What the eye cannot see….
During the first seven weeks of the first national lockdown the police received a domestic violence related call every 30 seconds.*
1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.**
By its very nature domestic violence takes place in private, behind closed doors, with only the victim and the perpetrator as witness. We on the outside of the home do not get a front seat or a bird’s eye view of what is going on inside.
I grew up in what was then considered a traditional household with a dad, a mum and children. My siblings and I did not witness any kind of domestic violence in our home. This was not the case for some of our family friends and even some of our neighbours on the street where we grew up. I did not at the time recognise domestic violence for what it was. This could have been due to my age, maybe because it wasn’t something I saw on television so did not associate with it or even because I had never heard of domestic violence. Whatever the reason I did not see it happening therefore I had no concerns – as a child.
I look back at my childhood and I remember the family friends who my parents had to physically separate after a disagreement. The woman whilst in the presence of my parents answered back as her husband was berating her for something he said she had done. Not prepared to be shamed in front of my mum she verbally defended herself, something I suspect she wasn’t prone to do. Her husband was immediately enraged and lunged at her grabbing her by the throat (my mum later told us this). Dad hearing the commotion rushed to the living room from the kitchen. My siblings and I came out of our bedrooms at hearing the raised voices and witnessed dad and mum separating the couple and then dad manhandling him down the stairs and out the front door.
As an adult I learned that theirs was always a volatile relationship and the woman was often seen with cuts and bruises. As a child I saw them as just family friends who didn’t come to our house very often as a couple, usually it was just the woman. It was common knowledge that their’s was not a healthy relationship but back then you did not get involved in a couple’s relationship.
We were raised to be respectful, say good morning and good evening to all the adults on the street where we grew up. The couple who lived next door were quiet, the man never spoke to us so after a time we stopped greeting him, but the woman always smiled and said hello. The same woman beat on our front door one morning as we were all getting ready for our day. Her hand was dripping blood, her lip was cut, and her eye half closed. My dad called for mum who was a nurse and together they got her in our family car with her hand wrapped in tea towels and wearing one of mum’s coat as she was in her nightclothes. They took her to the local A & E department where she was stitched and bandaged and returned home later that day. My parents later explained that her husband had been beating her, she had got away from him and was heading out the front door when he pulled her back in and shut her hand repeatedly in the door to get her to let go. The woman neighbour later told my dad that her husband didn’t hit her for some while after that and never that badly again as my mum and dad who were only next door, now knew.
I now know it was my dad who had told the neighbour not to speak to mum or us children after the man had made several inappropriate remarks to my mum. My parents had also heard him beating his wife through the walls and didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
These are just two incidents that I look back on and see all the signs that as a child I didn’t recognise them for what they are – domestic violence.
The family friends who were never both present at family functions.
The wife with the cuts and bruises and always wore a pattered scarf around her neck.
Visiting alone without her husband and speaking with both my parents quietly and away from us children.
My dad being called to the local police station late one night to collect the family friend & her spending the night on the sofa in the dining room.
The next door neighbours who had no visitors, and the woman was always at home.
The neighbours who had no interaction with any other household on the street.
I know that as an adult I would identify these signs even though I haven’t witnessed the actual abuse. Is this because I have watched so many films and documentaries with domestic violence at its centre? Or is it because domestic violence is spoken about much more openly?
The profile of domestic abuse over the last 10 years has risen to exceptional heights. Members of the British Royal family are patrons of domestic abuse charities. National statistics on domestic violence are published under the freedom of information act. Dependent on your job role you may have received safeguarding training where domestic abuse would have been covered.
We as a society are much more aware of domestic abuse and the lasting damage it can leave on individuals who have suffered from it. There are a number of self-funded charities and helplines across the UK who specialise in domestic violence from both sides, i.e., to assist both victim and perpetrator. However, we can and must do more to ensure that domestic abuse, in all its various forms is recognised and understood. It is hoped that the end result would be readily available funding and resources to victims to help them re-start their lives in a safe environment as well as counselling and education.
District Safeguarding Officer
Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire
*Women’s Aid and Panorama