I have just heard about the wonderful Dogs Trust Scheme where they are looking for foster carers for the pets of women escaping domestic violence. The idea is that someone looks after the puppies or dogs until the woman is in a position to get on her feet, housed and have her pet back. Excellent.
It got me thinking about domestic violence. I think about the issue a fair amount anyway, believing it to be such a loss to the country on all fronts that women (and to be fair some men) are having their spirits knocked out of them and that all too many go on to be badly injured or to die.
I suppose I first heard about domestic violence from my mum. She was a great story-teller and would tell me how her beloved father would hit her mother regularly. She would also sympathise with his plight - returning from fighting for the English in World War 1 and having his leg shot to bits only to find there was no proper Home Rule for Ireland as promised and a life of poverty and struggles to feed a family. So he drank and would return home and beat Sally Ann my grandmother. I never knew her but she sounds like a strong woman. She would put her children upstairs and tell them not to come down or intervene no matter what they heard. So the children remained safe physically but doubtless left home with emotional scars that I believe lasted a lifetime.
Domestic violence was not mentioned at either primary or secondary school in lessons as I remember. Nor do I remember despite my Criminal Law studies it coming up at university either in my studies or in conversations with peers. The great silence we maintain which aids the perpetrators so much. The greatest brains in the country were supposedly at my university - with all those brains on the issue, just think what progress we could make but we don't. More money to make, bigger fish to fry, turning a blind eye.
I do remember walking in the playground with a school-friend in primary school and her telling me of an incident of domestic violence. I seem to remember her being embarrassed and me from my stable background being shocked but not knowing what to do with the information presented. Through renewed contact recently, we both remembered that conversation well although even now, I did not say what I meant and alluded to it. A cop-out. We need to talk more openly about the topic as the first step to committing to tackling it.
When I became an advice worker, I saw a client who had been battered by her husband. I was so naive and could not understand why her fingers were bruised. Why would her husband hit her there? I asked my ex-police officer father who explained how she would hold her hands up to try to protect her head and the man would not stop thumping her so her fingers would be in the way and, hence, bruised. I remember that women clearly - skinny in a denim jacket, blonde, shaking, crushed. I hope she got out.
When I left my ex-boyfriend (my Dad made sure I did the leaving even though the bloke had taken on a younger model and planned on moving in with her with a day or two), I needed housing. Dad encouraged me to say my ex had hit me thinking it would put me up the housing list. I would not do it. Domestic violence is far too important an issue to play games with. Also, whilst my ex was bad in many ways, he did not hit me or if he did, I don't remember.
My husband's ex-wife suffered domestic violence at the hands of her second husband. My husband tried to help her on occasion but she stayed put. I don't think she is a very strong character really and perhaps accepts little or rubbish as her lot in life.
Once, when working on peer supported learning for senior managers, a highly-respected professional woman spoke out about suffering domestic violence for many years and still doing so. They say it crosses all classes, professions and backgrounds. Why is that?
I got a big shock when I got my official adoption file when I turned 40 years of age. As I looked at the scribbly handwriting, the word "violent" sprang from the page. So now I have to incorporate that my birth father may have being a bully, an aggressor, a bastard. I am his daughter, I share his genes, who am I?
I am working with my Dad on his family tree. He brought some old papers through yesterday telling me of how a couple of husbands of his aunties had "belted" them. I was surprised how he described how the wider family had disapproved and tried to help them. This would be in the thirties and forties and I was under the impression that domestic violence was accepted as normal back then.
I don't have any conclusions apart from the fact that we should all challenge domestic violence and be vigilant so that we help where we can. This can be professionally or with family and friends.
Grandma stayed with her husband till her dying day as did my Dad's relations
My school-friend's mum went on to remarry
My clients - who knows? Here's hoping.
My husband's ex-wife - not for me to say, not fair
My birth mum left my birth father - inevitably, I am tempted to romanticize and must face facts
What can we do? I don't have the answers but let's do something.
And don't forget to check out the Dogs Trust website and the Refuge website.