I am visiting a friend who lives in Belgium this weekend, for a much-needed getaway. Her city, Lier, is so pretty, even in the rain.
Tag Archives: escape
When I popped on to update my freelance blog and I realised I’ve only posted on this one 3 times this year. So that’s a bit rubbish. But, having persuaded my brother to cat- and house-sit with bribes of use of car and free petrol, I have escaped to Vilnius for some inspiration and am currently meeting my hostel-mates who are 3 guys doing what sounds like danger tourism to Minsk and South Ossetia in Georgia (am a little bit jealous), and a Ukranian guy called Igor who’s purposely avoiding Belarus on his way home because he doesn’t want any border trouble.
I’ve been for a wander round Vilnius already, and may I tell you it’s the very essence of Christmas. There is a huge nativity scene complete with lifesize model camels. There are floodlit churches, a Santa Conference (I’m none the wiser either), cracking yet tasteful Christmas lights a Christmas train (which the kids LOVE) and a properly impressive Christmas Tree in the Cathedral Square.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I’m going to Lithuania, and the simple answer is, I don’t really know. It’s partly the fact that I want to go away over the new year period, partly because I need a break and the most convenient flights happened to be going here, partly that I seem drawn to obscure off-the-beaten-track countries, partly for the history here and partly for the fascination of being in the midst of another culture, especially one which spearheaded a major rebellion (from the USSR) and who decides to build a statue of Frank Zappa just for the hell of it. So yeah…
The weather here is nowhere near as cold as it has been – I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and it’s been -14 to -20, but it’s warmed up to about 4 or 5 degrees and I’m feeling a bit overdressed in my layers of leggings & t-shirts & jumpers. But it’s still a bit grey and dismal, and the architecture round the airport is certainly less than inspiring. There’s a lot of grey concrete, and what looks like a communist era watchtower, which made me think of one of my friends, incredulous that I would want to “go and visit communism, cos it’s just depressing”. Well I find history fascinating so I’m still going to keep exploring!
The first thing I saw when we broke through the clouds before landing were inexplicably leafless pine forests covered in snow. Eerie, like a wolf-infested scene from a Joan Aiken novel. The old town is calm and cosy with a warm, small town atmosphere. The hostel is cosy and homely and the weather is mild, and this is the sight that greets me every time I leave the hostel:
. So far from being a communist stronghold, this pioneer country of USSR rebellion is one I’m looking forward to exploring more in the daylight!
Last time I posted it was about the joys of the fortnight till my career break (yay by the way!). This time I’m saddened to say, it’s because Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality Theresa May (you read that second bit of her job title didn’t you? Just checking..) has announced that she’s going to scrap the planned pilots of Domestic Violence Protection Orders, that would allow authorities to remove violent partners from their homes for 2 weeks, to allow the oppressed partner, and often children, time to seek help and safety. There is research to support the use of these orders, which have been trialled in Austria and Switzerland. But apparently now it’s going to cost too much.
A lot of people have commented, quite rightly, that this is a particularly short sighted move, and I’m not going to repeat what I hope is obvious. The Independent’s article explains the significance of this announcement very nicely and is worth a read. I mean everyone knows domestic violence (DV) (or domestic abuse (DA) as it’s more all-encompassingly known), is bad. Most people know that provision for victims is variable, and that innocent people die because of it (2 women each week in fact). 1 in 4 women will experience DA in their lifetime. This means you probably know someone who has. If you didn’t know this then DA charities Refuge and Women’s Aid have some great resources, for kids as well as adults. Go broaden your horizons.
So Wednesday’s announcement does rather go against the new government’s flagship wholesome family ethos and caring sharing big society policies. Why’s that then? Let’s see:
- DA destroys family relationships and reduces self esteem for the victim and any kids involved. This costs money in terms of schooling, benefits, and healthcare.
- Providing support to victims to allow them to escape gives them a future and for kids can turn poor behaviour and performance at home and at school around; for mums it can help them find better work.
- It’s really, really hard to leave an abusive partner on your own, with him (or sometimes her) watching your every move. 2 weeks is a small but valuable amount of time to summon up the courage and make a plan. Without the 2 week period, fewer people will break out of the social cycle of abuse.
DA deniers (like holocaust or climate change deniers) say that nothing’s proven, you can’t victimise the “accused” by evicting him from his home when nothing’s been proven. It is a line abusers will use themselves. “How unjust, I’m the real victim!” they will say. Well, I say this:
- If a partner has sufficient reason to convince a senior police officer trained in DA matters, that this order is necessary, then it probably is.
- If the allegations do turn out to be false then there is clearly something seriously wrong with the relationship regardless, and maybe 2 weeks breathing space won’t be such a bad thing and someone might even suggest therapy or an amicable (ish) break up.
- If we, as a society, continue to pussyfoot around when it comes to domestic abuse, then more women will continue to have their lives shattered, or in worst cases die, at the hands of men they once trusted but are now controlled by, and more children will grow up with mental health issues, not realising their full potential, and with a distorted perception of society (that it’s ok for women to be victims and it’s normal for men to thrown their weight around). The cycle will continue. And yes, this will cost us money as a society in terms of welfare, and as country in terms of productivity.
It’s really really hard to recognise domestic abuse, even when you’re experiencing it, and even harder to know what to do about it and follow that through. I can only assume Ms May hasn’t really done her research. It’s incredibly hard to ask for help if DA is happening to you – it’s a subtle process, that involves persuasion, manipulation and control, through emotional blackmail, increasing levels of ridicule, humiliation, threats, and steady blurring of boundaries. They will use your weaknesses to strengthen their control over you. Who doesn’t have a weakness? Ooh, and did I mention that being caring, concerned and trusting are all “weaknesses of character” to be taken advantage of if you are an abuser? (I wanted to put “disrespectful arsehole” there instead but I’m too nice).
Unless you know the signs to look out for, and if the person doing this to you never initially behaved like this, spent the early days gaining your trust, telling you how much you meant to them, then drops these changes in gradually, it’s easy to excuse these “one-offs”. Then when it’s too late and they’re playing with your mind, interrogating you, and knocking you black and blue, it’s easy to feel incredibly ashamed and stupid and like a failure that you didn’t realise sooner and walk away. So you stay. Because your confidence is gone, the only reality you know is the one he tells you, you are convinced your friends will laugh at you for being stupid enough to be with him, or that they will say that it can’t be that bad and you should go back to him. You no longer trust your own mind.
If you’re not suffering or haven’t ever suffered domestic abuse then you’ll be reading this and thinking I’m insane. Hell, I’m reading this and thinking I’m insane. Of course you’d never stay with someone who yelled at you constantly and stopped you doing things by force! But it’s not that straightforward. It doesn’t happen overnight. If he gets wind you’re onto him he’ll stop and lay on the love, and buy you gifts, and tell you how much he needs you, and how much he’s changed, until he thinks you’re placated. Then he’ll start again and see how far he can push you. This is the reality. This is the cycle. This is how abusers operate, what they rely on. It’s the barrier I had to get through to get my ex-partner out of my life. It’s what people won’t talk about because they don’t want to interfere, it’s what people who haven’t been through it don’t quite grasp, but it’s what we need to make everyone in society aware of, so that we all recognise it, so we can all help a friend, relative, a stranger, or even ourselves out of a situation that will at best destroy our compassion, spirit and soul, and at worst leave us dead at the hands of someone we trusted.
2 weeks breathing space is nothing to the abuser. It can be everything to someone who desperately needs to feel sane enough to escape a destructive relationship.
Some useful links:
Freephone 24 hour hour domestic abuse helpline, run jointly by Refuge and Womens Aid: 0808 2000 247
Refuge petition to ensure everyone in the UK can access DA services (currently a third of local authorities have no specialist support)
How you can help: tons of resources on local and national work can be found on the Womens Aid & Refuge Homepages. And on a basic level, the ACT campaign is all you really need to do, the rest will follow: A dmit abuse is happening, C all it abuse and T alk to someone.