Charity begins at home. But so does domestic violence.
Three-quarters of violence against women happens in a place where a woman should feel safest – her own home. And just imagine: one in four women in this country will suffer domestic violence in their lifetime. One in four.
I find it almost impossible to think that any friend of mine might be living under that horrific threat, without my knowing it, but that is the power of coercive control and violence in the home. It is characterised by silence – silence from those that suffer – silence from those around them, and silence from those who perpetrate abuse. This silence is corrosive; it leaves women, children and men carrying the burden of shame. It prevents them from speaking out about the abuse and it prevents them from getting help. And at its worst it can be fatal.
Through my work, I have talked to many women who have lived with coercive control and domestic violence and, thankfully, come out at the other end as the victors not the victims. They are some of the bravest people I have ever met. Their stories are harrowing and have reduced even the toughest of their listeners to tears. That is why it is so vital that these survivors should no longer feel any shame or any blame.
We all welcome the new laws on coercive control, but laws alone cannot change behaviour. The dial is moving forward, but last year, two women a week were killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone. Domestic abuse has devastating consequences on millions of lives. We are in 2020, and still these abused people all over the country cannot feel secure and safe at home.
What can be done? We must bring this taboo subject out in the open and talk about it. We all need to understand what coercive control is, how insidious it is, and how often it leads to repeated violence. At a recent SafeLives event, Suzanne Jacob said “we need to change the conversation from, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ to ‘Why doesn’t he stop?’”. How right she is.
Of course, it is not only men who abuse and it is not only women who are abused. Let’s not forget that this is a complicated issue. And we need to acknowledge that society also plays a part. Maybe it’s too simplistic to say that it fosters a culture of violence and early sexualization. But the society in which we live is the backdrop for our behaviour. Young people don’t set out to become abusers. We need to teach our young men and women what healthy and loving relationships are, and that it is never ‘OK’ to treat anyone with less than respect.
The campaign to end domestic violence needs the voices of men as well as women, challenging the cultural, economic and political context in which we all experience the world. We will all benefit from building a society which will simply not tolerate this heinous crime any longer.
For these reasons and more, it is absolutely fitting that “Domestic Abuse: Everyone's Problem” is the opening event of this year’s Festival. As President of WOW, I must confess that I am delighted you have chosen such an important topic to focus on first. I believe discussing domestic abuse is just one example of WOW’s ability to bring us together to talk about things that matter. Each one of us must play our part and WOW can show us the way.
On this tenth anniversary, as WOW’s proud President, it’s a huge pleasure to be here today. But I’m also here as a woman in her seventies, who (as a somewhat ancient technophobe) is not always familiar with some of the jargon younger people use today, but I do know about ‘hashtags’! And now I am using my very first one: #everyonesproblem
Domestic abuse is everyone’s problem and the solution must be too.
And speaking of solutions, I can’t leave without saying a few words about Jude (who as we all know has a solution for most things!) Without her vision, creativity and boundless energy WOW festivals simply would not exist. She has the audacity and determination to bring together all the right people to make it happen. Typically, she has praised the women and girls taking part in this festival as ‘fearless, inspirational, dogged, hilarious, modest...’ Can I suggest, Jude, that these words could also describe you...?
Thank you, Jude, and thank you all for making the WOW Festival the glorious success it is today.
And don’t forget: #everyonesproblem