Are you wearing the right lenses?

Politics and electoral campaigning is all about us making a judgment about a person. Are they a good person? A good ambassador for the country? A good leader? A good politician? Someone with good policies? When I am considering who to give my vote to in a general election, I will make my judgements by looking at them through particular lenses: politics, leadership and character for example. These are the lenses appropriate for the job I am looking to them to do. By comparison, if I were to vote for someone to win the XFactor, I would be looking at them through the lenses of talent and of my own musical preferences. I don’t need to know their stance on the EU, carbon emissions or tuition fees to judge their ability produce a good album, so I wouldn’t need to look at them through my political lens-it wouldn’t be appropriate or fair.

During the recent election campaign, all party leaders were viewed and judged through the appropriate lenses outlined above. Apart from Theresa May, who was also judged through an additional lens- her gender, making her fight even harder than her male counterparts. Don’t believe me? Here are four pieces of evidence:

Exhibit A: ‘Legs-it’

A corker of a piece of sexist broadcasting from the Daily Mail published a picture of May and Sturgeon at the Brexit talks with the headline “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it?!” with the sub heading: “Oh so frosty! Secrets of Nicola and PM’s talk-in”. This not only reduced two of the most powerful people in the country to nothing more than sexualized objects, but likened their politically significant talks to a scene out of The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills or a teenage sleep over.

This piece used Theresa May’s gender to comment on, undermine and belittle both her position and her work. It seems the Daily Mail cannot allow a woman to look like a credible leader or professional.

Exhibit B: Her well documented fashion choices.

On the day she announced the general election, the Telegraph ran a piece about the dress she was wearing, suggesting that it was her new ‘lucky dress’. Apparently the fact that she was wearing a new dress meant that she had to be about to make a big announcement, and of course a woman would need to gain confidence from their clothing, rather than their brains. May herself has said ‘You can be clever and like clothes. You can have a career and like clothes’. We don’t see men needing to let us all know that you can be clever and have a career and like football/beer/other stereotypical male pastime.

Yes, Corbyn’s outfits have received attention, but because he was being scruffy, and through the lens of politics, it didn’t make him look like a serious political candidate. Apart from this, there has been no wide-spread media coverage of another candidate’s outfits.

Exhibit C: Theresa May carrying the weight of ‘Women in Politics’.

This headline from the Independent saying ‘Theresa May’s incompetence has set women in politics back decades’ is, in my view completely unfair. Despite the fact that time after time we’ve had male leaders who have disappointed us, they have never been held accountable for the public’s opinion of their entire gender. They have never carried the weight of every other male’s credibility in politics. We’re never led to assume that every male politician has a sex-scandal in their closet just because a (relatively high) number of others have.

Additionally, this statement implies that every future female candidate will be judged based on the flaws of the women who have come before them. They will be starting in the red whilst their male counterparts start in the black.

Exhibit D: She has had to justify why she doesn’t have children.

Time and time again, May has been asked to discuss why she doesn’t have children. Instead of being able to discuss matters of government, she has had a painful part of her personal life probed. She has repeatedly been asked to justify the fact that she hasn’t had children through circumstance rather than choice-because we would deeply mistrust a woman who chose not to have children. She has been asked if she were a mum, would that make her a better/worse Prime Minister. Female candidates are consistently having to publicly address the way they balance home and work in a way that men never do.

 

We don’t judge male politicians through the lens of gender. We don’t look at Corbyn, Farron, or Farage and judge them as males – we simply judge them as politicians and human beings. Think what you like about Theresa May’s policies, her actions as Prime Minister or even her personality. But don’t judge her as a politician or Prime Minister through the lens of her gender – it’s not appropriate and it’s not fair.

Wolves in Sheep’s clothing.

It’s fairly old news that certain genres of music are full of lyrics that are quite openly and obviously misogynistic, demeaning and violent towards women. I like to think that I’m pretty switched onto this and sensor my music accordingly. I went to a Maroon 5 concert a couple of years ago and was the one person sat down with my arms crossed whilst Robin Thicke supported them with his gem of a song ‘Blurred Lines’. I avoid artists like Eminem, Snoop Dog, Rhianna and the plethora of artists that we all know are less than on point when it comes to gender and sexual ethics.

But whilst I’ve been sat up on my high horse, listening to my power ballads, love songs and sugary pop music, I haven’t been able to shake the niggling thought that this type of music might not be much better. Sure, no one is calling anyone a you-know-what or explicitly celebrating sexual assault, but there is a fine line between romantic and creepy. And the danger is that some alarming attitudes and beliefs hidden in these romantic/lovey dovey/sugary lyrics are just that – hidden. We find ourselves singing along, letting our attitudes be shaped by them without even noticing. They are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, luring you in with their sweet, fluffy exterior before they bite.

Here are a few examples:

-‘Every Breath You Take’, Sting

At first glance, this song could be seen as a wildly romantic statement of commitment However the entire song’s lyrics (sampled below), are uncomfortably reminiscent of threats/experiences that our clients endure at the hands of their perpetrators.

Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take / I’ll be watching you / Every single day / Every word you say / Every game you play / Every night you stay / I’ll be watching you / Oh can’t you see / You belong to me

-‘She Will Be Loved’, Maroon 5.

I happily sang along with this song after dutifully rejecting Robin Thicke. But upon closer inspection this song seems to be an instruction manual of how to take advantage of vulnerable 18 year-old girls. He drives for miles and miles to wind up at her door– how sweet –because ‘I’ve had you so many times, but somehow I want more’. Oh, not so sweet. And if she’s not up for it, he’ll just wait on her corner, even in the pouring rain, presumably until she relents. Also, the advice to all men out there is to look out for girls with a ‘broken smile and ask her if she wants to stay a while’.

-‘You’re Having My Baby’, Paul Anka.

Confession: I actually know this song from the Glee sound track, where it was sung by a 16 year old guy, sweetly vowing to stand by the girl he’d got pregnant. But the song promotes an entirely possessive view point. The woman in question is having HIS baby, as a way of proving her love to Him. Pregnancy is a common tool for an abuser. To have a pregnant victim can mean that their perceived dependency, obligation and loss of self. This lyric is dangerous as it fuels the notion that impregnating women is a man’s stamp of ownership and a way of proving loyalty.

-‘Saving All My Love For You’, Whitney Houston

This is seen as one of the greatest love songs of all time. But it’s actually about a woman having an affair as a married man. The man strings poor Whitney along, promising her more than he is ever going to deliver, just so that he can have his cake and eat it too. But even more dangerous is that this experience is romanticised by Whitney, making it seem ok to a) have an affair with someone else’s spouse and b) settle for the tid-bits of a mans affection as and when he wants to give it.

-‘I’ll Keep Waiting’, S Club 7.

Even squeaky clean S Club 7, whose primary market was school children have some lyrical skeletons in their closet. In this song, Bradley ‘raps’ ‘Hey girl, it’s just a matter of time, before you come on home and I get what’s mine / Damn it girl, why can’t you see, it’s not over for you and me’. The girl in question is clearly stupid, one day she will see the light, realise that she literally belongs to Bradley, that the choice isn’t hers to make and will return him, giving him what is rightfully his.

– ‘Father Figure’, George Michael

The lyrics of the chorus could lead you to believe that this is a simply lovely song about adoption: Greet me with the eyes of a child / I will be your father figure/ Put your tiny hand in mine / I will be your preacher teacher…I’m gonna love you till the end of time.

But confusion comes when George also invites them to be bold, warm and naked with him, to be his lover. This song is either a blantant piece of evidence of child abuse (although ironically he’s ‘had enough of crime’), or an attempt to significantly un-balance the power dynamic in the relationship. The subject is painted as inexperienced, vulnerable to his influence and in need of his protection. 

– ‘Black Heart’, Stooche.

This one hit the charts in 2013 and with it’s catchy melody was a popular choice on the radio. But the lyrics of the chorus are particularly alarming: ‘Daddy I’ve fallen for a monster / Somehow he’s scaring me to death / He’s big and he’s bad / I love him like mad / Momma, he’s the best I ever had / Daddy I’ve fallen for a monster / He got a black heart.

The song doesn’t even seem to suggest that any of this is a bad thing, or a reason to get out of the relationship asap. Instead it glamourizes and normalises the behaviour of a monster, who is scaring his partner to death. Great.

 

I don’t want to be a party pooper. I don’t want you to stop enjoying the music you enjoy and limiting yourself to instrumental music and nursery rhymes. I’m sure you could argue that you that many of these lyrics weren’t intended in the way I have interpreted them. You’re probably right. But I just want to encourage us to start thinking about the lyrics we are unconsciously singing, to once in a while look at them through the lens of unhealthy relationships and gender inequality and consider whether there is a wolf hiding underneath the sheepskin. We need to question the things we are singing/listening to and the way it then makes us view, think and feel about relationships. Because actually I don’t want someone watching every move, step and breath that I take and I certainly don’t want someone with a black heart who scares me to death!

If you’ve discovered some wolves in sheeps clothing, then let us know in the comments!


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Some actual good news.

Amidst the torrent of bad, unsettling, depressing and even ‘fake’ news there has been a glimmer of light: in April a bill was passed to timetable the government to ratify (make official) the Istanbul Convention – the gold standard in legislation for the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence.

This significant victory in the battle to secure the protection of women and girls was some of the best news we’ve had in a while!

IC Change, group who have been leading the campaign have released this statement to explain why this is good news:

The bill’s successful passage through the Commons and Lords marks one of the greatest political achievements for the safety of women in history. The government must now report on its progress to bring other areas of the law in line with the terms of the Istanbul Convention.

 

A Bill to timetable the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the gold standard in legislation against all forms of gender-based violence including so-called “honour crimes” and FGM, has successfully passed its third reading at the House of Lords. This means it will soon be passed into law and require the Government to provide progress reports on the implementation of the Istanbul Convention.

 

Rachel Nye, co-director of IC Change, said: “We are thrilled at the success of the Bill at third reading. It is a testament to the hard work of Dr Eilidh Whiteford and the team of cross party MPs who have supported it along the way. We look forward to this Bill becoming law and seeing progress towards the end goal – the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

 

“We do this campaigning in our spare time. We do it because we are acutely aware of the impact violence against women has on our society. Many excellent services exist to support women and to tackle the root causes of these problems, but without a government-led, joined up approach, we are not achieving our full potential and women remain at risk.”

 

Cat*, a survivor who campaigns with IC Change, emphasised just how much this news means to British women: “Having witnessed the impact of abuse on my mother, and finding out my sister endured an abusive relationship I realised that these things don’t happen in isolation. I was also raped, and I experienced everyday sexism and harassment on an almost daily basis from the age of 12. To change this, we need to an approach which joins up the dots and tackles the root causes of abuse.”

 

On 16th December 2016 and again on 24th February, 135 MPs from across all parties voted* in favour of the bill in the House of Commons. This legislation is needed because, on average, two women in England and Wales are killed every week by a current or former male partner and at least one in five women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.[1]

 

The UK Government signed a commitment to seeing it through almost five years ago, but the government have so far failed to honour their promise.

 

SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP originally put forward the bill, preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (ratification of Convention) 2016-17.

 

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, who brought forward the Bill, said: “I brought forward this Bill because the Istanbul Convention has the potential to change the lives of women in my own constituency of Banff and Buchan, across the whole of the UK and also globally. The Convention is the gold standard for legislation to prevent and combat violence against women and girls, and domestic violence. 
”Since I started the process of bringing forward this Bill in June 2016, the Government have moved quite significantly – with the PM committing to overseeing new legislation on domestic violence. This could be, if the Government want it to be, the legislative vehicle to bring the UK into full compliance with the convention, paving the way for ratification.
”I’m very pleased to have been able to steer through legislation, but it’s only the beginning. Now we’ll be holding the Government to account on their report and timetable for ratification. I won’t stop this work until the UK ratifies the Istanbul Convention.”

 

This Bill also had backing from women’s organisations across the country including all federations of Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis, and Southall Black Sisters”.

For more information visit http://icchange.co.uk/pmb/


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Look beyond the violence: coercive control

A couple of week ago I was able to experience a lecture by Evan Stark, author of ‘Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life’. I say “experience” as oppose to listened to, because a lecture by Evan Stark is a performance, which touches the part of your brain where inspiration lives. Everything Evan said got me thinking, “Yes! That’s exactly right!” and left me wanting to work even harder for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I want to share some of those “light bulb” moments with you, so you may also feel inspired to help make a difference and force some change for the better.

Evan asked us to “look beyond the violence”. He explained that in our law system, crimes are punished based upon their seriousness. In terms of violence, the level of harm to the victim determines the level of punishment. He told us that typically, day-to-day domestic abuse incidents do not result in criminal offences that are punishable at a very high level. The persistent and unrelenting day-to-day assaults upon a woman, in her own home, dished out by the person who she should be able to trust, do not reach a level of seriousness which would constitute a heavy prison sentence, unless they are recognised in context. Unless they are recognised as a “course of conduct,” intended to erode any sense of self of the victim, intended to imprison the victim within the relationship, intended to remove any liberties that the rest of society are able to enjoy, and ultimately, intended to coercively control every single aspect of the victim’s life.

This is coercive control and coercive control is now a criminal offence.

Coercive control is the reality of day-to-day life for many women.

Imagine not having a choice about any aspect of your life: what to wear, what to eat, what time to get up, what time to go to bed. Imagine waking every-day, making a promise to yourself that you will do whatever is needed to stay out of the firing line of your husband/partner. Imagine then finding out that the rules of the game have changed, and that you don’t know what to do to stay out of his firing line because he has moved the goal posts. Everything you do is wrong.

Imagine that you are also trying to protect your children from experiencing this abuse – and it’s not enough to say they are ‘witnessing’ the abuse – they live within this environment, so they too are experiencing the abuse that their mother is subjected to– even if they are not physically harmed or directly targeted.

Imagine that you have professionals telling you that you are failing to protect your children by staying in this relationship, that you are not putting their needs before your own because you are choosing to stay with your abuser. They tell you that if you were a good mother you would be going into a refuge, away from your home, from your friends (if you have any left – chances are your abuser has worked his magic and got rid of them already), away from your community and the only sense of control you feel you have over your life.

Imagine, that you do manage to end the relationship, only to be told by the family courts that your husband has rights of contact with your children, and if you don’t uphold the court order for contact you will be punished. They say in court that you are the problem, he is only violent to you, so if you aren’t there the children will be fine. They take into account the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder you have been left with following the years of beatings and mind games and they wonder if the children might be better off with their dad, who has a good job and no mental health problems….

This is the reality for the women SATEDA supports.

This is not about violence alone, this is about the systematic erosion of a person’s sense of self. This is “intimate terrorism,” a human rights crime of liberty, which every single agency, and every single professional who works with victims of abuse and their families needs to “get”. Whether your focus is the children, the crime, the housing situation, the mother, the family law, YOU have a duty to understand the complexities and the nuances of what women who are coercively controlled are living with. Otherwise the victim will be re-victimised by the system that is meant to be in place to support her.

Spare four minutes and watch Evan Stark explain this himself.

Please share this with others.

Take care of yourself and each other

Liza

CEO, SATEDA

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If you would like further training to help you understand the complexities of coercive control and domestic abuse, then get in touch with SATEDA by emailing admin@sateda.org

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“Why doesn’t she just leave?”

Before working for SATEDA this would have been my response to hearing the stories of many victims of domestic abuse. Maybe you’ve thought exactly the same thing? In most other circumstances, leaving a situation where someone else is making your life a misery is a no-brainer. But it’s not quite that simple where domestic abuse is concerned. Here are a few reasons why victims can’t always ‘just leave’ and some suggestions of how you can help:

Hope for change:A victim can easily hope that change is just around the corner. They have probably invested a lot in the relationship and they naturally really want it to work out. They also probably love their abuser and the occasional moments when they are show affection can be enough to fuel their hope through the next acts of abuse. How to help: Be honest with the victim if you don’t think there is any hope for change. Suggest that the abuse isn’t because of stress at work/financial problems/health concerns/drink problem but because of the abuser’s belief system , which isn’t going to change.

 Nowhere to go: Often victims of abuse will have had access to money taken from them so they cannot pay for anywhere else to stay. They might have become socially isolated so the pool of people they could stay with is fairly small, particularly if they don’t want to be found by their abuser. Refuge spaces could be anywhere in the country and whilst it would remove you from the abusive situation it also removes you from lots of positive things such as support networks, jobs and studies. How to help: Help the victim gather information on their options of where they could go and what help they could access should they decide to leave. The local council will have team of housing officers who can help.

 Leaving can be dangerous. Often abuse escalates once the victim leaves. Abusers want control over their victims and leaving is an act that challenges that control and so the abuse can get worse in order to regain power. How to help: Encourage the victim to work with a specialist support agency to plan a safe exit from the relationship. SATEDA can help if you live in Swale.

 Lack of self-confidence. Abuse works by destroying the confidence and self esteem of the victim. It is quite likely that a victim doesn’t think that they are strong enough to leave or that they will be able to cope without the ‘protection’ or ‘help’ of their abuser. They may also have been made to believe that no one else could ever find them attractive or want to be in a relationship with them, and so staying in an abusive relationship seems better than facing a lifetime alone. How to help: Be encouraging and do what you can to build their confidence.

 What about the children? Victims will be made to feel that if they leave, it will be their fault that their children will not have two parents living under the same roof. They will feel guilty about breaking up a ‘happy home’ and may also fear the stigma attached to being a divorcee/single parent family, for which they will be blamed. How to help: Remind the victim that it is not their actions that are causing family breakdown but the actions of the abuser. The victim wouldn’t need to leave if their partner wasn’t abusive. Remind them that leaving will protect their children from both witnessing and experiencing abuse themselves.

Believes it’s normal. If a victim has only ever been in a relationship with their abuser, or seen other abusive relationships, they may just think that it’s normal and what all relationships are like. How to help: Show the victim examples of positive relationships.

Manipulation. A key feature of domestic abuse is emotional manipulation and coercion. The victim’s way of thinking and viewing their situation may have become so influenced by their abuser that they won’t consider thinking about leaving as an option or something that they need to do. Read Crystal’s story about this hereHow to help: Try and consistently but gently present truth to the victim, such as why things aren’t all their fault or why they didn’t deserve that piece of abuse, why they deserve better etc.

There are many more reasons why a victim doesn’t ‘just leave’ the relationship and each situation is very complex. HOWEVER, it is important to remind victims that leaving an abusive relationship and building a life free from abuse IS possible for them and a life of freedom is a human right. It is also important that the victim is empowered to do this in their own timing and isn’t pressured or rushed into it. In the mean time, helping the person stay safe whilst they remain in the relationship is important. SATEDA are of course here to help anyone in Swale who needs help to stay safe and become free from abuse. Find out how we can help here. For those further afield, here is where you can find out about domestic abuse services in Kent, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

For more suggestions on how you can support someone who is a victim of domestic abuse, you can read our previous blog post. You can also read about more barriers to leaving on the Refuge website here.

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Thank you.

Thank you!

A collection of Thank Yous to all the wonderful people who have fundraised for us:

THANK YOU to all of you who sponsored our Abseil!

On a blustery June Sunday a number of SATEDA team members and supporters abseiled down a block of flats to raise some valuable cash for the charity. Thanks to them and you we raised a whopping £1645!! Which is 164% of our target! THANK YOU!

Thank you Sittingbourne Community College!

Massive thank you to  students from Sittingbourne Community College who organised and put on a music show in order to raise money for SATEDA. They raised a whopping £142.42 and we are very very grateful-thank you so much!

SCC

Thank You Asda!

Thank you very much to the lovely people of Sittingbourne Asda who have raised £50 for us as part of their work in the community.  We will use the money towards an event for young people in Swale to raise awareness of healthy relationships.

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Children, domestic violence and the future

Recent political events both at home and oversees have shown us that there are few constants in life. But two things we can rely upon are the passage of time and the ageing process. Peter Pan is a work of fiction – childhood inevitably becomes adulthood and even Donald Trump was a child once. I wonder if his mother, as she gazed lovingly down on Donald the new-born, ever imagined that one day he would be the leader of the free world? If she had, would she have done anything different in her parenting?

The well-known philosopher Whitney Houston has often been heard expressing  her belief that “children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way”. This statement is easily dismissed, either because it scores 10/10 on the cliché-Richter scale, or because Whitney isn’t everyone’s musical cup of tea. But it does make us consider our stance on the nature/nurture debate, particularly when it comes to domestic abuse.

Is a child’s future determined solely on their DNA or do their experiences and environment also impact on the adult they will become? The jury’s still out from an academic point of view, but our experience has shown us that it’s a bit of both and that nurture has just as much, if not more, of an influence than nature on who a child becomes.

Then NSPCC say that 1 in 5 children are exposed to some form of domestic abuse and that there currently130,000 children living in households with high risk domestic abuse. A report by Safe Lives in 2014 (In Plain Sight) found that exposure to domestic abuse causes serious physical and psychological harm to children. Of the children involved in the study 52% had behavioural problems, 60% felt responsible for the negative events, 52% had problems with social development and relationships, and 39% had difficulties adjusting at school. In addition, only around half knew how to keep themselves safe (56%) or get help (62%), a quarter (24%) did dangerous or harmful things, around half were often unhappy (46%), worried (52%) and/or angry (43%), and half (55%) found it difficult to sleep.

These statistics are concerning. However, if nurturing has a part to play, then we can counteract the impact of domestic abuse. We want to nurture children and young people so that they grow up as empowered individuals who know the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. We want to nurture children and young people who have been affected by domestic abuse so that any negative impact stops here and doesn’t continue throughout their childhood and into adulthood. We want to see a decline in the number of adult victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse in the future by positively impacting children today.

The things we invest in today will have an impact tomorrow, so why not partner with us and help us to positively impact more children and young people? We run a range of support and preventative programmes , including supporting children who have witnessed domestic abuse at home, supporting young people in abusive relationships and supporting families where children are abusing their parents.

You can partner with us simply by advocating for good support for young people, or by making a donation, fundraising or volunteering to help us reach more people.