This blog was originally written in September 2012 but is still relevant
At last the government is amending the law on domestic violence. There will not be a new law but there will be an emphasis and a change in the interpretation of it. The crucial issues and one I have written about and talked about on radio, is that of “controlling and coercive behaviour.”
Instrumental in this change must have been the case in January 2011 where 5 high court judges led by Lady Hale ruled that a woman who had been shouted at repeatedly by her husband had suffered abuse. This was a landmark case and ruling.
Mihret Yemshaw had applied to Hounslow council to be re-housed from her council flat because she had suffered domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Despite the fact that her husband had never hit her, the judges agreed that she had suffered abuse and that her case should be reviewed by Hounslow Council.
Judge Hale said “The word violence has several meanings”
I have written about the scale of domestic abuse before and the fact that the assaults that happen, and still do not get dealt with effectively, are just the tip of the iceberg. Not many abusive relationships begin immediately with violence. People rarely get into a relationship that has such a high level of fear and aggression voluntarily. They have to be tempted in, drawn in by the promise of a better life to start with. In other words most relationships start off happy and then they change.
The change is gradual, almost imperceptibly for the person who is becoming drawn in. A cross word here, and argument there but in order to keep the peace they do not stand their ground and instead they comply and start a process off. Once you start giving up your boundaries for another it is difficult to reinstate them.
Before they know it they are cutting off friends, not going out and changing their whole lives in order to please their partner. But the violence has still not started. Unfortunately though, it will come eventually because angry and controlling partners are boundary pushers. They don’t know when to stop. The only way they think you love them is if you keep giving up your boundaries. In the end the only boundaries you have left are the physical ones and the violence starts.
When we researched angry relationships to help our clients we found another pattern going on in this slope towards violence. This was the relationship between the self esteem of the abused and what they were prepared to tolerate. We found through our interviews that people with initially fairly healthy self esteem would be subjected to angry and controlling behaviour. They would know it was not right but instead of restating their boundaries and holding their partner to account, instead, they decided something was wrong with their partner and tried to fix them. Over the years that then passed they spent a huge amount of energy trying to get their partner fixed and all this time they were on the slippery road into an abusive relationship. When they finally realised they were in an abusive relationship it was too late. They had low self esteem and could not see a way out.
So what are the implications of this change to the law? The police should take domestic incidents more seriously. Should! It should raise the awareness of a lot of society that controlling and angry behaviour in a relationship is not only wrong but it is against the law. It does give the bodies and organisations that support partners at risk another weapon to help them fight for their self esteem and independence and safety.
What more could be done? I personally think the answer lies at school. We have sex education but we do not pay enough attention to relationships education. Too many people think that the relationship side of life is something that cannot be taught, that it has to evolve. Well it can be taught, and it does not take away the romance. Being clear about what you want from a relationship and being clear about your boundaries is healthy. No relationship is worth giving your self esteem up for.
The school level intervention is crucial for another reason. Teenage relationships for the first time will come under the law. This is another brave step and recognises the issues that teenage boys in particular have with their attitudes towards sex and relationships.
For those that have missed this vital education at school? Well let’s get classes put on for those at risk groups. Lets help those at risk recognise the signs, understand how not to get trapped and also give them the tools to get out.
For me, the key battle in reality is getting those at risk to come forward for help. Last year we launched our “Enough is Enough” course for those living with angry and controlling people. The material is great but getting people on to it is really difficult. Whether it is fear or shame that stops them I am not sure but we need to understand it.
This change in the law will help but we have a long way to go before we can say as a civilised society that we really value each other.
If you want to know more call 07850614042 and ask for Julian or 07950344658 and ask for Paula.
From their offices in the East & West Midlands and on line Calm People deliver transformational workshops and work one to one with those that have issues with both sides of aggression and anger and stress anxieties. If you want to know more about the anger management, stress management, and emotional resilience courses run in Derby & Birmingham call the above numbers or click here