If you want to create awkward silence in a crowded room, there’s no better way than to bring up domestic violence — bonus points if it’s your own survival story. Most people are afraid to talk about it. They avoid it as if ignoring it could magically make the victims and perpetrators disappear.
In an effort to raise awareness about domestic violence across Europe, the first two weeks of December have been designated to raise awareness against Domestic Violence. This time of the year is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of these issues, share resources, and most importantly, support survivors.
Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime. Yet it is a topic that makes many uncomfortable.
Since the beginning of time, domestic violence has been considered a private family issue that is not to be discussed or even acknowledged. It’s not uncommon for victims to not be taken seriously when they do come forward with domestic abuse accusations, which leads to abusers avoiding consequences. Women who suffer domestic abuse end up with extremely low self-worth and self-esteem and this makes it hard for them to leave a bad situation.
Self Esteem workshop
Over the past few months, I have been Collaborating with Stacey from My melts and my remedy in a project called Time with Belle and Stace. Last September Stacey Abela and I held a self-esteem workshop during the final conference of the weight matters EU funded project. This was extremely well received and someone suggested that women living in shelters might benefit from our workshops. That is when we decided to get in touch with Dar Merhba Bik. Following several meetings with Elaine Pavia who runs Dar Merhba Bik we found a suitable date. We got in touch with Pupa Milano director Stephanie Zammit who also agreed to sponsor the workshop for us. We chose to hold the workshop on the 5th of December as part of the 16 days of activism against gender-based and domestic violence.
The workshop was split into 3 parts. We started with an ice breaker and introductory part where we got to know each other; sharing our life stories. Which saw us laughing and crying together. We moved on to several exercises tackling self-image and self-worth. This saw an improvement in the morale of the room. Robyn Pratt (SuperYou Coach) contributed to the workshop with gratitude exercises. The ladies were then given a treat by Pupa Milano makeup artist Alison Agius – she not only applied the ladies makeup but also explained to them how to apply basic makeup on themselves and gave them free makeup to use for the upcoming Christmas season.
We ended the session with photos for all the ladies which I will print and bring to the women as a Christmas gift. It was an amazing experience for us as it helped us realise how much we need to talk about these important topics.
Domestic and Sexual Abuse is still taboo
In late 2017, the #MeToo movement catalyzed a chain reaction of women speaking up about sexual assault and harassment. This started when actress Alyssa Milano shared accusations of sexual assault and harassment against producer Harvey Weinstein. As other Hollywood stars began to come forward with similar stories, #MeToo went viral. There were over 1.7 million tweets included the hashtag “#MeToo,” from 85 countries.
The #MeToo movement has given many a chance to be heard and has made some progress in changing the way people think and talk about sexual violence; however, despite overlaps in the topic, survivors who shared stories of domestic abuse via the hashtag did not have the same impact. While the focus of #MeToo has been on sexual violence, specifically sexual harassment, domestic violence is more common than sexual violence but is discussed much less. We tend to sweep it under the carpet and feel uncomfortable discussing these topics.
How You Can Make a Difference Before, During, and After Domestic Violence Awareness Month
If you know or suspect that someone is a victim of domestic violence, you might feel clueless about the best way to help. But don’t let the fear of saying the wrong thing prevent you from reaching out. And, if you don’t have any personal reasons to help, don’t think you have to sit on the sideline.
The world for many domestic abuse victims can be lonely, isolated, and filled with fear. Knowing there are people out there willing to help them can provide tremendous relief.
Identifying signals of abuse can sometimes be difficult but here are a few telltale signs that something is wrong:
- Nearly every case of domestic violence involves some case of financial abuse and control. (Financial abuse involves controlling a victim’s ability to work and earn money. They also may have their own money restricted or stolen by the abuser. When they do have money, they often have to account for every penny they spend.)
- The partner bullies and threatens the victim. (He might accuse the wife of having affairs, gets jealous when the wife puts on makeup or talks to other people. Plays the victim himself sometimes. Threatens the victim with physical harm)
- Emotional signs of abuse include low self-esteem, feels fearful, becomes anxious, loses appetite, does not sleep well, stops socialising, feels depressed, attempts to self-harm.
- Physical signs of abuse include bruises, sprained wrists, red marks, swollen lips and eyes, wearing more make up, wearing sunglasses all the time.
- Behavioural changes: Cancels appointments last minute; is reserved and distant; becomes private and reserved; begins isolating and cutting out friends and family.
If you notice any of these in anyone close to you do not be afraid to speak up. You could save a life.
Victims of domestic violence are often blamed and intimidated.
It’s not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to stay silent about the abuse for several reasons:
- They may still be in a relationship with an abuser
- They may have to co-parent with an abuser
- They may fear backlash, judgment or not being believed
As a result, victims are often blamed for staying. Many people might say – “why didn’t she just leave?”
Let’s put leaving a domestic abuse situation in the context of being a prisoner of war. The practicality is that sometimes you can’t leave. Victims are afraid their abusers are going to harm or even kill them if they walk out the door, or they’re afraid their abusers are going to take their kids, close all the bank accounts, or find them later and shoot them, or that they love their abusers and just want the abuse to stop. There is a lack of understanding and a lack of empathy for victims of domestic violence and it needs to be addressed.
Even in cases of femicide, many times the victim is blamed. I have heard many times in cases of women being killed. Why did she marry him in the first place? What did she do? Did she cheat on him? This mentality leads to victim blaming and makes it hard for people in this situation to leave.
Many times abusers are narcissists they know how to manipulate everyone around them and find a weaker prey and make her their victim. Because domestic violence is so insidious and based on a pattern of power and control, unless there is an understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence, it is sometimes difficult to identify patterns and signs of domestic violence.
Why is it difficult for women to leave abusive situations?
Giving someone the label of “abuser” can be scarier than the abuse. It’s holding them accountable for all of the animosity that comes with the title. It’s recognizing yourself as the victim. It’s drawing the line.
People who haven’t lived through this kind of trauma will always pose the question, “Why didn’t she just leave?” It’s not that easy — if it was, she would.
It’s not like a typical break-up. She’s been taught that she’s powerless; she thinks she has no rights. He’s threatened her, hurt her, and degraded her. She’s been conditioned to believe that her feelings and experiences have no value. She might be in denial that any abuse occurred at all.
She could be financially dependent. If she leaves, she might not have a place to live, she might lose her job or custody of her children. It might go against her religious values. Her friends and family might be upset and not believe her.
She loves him. She’s attached to him, she might have kids with him, perhaps even trauma-bonded to him. She knows that he does nice things for her. She knows that he hurts her in more ways than one. But she also knows that the abuse will worsen.
She must weigh the consequences of either choice. If she chooses to stay, those on the outside cannot hold it against her. If she chooses to leave, then she must do so in the safest way possible. It must be a surprise and until she does so, he cannot know she has any intention of leaving.
Choosing to leave an abusive partner is arguably the most life-changing and empowering decisions a woman can make. Finally, she chooses herself.
When leaving an abusive partner, safety is of the highest concern. The abuser will do everything in his power to keep her from leaving, from emotional and psychological manipulation to physical harm. It is absolutely vital that she stands her ground. The abuse will only be worse if she backs down.
No matter what she feels in the moment, her life will be better without him in it. It’s going to feel so backwards at first, but she’s making the right choice.
There are multiple support systems, in place to help ease the transition. There are so many resources available. All she needs to do is ask for help, which is sometimes the hardest step. In the image below you can see links to all numbers that can be helpful if you know anyone going through an abusive situation.
A big thanks go to Elaine Pavia from Dar Merhba Bik, Pupa Milano who sponsored the event, Sasha Farrugia and Katya Unah from the Commission on Gender-Based Violence & Domestic Violence and Simone Cini the commissioner for domestic abuse for their support in holding this workshop.