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Are we failing to address the issue of Domestic Abuse?

A complex issue

Watching a clip from the Oprah interview with Rihanna this morning I am reminded just how complex, frightening and confusing a social issue we are faced with when dealing with domestic abuse. It is a problem that comes with a huge cost, not just to the victim, but also to society as a whole. Obviously there is an enormous financial cost, with a great deal of time required from professionals across health and social care services, as well as domestic abuse providers, but the cost in terms of human suffering is incalculable. And, of course, at its worst it can lead to fatalities.

Pathway Project's Response

Pathway Project has been working in this field for 21 years. We have seen strategies introduced, interventions trialled and laws changed. Models of working have gained or lost popularity, and have been abandoned for the next new idea. We have made a great deal of progress and services are now more robust than ever before. What we have not seen in all those years, however, is a change to the number of women being killed each year by a current or former partner. This figure has remained consistent at 2 a week throughout the whole of that time. Are we failing to address the issue? Or is the reality that domestic abuse is increasing and we are reducing what is a rising number of potential homicides?

We believe at Pathway that domestic abuse is a very complex issue and that the responses need to be tailored to each individual. We have developed a full range of services, so that anyone coming to us for help has a sort of pick-and-mix selection of interventions. They choose the mix that will most closely address their needs. We know that there are some issues which are common to most survivors. Domestic abuse steals self esteem, confidence and self worth. It can cause anxiety and depression. It may affect physical health and there can be injuries which cause long term damage. At times children are removed, where their safety cannot be protected. And we all find ways of coping with life's difficulties. For some people those coping mechanisms can feel helpful at the beginning but lead to a long term reliance on substances such as alcohol or drugs. It is so much easier to judge than it is to help. We believe that we can make a real difference in the way that we work to meet the needs of individuals.

Penny's story

Penny (name changed to protect identity) came to us as a last resort. She had no choice over whether or not to keep her child. She was reluctant to come and resistant to working with us. She had been told that coming into a refuge was the only option that would enable her to keep her son. Penny was a young mum. She had no support from her own family who had given up hope. She had been forced into the sex industry by her 'boyfriend' who was also her pimp. He was violent and demanding and controlled her completely. He also supplied her with the drugs which helped her to cope with this lifestyle. Leaving meant losing her supply of drugs, her source of income and the person that she saw as her lover and partner. It was more complicated than it sounds to make the choice to leave and she had a lot of emotional investment with this person who was also the father of her child.

Penny was not easy to work with initially. She saw us as part of a system that was threatening to remove her child. Her love for her son was overwhelming and in the end was the thing that kept her focused and helped her to stay with us. Over the weeks she stayed she began to trust us. She realised that we were committed to improving her life and that we wanted to see her succeed and be happy. She joined the groups that we ran, she became involved in consultations with us and she began to take a real pride in herself. Her confidence grew, her drug use became a distant memory and she was able to dream of a better future.

Before she moved from the refuge she wanted to thank us and she asked if she could paint her room … and then the lounge … and the hall. She worked her way around the refuge bit by bit. She involved everyone in helping and in choosing colours. They learned new skills together and she was an inspiration in encouraging and enthusing everyone to work together. Penny is still living free of abuse and her son is still with her. Her life is totally transformed. Pathway don't just provide domestic abuse support—we provide hope, and a future. We help people to dream their future and to make it happen.

For more information about the Pathway Project please see here

The Pathway Project is a member of FaithActionNet, a national network for faith based and community organisations. For more info please visit www.faithaction.net