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    Life After Domestic Abuse

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    Life After Domestic Abuse

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    Do we ever “get over” our experiences?

    Something odd happened last week. I was sat in a meeting when a vehicle pulled up on the gravel drive outside. I could see it plainly through the window. It was a big, black 4 X 4 Range Rover. It threw me. I lost my train of thought. I forgot what I was saying. When I took a gulp of coffee my hand was trembling slightly. I thought, how strange; this hasn’t happened for years.

    I knew immediately what had caused this reaction. The gut-wrenching sound of tyres on gravel; the ominous black vehicle like a massive bird of prey. This is how I had reacted when my ex-boyfriend pulled up outside my place of work way back in the 1980s. What would he do today? Blast his horn until I was forced outside to talk to him? Throw dog excrement into the reception area? Threaten a colleague? Fire-bomb the building? That was a lot for a teenager to cope with.

    Now that I’ve told you how he behaved at my place of work, you might be able to imagine how he behaved in the relationship – spoiled, selfish, violent, and encouraged by wealthy, entitled parents. But that was a long time ago. Since then I have grown, had a life and a family, become a psychotherapeutic counsellor, and a domestic abuse professional. I can barely picture his face; I don’t look over my shoulder; I’m free. Or am I?

    I considered my fight or flight response to those tyres on the gravel, how the sound transported me back and triggered a vivid flashback. And although no harm was done and I continued my meeting with ease, it certainly caused me to reflect for the first time in years, even resulted in me writing this article. Do we ever truly get over our experiences of domestic abuse or do they intrude on our lives forever?

    There are many positives to getting out of an abusive relationship. It can propel us to live how we want, be what we want, wear what we like, talk to strangers, go to parties, take up opportunities, travel, grow…eat breakfast cereal at 3am if we want. Feel safe.

    Feel safe? Well, maybe not straight away, but eventually, yes. But, although professionals in the field don’t encourage survivors to dwell on it, there are also negatives. Ending a relationship is never easy, let alone when fear and control has played such a big part. After the relationship I felt sad, lonely, damaged and defeated. These feelings morphed into depression and PTSD. For a while I was scared of my own shadow; completely lost. There are few services to help with long term recovery, we are often on our own, rebuilding our lives block by block, day by day. Some of us do better than others; some of us have more support around us than others.

    Now, more than forty years later, I’m reflecting again on what the effects have been. Am I over it? Will I ever get over it? The answer is both, yes and no. I think a more insightful question to ask myself is, would I go back and change things if I could, so I never had to experience domestic abuse at all? And surprisingly, the answer is no. I wish it hadn’t happened, but it did, however, from that misery has come a wealth of positivity.

    I am more intuitive and can sense risk and danger; I am more understanding of what others might be going through. I try to be a manager who understands that employees might be going through some stuff; I’m more compassionate. I have developed firm boundaries and a thick skin – I walk away from red flags, uncertain friendships, bullies, and people who can’t control their aggression. And I’ve turned those early experiences around and had an amazing career working with both victims and perpetrators, as well as training others. My mission has been to help prevent other people going through what I went through. Most of all, those experiences helped shape the person I have become. They are a part of me.

    So, although as survivors, we might need to carry the effects with us and learn to manage them; although something as innocuous as a vehicle pulling up can trigger a stress response forty years later, our experiences also enable us to see the world differently. If we’re lucky, we can carry the positives before us like a beacon, and manage the negatives when we need to. Some of us might need more help to do that, but every survivor is amazing; every survivor is awesome. And we should never forget that.

     

    Charlotte Woodward

    National Training Manager, NCDV

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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.”