call the authorities but otherwise stay out of it. However, if you happen to be an informed expert on domestic violence be supportive in whatever way you can to the one who is suffering at the hands of the abuser. Being in an abusive marriage is the loneliest place on earth and anyone in one will be glad of a true friend.