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    Domestic Abuse & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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    Domestic Abuse & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


    Brain Trauma and PTSD and understanding the links with Domestic Abuse.

    Did you know that it is thought that almost two thirds of people that have experienced domestic abuse also experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is still a common misconception that PTSD only happens to war veterans or prisoners of war. But in a way, that is exactly what victims and survivors of domestic abuse are! The only difference really is that victims and survivors of domestic abuse are fighting that war in their own homes! To demonstrate this, think about the forms of abuse that would come into your mind if you were asked to describe the potential experience of a prisoner of war. You would probably come up with:

    • Imprisonment
    • Starvation
    • Brainwashing
    • Sleep Deprivation
    • Physical Torture

    Now think about forms of abuse that are used in domestically abusive relationships? Yep, they are the same. And there are many more. Yet, society is always shocked and in uproar about people that have been prisoners of war. Why are they generally not so shocked and in uproar about people that have experienced domestic abuse and violence in their homes?

    Perpetrators of abuse will often hit their victims around the head to make sure there are no visible bruises. It is estimated that 36% of domestic abuse survivors have sustained injuries to the head, neck or face. But is isn’t just physical abuse that can cause PTSD or brain injury. Emotional abuse, coercive control, gaslighting – call it what you will – can and does cause PTSD and brain injury in alarming numbers.

    I have worked with women victims and survivors for 24 years. Some experienced physical abuse, some didn’t. Most experienced coercive control. Some experienced both! But I would estimate a good 85% of the thousands of women I have worked with over the years will have said to me at some point that the emotional abuse, gaslighting and coercive control is worse than physical abuse. That a black eye heals and goes away. What is said to you constantly day in, day out to degrade you and control you, never goes away. Being a survivor of domestic abuse, I would wholeheartedly agree with this.

    As humans we have very little control over the defence mechanisms of our brains. The trauma response of ‘fight/flight/freeze’ leaves little room for rational thought or reasoning. Even if a person manages to escape the abusive relationship, it is thought that it takes around 5 years to ‘become the person they once were’! For some, they are never really that person again. The trauma can linger in the subconscious and cause severe psychological problems that can effect the persons quality of life – even years later.

    So what are the symptoms of PTSD? They can be different for everyone but generally they include:

    • flashbacks, emotional distress, trouble focusing, sweating
    • trembling
    • feeling sick
    • physical reactions to certain tastes, smells and sounds

    As part of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2021, children are now regarded as victims of domestic abuse, whereas before, the effects of children witnessing domestic abuse was sometimes overlooked and not understood. Yet, witnessing domestic abuse in the home can and will result in children being diagnosed with PTSD, which without treatment and support, can last into their adult lives. The effects of this in children differ from those of an adult. This is a huge subject.

    I saw the video below a while back and felt that it perfectly captured and well explained, how victims and survivors of trauma/domestic abuse are effected by traumatic incidents. This applies to adults and children and therefore, I will leave you to watch this video and carry on with a little more explanation on the effects of domestic abuse on children another time.

    Sharon Bryan
    Head Of Partnerships & Development Of Domestic Abuse Services

    YouTube video

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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”