Domestic abuse and violence are part of a range of tactics, predominantly perpetrated by men, to keep women under control. Many of the methods of abuse do not involve any form of physical contact and can actually be worse, for the long term, than a vicious beating. Being hit is simple evidence of violence but many people live in a very abusive relationship without even realising it….until someone else highlights it to them.
Women’s Work run a rolling series of support sessions based on the well-renowned “Freedom Programme” written by Pat Craven. Their programme endeavours to open up and explore , in the context of a safe space, and safe discussion, many of the issues raised in the book, and in a way which helps the women involved to assimilate the broad messages as they relate to them.
“We have women who say they feel like a fraud because they feel that they have not been subject to domestic violence(DV) and as we go through the programme the penny drops….that there was someone controlling them. They’d assumed that DV was just about a male partner hitting them and actually its far more than that.”
Caroline and Lyndsey facilitate the group conversations and have heard a harrowing range of stories from the women who have joined the sessions.
“We work with ladies, who have their receipts checked, their times checked, their texts, their phones, all checked and they have to keep the phone next to them all the time. I have worked with a lady who when she goes to the toilet has her partner shouting to her up the stairs “where are you!” Can you imagine someone shouting up at you when they know you’re on the toilet
He may never have laid a hand on her…..but his controlling behaviour results in a lot of stress”
The Freedom programme creates a “language” of personality traits which helps the women share their own situation, and to recognise that they are not alone in their plight. The perpetrator is described as “The Dominator” and their need to control can manifest itself in a number of different persona:
- The Bully – uses intimidation to control his partner. Glares, shouts, smashes things and sulks.
- The Headworker – uses emotional abuse by using put-downs – too fat, too thin, ugly, stupid, useless etc
- The Jailer – uses isolation by keeping the partner in the house. Stops them from seeing friends, tells them what to wear.
- The Liar – uses excuses, blames drink, drugs, overwork, is in denial about any abuse
- The Badfather – uses the children as a weapon of control. Uses access as a form of harassment, threatens to take the children away, persuades his partner to have a baby then refuses to help care for it.
- The King of the Castle – treats his partner like a servant, controls the money, expects sex on demand, says women are for sex, cooking and housework.
- The Sexual Controller – uses sex as a form of control. Rapes, keeps his partner pregnant, rejects advances.
- The Persuader – uses coercion or threats to persuade his partner into resuming the relationship. Says he loves you, threatens to report his partner to social services, government agencies etc.
Part of the challenge in the sessions, and with the support of the other women, is how to recognise these different personas within their partner, and, as life is not simple, at times, many aspects of different persona may well be displayed at any one time.
“One lady’s partner took all of her shoes off her and he would only return them when he allowed her to go out. One where the partner drove off with the pushchair so they couldn’t go out, keys is another one, and money. They can be controlling with money even if they’re not working themselves. One lady has had a boiling hot kettle held over her head to get her to go out and find some money”
Horrific stuff…involves hurting animals. We’ve heard of dogs being put in tumble driers, dogs and cats being hung…..it’s all about power and control.
“The violence is more likely to escalate if he thinks she will leave him, or if she’s pregnant. We know that a woman is more vulnerable when she becomes pregnant.”
Many women find that every partner that they have is abusive towards them and they begin to believe that it is them that is causing the problem however their vulnerability is the very thing that the perpetrator is exploiting.
“ A lot of women were exploited when they were younger and they try to pick a partner who is a protector, and they turn out to be bullies. Many will have been sexually abused as children or exploited by an older man when teenagers – they have a warped sense of normality…and so when they have sex that’s the only time that someone’s shown them affection…so they may become promiscuous.
Women often fall into a repeat cycle of abusive partners and come to us after surviving 2,3,4 abusive partners. Many of the women have grown up in environments where shouting, swearing ,and hitting someone, is perceived “normal” but our experience tells us these environments are not healthy and can cause untold harm.
A lot of women believe it’s their fault. They leave a relationship feeling submissive, and the next perpetrator sees that, and exploits it -”what have I done to deserve this”.
Caroline and Lyndsey both commented that
“It’s a tough programme for us and for the women. The session on Sexual controller can be very intimate but what we discuss is decided by the women”
“There is a piece in the book about women who have a colostomy bag fitted, and their abusive partners will have intercourse using the stoma hole, where the bag’s fitted. A lady on the course who was a nurse claimed to have seen evidence of this form of abuse. The women in the group were shocked when we discussed this matter but it’s true and this level of degradation happens. Also women have tell us of having had their stitches being cut by abusive partners after child birth….”
The Programme is not a training session, and some women come back many times, as a different set of women can result in a new set of perspectives on the issue. Also as it is emotionally very challenging the full significance of what is surfaced may not always become clear until much later. For example the potential impact on a woman’s health might not, at first, be realised:
“If a man is abusing you then there is a high likelihood that he’s sleeping with someone else because he’s proving by his behaviour that he doesn’t love you , or care about you. A lot of women say they know that the men have slept with other people and that’s why we highlight about sexual health. They don’t always make the connection between the abusive relationship and their health. We then find we get lots of questions about where the GUM ( Genito Urinary Medicine) clinic is -its free to go to get checked out. That’s them taking the control back!”
Although Women’s Work concentrates on the woman as the victim, there is a significant proportion of men who also suffer abuse from their female partners. This style of abuse can happen between same-sex partners, from within the family, and also from children against parents. The original text of the “Freedom Programme” was written in 2008 before the growth of social media. This also brings it’s own nuances of abuse which are dealt with in the discussion groups.
Whilst physical violence is very harrowing and disturbing and is the most obvious form of abuse, some women have said that this is the least of their concerns – the bruises, breakages, and cuts will heal. The mental abuse, which incessantly and insidiously undermines confidence, self-esteem, character, self-worth and psychological state is invisible to outsiders, and in many cases the victim can be blind to what is being done to them – the tragedy is that, somehow, the woman thinks it’s normal.
The value of the Freedom Programme is that it can disabuse them of the fallacy that this behaviour is normal and gives them pathways and empowerment to take control back into their lives.
Although this programme is necessarily intensive and long, to benefit the women involved, there is a place for an abridged reference guide to help the Police and Social Workers so they can be alert to traits during their work.