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Episode 2: Why Write A Book About Domestic Violence?

We are excited to share our first instalment of Diane’s book, Diane talks about her reasons for writing this important guide.

According to the UN (United Nations), at least one in every three women will most likely have been beaten, coerced and pressured into having sex, or abused in some other way including being raped, at some point in their lives! This is absolutely astounding and adds up to a phenomenal number of women! This is a horrendous world-wide, problem that doesn’t seem to be going away any time fast! Although it is slowly being addressed to a certain extent, it is still a major big deal because it has reached unacceptable and critical proportions! It is still way too common and happening too often in many households, often behind closed doors. There is therefore vast room for improvement in every sense. Society at large must raise awareness and become mindful that it goes on, even in the twenty first century!

Domestic violence has continued to be a growing force that has become stronger until unfortunately it has become an epic disaster. This cannot be taken lightly. Neither should it be thought of as ‘just one of those things, that is accepted by society! No matter what part of the world it is, it will never be right or acceptable! It is criminal and should be treated as such!

Many people unfortunately ‘feel clueless,’ when it comes to knowing how best to help someone who is suffering from domestic violence. They are often plagued with questions about the best way to handle things, how to support the victim, and indeed what to say to them!

Many years ago, when I was in my early thirties, I became involved in an abusive relationship. It was with a young man that I will call Robert. I remember him physically restraining me by holding me down on the ground so that I couldn’t move away from him, even though I desperately wanted to. He was of a big build, and at 6ft 4inches tall he was so much bigger and stronger than me. There was nothing I could do but stay there until he decided to release me. He held me there against my will for what felt like an eternity! I felt totally humiliated, frustrated and helpless. Shockingly, I remained in this relationship for two years! I did not realize that I was worth more than that, or that I deserved any better than he was offering!

I always thought that one day if I did not give up on him, and just loved him enough, that he would change. I was incredibly naïve back then! No matter how much I tried to love him, he kept moving the goal posts and it was never enough, or acceptable to him. He seemed to get a kick out of treating me as if I was just something he found on the bottom of his shoe! The relationship was doomed, hopeless and destined to fail.

Inevitably it disintegrated and thankfully we parted company, before I wasted any more time on him and completely ruined my whole life! The whole experience tore me up inside and ripped my self-confidence to shreds. I was devastated by the failure of the relationship and left nursing a wounded soul. I was however still alive and determined to pick myself up off the ground and start again. I refused to end up as just another ‘statistic!’ Instinctively I knew there was more to life than this, and most definitely life after the abuse of domestic violence! I just needed to be re-educated regarding what a healthy relationship looked like, and I needed to learn fast.

Sometimes when people fall off a horse, they either go lick their wounds, or they get straight back on the horse, more determined than ever to never fall off again. I certainly shocked myself and proved to be the latter.

After a few false starts, the right man eventually turned up and found me! (It was such a refreshing change to not have to go looking for Mr Right)! I know he is the right man because one of the greatest gifts he has given me, is the encouragement and freedom to just be myself. He loves and accepts me for who I am, but still nurtures me in the areas where I do need to change and grow as a person.

On the 24th of August (this year 2019), we would have been married for seventeen amazing years! Our marriage has not always been plain sailing or a walk in the park. However, any married couple will tell you that marriage takes commitment, hard work, and a generous dose of unconditional love and forgiveness simultaneously.

The point is however, that our relationship is essentially healthy at its core, and therefore stands a chance. That means that the love and respect necessary to make it work is present. All parties remain safe and can enjoy the blessing of having that special ‘someone to love.’ There is no fear present of serious repercussions, or damage to anyone’s health! Having experienced relationships from both angles, it is no longer rocket science to me which type is preferable!

This is the reason for this book. I want to say something to every person, (man, woman, or child) going through the hell of domestic violence right now, “YOU CAN BREAK FREE!

Domestic violence is most definitely a life shattering experience however, it does not have to be the thing that defines you, or signals the end of your life, or story!

Other people who have previously been victims, have not had to die without hope in their seemingly impossible situations! Many have not only survived but have used their experience, as launch pads for bigger, better and greater things in life! The great news is that “YOU CAN TOO!” After all, why should you be the one to settle for less than life has to offer? If there is any difference between you and them, it would only be a question of mindset. Theirs told them they could, while perhaps yours is telling you that you cannot!

The fact that others have successfully done it, proves that with strength of mind, anything is possible if you want it badly enough! It is important that you give a voice to the victims of this crime. You can get over the devastation and crushing impact. You do this by talking about it. You must get real, so that you can deal with and end its devastating effect on you.

After my unfortunate experience with an abuser, I got a job in a refuge, working closely with women and children, supporting them as victims of domestic violence. I didn’t go looking for this type of job, but somehow it seemed right that this had become my vocation. Subsequently this was my job for eleven years, until circumstances changed, and I felt it was time to move on. Part of moving on, meant writing this book. I wanted to share what I had learned, with those who have only just begun their journey out of domestic violence, but perhaps don’t feel they have a map.

It has been a very challenging but rewarding career, one that has been a real honour. I consider it to have been a real blessing to have had such an amazing opportunity. The thing I enjoyed the most about the job was supporting every courageous woman, that walked through the refuge door. Being present to be able to witness their progress, along an almost impossible journey, and knowing that some-how I made a difference to them, when they were at their most vulnerable, is an indescribable privilege!

The many women and children I have worked with over the years have proven that indeed, heroes of this life are not always the obvious ones. In fact, often they are the unlikely ones hidden in obscurity. It is to these courageous people that this book is dedicated to. Working with you has taught me so much! I am so proud of all that you have overcome, and I take my hat off to you all!

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.”