“I can get away with whatever I want. My sister is a sergeant.”
The first time I heard that, I dismissed it as a flippant joke. The first time I saw a Playstation 2 controller being thrown at a wall because Crazy Taxi pissed her off, it wasn’t the sentence that floated through my head. Even the first time I laid in the dark, staring at the ceiling, with my brain desperately trying to punch in jigsaw pieces that did not fit to make sense of heinous acts that only resulted in the darkest of thoughts and suggestions whispering in their place — it wasn’t what I thought. The first time I thought it was, like most of these events, simply sitting on the floor whilst dealing with something else but the noise was upsetting her. And like a tornado ripping through a house of straw, she was in my face, and I had instinctively recoiled.
I got on well with my ex partner’s mother; better than my ex, to be quite honest. Her mother simply treated me like a curious mix of another daughter but also a friend that she spoke to about things I suppose mother/daughter relationships don’t consist of. I wouldn’t know; my mother and I never liked each other and there was never any sense of ‘mum/daughter’. There were two islands we inhabited in the same house in a sea of sharks and monsters and neither party would cross the water by the time I was kicked out at 17. But I could happily spend hours with her mum, who admitted to me at one point she was sometimes ‘terrified’ of her daughter. She had no idea what I lived with, and I said nothing. She told me of one incident where her (adult) daughter had shoved her whilst they were arguing on the stairs, she had caught her grip to not fall back and left the hall. Her daughter had followed her into the sitting room, spoiling for a fight, shoved her again but this time grabbed her shirt and a necklace she was wearing — so hard that the chain of the necklace had snapped. She paused when she told me this, and looked at me. I knew her mother didn’t keep in very good health. And still, I said nothing, because she could get away with anything.
She was clearly very close to the aforementioned sister, who equally did not seem to care for their mother much. As I got on better with their mother, I always had the suspicion — even then — that there was a little gang of two, or that was the impression I was meant to get anyway. Her sister would do anything for her, more than her mother ever would. I needed to know that, because that is the nature of coercive control. Her sister would do anything for her, and held considerably more power than me — a young adult who had been in quite unstable living arrangements from the age of 17. If anything, I was just ungrateful and unappreciative.
When holes appeared in the doors, I said nothing; whilst touching my neck.
When I’d have 30–40 missed phone calls, I’d say nothing whilst feeling a boot on my neck. Or the feeling of a necklace being torn. Whichever works.
The first time I saw the burst of violence against someone else — disproportionate levels of violence in a fight — there was that sense once again of depersonalisation in trying to protect the other party from serious injury. I did not know what the word depersonalisation was until years later, in a therapist’s office; there was just the noise, and then there was the still and sense of autopilot. Of trying to grab clutched fingers (she caught me on the stairs), to unfurl them (pushed me into the cabinet), the one and only time I will give you my tears (grabbed me by the collar of my shirt shaking me), words that I do not remember (felt my necklace snap). The sense of phantom hands on my own throat (into the cabinet), pushing down (sometimes I am terrified of her), in a taxi whilst I am being told that you would never do that to me (you will), you know I’d never do that to you (you will), are you just going to fucking sit there quietly (I can’t breathe right now), I nearly got hurt (you drove him to it). But I say nothing, because there is only the still (the fog) after a while.
Years later in that same therapist’s room I will talk of incidents that I feel like I watched through a fuzzy camera lens, as though my body was there but I had simply switched off the lights. It becomes more common after a while. If you consciously become aware of your reality, you will become angry, and it is not worth it. So you remain, more and more, in this fog — which doesn’t really matter because abusers enjoy cruelty as much as they enjoy control. After a while not even the fog will save you.
When I did find windows, slits of privacy in a life where I increasingly had none, I would tentatively try and broach the topic with people I was meant to go to for help - to immediately find myself blanked when I tried to go into any detail. And as someone who was little more than a child with no idea of how to even access a multitude of resources, I stopped trying and mentally resigned myself to the day I knew I’d get a sore face. I’d already had the worse. Even then, in the midst of waiting for the sore face to come, I could not say the words to myself. No one else listens, cares or will help you and you are alone. You can get away with anything.
By the age of 21, I was so psychologically destroyed by a relationship that I believed the only way I was ever truly going to be free of it was death. Most 21 year olds are drunk and out with friends for their birthday. I spent my 21st birthday being told by authority bodies how they couldn’t do anything to help me and blaming me for my own situation (yes, the obvious elephant in the room was there). I walked around in the rain for a long time, not wanting to go home, before finally getting (accepting) that I had to get the bus home, with God knows how many missed calls on my phone. When I returned home, I was screamed at that I had ruined the day, who had I been with, who, who, who. When the fog became apparent, so apparent and the reality sunk in that it was not actually her day, I was given the elaborate, over the top display that abusers love to give, at 11pm (because I had ruined the day trying to escape). But there is the comforting drift of fog again that will carry you away from it all.
What I find most striking of all is that even when I did break free, the power of believing you are alone plunges you into an ice bath. The day (the water is going to flood) that the phantom feeling (I was just on the phone) of being throttled (I was only laughing on the phone) is no longer real (the bath is pink), and the hands (I can’t breathe) are really on your throat (is someone screaming) is not some (are those my feet) epiphany moment. I was not surprised she did it, I was surprised by the moment. Watching someone’s eyes darken and fight you to get at a vulnerable part of your body then when you somehow break free, hearing them turn on the waterworks through your gasps for air telling you that they “love you” is no more an accident than the act of strangling someone. Breaking past them to see their mother stood them at the bottom of the stairs, landline telephone in hand, wet face, you stop for a second and something in you is distantly aware that she was about to call 999, and it was not on you. But she can get away with anything, and your only option is to flee. So you do the only other thing you can think of at the time, and call other people in a flurry of fear. People who are hundreds of miles away, who want to put you on a train or plane home. It doesn’t matter anyway, because she has came looking for you — like they always do. There is no 999. There is no option of running to a police station. The imprint has been made from years of coercive control and experience of authority bodies showing you that you mean nothing and your life is disposable. Even the safety of the fog has abandoned you in the moment. There are only streets that you do not know very well, you do not have any money on you, you have no ID on you, you are hundreds of miles from all you know and you may as well have been dropped on the moon for all the safety or sense of loneliness that you have been thrust into.
They can get away with anything.
Years later, by chance, I bumped into one of the same parties from the authorities I’d tried to go to for help; I recognised her in her grotesque little form and did not expect her to recognise me, but she did. And approached me to ask how I was, to receive one word answers. Then she went on to make a comment that ‘they had thought I might have been in a kind of abusive situation…’ I looked at her and replied, “wasn’t it your job to help me then?” She said nothing whilst I stared at her. “Still a coward then.” Perhaps it is the experience at quite a formative age in adulthood but seeing the worst of humanity from various sources simply made me more attuned to how much humans lie, and will have the audacity to be upset with you when you do not play along. Humans will say things that cut you to the bone as though they have read the joke off the back of a Penguin wrapper (‘oh yes we did suspect with all the holes in your doors you might have been a DV risk, that was an oopsie haha you’re looking well though’) and then have the audacity to get upset when it turns out that your words might be a bone saw in response. If they are a little more afraid of public outcry, they will put out a carefully scripted apology using generic buzzwords that means absolutely nothing except to people who hit like on social media but behind the scenes they will continue on as they always have. Oh please I’ve heard enough sorrys, waterworks, I’ll never do it agains, you made me do its, and seen enough little distortions of reality to make me think I’m going off my head to know when I’m being gaslighted, lied to or fed a load of shit. You can bullshit the rest of the world but forgive me not if we are not friends. If your initial thought is to smile and to attribute this tendency onto another collective onto a group of humans that you strongly dislike — congratulations, you are just like the woman trying to be my friend in a different context years later, hiding behind policies and protocols for why she could not just do the right thing. It is a non stop circle jerk of blame shifting under carefully constructed terms to make parties feel better about the fact they simply just can’t do the right thing.
My relationship with the girl in the pink bathroom has been fraught for years — going from despising her ‘weakened existence’ and shoving her into attics to only have her fuck up the rest up the house, to desperately trying to rescue her in the faces of others whilst never seeming to acknowledge or comprehend I cannot undo the past, or inviting her and all her internal torture to cosy into my life. I co-exist with her as part of me and learned how to adjust I see my relationship with her; she is not a bad person, indefinitely more soft hearted than I am and probably has a better gut instinct than I do. Just needs it dialled down from 500 to 5 sometimes. The only recurrent moment that ever emerged from that period of my life was not some driven interest in ‘women’s rights’ but a lifelong tendency to lean toward complete misanthropy and, perhaps more constructively, a burning mistrust and dislike of authority regardless of where it sits or what political affiliation it hides itself within. There are plenty of times where I feel that 20 year old sees more than I do, and I need that same young woman who will scream and bang on the windows. What I find quite frustrating is that there is much made of women who talk of historical DV; I am both a victim and a survivor at the same time. But most importantly, I am at peace with the girl in the bathroom and she is at peace with me. At some point in my life I learned how to navigate being able to hear her quietly warning me of real danger (rather than perceived danger in every shadow) next to the overwhelming need to protect and rescue a ghost of myself that I could not.
You learn, with the passing of time, life experience, dating experience and simply changing as a person that the game with an abuser is simply to keep you living in fear. It was not enough that I was isolated from everyone; I also had to know that there could be consequences for trying to speak, and even if I did speak to anyone, she could make me suffer using authority. However much of it is true or delusional on her part is moot — the entire play of an abuser is control. If an abuser can convince you to hop on one leg because they convince you that the floor is made of lava, and you begin you genuinely believe that the floor is made of lava, you will hop. Had I the benefit of wisdom, I might have known all those years ago that evening her mother told me about the necklace that she was trying to warn me about her own child, but a person with an estranged mother herself, who was so young even at 19, didn’t want to see it. I could tell myself all the things I wanted to punch jigsaw pieces in that never quite fit. I miss her mother, even now, a woman who had her own horrific stories of domestic abuse at the hands of men — stories my partner was dismissive of and I somehow, at 19, never saw the red flags. As a grown woman now, I wonder if her mother often saw me as someone who was prepared to simply listen to listen to her in the moments I spent with her, someone who was not going to make excuses for men who forced a woman to flee with a child into a garden for their lives because of his extreme violence. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I sometimes wonder if she was merely trying to warn me; her calm, unpressed, unflinching “he tried to kill us” that never wavered in the face of ever hysterical protests of how she was a terrible person who drove a man to drink (if I can’t have you no one can), never appreciated him (you’d be nothing without me), even pushed him to it once. There is a part of me that wishes her mother’s last memories of me weren’t these ones and the moment I remember of her face most vividly is shaking and holding a phone because her worst fears had been realised, but these are the paths we find ourselves on. Again, there is that gut instinct — one learns that anyone can say whatever they believe will get them popularity, but I tend to have more respect for the likes of that mother, who will simply do what is right to no fanfare and no applause. There were no likes, no shares, no claps, no retweets, no follows and no platforms for the woman who stood shaking at the bottom of the stairs about to call the police on her own child. There was only the very real, tangible consequences of protecting another against the same adult child she was terrified of.
But in all of this, my point is the culture of discomfort in contacting authority bodies because you believe it will result in a dismissive response. It took me decades to unfurl and unwind the psychological damage the very real fear I held that it did not matter — no one would ever believe me and there was no help accessible to me. To my very innocent, young 19 year old self, even trying to contact the police would have resulted in it being covered up because of my then partner’s sibling. Trying to go for help only resulted in doors being slammed in my face. The fear embedded in me was sufficient to tolerate the intolerable. Yet this is not an uncommon experience for women who have found themselves trying to report domestic abuse at the hands of actual police officers, with the CWJ launching a ‘super-complaint’ against various police forces in 2020 at their failure to investigate complaints of domestic abuse against serving police officers effectively. One force, upon being told an officer had allegedly raped his partner, said they “would have a word”. Yes, sorry he has raped his partner, we will tell him not to do it again. Others have abused police systems in order to continue their abuse of their partners. Rape and beating your spouse up — all cakeable offences I suppose lads. Best run along to the usual places and have a circle jerk with your friends at the slightest whiff of criticism. If the police really do cover up their own and women have to fight to even get independence in complaints when a police officer is the subject of an allegation, then why would we trust the police? When the police have thought nothing of arresting a woman at a protest vigil for a woman who was murdered — with a police officer being held on suspicion of her murder?
You can read the full super-complaint here, but I have included sections from it here:
• One woman provided police with her phone with secretly recorded conversations between her and the suspect about a rape. Officers returned the phone saying they could not download the recordings. She downloaded them and provided them on a disc, which was not collected for so long that she made a complaint, heard nothing and contacted her MP. She was later told that the CPS had advised there was insufficient evidence. The Professional Standards Department in a neighbouring force then dealt with the misconduct matter. An officer from that department told her that the original seals had not been opened, and the recordings not listened to
• One woman describes how an officer came to her home to take an account of the woman’s report of rape by her ex-partner. Whilst the officer was there the woman’s 18-year-old daughter from an earlier relationship disclosed sexual misconduct by the same man towards her when she was 12. No statement was ever taken from the daughter
• A woman police officer reports that officers in a specialist sexual offences unit told her “you know how it works, it’s your word against his”. They also didn’t contact witnesses who had seen her with bruises
• A woman reports that officers did not contact potential witnesses she named, but did contact her mental health team to ask about her mental capacity. She also overheard an officer who interviewed her speaking to a colleague about checking for evidence of whether she was intoxicated
There is a history of the police failing to record report of domestic abuse and rape where reports ‘disappear’ when it is one of their own:
• A woman discovered that her written statement to the police had been given to her husband, who was the suspect. No prosecution took place and the following year she was told that her statement was not filed in police systems and there was no record of it
• A woman made a report of violence and rape but did not feel able to proceed with a prosecution and was assured that her account would be kept on record in case she wished to pursue the matter at a future date. Many years later she was given inconsistent accounts by different public bodies on whether there was any record of her report, the final account being that there was no record of her reporting any incident
They have openly relied on the “civil matter” tactic and ganged up on victims:
• A woman made complaints about ongoing financial abuse by her ex-husband, which amounted to an offence of fraud. She complained to the IPCC, who passed it to the local force. She received a call from an officer asking if she would like her soon-to-be ex-husband to come round and discuss the issue with her
• A woman who was advised by her Independent Domestic Violence Advocate to report repeat breaches of family court orders and undertakings and harassment to the police was told by officers investigating her report of rape that this created the impression that she was a ‘vengeful wife’ and made her a pest to the police. Another officer who dealt with her report of theft by her husband told her that they should sit down together and sort it out
It isn’t a boys club though. Off you go to the humour pages and seem confused by criticism. Did you make them get cakes? Nah you just psychologically destroyed them I guess:
• A woman describes how, after her initial report of abuse friends at work began to distance themselves from her. After she returned from sick leave bullying began: a wooden cross marked “in remembrance” was left in her tray, comments were made implying she was mad, three male officers drove with her to a forest in the early hours, suggested a cigarette break then drove away leaving her alone for 30–45 minutes. She was sexually harassed by another officer but when she told him to stop, her senior reprimanded her for upsetting him. The investigator who had dealt with the investigation into her ex-partner frequently checked up on cases she working on, and she became terrified of making any mistakes at work
• A woman describes how, after ending her relationship with a senior officer and reporting him for abuse and stalking, she applied to the firearms department after being encouraged to do so, but was refused at the initial stage. She later found out from his subsequent partner that he boasted that he had blocked her application by speaking to friends and colleagues. He also told others that she was mad and she felt other officers did not want to work with her
It is bizarre how women are always ‘mad’ or ‘mentally ill’ when they tell you about abuse. Again, bit of a red flag for me but you do you.
The complaint further goes on to state, “The Independent newspaper published data in 2019 obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showing that over the previous six years 562 officers in the Metropolitan Police were accused of sexual assault, of whom only 43 had formal or informal action taken against them, and the vast majority, 420, faced no sanction. 313 victims were members of the public and 249 were themselves police officers. There were three times as many sexual misconduct complaints in 2017 as in 2012, reflecting a general rise in reporting of such offences.” I refer to the statement made by NPCC’s Chief Constable Martin Jelley of “I am confident that we have robust procedures in place to deal with the small number of officers who break the law, including criminal convictions and ultimately dismissal.” I do not think that this statement is sufficiently corroborated if 562 officers in one force alone are accused of sexual offences, and 2 years on complainants find themselves still fighting for investigative impartiality as a basic matter of ethics at best. A police officer accused of sexual misconduct and/or domestic abuse will almost certainly be investigated by their own force — there are just three Home Office forces that refer the matter to a neighbouring force. Given that the police in Scotland is amalgamated and the differences in Scots law, one wonders how the police would be policed — the creation of another independent body that oversees investigations, perhaps.
It is hard not to see this in light of the recent events concerning Sarah Everard. What disgusts me more is that the complaint I have linked to was filed last year, with discussion of this dating back years. The ‘spycops’ scandal, involving undercover police officers who subsequently abused their power by having sexual relationships with unaware individuals they were monitoring (sometimes having children with them) is not old. None of this is new to the police. It is not just the police either. The law is broken.
What I am reminded of is the case of Alexandra Reid, who took her own life earlier in 2021 after giving a statement to Merseyside Police about the abuse she had been experiencing at the hands of her boyfriend. She feared that no one would believe her. Likewise, I wonder about the conviction of a man in Wales who killed his wife 5 days into the first lockdown, to have it knocked down from murder to manslaughter on the basis of “lockdown stress”. There is no such thing as an accidental strangulation. One may get into a fight with another human being and get a good punch that kills. There can be freak incidents such as the victim has an underlying history of brain conditions triggered by one fatal punch in a fight. A punch need not be intended to be fatal. One may use a knife and accidentally catch an artery that causes the death of another. The topic of domestic abuse aside, I do believe two individuals may come to an altercation that results in the death of another but the intention was never was there to cause death on the part of the accused. There is no such thing as unintentionally strangling another human being to death. Even an animal knows that the neck is a vulnerable area. There are plenty of pathologists discussing the topic where their comments support this statement, which I am not linking to because of the obvious nature of it (if you still don’t understand why, you’re too young for this blog so here is a panic button), but I find it baffling that it is never supported when it is in the murder of women by strangulation (which additionally often “carries a sexual component” — again, commented on by pathologists). Dyfed Powys Police states that in one month alone 900 reports relating to domestic abuse were made, as opposed to the average of 350. Domestic abuse killings have doubled in the first lockdown.
But as I said, it is not simply the police: it is all authority bodies. Social services have a history of blaming the mother and removing children into care when women are victims of DV. Often it is linked due to the police and their failure to report or respond to the incidents correctly, yes — but social workers are employed to build a relationship with the family and provide resources to a parent if they are attempting to flee a violent situation. The family court system has been criticised in the last year by the Victims Commissioner as the perfect vehicle for violent partners to continue to abuse their ex partners. This has included one woman being told by judges that they could not have been raped because they “took no physical steps” to stop him. At Chapter 4, the topic of striking a balance between recognising, identifying and dealing with domestic abuse and the issues it raises whilst dealing with child welfare is something that Courts have often struggled with. “Many submissions reported that court proceedings had not provided protection from further harm for children or adult victims of abuse, but had made things worse, with abuse being continued through court-ordered contact arrangements (chapters 9, 10). Some victims of abuse reported that they and their children had suffered long-term physical, psychological, emotional and financial harm (chapter 10).” Women have been denied access to the legal system via legal aid, with one victim of DV having just £28 in her bank and told to “sell her home” to get a lawyer. The phrase “battered woman” is outdated as we now recognise coercive control exists but it seems that we, as a society, are slow to recognise that an abuser will use every system at their disposal to terrorise their victim — including their finances. “Financial impediments play a major role in restricting a woman who experiences intimate partner violence from initially gaining freedom from the abusive relationship. Moreover, financial instability is one of the greatest reasons why, after gaining freedom, a woman has limited choices and may ultimately acquiesce to an abuser’s attempts at reconciliation. Advocates agree that for many women it comes down to a choice between ensuring resources for their children and freedom from abuse. The choice is clear for many women — feed, house, and clothe the children, even if it compromises her safety.” Financial Freedom: Women, Money, and Domestic Abuse (2014)
Here is a report from 2017 talking about cuts to refuges and the impact that it had on thousands of women desperate to get help. Here is a report from 2018. And here is one from 2019. Womens Aid have stated that £393m would need to cover services in England alone. Whilst the pandemic has made the Govt realise the extent that domestic abuse is having on lives of victims, even charities like Refuge see this as temporary measures. The one positive note in this is that the Govt has noted the complex issues faced by migrant victims of DV, an issue that is virtually ignored. But like most things, it is all temporary: a shut up measure that does nothing to fix the problem.
Consider the infamous “sex game gone wrong defence”. More often than not, this tied into the whole theme of double deviancy that women who are usually on trial for murder battle, but this time it would be women murdered by men. The game is still the same: a woman’s sexuality and sexual attractiveness will be offered up to the vulture-like media even though that woman is dead. Even in death, a woman still cannot be left alone — she will still be picked apart, still slut shamed and the inference is still that she did something to deserve being brutalised. It took lobbying from the CWJ and womens’ rights groups before an amendment was approved by ministers to the Domestic Abuse Bill to make non fatal strangulation a criminal offence. Everyone knows that the police don’t actually know how to deal with domestic abuse. But what of the girl in the pink bathroom that started this whole blog, who originally started talking about how they can get away with whatever they want, their sister is a sergeant?
On the topic of ‘double deviance’ (or the Evil Woman theory) one should consider how women are considered in criminal trials in relation to crimes of extreme murder i.e. murder, particularly by the media — they are either mad or bad. A woman will experience two trials; one by a jury of her peers and another by the media. In the former her crime will be tried and in the latter not only will her crime be tried, but her role in society as a woman; was she ‘good’ (usually a demure, retiring housewife and mother) or ‘bad’ (a cold hearted sex crazed slut, even better if she engaged in casual drug use and was an unfit mother)? Consider that a man who kills a woman in a ‘sex game gone wrong’ often will have his career prospects reported on and described in the media (“he was an accountant!”) whilst a woman on trial for murder will have her sexual history splashed across the same tabloids. The inference is always the same, that crime is the most unfeminine of acts and for a woman to engage in criminal activity, particularly violent acts, she has ‘failed’ as a woman. The only way to deal with her, or understand her behaviour, is to depict her as bad or mad. This is often reflected in her sentencing.
Lesser known is a defence in Scots law to culpable homicide — the defence of provocation by sexual infidelity. We are no longer in the era of Hume and the defence is used overwhelmingly by men who are not protecting their ‘gentlemanly honour’ by slaying a ‘paramour’ that they catch with their wife — but murdering their wives. In the case of Drury v HMA (2001), the accused murdered his on/off partner with a claw hammer and claimed ‘loss of control’ upon the discovery of her suspected sexual infidelity. One of the Crown pathologists said that the facial injuries were the worst she had ever seen. It is bizarre that 21st century law will still reflect upon institutional writings in order to pacify what is tantamount to little more than a wounded ego in order to allow an accused to argue such loss of control that their actions can cause the destruction of another’s life. Furthermore, it is bizarre that the domestic abuse victim who once again finds themselves reduced to the ‘battered wife’, who snaps after often years of psychological, physical, financial and sexual abuse finds themselves with little to no legal grounds to defence relevant to her circumstances. There is further argument for the abolishment of provocation by sexual infidelity here.
In the last 24 hours the Court of Appeal has dismissed a case against the CPS challenging its’ handling of rape and serious sexual offences cases. There has been a 40% reduction in CPS referral cases in the 2019–2020 period (total cases: 2747), with the Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC describing this as “utterly shameful” before going on to state that, “It is a policy by CPS only to take only rock-solid prosecutions as set down in a CPS document in 2016/17 by the director of legal services and personally driven by him nationwide…They saw rape as a challenge where now they’re told to see it as a barrier.” The backlog of cases is well known to anyone who even casually follows the topic, only made worse by the current pandemic. It does not mitigate the underlying issues.
Well, it would seem that perhaps the 19 year old me did not have anywhere to turn after all. There is a part of me that has always what would have happened if I had ever punched in 999, in a cruel game of shoulda woulda coulda.
“Women who have come forward include one whose husband was a serving officer and whose force handed him a copy of her statement against him, then mysteriously lost it. “He told me, ‘I’m a police officer, no one’s going to believe you,’” the woman, whose husband remains a serving officer, told TBIJ.”
I can get away with whatever I want.
“In another case, a woman said that the force where her partner worked was “completely uninterested” in her rape allegations against him. Her partner’s force interviewed and bailed him after she alleged that he had raped her, but soon closed its criminal investigation. The case was transferred to a second force for an internal misconduct investigation, where it was discovered that the seals had never been broken on the evidence provided by the alleged victim.”
I can get away with whatever I want.
I do not wonder quite so much anymore.
Am I allowed to be angry that domestic abuse has become its own epidemic under Covid lockdowns, to the point the Prime Minister had to explicitly acknowledge it and victims must whisper for ANI at Boots? Am I allowed to be angry that the murders of women at the hands of men simply mean nothing after a few weeks? Sure, I’m allowed to be angry — for about 2 weeks. But am I allowed to be angry that it is not simply the issues that trend, or that these are deeply rooted endemic problems within the institutions that are meant to protect citizens? These are cliffnotes versions of problems that have been raised over and over again. I have not even touched on the issue of women disproportionately impacted with mental health issues in the prison system, or how it has become a modern day dumping ground for individuals that desperately need psychiatric help as opposed to the revolving door of the CJS. These are not problems that are easy to market, they do not fit neatly into soundbites and they are not rapid to share. The stress caused on women separated from children upon prison admission is not something that is punchy enough to go viral nor sympathetic enough to carry headlines (unless it is to attack the Human Rights Act in some way because it is in relation to prisoners). It does not matter that women tend to be more isolated from the outside world when they are imprisoned, nor does it matter that half of female inmates report having experienced DV, 31% have some kind of care experience or that the suicide rate is 40 times higher than the general population. These things only make for filler in the pages of a Guardian column at best before the narrative once again returns to whatever will fill headlines with rage clicks to drive traffic and elicit subscription traffic in a world where newspaper readership has dropped.
Are women allowed to be angry? It does not exist in a vacuum. For a while people will pretend to care, but inevitably it will still go back to how it has always been. I think once again of my ex partner’s mother, a woman I haven’t thought this much of in years. A really frail, little woman, with a shock of dark hair and a wickedly filthy sense of humour with no real sense of tact (I have no idea why we got on so well). And then I think of her grabbing a child and running for their lives to only hear the noise of cracking and that smell behind her; to live in a B&B paid for by a council for weeks to only be told somehow she drove a man to it years later. And then I feel angry all over again.
Almost 1 in 3 women will experience some form of domestic abuse in her lifetime.
I think of the small woman with the shock of dark hair grabbing her child to run for their lives from the literal burst of male violence, and the effective social ostracism she only faced as a result of driving a man to it — and then I think of another mother I know who shielded her children from the same deadly levels of male violence. By contrast, to the adult daughter, there was no father. There was the man who terrorised their lives, but the one consistent was the woman who worked several jobs at one point — or the woman she sometimes watched simply drinking coffee for dinner whilst her sibling and her ate food. I wonder about the woman who had done everything she could to protect a child that seemed to take ‘inherit the sins of the father’ a little too literally and still attempted to warn me about the thunder she heard that I could not. Like I said, there is a part of me that wishes our most vivid memories of one another are probably not of me bursting out of a bathroom, hitting the wall with my hand on my throat and gasping for air before lurching forward to see her stood there, visibly trembling. That same part of me suspects she would like the woman I grew into and never questioned why we took the paths we did.
Wherever she is, I hope she has a beautiful new necklace in a peaceful environment.