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NG:She are Tackling Domestic Violence and Abuse in Nottingham

1 November 16 words: Lucy Manning

“It’s a progressive pattern of behaviour that is associated with control, not anger. Domestic violence is premeditated, manipulative and systematic.”

Tuesday 25 November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and leading up to Human Rights Day on 10 December, there will be 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. With one in three women worldwide experiencing physical or sexual violence, and increasing numbers of young women in the UK subjected to domestic violence and abuse (DVA), it’s about time we started talking about the problem as a community. Two women who are trying to do just that are Jo and Ros, the women behind NG:She.

A community interest company founded and based in Nottingham, NG:She is an organisation that seeks to empower women through learning. “Our strapline is ‘women leading the conversation,’” says Jo. “It’s about enabling women to learn and tell their stories, with a very strong, woman-led approach.”

Since its inception last year, NG:She have run a whole host of courses and events aimed at women, including their incredibly successful podcasting course, PodBods – delivered through the mental health project True Colours, run, in part, by Bright Ideas. But this isn’t anything new to the pair; they’ve been running women-focused, women-led courses for some time, and it was while teaching these that they made some unsettling discoveries, inspiring them to set up NG:She.

“We taught lots of different courses for different organisations, and we found that whatever the course, sooner or later, the women began to talk about domestic violence,” Ros explains. “We set up NG:She to focus on things that would be empowering to those women. You can always recognise survivors by their courage. When it may be easier to remain silent, they often step forward and share their stories so other women don’t feel so alone.” Over the coming year, the organisation is running two separate courses on the topic of domestic violence.

 

30% of domestic violence either begins or intensifies during pregnancy (Department of Health report, October 2004)

Both Ros and Jo have worked in refuges, and both have PGCEs with Domestic Violence and Abuse Awareness as their specialist subject. Ros, who is a survivor of DVA from childhood, also has an MA in Women and Child Abuse. Having taught similar courses through Women’s Aid and the WEA, they’ve been able to develop their own course models thanks to funding from Nottinghamshire County Council.

Both courses – Domestic Violence and Abuse Awareness, and Domestic Violence and Abuse: How Can I Help? – are for women only, and survivors of DVA are welcome. NG:She can signpost women currently experiencing DVA to specialist services that can help them.

Jo and Ros tell me that most of the attendees of these courses are survivors, and include women who work and volunteer in services where they may encounter DVA, but it’s not the core work they do. These include classroom assistants, doctor’s receptionists, homelessness support workers, hairdressers and dentists. “Women who are very active in their own communities, as well. We’ve had a woman vicar attend,” Jo reveals.

“We wanted to run courses for ordinary people to learn what would be the best thing to do if it happened to their daughter, or their mum, or their neighbour,” adds Ros.

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is as follows: ‘Any incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour or abuse between those aged sixteen or over, who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.’

Women make up 73% of all domestic violence homicide victims (collected data from the Office of National Statistics spanning from April 2012 to March 2013 by Karen Ingala Smith of the Counting Dead Women project)

There appears to be a common misconception that DVA, and in particular, violence against women and girls, happens when a partner or family member becomes extremely angry, jealous or intoxicated, and loses control. But the very nature of DVA is about maintaining control. “It’s not just about hitting someone,” explains Ros. “It’s a progressive pattern of behaviour that is associated with control, not anger. Domestic violence is premeditated, manipulative and systematic.”

The behaviour often begins with ‘trivial demands’, and Ros uses wanting a cup of tea in a specific mug as an example. “Somebody’s partner says, ‘I always have my drink in this mug’. That woman, or that person, might think that’s weird, but that he’s just got a thing about that mug.” The problem arises when he becomes abusive or violent, for example, throwing the mug at her, if she doesn’t do what is expected of her. These sorts of demands and ‘punishments’ often get more frequent and severe. “It’s the start of something”, says Ros.

This is not to say that there are telltale signs of what does and does not constitute an abuser. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Those who inflict DVA are often shining examples of model citizens in everyday life. “‘Signs’ imply that you can tell who is abusive, and therefore that you can choose not to be in an abusive relationship. It then becomes your fault if you make a bad choice,” Ros states.

It is important to address the fact that we are specifically talking about DVA perpetrated by men against women in this article, but this is not to suggest that men are not victims or survivors of DVA. In the UK, one in six men will experience DVA at some point in their lives. According to a September 2016 study produced by the ManKind Initiative, 2.8% of men in 2014/15 experienced intimate partner abuse.

However, it is also important that we recognise DVA is something that disproportionately affects women on a far greater scale. One in three women worldwide will be subjected to DVA, and one in four women experience DVA in the UK. 30% of domestic violence either begins or intensifies during pregnancy, with foetal morbidity due to violence being more prevalent than pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes (Friend, 1998).

In the UK, police receive a domestic assistance call every minute, yet only 35% of domestic violence incidents are reported (Stanko, 2000 and Home Office, 2002)

In England and Wales alone, two women are killed each week by a current or former partner. Karen Ingala Smith, who manages the Counting Dead Women project, collected data from the Office of National Statistics spanning from April 2012 to March 2013, and discovered that women make up 73% of all domestic violence homicide victims. “What the statistics show when you draw more deeply into them, is that women are much more likely to be hospitalised and they are much more likely to be killed,” concludes Ros.

Currently, information gathered through the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) is used to create the statistics that relate to DVA. This was believed to be the most effective way of gathering DVA-based information, as it is a face-to-face survey that asks subjects whether they consider themselves to have been a victim of a crime. In other words, the survey can record crimes that have never been reported to police. As only 35% of domestic violence incidents are reported to police, on surface level, the CSEW seems to be the most accurate reflection of what’s going on.

However, taking a deeper look at the way the CSEW findings are used and presented – as Sylvia Walby, UNESCO Chair in Gender Research and Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University has done – the CSEW survey caps the number of crimes that can be reported by a single respondent at five. The cap was originally introduced to avoid a small number of victims who report a significantly high number of crimes from skewing the survey. What it actually does, is hide the true level of violence that is being perpetrated against women. If you take into account that, on average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before she first calls the police, it’s easy to see that the scale of violence is being unfairly represented.

Sylvia Walby’s research discovered that when the cap of five incidents is removed, violent crime against women by partners and acquaintances rises by 70% and 100% respectively. The total number of violent crime rises by 60%. The CSEW also counts rape, sexual assault and homicide crimes in an entirely different ‘place’, despite the fact that they are often part and parcel of DVA.   

 

In England and Wales, two women are killed every week by a current or former partner (Office of National Statistics, 2015)

“The crime survey does include unreported crime, so adds to the statistics on reported crime collected by the police,” explains Jo, “but the whole point of domestic violence is that it’s repetitive, more likely to be perpetrated by the same person and often perpetrated in more than five incidents, so the survey can’t show the extent of systematic violence and abuse – it wasn’t designed for this.”

“It’s not because anyone is trying to be deceptive,” adds Ros. “It’s because domestic violence doesn’t fit into the way we look at crime.”

In conclusion to her research, Sylvia Walby proposes an overhaul of the way that we record and examine incidences of DVA. “We need to measure the crimes, we need to measure the number of victims, and we need to measure the number of perpetrators,” she says. Walby also suggests using a three-year moving average of statistics to overcome the issue of individually high incidents of crime distorting the results.

Despite this, steps are being taken to address the way in which we deal with DVA. In December 2015, the Coercive Control offence – a new domestic violence law – came into effect, acknowledging the fact that DVA is a sustained, complex pattern of behaviour and abuse. The offence carries a maximum sentence of five years. Last month, a Basford man was jailed for four and a half years after subjecting his partner to sustained emotional and physical abuse, and causing her actual bodily harm between June 2014 and April 2016.

The police are also said to be undertaking training on how to spot signs of coercive and controlling DVA. A pilot scheme is being run by the College of Policing to train officers to spot patterns of this behaviour that can lead to long-term psychological damage. “Tackling this type of behaviour remains a top priority in Nottinghamshire, and this has been vividly demonstrated by the £3m I’ve invested in improving support services to survivors of domestic abuse since my election in 2012,” states Paddy Tipping, Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner. Within Nottinghamshire Police, there are also trained DASH champions. DASH – Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour-based Violence – is a checklist of sorts that was implemented in March 2009.

 

The group most at risk of DVA are women aged 16-24 (2011 Home Office Statistics)

While the police and local authority appear to be doing all they can to address issues of DVA when they arise, Nottingham still faces challenges in providing help and security to all victims and survivors. Thanks to national government spending cuts and imposed measures of austerity, the budget given to local councils to support charities such as Equation have been reduced.

Equation offers training and guidance for professionals, support and advice for survivors and victims, and visits local schools to teach about healthy relationships, tackling abuse before it begins. Over the last financial year, Equation have had their funding reduced by 20%. In an interview with The Guardian, Chloe Cheeseman, who works for the charity, said “Nottingham City Council has tried so hard because they recognise how important this is. But the reality is, the pot is shrinking.”

 

Combined with an increasing pressure on emergency services, funding cuts such as these are having a direct impact on the level of abuse suffered by women across the UK. A Women’s Aid survey discovered that in one day in 2014, 112 women and 84 children were turned away from refuges because they couldn’t be accommodated. “There are fewer places of safety for women to go,” says Ros. “This means they stay in the abusive relationship for longer and they are more likely to be killed.”

If you suspect that someone you know is the victim of an abusive relationship, both Jo and Ros urge you to exercise extreme caution when trying to help. “We tell women to take care in how far they get involved in terms of trying to help, because it can be dangerous for both the helper and the woman being abused,” states Jo.

But you are not powerless. “The message is that you listen, you don’t make a judgment, and you believe what she is telling you. Unless you’re part of a specialist service, don’t get involved,” says Ros. “The most you should ever do is offer to go with them to the Women’s Centre or Women’s Aid Integrated Services and let the specialist services take it from there.”

Jo believes that, sometimes, just letting a woman know that you have information that might be useful is enough. “For quite a lot of women, it’s good to hear someone say, ‘If you were having any trouble like this, I know people that could help you.’”

It can be dangerous to give a woman in the midst of an abusive relationship any physical information such as flyers or cards relating to domestic violence and abuse services. “That’s why they have lip balms and cigarette papers with helpline numbers on,” explains Ros. “Memorise the helpline number, and teach it to her. Having that in her head is possibly the best thing you can give her.”

The number for the National Domestic Violence Helpline is 0808 2000 247 and is a 24 hour service.

If you are in need of emergency or immediate assistance, dial 999.

NG:She’s Women into the Future course begins on Friday 18 November at Brickyard Community Centre, and will feature elements of DVA. For more information, visit their website, Facebook page, or email [email protected]

NG:She are also holding a fundraising event for the Nottingham Chapter of Black Lives Matter in recognition of black women who have lost their lives through violence, Friday 2 December, The Lofthouse, 9.30pm onwards. All are welcome.

Reclaim the Night – Nottingham’s largest annual grassroots protest against street harassment, victim blaming and all forms of men’s violence against women – begins at the Forest Recreation Ground on Saturday 12 November, 6.30pm. All women are welcome.

NG:She are running several courses in Domestic Violence and Abuse Awareness, and Domestic Violence: How Can I Help and Healthy Relationships, from January 2017 across Gedling.

NG:She website

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