Content warning: this is a powerful guest blog submitted by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous. It contains some swearing, and details of her experience of emotional abuse. Read with care.
I was once in love but I was in love with someone who didn’t know what love was, someone who was able to easily lie, cheat and manipulate to a level I’ve never seen before and hope to never see again.
When I say this is not just ‘fuck boy’ behaviour you either had to have been there, as some of my close friends reading this were, or just take my word for it. I used to bring home beer most nights in the hope it would have some positive effect on his mood, he would storm out of restaurants over the smallest things like I was taking too long to pay and he wanted to leave; scream at me that I was a cunt in the street for agreeing with him too much at an event we had attended; and when I stood up for myself (which I did) he would threaten to leave, go on solo drug binges and get his validation from any girl around him, then tell me I expected too much of him and how tortuous the life he had led before me was.
When I finally left he continued to manipulate me, posting pictures of me on social media, he cried his eyes out sitting two feet away from me telling me we would never find anything like what we had, the idea of dating other people made him ill, all the while he already had a holiday booked with a girl 15 years his junior and not much older than his niece.
It took me over a year to call what happened to me abuse, he never hit me but he systematically and expertly took apart each and every part of my mental well-being to the point that if he told me the grass was purple I would’ve believed him. I didn’t know then what gaslighting was; mental abuse; narcissism, these were all abstract terms that didn’t apply to me and rather than it being ‘over’ when I left, I was left totally empty, my adrenaline levels were completely out of whack, and I felt numb and completely unable to rebuild. I still have days when I question if any of this really happened, if I’m exaggerating the situation, maybe I did do something wrong and expected too much. I only got through it, and continue to do so, with therapy and some of the best friends anyone could wish for. I was lucky.
I wrote this because I never recognised this as abuse, I never thought I’d share this story beyond my inner circle but violence comes in many forms and mental abuse is abuse. I urge you if you recognise any of these behaviours or find yourself constantly covering up or lying about how things are in your relationship to seek help, talk to a friend and hopefully start the very long, slow, but oh so worth it road to recovery.
Thank you to everyone who turned up and continues to turn up. You know who you are.
At Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline we won’t put pressure on you, or tell you what to do. We know it isn’t always easy to pick up the phone. When you call the helpline, your call will be answered by fully trained call handlers who have lots of experience supporting people affected by domestic abuse and forced marriage.
You don’t need to know what to say, just know that we believe you, and we are here for you.
Call: 0800 027 1234 | Email: email@example.com | Website: www.sdafmh.org.uk
What you up to this Sunday? In need of a feminist afternoon-off? We’ve teamed up with the Young Women’s Movement and the Filmhouse to deliver exactly that.
Once your eyes are open to sexism, inequality and gender-based violence it’s near impossible to close them again. From Hollywood to Holyrood; stories of power and abuses of said power have dominated the headlines in 2018. If this past year has showed us anything, it’s that in amongst the sea of misogyny it can be hard to stay afloat.
Join us this 16 Days of Action for a feminist afternoon-off with a showing of a classic – Thelma and Louise followed by a discussion about self-care in the context of smashing the patriarchy with some special guests.
Self-care shouldn’t cost money so we’ve set aside some free tickets for this event. If you’d like one just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Otherwise, get your tickets here!
Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
We are so grateful and proud to have worked with Fatima* to record her poem about her experience of domestic abuse, and recovery.
Her words are powerful and courage formidable, this is a poem everyone should hear.
*Fatima is a pseudonym to protect her identity.
One of the questions we’re most often asked is why women don’t just leave. It’s not meant to sound bad, but as well as taking the responsibility for the abuse away from the perpetrator, it implies leaving somehow easy. It isn’t. Not only is it often really, really hard, but it’s also the most dangerous time for women.
This is a blog written by a Call Handler on Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline. It’s a scenario based on collection of stories from helpline calls and we hope it makes readers stop and think before asking the question.
When Mum told me my sister was being abused by her husband, I didn’t understand what she meant. From the outside it looks like she has the perfect family, a great marriage. And then Mum told me what was going on behind closed doors.
Horrified I asked, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?
Well, where would she go? She’s got no money, me and dad can’t afford a hotel or a new place for her, I wish we could. If she comes here, he’ll know and he’ll follow her, and if she leaves the kids with me and runs away…well, she just wouldn’t. And it’s his name on their lease, he made sure of that, I remember.
She told me not to, but I phoned the Council about housing and they said they could get her and the kids a B&B or something in the short-term but it could be anywhere. Seriously, anywhere. And anything longer would depend on so many things, like where’s best for the kids, what’s available and where, and how she’d pay for it all. But she’d have to call them or go in to see them, and she absolutely will not.
And it would be so hard to move the kids out of school and away from their friends. They’re doing so well, and I’m nearby which is handy for childcare and emergencies. She thinks she and the kids are safer where they are, because he said he’d never touch them, but if she leaves, she thinks he’ll follow her and hurt her, and he’ll get the kids whatever happens.
And he’s got so much control, it’s like she is scared to do anything. She’s not even allowed to buy anything at the shops unless he’s given permission. Even then he still has a go. And she won’t admit it, not properly. She told me stuff that he’s done and said, but when I try to talk to her about leaving or even speaking to someone about it, she makes a joke of it, or gets angry and just shuts down. I can’t force her. She’s had enough of being forced into things.
It’s hard enough just getting through each day. The idea of planning some great escape is way too much for her. He’s made her believe she’s useless and disgusting so she’s actually grateful that he claims to love her so much. But that’s not how you treat someone you love.
And because she’s still working and allowed – allowed! – to see me, she doesn’t see that she’s being controlled, or doesn’t want to see, even though she broke down yesterday and was pleading with me to help her. She hates herself, blames herself for not ‘being stronger’. She’s working so hard to keep the kids safe but it’s like she’s always walking on eggshells, she doesn’t know what will set him off. But this is her life and she has to live with it, that’s what she said.
And I can’t call the police because he’s a devious so-and-so. He’s had us fooled long enough and he’s well known in the town, she doesn’t think anyone will believe her. I mentioned the police and she freaked out. She wants him to stop, for things to go back to how they used to be, but she doesn’t want to call the police. She is scared it will ruin his life. She just wants it to stop.
‘Just leave?’ There’s no just about it.
At Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline we understand leaving isn’t an easy option. We know you might not want to, and we know it is not always safe to. We won’t judge you, or tell you what to do, we’re just here to listen.
Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is open 24/7 on 0800 027 1234 for anyone affected by domestic abuse. Find out more at www.sdafmh.org.uk.
Image © Laura Dodsworth
At Scottish Women’s Aid we regularly see domestic abuse blamed on a lot of things: football, alcohol, hot weather, cold weather, long evenings and, of course we can’t forget, short evenings. Now? Burkas.
And as we see people piling on to be outraged at the wearing of the burka because ‘it hides the bruises from abusers’, there are some things that we, as Scotland’s leading domestic abuse organisation, want to clear up.
So here’s 6 things to remember if you are thinking of taking to Twitter to take part in this conversation:
Domestic abuse is an ongoing pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour that can – but does not always – include physical violence. Reducing domestic abuse to bruises ignores the majority of women’s experiences and prevents women from seeking support.
Abusive men telling women what to wear is something we hear about A LOT from survivors. Abusers regularly control their partners’ clothes, movements, access to food, drink, contraception, friends, family, employment, healthcare, money… the list goes on. The common denominator here is not the type of clothing victim-survivors are told to wear (be it shorts, jeans, shirts, shoes or a burka) but the abuse of power by the perpetrator.
Most abusers are pretty smart. Domestic abuse is not a loss of control but an exercise of control. When abusers do leave bruises, they rarely are somewhere visible, no matter what the victim is wearing.
The idea that religious clothing is somehow facilitating domestic abuse conveniently ignores the fact that domestic abuse is happening in every single community across Scotland and beyond. Abuse is perpetrated and experienced by people of all faiths and none, in rural and urban areas, by people who love football and people who hate it, in the heat and the cold, the winter and the summer. The biggest risk factor and the thing most likely to increase your chances of experiencing domestic abuse is being a woman. This is about gender, not headwear.
This is a question of choice. We firmly believe that no woman should be forced to do or wear anything that she does not want to. Those who claim that the Government should force women not to wear the burka in the name of freedom are hypocrites. What an irony it is that those who claim they want to liberate women from the control of others plan to do so by imposing their own idea of what women should wear.
When Islamophobia and racism surge in our communities, all those with a voice and a platform must stand in solidarity with those targeted. The tactics abusive men use to perpetrate domestic abuse do vary based on community, on family patterns, on cultural pressures, on all kinds of personal circumstances. These same circumstances influence women’s perceptions of whether they will get the right response if they seek help. Blaming domestic abuse on burkas does nothing to support women who are experiencing domestic abuse and nothing to hold abusive men to account for their behaviour.
This is a conversation so often aimed at Muslim women, women who are so consistently silenced by racism and sexism in our society, which means that those with the greatest expertise are consistently denied a voice and a platform. This has to change.
If you are a Muslim woman who wants to write about this topic or about any issue related to domestic abuse, we’d love to talk with you about doing a guest blog and having your piece featured on our website and social media. Please get in touch!
p.s If you want to read more from Muslim women on faith, feminism, race and sexuality you can preorder It’s Not About The Burka from Amazon here.
“It’s Not About the Burqa doesn’t claim to speak for a faith or a group of people, because it’s time the world realized that Muslim women are not a monolith. It’s time the world listened to them.”
Futures Theatre are proud to be partnering with Scottish Women’s Aid to bring their new production Never Vera Blue to the 2018 Edinburgh Festival.
The play is the second commission from Futures creative engagement programme An Alternative Life which we delivered from 2015 to 2017. During 2016 we worked in partnership the Gaia Centre (run by Refuge) in Lambeth, London, engaging with a phenomenal group of women who were all survivors of domestic abuse. We invited top female artists to deliver short courses throughout the year which resulted in the group writing a song and poetry, recording a podcast and making a short film. We recognised the vital work of front line services and wanted to use our resources to add value to their work; An Alternative Life allowed women to grow in confidence and develop skills in order to live full lives. We passionately believe in the value of working creatively with women who have experienced trauma:
“Creative work is a really safe way of trying out, taking risks and realising what you can and can’t do and just waking up all those bits of the brain that have been all cramped up” – Participant, 2016.
Playwright Alexandra Wood was commissioned to work with the group throughout the year and write a play informed and inspired by their stories and experiences. Never Vera Blue is an extraordinary response and wrestles with the question which angered and frustrated our participants ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ Alexandra wrote a multi layered script which interrogates this question with empathy and understanding. We invited women participating to come on the journey of this production with us; from initial readings of the script to rehearsals to full production. We were joined by women for a London preview at Camden People’s Theatre which was a particularly moving evening. The following day one of the women emailed to talk about the experience:
“What an amazing play!!! The actress is outstanding. Thank you for believing in me, my confidence has grown and going back to work has helped me to thrive in my ability to recognise who I am further.” – Participant, 2018.
Audiences joining us during the festival in The Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in Summerhall can expect an incredible performance from Laura Dos Santos who plays ‘The Woman’ in this one woman show. The resilience, humour and strength of the women we worked with burns bright at the heart of the story. Upon leaving, they will hear the voices of those women in the song they wrote and recorded with Martyna Baker in 2016:
“Cause I’m ready to just be me
And I’m ready to live happy
Yeah I’m steady cause I’m lovin’ me”
Never Vera Blue is showing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival until the 26th of August. For more information or to book tickets visit the website here.