To the women and men longing for hope. A message for fighters and survivors.
As the world is fighting to embrace and fight the global pandemic, we collectively come together by staying apart. Some use this time to improve on themselves, focus on self-healing, getting fit again, or maintaining their fitness. Some use this time to find a new love in a form of art. Some use this time to take a breather from their daily cycle of 9-5 hours of work or education just to survive, provide and, because they have to, not to live. For some, a global pandemic requires them to work more. The world couldn’t stop for them, and they couldn’t stop for the world. Our incredible NHS staff, community workers, shop assistants, and many more ground workers haven't stopped, but have in fact increased their work for the benefit of saving others. Something that a kind gesture of clapping will never do enough justice for (But a switch away from a Tory government could spark something?).
However, this pandemic rapidly increases the fear, hurt and isolation for those in abusive relationships. Work hours end and many people feel their life has hit pause, until safe to press play again. But for those locked in an unsafe and unhealthy environment, the phycological, domestic and sexual abuse can’t be paused and more importantly, can't be stopped for good. For many women and men, their house isn’t their home, and the streets they tried to escape to are, for now, no longer an option. In times like these it is even more difficult for victims to find a light or a hope for escape. For some, it could only be the beginning, and for others, more abuse than what they normally will ever endure.
1.2 million women and 700,000 men experience domestic violence each year. These are only official reports, many will go unreported and many won’t even know they are a victim. Research suggests that women experiencing domestic abuse are more likely to experience a mental health problem. Women with mental health problems are more likely to be domestically abused, with 30% - 60% of women with mental health problems having experienced domestic violence. These stats aren’t just numbers or just an unfortunate experience. These are human beings. Some with family, some with no family, that have to wake up every morning not knowing if they’ll make it to the next. Their life, self-worth and actions are being dictated by an abuser who has no respect or basic morality towards the people they claim to love.
I truly believe domestic, sexual and phycological abuse is one of the largest growing silent killers. Whilst people blindly recognise that as a whole, the actions brought out by the abuse are wrong and immoral, they don’t recognise that intervention needs to be implemented much sooner rather than later. Not only to protect women and men from it happening again, but because no one deserves to have to experience it in the first place. We’ve adapted to the stereotypes of these types of abuse; that the abuse is prone to being in working- or lower-class households or in relationships amongst drug addicts or people on the benefits system. When in fact, I can speak from experience that people with full pockets are more than capable of any of these forms of abuse. More importantly, this abuse is not defined by socio-economic class, ethnicity, race, or level of education. It is defined by abusers and their lack of morality as an individual.
When I speak from experience, I speak for the women who have come to me completely emotionally and physically broken by the trauma and aching caused by someone who never deserved them. These are real people with a story to tell and we, as a society, need to be the people to be there to listen to them and be the voices to speak up for them until they can tell the whole world their story. Not to belittle what has happened to them or question their sanity when they have just about built up the confidence to speak about it. However, there are and will continue to be victims, who are yet to be survivors, that will suffer in silence, that won’t come forward or recognise right from wrong in an abusive relationship. These are exactly the people we need to fight for and be reaching out to in every way we can. I know I speak for many when I say I don’t want to have to hold another woman in my arms, unable to stand, broken down, looking me in the eye asking me what is wrong with them. But myself and many others will continue to be that person if this is what it takes for women and men to escape and reunite with themselves.
We need to seriously critique how we can tackle this and the stigma of categorising abusers, because doing so makes it harder to identify them, especially for the women and men who are with one. I feel in a society where suicide rates are rising, particularly in the North of Ireland, we as a nation need to recognise that our country is facing endless heartbreak but that solidarity and prayers simply can’t be enough. We must do more. Women and men need to be told that it’s never too late to speak up, that there will be someone there to listen and that domestic, sexual and phycological abuse is creeping up so much that it seems to be normalised in our culture. We also mustn’t be blinded by the few who label themselves as mental health advocates but evidently promote completely different ideals and who, to put it blunt, treat people awfully. Mental health avocation is a movement, not a career title, and it plays a big role in psychological abuse. This article isn’t ‘down with the men, and up with the women’, it’s to make people own their role in domestic violence. I’ve noticed that some men will love the idea of being with a strong independent career woman, but don’t love the reality of it. Importantly, I, and I’m sure many others, have witnessed people tell their story and the first response is “Well it’s not all men”. This is completely true, but saying this has just undermined and categorised her experience into something smaller than it is. This not only further breaks them down mentally, but makes them question their own reality. Many survivors will have their stories trivialized, denied or distorted, but there are so many out there who believe you. To the people offended by this statement, I would take a second look at why you are offended.
My message to the strong victims and survivors.
This is for the current victims who are yet to discover they are survivors, and for the survivors who are continuing to overcome something they never thought they could. It’s time, and it’s always been time, to speak up and stand up for yourself. Not because you need to prove yourself to anyone or to make people believe your story, but because you owe it to yourself. It’s time to take back the love you gave, take back what you deserve and take back the dreams and goals you had before they got taken away by someone that never understood the value you have in this world. Remember that there are so many people that are in your shoes; lost, scared and finding it difficult to see any sort of light. But there will equally be a community on the other side ready to support you. Never underestimate or doubt yourself on your experience because it does matter. Remember that you aren’t the words that your abuser planted in your head, or the marks they left on your skin. But you are the person you were before you met them and you will be an even stronger person when they are gone. It’s time to fall in love with that yourself all over again, because there is a world out there ready for you to take on and explore. Remember to trust your gut, because no one knows you better than you know yourself, no matter what your abuser might tell you. I speak for myself and many when I say that that the healing process is hard, but the outcome is priceless. Remember this isn’t a reflection on your ability as a human being, but only a reflection on their lack of security as an individual. Slowly, but surely, the days will get a little less dark and your present and future will get a little more bright and you’ll start to become the person that your abuser blocked you from becoming. These are all realistic visions and they are going to happen; the first step is believing they will and more importantly, believing in yourself. If there’s one thing I have learnt through this, it is that I’m never going to let someone dictate to me who I am ever again and neither should anyone else. The journey will be difficult, but once a victim realises they are a survivor, the abuser’s power is gone, and your power strengthens.
Organisations that can help:
Niesha Kelly is 19 years old. She was studying in Scotland doing Politics and Journalism but has transferred to Ulster University to study Politics and Criminology from this September. She was a long-term member in the UK Youth Parliament and have been involved in a number of different political campaigns about which she is passionate.