Abuse and the Virus

One of the most challenging things about domestic violence is that rarely does the person who is being subjected to abuse realise that they are being abused.  A victim is one of those women, the shrivelled up ones who (according to most stock images) cowering in a corner with a bruised face.  And their partner isn’t one of those men.  He’s a good guy really.  He doesn’t mean it.  It’s only because of all the stress and he had a really bad childhood and he loves me and soon things will get back to how they used to be.  To take the step of acknowledging that our partner is abusive is a huge thing.  Once it’s not “me overreacting”, “his difficult childhood”, “the way I push him to the edge”, “how passionate he is”, “only that one time when he left me bruised”, once we label it ABUSE, everything changes.  Nothing can go on as normal.  We have to take action.  We have to accept that our relationship must end and that our children will lose their father and nothing will ever be the same again.  And that’s before we begin to reckon with all the ways his behaviour will escalate if we try to leave.  Around 80% of men who kill women, do so within eighteen months of her leaving him.

 

Men are more abusive over Christmas.  Often people think it’s because of the stress, the money worries and the increased alcohol consumption.  But that’s not why.  It’s because an abuser deliberately destroys whatever is precious to his partner and children.  He destroys birthday celebrations and anniversaries.  Some abusers destroy every family mealtime, leaving their children with eating disorders because their father (or step father) has thrown food, screamed at their mother, or gone into that silent sulk which they all know ends in him being violent.  The other reason abusers are worse at Christmas is because there is greater opportunity to abuse.  Most people get time off over Christmas, and the abuser will use those extra hours to demand he get whatever he wants.  And because it’s Christmas, his partner will acquiesce, because she wants to make it special for the kids; because where would she go on Christmas Day when he’s kicked the Christmas tree over?  On Christmas Eve he pushes her to do sexual stuff she doesn’t like, but he promises her that if she does what he wants, he’ll make Christmas nice.  So she does what he wants.  Then on Christmas Day she asks him to help with the dinner and he kicks off and blames her for ruining Christmas.  And she just wishes that she’d not asked for help, he was tired after all.

 

You may be wondering why I’m writing about Christmas when we’re dealing with a global pandemic…  It’s because this crisis, and the self-isolation and physical distancing caused by it, creates the similar context as living with an abuser at Christmas, but about a million times worse.

 

He’s now at home 24/7, not just for three days.  He uses his need to work from home to demand that everyone in the home stays silent all day.  If his partner can’t keep their three-year-old silent; he screams, punches walls or makes threats that she’s knows he’ll carry out later.  He’s always hated her speaking on the phone with her friends or family and normally she waits until he’s out of the house to call them, because he’ll tut or huff and puff throughout the phone call.  Now she can’t speak to her anyone.  And then he says he’s started with a temperature and they all need to stay in for fourteen days.  She hasn’t seen any evidence he’s got a temperature, but she daren’t question him as she knows he’ll hurt her, or worse, take out his outrage at her insolence on the kids.

 

And she can’t leave now.  He’s there all the time.  She’d thought about it before, was just waiting for the right time.  But now the kids are off school and don’t have any stability and so she can’t move into a refuge.  And anyway, she’ll be exposing her asthmatic seven-year-old to the virus.  She keeps trying to make everything nice for them all, exhausting herself to make things nice.  He always leads her to believe that she can “make” him nice, if she only plays by his rules.  But then he changes them, or the kids needs something that means she has to break them.  Her job say she can’t have time off as she’s a carer.  But she knows he won’t look after them properly.  He’ll undermine her and play fight with them until they cry and then when she gets home, he’ll keep her up until 4am in the morning interrogating her about which male co-workers she interacted with, accusing her of having an affair.  She says she can’t go into work and her line manager is horrified at her lack of commitment in this crisis and fires her right there and then.  She daren’t cry, because he’ll mock and deride her for it.  She dreads Sunday, when he’ll demand that she and the children participate in the online streamed church service that he’s been planning, the one that was so important all of them had to be silent for three days straight.  Afterwards, he whispers to her that he’s never punched her in the face because people might see it, but now things are different.  She’s his and he’ll do what he wants to her.

 

Specialist domestic abuse services are working around the clock to make their provision effective for women during this epidemic, but due to ideologically driven cuts, they’ve already been stripped back, defunded and de-specialised.  For each of us, there’s not a lot we can do to make a difference while also social distancing and self-isolating.  Abusers are making choices to isolate, control, abuse and harm their partners and children, and the only people who can stop abuse are those who choose to be abusive.  But it’s important that we understand what abuse is, what the dynamics are, and how this virus is going to hugely increase women’s vulnerability.  It’s crucial that we don’t perpetuate myths about abuse; it’s not the stress or financial difficulties caused by the virus that is increasing perpetration, it’s about increased opportunity.  Women who don’t leave abusers are not stupid or wrong; they are doing everything they can to keep themselves and their children safe.  Abusers deliberately act in ways that prevent their partner making sense of what is going on or being able to articulate it as abuse; so doing announcements about “if you’re being abused we can help you” is not really going to reach that many of the people who need support.

 

What can we do as we continue into this unknown place?

 

  1. Contact your local domestic abuse and ask them how you can help; do they need financial support, donations, volunteers to drive/move/clean?
  2. Educate yourself about domestic abuse (my book can help with that).
  3. Be aware that if someone is being abused, their online interactions may be tracked.
  4. Notice who isn’t able to engage with your community; who isn’t on Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp, and see if there’s a way to check in with them some other way.
  5. Facebook is particularly risky for those who have left an ex-partner, because it is very easy for him to find her. Ensure you have an additional option other than Facebook for engaging with those in your community.
  6. If you hear violence or noise from a neighbour’s home, call the police (use 999 if you are concerned it is an emergency).
  7. Be vigilant. Are there people in your family or friendship group, amongst your colleagues, church community or neighbourhood who are acting differently, whose communications have gone down dramatically or who seem withdrawn or different.  Try to make regular contact with them.
  8. Be aware. When you do your shopping, are there women and children who seem overly subdued, or is there a man behaving in domineering ways (abusive men will be emboldened in a context where they have so much uninterrupted space to abuse, and this may be visible in the brief encounters we have with people).
  9. Trust women. If someone tells you something that sounds abusive, if they talk about feeling suffocated by their partner, if they say they feel scared or need help to leave, believe them straight away.  Whatever they tell you will be the tip of a very horrific iceberg.

 

If you identify with the abusive behaviour detailed in this post, it may have shocked you to become aware that what is being done to you (or what you are doing to someone else) is abusive.

If you are recognising that what is being done to you is wrong and if it is safe to do so, here are some places that can help:

 

If you are concerned about your behaviour towards a partner, you can contact the Respect perpetrator helpline: https://respectphoneline.org.uk (0808 802 4040).

Trauma and the Virus

The world has gone mad and for a little while so did I.

 

Before the virus hit the UK we were in the process of relocating from Essex to the North East.  We were excited that our offer had been accepted on a beautiful house in Sunderland and we had buyers in place for our house.  After ten years living in Essex various factors converged to make moving north seem like a great idea. It would allow us to become mortgage free, it would move us closer to my family and we could live by the sea!

 

It’s less than two years since we lost Smallest GLW.  After a complicated process of my great nephew becoming one of our children for three years, we had been seeking a Special Guardianship Order for him when it was ruled he must be returned to his mum and live four hours away from us.  We’d believed God wanted us to welcome him as one of our own children, and then he was taken away.  It really shook my understanding of who God was.

 

Not long after him leaving us, our family history was brought to the fore.  For those unfamiliar with my story, at 17 I entered a relationship with an abuser.  By 21-years-old, I was living in a hospital after my then husband had assaulted me, causing my son to be born 3 months premature. My toddler daughter and I lived with him in hospital for five months.  It was in this place, when I had lost everything, that I discovered the God who is everything.  I gave my whole life to the God who never promised that things would be easy, but promised to always be with me.

 

My children are now 16 and 14.  It’s complicated when our children become teenagers, because their challenges are still our challenges, but they need us to keep their confidences.  Suffice to say, the last eighteen months has regularly sunk me back into a traumatised place as the reverberations of my ex-husband’s abuse continue to shatter parts of mine and my children’s lives over and again.  Even though he’s had no contact with any of us for over 13 years.

 

Over eleven years ago, God called me to work nationally to address male violence towards women.  At first, I refused.  But God said to me, “If I call you, I’ll resource you.”  And so I embarked on what has become over a decade of challenges, frustrations and a deep, abiding joy as I have developed many and varied projects (you can have a read about some of them at the bottom of this blog).  God has resourced us throughout it all.  There has been the constant challenge of trying to work out what we need to do and what we should leave up to God, and there have been many incredibly generous people who have felt called to support us on our way.

 

As the virus threatens impending doom on civilisation, all I could think about was that it was going to stop us moving house.  I became fixated on needing to get moved.  It took up all my headspace, all my emotional energy.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus on anything except moving house.  And it made me hate myself.  The whole world is falling apart, people are going to die, everything is going to change.  And all I could think about was Needing To Move House.  I prayed for perspective.  I used the Ignatian Examen to try changing my perspective.  I blasted worship music out while driving, trying to force myself out of the selfishness.  I journaled, went running and cuddled Preston Wooflepuff (click here if you would like to be dazzled by her beautifulness), but nothing changed.  I wanted to be thinking of others and how to be one of the helpers, but instead I was driven mad with the need to move house.  And I hated myself for it.

 

Then, all of a sudden, I realised I was experiencing a traumatic response.  This wasn’t really about the house move.  I hadn’t become obsessively self-involved.  Instead, my body had patterned matched to previous threats.  When I was with my ex-husband I was powerless.  He almost destroyed me and I lived under a constant fear of what he would do, or make me do, next.  And so my body and brain had strategies to keep me feeling safe. These included:

  1. Focussing on the minor issues, make them HUGE, because then I didn’t have to deal with the Actual Issue.
  2. Being on high alert all the time, repeating the problem over and over and over in my head, but never finding a solution.
  3. Denying my powerless while at the same time shutting down any resources to overcome the powerlessness (like creativity, potential solutions, connection to others and God).

 

Realising I had entered a traumatic space changed everything.  I stopped beating myself up and identified my body and brain’s rationale for behaving in the ways it needed to.  Instead of continuing to be alienated from my body’s resources, I began to appreciate my body and brain for providing an (albeit highly problematic) coping strategy.

 

Last year, I finished a theology MA.  In my dissertation I argued that we should view trauma responses as grace-empowered superpowers, rather than problematising them.  That we operate in a world which is “safenormative”.  A world which “others” traumatised people and holds us to the standards of those who have never been subjected to brutality.  That by honouring (without romanticising or glamorising) trauma responses, we enable traumatised people to love the whole of themselves.

 

I began to feel less wrong as I made space for the purpose behind my fixation on moving house; to make a global pandemic feel manageable, to maintain high alert so that I could be kept safe, to deny the powerlessness.  My responses were understandable, they made sense and they were my body trying to keep me safe and alive.

 

I’ve come out of the other side now.  I don’t know whether our house move will go through, but I’m able to accept whatever the outcome is.  I’m facing the reality that our finances were already highly precarious before the virus hit, and now we have no clue what we will live on for the foreseeable future.  We’re on lockdown after Smaller GLW (he’s 14) developed a temperature yesterday and everything feels hugely uncertain.

 

And yet, that God who met me living in a hospital with a premature baby and a traumatised toddler, is with us today.  That God who has always resourced us remains faithful in the midst of all that we face.  And so, having recognised my trauma responses for what they are, I begin the process of working out how God will help us make it through.  And as I do, I’m reminding of Andy Flannagan’s song, “We Are Blessed”. This is not just about God enabling us to make it through, but finding ways to be God’s hands and feet, wherever we find ourselves in this messy and mad world.

 

 

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These are some of the projects I’ve developed:

 

 

I am self-employed and the main earner in our family (Mr GLW has worked unpaid supporting my work for most of the last decade).  If you feel able to support us at this time, there’s a few ways you can do that:

 

  1. We have a Stewardship Individual Christian Worker account, which means you can give a one-off amount or sign up to give regularly here (and we get Giftaid on it!): https://www.give.net/20220001.
  2. Mr GLW (his real name is Andrew), has begun working as a virtual assistant. He will be charging £20 per hour and has experience in most administrative tasks (book keeping, using Mailchimp, uploading blogs, email management, research, diary management, answering phone calls, data entry, preparing spreadsheets etc).  If you (or anyone you know) could use his skills, please email him andrew@nataliecollins.info.
  3. Buy and read my book (and encourage others to): Out Of Control; Couples, conflict and the capacity for change. If you email me on natalie@nataliecollins.info, I can send you a Paypal link to buy it and then we get a greater amount of the sales.
  4. Pray for us. I know there are so many people and circumstances to pray for at the moment, but if you feel convicted to commit to pray for us, you can sign up for our semi-regular prayer email HERE.