Today (25 November) is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Crimestoppers is supporting this United Nations-led campaign with a series of blogs written by women.
In this blog Polly Neate, CEO of Womenâ€™s Aid, discusses the cultural challenges for those campaigning for changeâ€¦
Would you know the signs of domestic abuse? The coercive control of women by men is embedded so deep in our culture, itâ€™s no wonder so many of us fail to spot it, call it out, or understand its impact on victims. Donâ€™t believe me? Look at how the lyrics of pop music over the decades, or operatic arias, romanticised â€œcrimes of passionâ€ where the assumption is that menâ€™s desire or jealousy are somehow so powerful and overwhelming that they simply canâ€™t be held accountable for their actions. From the killing of Carmen, to Lennonâ€™s â€œIâ€™m just a jealous guyâ€, the constant message of both current music lyrics and music videos â€“ coercive control and the violence that ensues when menâ€™s control is threatened â€“ are part of the wallpaper.
But itâ€™s now a crime, when itâ€™s a repeated pattern of abuse; deliberately seeking to take away a womanâ€™s liberty or freedom and strip away her sense of self, through controlling behaviour, with or without actual violence. Womenâ€™s Aid campaigned for this for many months. Not only will this offence â€“ in force for less than a year â€“ help bring abusers to justice earlier, it also sends a strong message against the bombardment of images and sounds that tell us coercive control is normal. The criminal offence says that we, as a society, have decided that enough is enough.
Itâ€™s not OK to use tracking devices to monitor your partner, to read her texts and emails, to make up detailed rules by which she has to live, to take her earnings or benefits and control how her own money is spent, to make her dress a certain way, cut her off from family and friends â€“ and itâ€™s not OK to make her feel all this is only what she deserves.
We still have a way to go before coercive control is recognised for what it is, by bystanders, neighbours, perpetrators and survivors. Thatâ€™s why Womenâ€™s Aid leapt at the opportunity to work with BBC Radio 4â€™s The Archers on the now famous (and infamous) Helen and Rob Titchener storyline. Day by day, The Archers revealed the horrible picture of coercive control, piece by piece. First Robâ€™s behaviour seemed a bit chauvinistic, but would you really call it abuse? Yes, he was unreasonable, but even Helen seemed to accept it. It was over time, through his repeated attempts to control, isolate and undermine her, that audiences could see his actions were abusive. Her family never truly realised until her desperate retaliation landed her in court. But what if Helenâ€™s family and friends had been able to recognise the signs and get Helen the help she needed?
Given the weight of cultural normalisation of coercive control, The Archers is a drop in the ocean, despite having more impact than we ever dared hope.
But drops can make waves and together we can build on the awareness The Archers started. Women have a right to be free. As a society, if we can understand what this abuse looks like, and where women can get support, we can make sure women like Helen get the help they need, when they need it. Local specialist services are listed on the Womenâ€™s Aid website along with information to help identify if the behaviour you are experiencing or witnessing is OK. For young people, our Love Donâ€™t Feel Bad website does a similar job. And our expert workers on the National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership with Refuge, will provide advice and support 24/7.
Whatâ€™s more, this is a crime the police increasingly understand and will enforce. So letâ€™s use it.
For help or more information visit: www.womensaid.org.uk or www.lovedontfeelbad.org.uk or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247. If you have information on an offender call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or use our Anoymous Online Form:
This blog was written by Polly Neate, CEO, Womenâ€™s Aid. You can follow Polly and the charity on Twitter @pollyn1 @womensaid