This is what male violence does by @God_loves_women

(Cross-posted from God Loves Women)

Today is my son’s 9th birthday.  He is an amazing child; intelligent, articulate, funny and extremely cute!  I am married to the most extraordinary man, who has selflessly given so much of himself, his gifts, his time and his energy to enable me to fulfil that which I have been called to.  I have an 11 year old daughter who is wonderful; clever, sensitive, funny, kind, beautiful inside and out.  Today should be a day of celebration and for my son and daughter that is what today is.

I have wept most of the morning and the pain inside weighs me down. Most of the time I feel blessed to have such a beautiful life, most of those who know me, know me as I am now; confident, strong, articulate, filled with the spirit of the living God.  Yet, today I weep and am filled with great pain.

Nine years ago today my beautiful son was born 3 months premature weighing only 2lbs 6 oz. He was born premature because a week before his birth my ex-husband raped me.  Nine years ago today at 5.30am in the morning I gave birth to a tiny precious life and immediately he was whisked away to be ventilated, I didn’t get to see or hold him.  In fact the first time I held him was about 3 weeks later.  I was then put on drugs to keep my contractions going for another 4 hours in case anything from the birth was still left inside me.

I saw him briefly before he was transferred to a hospital an hour away. He was in a large plastic box, naked, hooked up to machines, his chest moving mechanically as the ventilator kept him alive.  There was blood on the towelling mattress where they had pierced his skin with intravenous drips.

Later that day I went home to collect my clothes in order to be driven by my dad to stay in the hospital with my precious son. My ex-husband was in the house and took forever to let me in.  2 years previously he had been placed on the sex offenders register after being found guilty of sexually abusing teenage girls.  As I collected my things, I realised there was a teenage girl hiding in the house; her jewellery on the fire place.  Hours after watching me give birth 3 month early, he had invited a fourteen year old girl to the house and abused her.  I couldn’t face calling the Police.  The last time I called them to report my ex-husband’s abuse of teenage girls, the officer who interviewed me said to me, “Don’t you think you should stop allowing him to see teenage girls?”

I can’t remember much of those hospital days. I remember it took a lot to convince my ex-husband to bring my two year old daughter to the hospital.  That in the end, it was less than two weeks after the terrible event of my son’s birth which convinced me to separate from my ex-husband, for the last time.  That I would express milk using an electric pump in a little room, day and night.  That my daughter and I lived in hospital for five months in total.  That I would take her swimming, to the park and to toddler groups, because she would remember being neglected in favour of sitting in a hospital room with a tiny baby on the edge of life, but that my son wouldn’t remember that I could only sit with him for a little while at a time because my daughter needed the stability.

I only cried a few times in that whole five months; once was when a nurse told me not to touch my son so much as it could cause him distress. People naturally want to stroke tiny babies in their plastic incubator boxes.  But you can’t stroke them because their skin is too fragile.  All you can do is gently hold their head and their bottom and even then, not for too long.

My daughter would do her dolls’ observations, checking their temperature and using the little pink sponges we used to wet my son’s tiny mouth to pretend to wet her dolls’ mouths. We shared a room in most of the hospitals we stayed in and it was only because we lived so far from the hospital that we were allowed to stay, most parents travelled in each day.

After a month of being in hospital with my son, I reported my ex-husband to the Police. Friends took my daughter out while I made a statement at the police station.  It took hours.

One of the hospital cleaners asked me where my ex-husband was. I said we had separated, she asked me why I’d let such a good one get away.

During the time I was in hospital I would pray, a lot. At first I prayed for my son to live.  Hoping that he would make it through.  And then God clearly said to me that I needed to stop praying that my son would be okay.  He said, “Stop praying for him to live and start praying for my will to be done.  Can you praise me the same this week, with your son alive, as you will praise me next week if your son dies?”  In that place of utter desolation, God wanted to take away even my hope of a better future.  And I thought for a long time about whether I could and from that moment on I stopped praying for my son to live and began praying for God’s will to be done.

I don’t explain this lightly or without knowledge of how this sounds to those who do not have a relationship with God. But I can tell you with all surety, that I would not be who I am today without having surrendered everything to God.  Because when everything is stripped away and there is nothing left, it is then that true freedom and life can be found.

The only weekend I had away from the hospital was when I went back to my house to move all my possessions out. My ex-husband left the electricity key so low in credit that it went off during me organising the house, which meant I had to collect the key from him.  I removed everything of mine from the house.  Cleaned it from top to bottom, so that I could collect my half of the deposit back from the landlord.  This was the same house my daughter had spent most of her life in.  The same house I had tried to commit suicide in.  The same house at which a neighbour punched me in the face for being married to a sex offender.  The same house I had been sexually abuse in day in day out, called names, constantly devalued, intentionally been made exhausted.  I stored my possessions in my parent’s garage and travelled back to the hospital.

Three months after he’d been born my son was moved to a less specialist hospital. I knew that if I moved back to my home town, I’d re-enter the relationship with my ex-husband.  I now know that is because of something called Trauma Bonding, at the time I thought it was because I was too weak and pathetic to even keep myself safe.  We moved to Gateshead.  And my son’s care continued.  Twice after being released from hospital he stopped breathing and went blue/grey.  I resuscitated him, once in a car, once at home.  When we arrived by ambulance at the hospital, I would play colouring in with my daughter on the floor, watching as my son was surrounding by medical professionalstrying to save his life, smiling at my daughter saying, “Isn’t that wonderful colouring in? You’re doing a brilliant job!”

My ex-husband was charged with rape. The Police contacted me and asked if I thought he should have bail.  “Of course!”  I said, “He wouldn’t hurt me!”

He would call me and threaten to tell people about the bad stuff he’d made me do. He would call me and say he couldn’t remember what he’d done.  And I would call him.  When I needed support, when there was news about my son’s health, when I couldn’t cope with not having spoken to him.  I genuinely believed the only person who really deserved to hear me moan about how hard life was, was him.  One time he spent twenty minutes telling me on the phone how terrible a person I was.  I cried and pleaded with him to stop, but I couldn’t put the phone down.  No matter how much I wanted to.  He controlled me absolutely.  On two occasions while on bail, he manipulated me into sleeping with him.  The Police thought he may threaten me to keep himself out of prison, but he used something much more effective than fear, he didn’t have to threaten me to keep himself out of prison, all he had to do was pretend to love me.

When asked by consultants, “Are you on your own?” I would respond with, “Yes!  I’ve separated from my husband.  He is a registered sex offender.”  I couldn’t just say yes.  I needed to explain.  To prove I’d really tried at being married, that I wasn’t a failure, or worse, one of “those” single mothers the media goes on about (turns out there’s no such thing!).  This meant that my ex-husband wasn’t allowed on the children’s ward where my son was being cared for.  I received a phone call via a hospital payphone from the police officer who was responsible for my ex-husband’s rehabilitation process.  He proceeded to shout at me over the phone, berating me for “stopping a father from seeing his child.”  Apparently I shouldn’t have told the hospital about the conviction.  I think it convinced him of my vindictiveness towards my ex-husband.

At one point my son contacted bronchiolitis. I came into the intensive care ward to find him paralysed by a drug that stopped him pulling the ventilator out of his throat.  All his veins had been used and the only one left was on the top of his head, so they had shaved the area and put a drip in there.  He was ventilated and still needing to be resuscitated every two minutes.  They said they were sending him for a lung bypass which they explained had a 70% chance of physical or mental disability.  On his way to the specialist hospital he miraculously began improving.  They didn’t need to do the bypass in the end.

Eventually my son was released from hospital on low flow oxygen, not long before my daughter’s 3rd birthday.  After turning a year he rarely needed any medical treatment.

This is what male violence does. Men take the lives of women and children and destroy them, rape them, kill them.  And no matter how wonderfully we rebuild our lives, no matter how beautiful the restoration is, every birthday is never just a celebration of life, it is also a reminder of death.  I was 21 years old when my son was born, I am now 30.  And each year seems to get harder, as the years travelled show me more clearly what I have lost.  My wonderful husband and I have chosen not to have any children that are biologically ours together.  The two I brought into the marriage need to know they are enough, and God made it clear to us that we shouldn’t have more children.  And though that decision was right and obedience to God is always worth it, the pain of knowing that my pregnancies and the early years of both my children were filled with such pain is something I mourn deeply.  This is what male violence does.

I don’t have any life giving words or clichés about how it all gets better. Even though it does.  Because for now, in this moment, the cost feels greater than the cause.

Yet, by the time I collect my wonderful son from school, no matter how much it hurts, I will greet him with the biggest smile, because it’s his birthday, and for him that means it’s a really happy day.

 

God loves women: A blog sharing my love of God, the love He has for women and my frustration that the Church often doesn’t realise this (@God_loves_women)

Reclaim the Night by @Sianushka

(cross-posted from sian and crooked rib)

 

Violence against women is not inevitable

Here’s the speech I gave at Bristol Reclaim the Night on Friday.
Thank you so much for all being here tonight. Standing here, together in solidarity, you are showing your commitment to ending the international crisis of violence against women and girls.
Today is a day of celebration. For it is the 4th birthday of the Bristol Feminist Network. I know that I am so proud to stand here with you all today, part of a network that is buzzing and vibrant and making such a difference to gender inequality in the city and beyond. I have been with the network since it began in November 2007, in fact I was one of the organisers of Ladyfest Bristol 2007, from which BFN was born. I am so proud of the achievements of our network, and so happy to stand with you all tonight, as we say no more to violence against women and girls.
So, why are we here? What are we fighting against? The recent Bristol Fawcett report, Cutting Women Out, estimated that 130 women will be raped in Bristol each month. That means that since we began planning this year’s Reclaim the Night in August, there will have been approximately 500 rapes in our city. This week in the UK, two women will have been murdered by her partner or ex partner and many, many more will have been abused. In fact, across the world, 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetimes. In the UK, 1 in 4 adult women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime, a figure that goes up to 1 in 3 teen girls.
Surely then, these figures should be on the front page of the newspapers every day. Surely this should be a national scandal. Surely, with these numbers, our government should be investing serious money in funding support services, tackling rape myths and improving a justice system that so often lets rapists go free. And yet, instead of action to end violence against women and girls, we see cuts. Cuts to legal aid, preventing victims and survivors of domestic abuse from accessing affordable legal representation. Cuts to vital local support services for victims and survivors. Cuts to social housing, making it hard for victims and survivors to escape violent homes. When I wrote to Theresa May in April, she assured me that ending violence against women and girls was a priority for this government. But, as she said to the Women’s Aid conference in 2010, it’s actions that count, not words. And I’ve counted this government’s actions. It isn’t looking good.
It is very rare that cases of violence against women and girls get reported in our media. However, there have been three cases this year that have stood out in my mind and that have revealed so much about how rape and sexual violence is discussed in the mainstream. They were the accusations against Julian Assange and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the gang rape of 12 and 13 year old girls in Reading, where a group of men were found guilty and sentenced.
Whatever people here tonight think about the accusations against Assange and DSK, because of course we do not know what happened, one thing has been clear. The reaction to the cases was a checklist of how pervasive rape myths and victim blaming is in our society. All three alleged victims have been portrayed as liars, and have had their sex lives, politics, poverty, nationality and friendships used to discredit them. They have found themselves at the centre of conspiracy theories, and in some cases we have seen the legal definition of rape mocked and disregarded by lawyers, and by left and right wing commentators. We do not know what happened in either of those cases. But we do know that the immediate and continued reaction was to discredit and disbelieve the women. Because, in a rape culture that is almost always our reaction.
In the third case a 12 year old girl was gang raped, and her 13 year old friend was raped by one man. The men were convicted in March, but by July they were free after winning their appeal. One of the reasons given by the judge for their release was that the 12 year old girl was more sexually experienced than the men, and the convicted rapists had shown remorse. Yes, you heard that right. Our judicial system basically said that if someone rapes a child, but can then find a way that makes it look like the child was to blame, then they have nothing to worry about. Just admit it frankly, show a bit of remorse and easy. You’ll be out of jail in less than a year.
In a rape culture, victim blaming, lack of justice and silence around the levels of violence against women and girls is the norm.
But what I want to say to you all here tonight is that rape culture does not have to be the norm. Violence against women and girls is not a fact of life. It is not inevitable. It is something that can change, something that can and will end. By standing here tonight, by marching through our city streets, you have shown your commitment to ending it. The aims of Reclaim the Night, education on consent and respect, support for victim and survivor services and improving the justice system – these are all steps on the road to end violence against women and girls. Things are better than they were when the first Reclaim the Night was held in the 70s, and together, standing in solidarity together, we can make a difference and we will make a difference. I believe that. That belief gets me out of bed every day. A world without violence is possible, and by being here tonight, you are part of the movement to make that world a daily reality for everyone.

Thank you.

16 reasons for #16days by @CathElliott

(Cross-posted from Too Much to say for Myself)

It’s the 25th November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the start of the 16 Days of Action against Gender Violence Campaign. And as I haven’t been posting much recently, and as I’m pretty much laid up at home at the moment following a hip arthroscopy last weekend, I’m going to be blogging throughout it again this year.

So without further ado, here’s my first post for day one of the 16 days, detailing 16 reasons (but there are so many more reasons than that!) why this campaign exists and why it’s still so important.

1. Because femicide. Between January and October this year at least 100 women have been killedthrough suspected male violence in the UK alone. Across the globe, across all countries and all cultures,women are the most frequent victims of intimate partner violence and they are often killed by their own family members.

2. Because rape and sexual violence are endemic. Research published in January showed that:

  • Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year
  • Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year
  • 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

And yet just this month it was revealed that police forces in the UK are continuing to find ways to manipulate their figures on rape and other sexual offences, under-recording these crimes by as much as 25%,  in order to meet targets.

3. Because in England and Wales, more than 24,000 girls are at risk of, and more than 66,000 women are living with the consequences of, FGM.

4. And because those who speak out against FGM are being subjected to abuse and threats.

5. Because across the globe women do not have autonomy over their own bodies and are still being denied abortions.

6. Because in September this year an eight-year-old Yemeni girl died of internal bleeding on her wedding night after marrying a man five times her age. And because according to Plan UK, around one girl under 18 is married every two seconds that tick by.

7. Because earlier this year two teenage girls, Noor Basra and Noor Sheza, and their mother Noshehra, were murdered for allowing themselves to be filmed dancing and playing in the rain. There are nearly 3000 cases of so-called ‘honour’ violence every year in the UK. Globally, there are around5000 so-called ‘honour’ killings every year.

8. Because women and girls are trafficked both across and within country borders for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Just last month Ilyas Ashar was jailed for 13 years by a Manchester court for repeatedly raping and abusing a deaf and mute girl he’d trafficked into the country from Pakistan in June 2000, when she was 10 years old.

9. Because men still believe they have some inalienable right to purchase women for sex.

10. Because sexting and revenge porn are driving women and girls to despair and suicide.

11. Because victim blaming is still a thing. In August this year for example a convicted paedophile escaped a jail sentence after the prosecuting barrister, Robert Colover, labelled his young girl victim “predatory” and “sexually experienced”and the judge, Nigel Peters, said he was taking into account in his sentencing how the girl looked and behaved. After an outcry the sentence was revised to a two year jail term, and Colover agreed to resign from the CPS rape panel of advocates, but the fact that these things were ever said in a UK courtroom about a child victim tells us all we need to know about the state of our criminal justice system.

12. Because when they can’t get their own way some men throw acid at women and girls.

13. Because Josef Fritzl wasn’t a one-off and Emma Donoghue’s Room is more than a work of fiction. Cases continue to emerge of women and girls, many of whom are missing and presumed dead at the time of their discovery, who have been held captive, raped and/or otherwise abused, sometimes for decades.

14. Because sexism and racism are rife in music videos.

15. Because despite signing the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and domestic violence, the UK Government still hasn’t ratified it. You can sign the petition here – Tell Theresa May to guarantee standards for women’s services in the UK and worldwide.

16. Because I thought it would be difficult to find 16 reasons for the 16 days campaign, and it wasn’t. In fact I could go on and on citing examples of woman hatred and gynocide because depressingly, compiling this post was all too easy. And until the violence stops, until women and girls are truly free, feminist activists must and will continue to campaign against, and raise awareness of, the atrocity that is male violence against women.

 

Too Much to say for myself: Blogging about feminism, politics, and anything else that takes my fancy [@CathElliott]

No Isolated Incident: The Death of Hollie Gazzard by Gappy Tales

Cross-posted from: Gappy Tales
Originally published: 18.07.14

(this is an older post cross-posted from Gappy Tales)

So. Another young British woman has lost her life as a result of domestic abuse.

Hollie Gazzard – described by her family as “a beautiful, happy, and loving girl” who was “full of life” – was stabbed to death by her ex-partner at her place of work, in full view of multiple witnesses, late on Tuesday afternoon.

It was the very public nature of Hollie’s death that ensured she made the national news. People are understandably horrified when forcibly confronted with that level of terror and violence. Right there, on our streets, or depicted on grainy videos filmed from mobile phones, it becomes impossible to turn our faces away. However the vast majority of women who fall victim to fatal incidents of domestic violence are lucky to get just a few paragraphs in the local rag. Why? Because it is all too common, that’s why.

Shockingly, Hollie Gazzard is just one of around a hundred women who will die from domestic abuse this year in the UK alone. An average of two women a week are killed by their current or previous partner in this country; a figure that has remained fairly stable for decades. Domestic abuse is extremely common, with around one in three women experiencing it at some point during their life times. It also tends to be progressive, increasing in severity over time, and – as shown by recent events in Gloucester – it can be deadly. Frighteningly, a woman is most at risk when attempting to leave, and in the first few months after having left, her relationship.

Despite accounting for sixteen percent of all recorded violent crime though, domestic abuse is still vastly under reported. Reasons for this are many and varied, however a fear of not being adequately protected and/or taken seriously by the police still rates high. A common general perception tends to be that police attitudes towards victims of domestic and sexual violence have improved in recent years and, as a former Women’s Aid worker, this is a perception I have tentatively shared.

Which is why I felt such dismay upon reading this article in The Independent; in particular the quotes it contained from a Chief Inspector Neil Smith concerning Hollie Gazzard’s murder. C.I. Smith seemed only too eager to reassure everyone that this was a:

very, very nasty incident” but added: “I would like to reassure members of this community, both residents and local businesses, that this is an isolated incident. These offences don’t happen in Gloucester regularly. This incident was very tragic, however; both victim and suspect knew each other. They were in a previous relationship. That doesn’t lessen this horrific incident but it would be good for us to reassure the local community.”

So the incident was very tragic, but. But, they knew each other. But, they had been in a previous relationship. In this context the disclaimer at the end sounds little more than a hasty add-on, made necessary only by the minimising, dismissive nature of everything that has gone before it. In fact the speech reads simply as a modern day equivalent of the old chestnut, “It’s just a domestic”. According to C.I.Smith this was no random attacker, therefore there is nothing for anyone to concern themselves with. Nothing to see here. Everybody move along and get back to business as usual.

There are no doubt many women who could assure Chief Inspector Smith that offences relating to domestic abuse do indeed happen regularly in Gloucester. They happen on every street in every town in every corner of the land. The brutal murder of Hollie Gazzard is very very far from being an isolated incident. Rather it is the highly visible tip of an enormous iceberg; a small exposed part of a much larger pattern of hate crime that is perpetrated against vast numbers of women on a daily basis. It also comes at a time when funding for domestic violence support services is being slashed to ribbons. Until we acknowledge and begin to take a good look at this bigger picture, there will only ever be many more deaths like Hollie’s.

And most of them, we will never even get to hear about.

 

Jeni Harvey: Writer, feminist, mother. Likes cake, hates Jeremy Clarkson. These are my principles – if you don’t like them, I have others. @GappyTales or Huff Post