Archive for the ‘ feminism ’ Category

The Denial Barrier & It’s Effects On Activism

Since really starting to make a push with human rights activism I have kept coming up against the same barrier. A rather specific form of denial, the denial of ones mortality, which is something hardwired into nearly all of us. It’s something I really want to talk about but I’ve not been really sure how to approach it. After a bit of an email to and fro I’ve decided to just type out my thoughts in the hope it goes somewhere useful.

The denial of mortality (or Denial of Death as written about by Ernest Becker) I’m going to try to explain what I understand of this concept now, bear with me, I’m not a Psychology student but I’ll do my best. The general idea is that people’s minds, for their own protection, work hard not to think about our own mortality. Where we all know on some level we are going to die it still doesn’t really sink in. A large part of many of us thinks death is something that is a) a long way off, b) happens to other people, c) is totally outside of our control (so there is no point worrying about it) and d) can be avoided by taking precautions.

Psychologists talk about a cognitive barrier set up to protect us from the damage to our mental well being that can occur when we realise just how fragile our existence is. As someone with PTSD with a lot of acquaintances with the disorder I regularly see first hand the ‘damage’ the trauma of being exposed to your mortality can do to ones sense of self. In many ways this barrier is a good protective force. Without it leaving the house and/or talking to other people would become so anxiety provoking our lives and independence would suffer greatly.

This defensive barrier is denial in the psychological sense which manifests in the following ways;

  • It produces a desire to ‘minimise‘ the danger by acknowledging it is out there but telling us it’s not really that big of an issue it needs thinking about/ dealing with.
  • It tries to ‘rationalise’ the risk by reassuring those listening that there is a good chance it won’t be them (which feeds the minimisation) or by working out rules to keep us safe (like not wearing short skirts if we want to avoid rape or driving carefully to avoid disablement via car crash).
  • When someone tells us an uncomfortable truth it causes us to ‘project’ our feelings of disquiet onto them, so we can tell ourselves they are not worth listening to.

 
The issue is that this ‘denial & minimisation’ of our mortality seems to extend to a lot of causes close to my heart. Disability and women’s rights being two big ones. I’m sure there are intersections with other civil rights struggles too, but as I don’t know the areas well I don’t feel equipped to comment.

Disability & Denial

In the UK today the majority of disabled people become disabled after the age of 18, 1 in 5 people of working age and 1 in 2 people aged 65 are covered by the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act). You’d think those kind of figures would make it pretty overwhelmingly apparent that we will all be touched by disability in our life times, yet most non-disabled people still believe that disability happens to other people or that it is something that can be avoided.

Becoming seriously sick (like developing cancer) or being maimed (loosing the use of limb(s), organ(s) or whole sections of ones body) is not a pleasant thought for most people. For many it mentally equates with being given a death sentence. As a result people’s minds minimise the likelihood of it happening to them. The same seems to happen with other illnesses and serious accidents that could lead to disablement. People just don’t want to think about it. Not because they are callous or uncaring, but because, in many way they are wired that way. It’s the force that tells people disability is sad, just too depressing to think about. It’s the force that helps make people feel awkward and change the channel when faced with a advert trying to raise awareness about an important issue. It’s part of the force that champions the ‘just world fallacy’ which makes people assume that disabled people were either born that way or became disabled through reckless or immoral behaviour. It’s one of the reasons why people the idea that most people who say they are disabled must be lying sits so comfortably with people – that way the chances of actually becoming disabled/chronically sick/terminally ill are minimised once more. It’s a huge barrier for the disability rights groups to cross because until currently non-disabled people start paying attention to disability rights and taking our desire for rights not charity seriously we find ourselves less able to make gains.

Feminism & Denial

It’s not just with regards to disability either. Currently 1 in 4 UK women will experience domestic violence in their lives, over 1 in 5 will be sexually assaulted and between 1 in 6 to 1 in 10 (depending on stats used) will report being raped. Still, most women who have not already been the victims of these crimes don’t expect them to directly impact on their lives or they think they can behave in certain manners and avoid the issue.

I regularly read blog posts from feminists telling of their shock when they were abused by someone close to them and that being a feminist didn’t serve as a shield/radar. Many of these stories all have an uncomfortable touch of “I behaved in ‘x’ manner so I thought it wouldn’t happen to me”. These people were familiar with the statistics and the forms abuse can take but on some level didn’t think it was ever going to happen to them.  I’m not going to list all the ways denial makes getting the message out about gendered abuse, harassment, assault and horrid acts like Female Genital Mutilation difficult. I’m sure you’ve got the picture by now.

Dealing With Denial

Even though we can’t get rid of this barrier (well, not without harming the person we are trying to raise the awareness of) we can acknowledge it’s existence. By knowing it is there we can try to challenge it when we run into it. By understanding it’s a protective force existing within many (if not all) of us we can try to be more patient with people being influenced by it. By talking about it we can hopefully find more productive ways of engaging with our audience. We can also try to see it in ourselves when we jump to conclusions about someones personality or take a dislike to someone telling us things we don’t want to hear. If we can’t challenge it in ourselves we have no right to expect other people to do the same.

Intersect Confrence 2012

This Saturday I got up (way too fucking early) to drag my carcass down to Bristol so I could talk at a really exciting conference called Intersect. The conference was a celebration of the intersectional values of third wave feminism. Too often feminism is rightly criticised for focusing primarily on the needs and values of privileged white, well educated, middle class, non-disabled, cisgendered, western, heterosexual women. Intersect was a chance to challenge this and turn the traditional discourse on it’s head.

The symbol used by many feminists, a circle with a cross at the base and a clenched fist in the centre. Depicting the struggle for women’s equality.

In speaking I was joined by the following fantastic activists;

  • Nimco Ali from Daughters of Eve, a group working hard to raise awareness about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), support survivors lobby for it’s end.
  • Becki who blogs at Broken Single Mum wasn’t able to be physically present but she was able to share her touching story of disability, domestic abuse and becoming a single parent.
  • Two anonymous women from Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) came to share their heartbreaking experiences of leaving thier homes and living as asylum seekers in the UK.
  • Transfeminists Ariel Silvera of BoLT magazine who video blogs here (link to youtube) and Paris Lees from Transmedia Watch and MetaMag gave a great talk on issues surrounding transfeminism and trans* rights.
  • The whole event was the brain child of Nat from Forty Shades of Grey (the blog, not the book) and chaired by the feminist comedian & writer Kate Smurthwaite.

My talk was on the UK disability rights movement and its intersections with feminism. Knowing that many of the audience would a) be unfamiliar with the challenges disabled people in the UK face, let alone with the intersectional issues and b) would probably hold plenty of ideas about disability based on stereotypes and media myths I had quite a lot to cover in a rather short space of time (under 30mins). I think I managed to cover the basics of a lot of issues but plenty got left out because of time constraints, complexity and my nerves affecting my memory. I also started to run over so the last sections were very rushed. Still, I think it went well.

The rest of the day was really fun, thought provoking and bitingly relevant to modern third wave feminism. I met some fabulous people and I hope I manage to keep in touch with some of them into the future. I hope this won’t be the last conference flying under the Intersect banner, our feminism needs more focus on intersectionality.

If you would like to see or read a recording of the talk you can either watch it below or read the transcript (provided for Intersect by @socialamelia from Silence Cupcake). You can also see these and other transcripts and videos from the other brilliant speakers at the Intersect website.

Video of the talk, apologies for the poor sound quality in places.

Transcript

Kate: [speaking, chatter and laughter in background] register later…and anyone who hasn’t shown up for the requisite number of minutes will be given lines afterwards.
So we’re going to move on to the next section of the programme and we’re gonna hear, well, we’re going to hear about disabled women’s rights. I’m not going to try and pre-empt what’s going to be said, because I actually don’t know what we’re going to hear about, in much more detail than that. But I’m going to sit up here, and keep an eye on things as we go, so could you please give a very warm welcome to Emma Round.

[Applause]

Emma: If you bear with me whilst I manoeuvre.

Hi then, well hello! I’m Emma and as you can probably see I’m a wheelchair user, and that stems from a lot of abdominal nerve damage that’s been done over the last decade or so, but all of it started with a simple thing, appendicitis of all things. And what you can’t see is that I’ve also got post-traumatic stress disorder as well. So when I’m speaking to you today I’m not just talking to you from a physical disability standpoint, it’s also a mental disability standpoint as well.
Now, I’m telling you this, not because I want your pity, not because I expect your pity or anything like that from it, but because I want to try and raise awareness that anyone, anybody in this room even if you don’t think of yourself as disabled currently, can become disabled. Actually, you probably will. In today’s Britain, if you look at all the 65 year olds, one in two of them are covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. One in five working age adults are covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. Even if you don’t think of yourself as disabled currently, changes are you will be, or someone extremely close to you will be, and you’ll be dealing with it as some stage in your life.
There’s a myth that the majority of disabled people are born with disabilities, but that’s not actually the case. In fact the vast majority of disabled people in the United Kingdom becomes disabled once they pass the age of eighteen. That’s something that’s always really important to bear in mind. I want to impress just from the start that disability is everywhere, and it is everybody’s issue.
So, that bit over, today I want to outline what I’m going to talk to you about. First I’m going to start of by giving a quick primer on disability language and how we talk about it in the United Kingdom, as opposed to the United States. Then I’m going to move on to problems faced by disabled people in general, and I’ll focus a bit more on problems faced by disabled women. Then I’m going to talk to you about current issues in the disability rights movement and finally I’m going to finish off by talking about feminist spaces and access, and explaining why access is important for everybody.
Okay then, so if we start off with this little primer. There are two big models when it comes to thinking about disability; there’s the social model, and there’s the medical model. The medical model says: Emma Round’s got nerve damage and because of her nerve damage, she can’t get from A to B. So Emma’s disability is her nerve damage.
The social model, on the other hand, comes at it from a different point of view. It says: Emma Round’s got nerve damage, but because she’s got a wheelchair, that should be enough to get her from A to B, that more than compensates for it. But because of poor civic planning, because they put a step in the way, they’ve not built a lower kerb, that’s what disables me. And in the U.K we heavily focus, and we’ve fought for years to focus on the social model, so you won’t hear us talking about people with disabilities, you’ll hear us talking about disabled people or disabled women, because we don’t want to make it sound as if the disability is something to do with the person, the disability is a societal issue. You’ll also hear us talking about disableism instead of ableism, as some of you might have heard, and you’ll hear us talking about non-disabled people rather than able-bodied people. This is because the able-bodied thing puts the slant that disability is a very physical thing, it ties in to the stereotype that all disabled people use a wheelchair, and that’s actually not very helpful when it comes to battling for disabled people’s rights.

So with that out of the way, I’m going to have a quick look at some of the problems that disabled people face in the United Kingdom today. Now I just want to quickly start by saying disability rights is an absolutely gargantuan field, it’s hugely intersectional; there are massive intersections with race, with class and so on and so forth. But I really don’t have time to cover it all in just under half an hour, so you’re going to have to bear with me when I only focus on the intersections between disability and women’s rights today.

Now, disableism is the assumption that everybody you meet is not going to be disabled. That they are going to be a non-disabled person. And it’s also the marginalisation and the othering of disabled people that comes along with it. And this is done through unhelpful stereotypes, and making disabled people invisible from the general discourse. And this has huge effects on disabled people in Britain. For example, if you look at employment just to start with, there’s a pay gap where a disabled person can expect to earn between six and twenty six percent less than an able-bodied ” sorry, non-disabled person. Say “don’t say it!” and it’s the first thing in my mind. [Chuckles from audience] I apologise. And then if we have a look at disabled women in particular, in comparison to a non-disabled women I can expect to earn twenty-two percent less. And we already know that non-disabled women have a huge pay gap. And this isn’t just because of disability. If it was, we’d expect a pay gap of twenty two percent when it came to disabled men in comparison to non-disabled men, but it’s not, it’s much lower, it’s half of that in fact, at eleven per cent. It’s pretty huge, and I mean, this isn’t something ” this is something that’s still currently going on. If we look at 2011 for example, seventy seven point five per cent of non-disabled people managed to find themselves work, only forty eight point eight per cent of disabled people did, in contrast to that. And of course this isn’t all about finding work either, when we look at employment, it’s about keeping work. As I said at the start, lots of disabled people, or the vast majority of disabled people become disabled after the age of eighteen, whilst they’re working. But, if we look at after a year in employment, eighty per cent of people that have become disabled whilst working for a company managed to keep their jobs. That’s twenty per cent fall out of employment. After two years, only sixty per cent manage to keep their job. And after three years, that goes down to just thirty six per cent of people. And our employment rates are very, very low as well, like less than one in five people with learning disabilities manages to find employment. About one in ten people with mental disabilities. And so on and so forth. I mean, we want to ask ourselves why this happens.

And there are a couple of reasons, you’ll hear me talking about these two quite a few times. There’s direct discrimination, and then there’s indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination is when people make assumptions regarding our capabilities and our backgrounds. They see a disability, they don’t see a person. And there’s also, it ties in with the unwillingness, or just simple lack of knowledge, about things like the Disability Discrimination Act, what reasonable adjustments are, or just how to go about getting funding for them. And then there are things like indirect discrimination, which is a lot more pernicious, and often isn’t talked about so much. And that’s when companies do things like linking performance pay and promotion opportunities to people’s ” oh, where am I, sorry, mind gone blank ” to either people’s ability to work lots of overtime, to work long, long hours or, horrendously, for people that have low levels of absence. Which makes it really, really difficult for somebody with disabilities who’s going to need a lot of time off or can’t manage to do long hours, and so on and so forth, to progress within a company. It also comes in when there are restrictions to part time working, flexible working and home working within businesses. And I’m sure you’ll see parallels between that and the women’s rights movement arguing for the advancement of the same.

And this sort of lack of employment opportunity, ties in to poverty and disabled people’s financial situation. In the U.K, at the moment, depending on where you live, between twenty-one and thirty-three percent of households with a disabled person inside them live below the poverty live, in the United Kingdom. And that’s because disability is really expensive. Taxis, lovely wheelchairs [pats wheelchair], they don’t come free of charge. Adaptations to your house. Personal assistants or carers, depending on how you want to talk about them, all cost money, they don’t just appear free of charge. And the amount of financial help we get to try and offset these problems is actually quite limited. People think automatically: charities! Why don’t you go to a charity if you need a new wheelchair, or so on and so forth. Charities don’t tend to hand out new wheelchairs, they don’t hand you a cheque every month for a hundred pounds to make up for the extra costs of being disabled. They tend to be more there in an advisory capacity, or perhaps to give selective care in the community or running refuges or so on and so forth.

And then we look at local authorities and social services, but they’re a bit of a postcode lottery. There’s no nationalised standard that seems to come in to effect. My local council, for example, doesn’t like to give money to disabled people who’ve got friends or family that can potentially care for them which increases dependancy upon those people. My local council won’t give me a wheelchair ramp, so I can get my wheelchair in and out of the house on my own, because it’s not necessary enough. These sort of things all tie in to this postcode lottery, I’m sure if I perhaps lived in a more affluent area, or with a different council that perhaps but a greater emphasis on adult social care that might be different.
If we move away from local authorities, we’re left with welfare after that. We look at things like employment support allowance, the new name for incapacity benefit, which now comes with annual tests for an awful lots of us, where we go and are assessed by an independent company called ATOS, who are a huge bugbear of the disability rights community. They’re heavily criticised, because seventy per cent who go on to appeal their decisions, with legal help, or forty per cent of people who go on to appeal their decisions without, have their cases over turned, and are then awarded disability benefits, which they wouldn’t have been awarded beforehand. They’re a huge problem ” I’m not going to go into that so much now, because I could talk about that for hours. Then there’s Disability Living Allowance, which is something that people don’t tend to understand too greatly. It’s a non-means tested benefit, which is supposed to be there to all disabled people to make up for the extra costs of living in Britain. A disableist society. But it’s very hard to get hold of it, you actually have to be quite severely disabled to start with.

When I first applied for it, they told me I wasn’t disabled enough and didn’t have the needs. It took a long time, well, eighteen months of appealing to get them to admit that actually, it is a bit more costly when you’re a wheelchair user to get around. And all of this works to enforce dependancy, on people, on family and friends. Which is a huge problem, and this is where this becomes predominantly a women’s rights issue. Because the people who end up caring for disabled people, and who tend to end up being responsible for looking after them are disproportionately women. Carers either from within the family, or employed by the state are normally female. They also tend to work extremely long hours, they have a huge lack of social support and they tend to work in a very challenging role for very little pay. If you’re receiving carer’s allowance, you get a whopping great fifty five pounds per week, for your twenty four hours a day, seven days a week care for somebody who must be, who will have to be getting Disability Living Allowance, so who is quite profoundly disabled.

I mean if we move away from just carers, if you have a think about disabled women for a moment, there’s a huge power imbalance when disabled women become dependant on their partners and their families to look after them, especially when those partners are male. We talk about one in four women being subjected to domestic abuse in the U.K, well, one in two disabled people are subject to some form of abuse at home; be it, emotional, financial, physical or sexual. If you look at women, that figure rises even more. It’s terrifying. And there is a huge, huge lack of research being done in that field. And it’s really, really hard for disabled women, especially if they’re in an abusive situation, to get out of it. Imagine that you can’t communicate easily with other people, but the person you rely on to do your communicating for you is the person stealing your money, is the person berating you day in and day out for being a burden, for being too much hard work. How do you get out of that situation? How do you contact the police if you can’t leave the house, if you can’t run away without assistance? If the council trusts that person to be looking after you. It’s…oh, it’s horrible.
And I mean, to move on, there are other issues around sexuality; there’s always this stereotype that disabled people are pretty sexless, that we don’t enjoy sex, which is just complete rubbish in most cases. Of course there are asexual disabled people, and there are disabled people who aren’t asexual, just like with the rest of the population. But at the same time, there’s this other rather extreme position that tends to get ignored, in which disabled women, in particular, tend to get fetishized by certain minority groups. And they tend to objectify and dehumanise these women, and be extremely threatening in many cases. Quite happily following you around town, trying to grab a feel if you’re not looking particularly well, because they think it’s their right, it’s the patriarchy in action. And then there are huge issues around reproduction. From forced sterilisation and the horrible pillow angels cases that have been coming up recently, consent issues, fertility issues, being able to access fertility treatment, support for disabled parents, the way that social services tends to be involved from day one with a disabled parent because there’s this assumption that we’re not safe to leave children with. That all needs challenging.

And that’s not even going on to body image issues, which come about when we normalise the perfect appearance and the perfect personality, being that of somebody who’s non-disabled.

A very, very quick nutshell of some of the big issues going on in the disability world, if we look at what’s going on currently, it’s disabled people fighting for their basic rights to live. Over the last fifty years, we’ve made some huge leaps forward in the United Kingdom. The social model has been much more widely accepted, Disability Living Allowance has been brought in which wasn’t before, the Disability Discrimination Act came into effect, the Equalities act in 2010, and all through it, disabled activists have had this mantra: Rights, not Charity. Where we say, we want the right to live an independent life, we don’t want to have to survive on handouts, off pity, off very subjective charities that only deal with a very small subset of disabled people, providing funding for them. Now in 2010, the coalition came in to power over here and the Big Society started getting lauded and heralded. And there’s been this slow change from Rights not Charity to Charity, not Rights. Where the idea is we should depend on our neighbours for help, we shouldn’t depend on social services, we should depend on charities for handouts. We shouldn’t expect welfare to cover us. And it really scared a lot of activists, understandably.
We noticed a huge rise starting after that, in the scapegoating and demonisation of disabled people across all aspects of media. Horror stories about motobility; a child with a slight twitch in their finger and their parents getting a fifty thousand pound BMW free of charge, living in a mansion and having holidays paid for in Mauritius. Which is just absolute bull. But as a result, we’ve seen a huge spike in disability related hate crime, and it’s terrifying for many of us. There are groups like Black Triangle Campaign trying to fight against this at the moment. They named themselves the Black Triangle Campaign after the black triangles that disabled people used to have to wear in 1930’s Germany, and I know a lot of people are very against comparing anything to the Nazi’s, or to that period of time, but there are huge parallels to be drawn between the “useless eaters” rhetoric that Hitler used to push and their propaganda, and the Daily Mail, and The Express doing stories about “How much a disabled person costs Britain” and how they don’t give anything back to society, and it scares a lot of us.
And then last year, the Welfare Reform Bill was announced, which is where we think all of the scapegoating and things was leading to, well, quite clearly. It involves reforming Disability Living Allowance, making it harder to get. There’s a nought point five per cent fraud rate when it comes to Disability Living Allowance; it’s tiny. Yet they’re taking twenty per cent of people off Disability Living Allowance when it gets transformed into these personal independence payments coming in to replace it, which is just ludicrous. When it comes to ESA, they now want anybody who’s getting it to [?] work related activity, even though, even if you’re in a work-related activity group, or the limited capability group of Employment Support Allowance, you’ve been deigned as somebody who’s been unable to work, and is going to need time and help and assistance to get back on that horse, if you ever manage to.

They’ve said they’re going to reduce the amount of time people are going to get contributions-based DSA. This is what your national insurance payments go towards. Beforehand, you paid in for three years, you got an extra bit of money back for the whole time you were sick or disabled. Now that stops after a year. Your cancer might not go away after a year. Your motor neurone disease probably won’t either, but the payment’s stopped.
And they’re also abolishing the Youth Provision ” beforehand if you became disabled, or were born with a disability, you got DSA because it was said: there’s no chance for you to pay into the system, it’s only fair. Now you get that for one year after you’ve turned eighteen, or you’ve left full time education, and that stops.

There’s big changes to housing benefit, they’re capping the amount that goes in and they’re taxing any extra bedrooms. Disabled people’s houses tend to cost more. We need them in specific locations, so they’re close to doctor’s and services. We need them to be adapted for our needs. We tend to need a second bedroom, because that’s where our dialysis equipment goes, or that’s where our carers sleep. But it doesn’t matter, it’s still going to be taken out of us. They’re also scrapping the social fund, they’re scrapping the independent living fund. All these things are used by disabled people to try and live an independent life.
And then there are other issues, that affect everybody, especially every woman. Like changes to the child support agency, where now, if your partner leaves you, you’re going to have to pay to have them chased up; a certain proportion of your income is going to be taken out of that. And then there’s the removing of child benefit from some of the very poorest families, by bringing in the twenty six thousand pounds a year benefit cap.
Now we’ve been working really, really hard to challenge all of this, so there’s groups like the Black Triangle Campaign challenging scapegoating, Disabled People Against Cuts, or DPAC, have come together to try and oppose all these austerity measures. I mean, this January I was down in Oxford Circus with a lot of them. I chained my wheelchair across the road to stop traffic and try and get some awareness raised about these issues of which there seems to have been a media blackout. Then there was the Responsible Reform Report or Spartacus Report, which was set up by a group of grassroots disability rights activists to raise awareness and to ac as a critique for the Disability Living Allowance reform.
They found out that only seven per cent of the organisations in the Disability Living Allowance reform consultations actually supported fully the change to PIP even though the government will tell you that they were overwhelming in support. They discovered that this rise in the Disability Living Allowance that people hear spoken about is actually mainly from people being diagnosed with learning disabilities and mental disabilities, not a huge rise in people with bad backs who are just trying to fiddle the system. They discovered ninety per cent of people were opposed to the assessments being brought in for PIP, that we currently undergo with Employment Support Allowance, and so on.

Now I’m sure that you can imagine getting disabled people together, to work together, to try and form a grassroots campaign is really, really difficult. We can’t just go out and meet down the pub. A lot of us can’t just go out of our bedrooms. So we’ve found the internet has been amazingly helpful when it comes to bringing people together. Facebook, Twitter and such, have given us a voice, and allowed us to work and network together in ways that we couldn’t have done thirty years ago. It has also inspired a lot of disabled people on their own, like myself, to start taking a move forwards and doing something about it, so contacting our local councillors, contacting our MPs, contacting local newsrooms to try and get our stories out, and at the same time to try and get the stories of disabled people all over the country out and given air. A lot of these ideas have been really helpful incorporated into the women’s rights movement, as well.

And having spoken about that, I want to just quickly finish up with talking about how we can feminists spaces, so online and offline, more accessible to people; something I’m often asked about. When it comes to offline, we need to look at the two ” direct and indirect ways they can discriminate against disabled women in particular. The direct ways, so the physical access, the location, does it have ramps, is there an accessible toilet there, do you need some British Sign Language interpreter. The person might have a carer. That carer, if it’s a friend or family member, which it’s very likely to be, might be male ” how is your group going to cope with that? Is the lighting good for people with visual impairments? Is there an awful lot of surplus background noise for people with hearing impairments? Is there somewhere for people to park? There are websites like Disabled Go, for example, where you can just type in the name of a venue and if they’ve been assessed, it will give you all of this information, it will give you all the answers. There are places you can go to look to find this stuff out. You don’t have to have a degree in the subject.
But then we also need to look at things like indirect access, which is atmosphere, nine out of ten times. We don’t want to turn up to an event and be treated as some sort of curiosity. I can’t begin to count the amount of times I’ve turned up somewhere, and before anyone has asked me my name or said hello, it’s “What’s wrong with you, then?” or “Why are you in that wheelchair?” which is normally followed up by a quick explanation from me, and then some very helpful comments about how reiki cured their Mum when she had a broken ankle, so my abdominal nerve damage will be fixed by exactly the same. There’s this assumption of a lack of expertise which all comes in to the stereotype that disabled people don’t really know what’s best for them at the end of the day.

Then there’s things like there being a lack of descriptions, especially if you’re showing pictures or something like that for people with visual impairments, there being an exclusionary language used. I don’t want to go into a room hear people using the word ‘lame’, as a word synonymous for ‘rubbish’ because it upsets me. I don’t want to go into a room and hear people talking about folks being ‘mental’ or ‘crazy’ because as somebody with mental health problems I find that really exclusionary, it makes me feel really uncomfortable. And I know the same is true for an awful lot of other people. Some people don’t mind, others do.

And when it comes to on-line, the same kind of issues apply. There’s direct access, so blogs and websites and so on, they need to be something that’s accessible, they need to be easy to go through. It might be really funky to have an interesting layout, but that needs to be addressed. And also, the comments need to be moderated as well.

So that’s kind of everything, I’m rushing towards the end, but I’m looking forward to taking any questions about it, I think Nat’s got something to read out from Becky [gesturing off camera].

Kate: So, sorry, Nat, how long do you want us to take for questions?

Nat: [off-camera] ten, fifteen minutes?#

Kate: Okay, so obviously Emma’s here, so if you’ve got any questions, go for it.
[Silence, some murmuring off camera]

Question 1: What do you mean by living independently when you’re disabled?

Emma: Okay, it’s not being dependant on another person to be able to do the things that most people would take for granted. Not talking about being able to get myself out to the cinema, or go show-jumping [laughs] or something like that, but more being able to wash my hair on my own, being able to feed myself, being able to get a drink without having to rely on somebody else’s good will to get it done. To give an example from my own life, I became disabled back in 2009 and I was living in a privately-rented house, which I’m still in. Hopefully, I’ll be out of there in a couple of weeks now, but there’s stairs in it, and my kitchen is downstairs and my bathroom and bedroom are upstairs, and so I need help, everyday, if I want to go up and down the stairs. If I want to get between my kitchen and my bedroom, if I’m having a day when I can’t move, quite often I’ll go without eating, because there’s no-one there to feed me, to bring me food, or to help me, and I can’t manage the stairs safely on my own. The amount of times I’ve fallen down them is just ridiculous. The bathroom in our house, I’ve got normal bathtub with a shower over the top of it, and I can’t step over that. I can’t get myself in, and I can hardly keep myself up when I’m standing to wash my hair, so I need somebody there with me. The council, because I’ve got a partner won’t provide any care or any payment for somebody to come along there and do it, so I’m completely, in many regards, dependant on my partner for everything, and I don’t think that’s right. My life suddenly becomes completely controlled by what he’s willing to do. He’s not paid for it and because he’s a student he can’t be there all the time. He’s got his own life to lead, as well, and it leads to me feeling like I’m greatly lacking any great independence or autonomy. And that’s kind of what we’re trying to fight against. Does that help answer it at all?

Question 2: Do they then pay you for disability…

Emma: I get Disability Living Allowance which took a very long time to come through, and was a very hard fought battle and I get higher rate care and mobility, because they admitted that I needed quite a bit of help with care because of my situation. But, unfortunately, if you look at how much it costs to hire a personal care assistant, and then if you look at the seventy pounds a week I get for my care component; paying a carer seven pounds an hour would only buy me ten hours worth of care. And I don’t always know where I’m going to need that, my condition fluctuates a lot. Some days I’m able to do a lot more, and some days I’m not able to get out of bed. And I’m morphined up to the eyeballs. So it varies, you don’t know when you’re going to need to call one in. Being able to call one in at short notice is also really, really difficult. And then there are other things which that money has to go on. I can’t cook for myself because I can’t bend to get down to my low oven, and I can’t bend to get to my freezer. So, I can do a microwaveable meal, and that’s if I can get myself downstairs to the kitchen to do it, and those aren’t particularly cheap, especially if you want to try and eat something nutritious, which again, is something I tend to have to do because I’ve got a lot of damage inside my abdomen, which messes with my bowel and the like. So, it all starts adding up, and it eats away at that money in no time flat. Just to start with.
Question 3: So are you not a priority on the housing?
Emma: I am, now. I’m the highest priority, and we’re having a huge amount of trouble with this. We finally got on to the Housing register this December (2011) and we got invited to our first accessible house in January and we were so excited about it, and we got there and thought Oh this is a really lovely area and it’s really, really affordable and the lady opened the front door to the flat we were going to look at and it was a first floor one, and there was a flight of steps leading up behind the doorway [laughs. We said: Are they putting a stairlift in? And she said: Oh no, you’d have to bid on it, and then ask the Council if they’d put a stairlift in.
But because I can get out of my wheelchair and walk a couple of feet, even though it causes extreme pain, I’m seen as somebody who doesn’t need that extra support. I don’t need an NHS stairlift because I can walk two feet. [sarcasm] It’s why I don’t need a wheelchair ramp to help me get a heavy beast like this out of the big step down from my back door. Because I could step over that, even if I couldn’t go any further. I should be able to lift this [gestures at wheelchair, laughs] hundred kilogram wheelchair down as well as myself. It’s ludicrous and you don’t think that this is going to be the case when you become disabled. I didn’t. I thought I’d rock up to my GP’s surgery and they’d adapt my house, and I’d get all the wheelchairs I needed and I’d have enough money to live on and carers and [makes a circle gesture with hands] and, â�¦ it’s not the case at all.

Question 4: So you must be on anti-depressants, as well?

Emma: Um, I don’t, because of the post-traumatic stress disorder, I don’t take those but it’s a huge problem. On that side of things.

Audience member: I like your personality!

Emma: Well, thank you very much!

Audience member: â�¦ I expected you to be pulling down and want pity but you’re such a like, you know, i’m just like you…

Emma: Well, that said, and it’s kind of, well it’s really really difficult. I was Geology graduate, I was going to work doing lots of interesting geological mapping, I was going to go to Iran, see if there was gold in them there hills and these were all the big plans when I was younger, I didn’t think about the rest of the world all that much, and then all of a sudden, everything changes. And it gives you a new perspective. But at the same time, there’s a lot of room to challenge it and a lot of room to find these things. So I”m trying to do the best I can, as are a lot of other people

Audience member: [not really sure what she’s saying here]

Kate: Does anybody else have questions?

Question 5: What’s the best way of lobbying for change?

Emma: We found that putting political pressure on people is important. There’s this idea that you can keep hitting the disabled community, and they can’t say anything back, and they won’t say anything back and if they do, people will ignore them. So, we’ve been letter-writing, we’ve been tweeting, we’ve been phone-calling, we’ve been faxing, we’ve been blogging, we’ve been doing everything we can to try and raise awareness. I mean, one way which is really, really helpful and people don’t think of it as being that big a deal is challenging the really hurtful stereotypes. When you hear this ‘scrounger’ rhetoric starting and this “I know someone with depression who gets everything free of charge” and all the rest of it, saying: Really? You’ve seen them behind closed doors? You’re their doctor? Do you understand that to get Disability Living Allowance you have to send your Doctor’s details along.
I made the mistake and didn’t, and that’s why it was denied the first time through, and why I ended up in appeals for eighteen months. You don’t just get given ESA because you say you feel a bit glum, it’s extremely difficult. That’s why the fraud rates are so, so low. And it’s challenging it, and it’s challenging these assumptions about disability. And that’s just a really helpful way that anyone can do of trying to change the public discourse about it and make all of our lives a bit easier.
Question 6: What are the challenges it helps to have concrete examples. In my office, we’ve had three cases of whiplash in the last year. Not serious, these are minor injuries, but one of the women had a quick conversation with the insurance company and probably was the least damaged of the three. [mumbling] an ongoing issue which she didn’t feel was quite enough to actually deal with and one of the guys had about six months of arguing with the insurance people about not being able to move his shoulder and, you see the disparity?

Emma: Well, a lot of it, it’s not about how [airquotes] disabled you are, if you want to look at it in those terms, it’s kind of about how well you can argue that to people, which is where these huge intersections again, race, class, communication and such, really start coming in. Because if you’re not in a situation to fill out these incredibly challenging forms, read between the lines, do your Freedom of Information request to find out what the criteria is so that you can actually work out what words need to be there, and I’m telling you, they need to be precise. My GP in her letter said: Emma can’t even manage to walk thirty metre without collapsing. And they said ‘Well that means you can walk twenty nine just fine.’ I mean, it’s this kind of precision and the difficulty is a huge issue that needs to be addressed.

Question 7: I was just wanting to touch on what you were saying about social services because I work within the [?] section I haven’t ever had to go into work with [something something] that’s meant they’ve been in a wheelchair, etcetera, or been physically less able but I have had to go and work with lots of women with learning difficulties and I think the presumptions from lots of professionals and the lack of expertise you hold as professional but in that area which is about understanding how somebody’s capacity [inaudible]

Emma: Well, that’s it, its very difficult for a lot of people. You see these horrendous sort of assumptions that because somebody can’t verbally communicate or can’t verbally communicate very well, that that means they’ve got intellectual issues, they can’t be a caring and compassionate parent, which, when you think about it logically, is complete and utter rubbish. But there’s stereotypes still hold and it’s an absolutely huge challenge and they need dealing with and it’s extremely difficult to do so, because a lot of people don’t want to think about disability in serious terms. We don’t like the idea that we could become disabled and I’m pretty sure that when I said one in two of you by the age of sixty-five were thinking: Oh, that poor person next to me. It won’t really be me. [laughter from audience] And it’s all set up psychologically to defend us and to look after us. But it’s a gigantic barrier to try and cross when you’re trying to convince people that this is their issue, and it probably will be them, actually. It’s horrendous.

A Quick Update

I’ve not really been able to sit and blog in the last couple of weeks, which I am sorry about. I have been having trouble with a condition flaring and writing is just one of those things that has been too hard. I don’t think I’ve had a night where I’ve got more than 2 hours uninterrupted sleep in the last fortnight and it has eaten away at my ability to really do much. I’m sure many of you have often been in the same boat.

Still, I have been trying where I can to keep myself busy with useful work and I’ve had my favourite ‘fight back’ song playing as inspiration.

Mis-Shapes by Pulp – a transcript of the lyrics is at the bottom of the post.

The Welfare Reform Bill will be back in the Lords tomorrow. The Peers will consider the amendments made by the House of Commons, which was to refuse the Lords amendment on the “Bedroom Tax”, and they will most likey back down. If the Lords pass no more amendments then the WRB will get Royal Assent (because the Queen really has no power over what she signs or doesn’t) and it will become official. If you want to remind Lords to actually turn up and debate the WRB after the Health Bill, as well as explaining that we are watching then I listed I lot of ways you can contact them here.

So far the government haven’t accepted one amendment and the Lords haven’t forced the issue so an awful lot of nastiness has been passed already. The real struggle is going to be providing support, information and care for those who will be hit by the reforms in the all too near future. That is what I’m starting to focus on and it’s taking a lot of work. I don’t really have anything solid to show for it yet but hopefully in a few months I should be able to write something positive about it all.

Moving away from the WRB, I’m pleased to say that it’s International Women’s Day on March 8th. Given that today the guardian reports that there have been massive failings found in the way Police in the UK handle reported rape’s “Only three out of 43 forces keep up to date area profiles, while 2,131 reported offences were logged as ‘no crimes’” I think it’s clear there is still a fair way to go before women get equality in this country.

That said, On Saturday March 3rd Million Women Rise is holding a huge march & rally in London to coincide with IWD. I’m going to be making the hectic trip to London with my powerchair and I know quite a few other fantastic people will be too, hopefully I’ll get a chance to see some of you there! It promises to be a wonderful day.

Transcript of Lyrics:
Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits. Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh we don’t look the same as youWe don’t do the things you do, but we live around here too. Oh really. Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits, we’d like to go to town but we can’t risk itOh ’cause they just want to keep us out. You could end up with a smash in the mouth just for standing out.

Oh really. Brothers, sisters, can’t you see? The future’s owned by you and me. There won’t be fighting in the street. They think they’ve got us beat, but revenge is going to be so sweet. We’re making a move, we’re making it now, we’re coming out of the side-lines. Just put your hands up – it’s a raid yeah: We want your homes, we want your lives, we want the things you won’t allow us. We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombsWe’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of – that’s our minds.


Check your lucky numbers, that much money could drag you under, oh. What’s the point of being rich if you can’t think what to do with it? ‘Cause you’re so very thick. Oh we weren’t supposed to be, we learnt too much at school now we can’t help but see. That the future that you’ve got mapped out is nothing much to shout about. We’re making a move, we’re making it now,We’re coming out of the side-lines. Just put your hands up – it’s a raid. We want your homes, we want your lives,we want the things you won’t allow us. We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombsWe’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of – that’s our minds.


Brothers, sisters, can’t you see? The future’s owned by you and me. There won’t be fighting in the street. They think they’ve got us beat but revenge is going to be so sweet. We’re making a move. We’re making it now. We’re coming out of the sidelines. Just put your hands up – it’s a raid. We want your homes, we want your lives, we want the things you won’t allow us. We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombsWe’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of – that’s our minds. And that’s our minds. Yeah.

On Disability, Fraud, Distrust & Abuse

This post is going to be about the bits abuse and bullying I have had since becoming disabled. It may be triggering for some.

Edited to add: A version of this post is on the Guardians CiF peoples panel with regards to negative attitudes faced by disabled people.


I think the most humiliating thing to happen to me is when (often drunk) men try to grab at my breasts and face if we go out on an evening. Something that fortunately didn’t happen to me until I became a wheelchair user*. I think it’s because I’m an easy target, if my breaks are on I can’t turn away and, anyway, who would believe someone would grope a wheelchair user? We are often thought of as asexual and almost alien. I don’t often talk about it because I feel ashamed and embarrassed which is made worse by having been treated a couple of times I have complained like I am either making it up or should be grateful. A nice mix of sexist and disablist stereotypes fuels those myths. I’ve never contacted the police, I doubt a drunken boob grab from someone I can’t identify will be acted on. All that would happen is they would ruin whats left of my evening.

Where that is humiliating, the bit that actually hurts the most isn’t sexual harassment. It is that people regularly approach me when we are out (especially when my carer has stepped away for a bit) to ask questions like “Do you really need that wheelchair or are you doing it for the money?” and “I saw you move your leg! Are you just too lazy to walk?”. Every where I go I’m subjected to a grilling from strangers with regards to my disability, my employment prospects and my lifestyle choices. I feel like I have to defend myself to these people because if I don’t they assume I’m a faker, but in defending myself I have to share the painful story of my disability and some very personal details about how it effects my ability to live. I have developed a fear of being left alone in my chair because that’s when people most often come to ‘talk to me’ about my disability – just to make sure it’s real. Last December my city held a big Christmas market and I decided to attend. I was told to “Go home” repeatedly and mocked loudly by various people for both my appearance and for having a wheelchair all the way through. Not all cruelty is direct, the indirect “This isn’t a place for you” when it is clearly a public area is also very damaging. It’s like you are being pushed out and told you don’t belong in public. If it was done online I’d call it concern trolling. I came home and cried and couldn’t go near the city centre again until after it had gone. That kind of thing happens every time I try to go out to somewhere with lots of people and it’s just not good enough.


I associate this rise in abuse with a huge rise in public distrust & vilification of people who are disabled. I think that is fuelled by disproportionate the amount of negative stories in the media (often coming straight from the DWP) which paints the majority of those who claim disability benefit as fraudsters land manipulative scammers. There are a lot of faulty assumptions made by the which are fuelled by poor reporting such as; the assumption DLA is an out of work benefit – it isn’t, the assumption you just get a free car when of course you don’t, and the assumption you don’t need evidence to claim disability benefits which just isn’t true.

In reality £16 billion in disability benefits goes unclaimed in the UK. There is a 0.5% fraud level (ignoring DWP error) yet thanks to the unbalanced reporting in the media the general public assumes the level is much much higher. As a result of this kind of distrust we can see a witch-hunt beginning. Disability hate crime is up 75% according to government statistics, many reporting that those attacking them often use scrounger or similar as a term of abuse. In 2009/10 a massive 96% of calls to the national benefit fraud hotline were found to be malicious or time-wasting though I’m sure most of the people that rang in were sure they were shopping a scrounger. The government needs to take serious steps to address these issues and to raise public awareness of the reality of living as a disabled person in the UK. 


* although I am aware it happens to other non-disabled women a lot too

Child Maintenance Reforms

Today the lords vote on the welfare reform bills changes to child maintenance.

Starting from 2013, the government proposes charging:

  • £100 as an upfront fee (or £50 for parents on benefit) for those who want to use the future CSA. Only “Victims of domestic violence” will be exempt (although there is no detail on how this will be proved or checked).
  • An on-going charge of between 7% and 12% on any maintenance paid to parents who rely on the future CSA to collect their child maintenance, as well as an extra 15-20% charge added to the non-resident parent’s payment. 

Ian Duncan Smith says the bill will incentivise parents to make private arrangements with regards to welfare. He also believes it will make parents seriously consider whether separation is necessary.

This is really unfair for many reasons:

  • It punishes single parents who have partners that refuse to engage with the CSA by charging them.
  • It’s sexist; 97% of those that will be affected by the changes will be female. Putting the apparent emphasis back on the Tories old favourite. Punishing single mothers.
  • Over half of the people in receipt of child support get less than £20 per week. By adding these charges it makes going through the task of claiming pretty pointless. Go through all that trouble for less than £10 extra support? You’d probably be better off buying lottery tickets.
  • It puts people who are financially dependant and wishing to leave a relationship in a even greater position of vulnerability. Stay in a unhappy relationship and risk the potential damage that can cause? Try and negotiate a separation and hope that you partner plays fair? Because once you express a wish for separation you can’t really take it back. Try to keep your children with the knowledge it might mean living in poverty? If we look at the kinds of people most likely to financially dependant we see women, people with disabilities, people with mental health problems and people in abusive relationships*. That list is by no means exhaustive.

In a happy turn of events a Conservative Lord who helped set up the CSA, Lord MacKay, is pushing for an amendment this afternoon which parents with main care of children who have no alternative but to use the CSA to get maintenance for their children would be exempted from government charges. He says;

“Of course we all agree that it is better for voluntary arrangements. But that is not the world we live in, unfortunately. You require the co-operation of another party and you cannot force them to give it.

“When a woman – as a typical example – has taken all reasonable steps and done all she can to reach an agreement but cannot manage it, I do not agree that she should be charged by the CSA for her application … That is utterly unfair. If anyone is to pay for that, surely it should be the person who has caused the difficulty by trying to escape from his moral obligations.”

I, like many others are hoping to see a Conservative and Lib Dem rebellion allowing this very sensible amendment to pass. Of course it won’t mean the end of the issue if it does. When the bill is returned to the House of Commons the Conservatives have vowed to overturn the amendments. This is why we need to keep up the pressure.

This issue isn’t just a feminist issue, it’s also a disability and mental health rights issue and deserves support from across the board. We should all help spread the word.

If you want to get involved have a look at Gingerbread‘s website and campaigning page.

* even though the legislation says that those people will be exempt we know that proving domestic abuse can be extremely hard if not impossible in many incidences of psychological abuse. Especially if it doesn’t go to court or get reported to the police.

Homoeopathy For Domestic Violence

Full disclosure: I don’t believe that homoeopathy has any effect that is greater than a placebo administered in an identical fashion. I do not believe that by slapping some a ‘solution’ of water and a couple of grains of a compound (often so dilute there isn’t a molecule of the compound in the water) with a leather board causes it to gain mystic healing properties derived from that addition (whilst forgetting all the well diluted molecules of urine and excrement in our tap water). The 10^23 campaign – Homoeopathy: there’s nothing in it – has more information. I take great exception to companies like Boots selling it as if it’s anything other than sugar pills because people assume that if it didn’t work it wouldn’t be on sale. The subject usually fires me up as does any other form of quackery or snake-oil selling. I don’t like the abuse of statistics or the abuse of the needy/desperate.

Until yesterday I assumed that homoeopathy normally dealt solely with illness and disease, but no. They also claim to have ‘cures’ for domestic violence & abuse.

Seriously.

This drek is offensive to me on so many levels – even ignoring the fact Homoeopathy is nought but pseudoscience.

It suggests that abuse is something that can be avoided. Take a sugar pill, you won’t get abused. Honestly. They argue that abuse happens to people with low self esteem so taking a drug to improve that will stop the abuse happening. On the surface that seems sensible I guess. A confident person surely wouldn’t put up with someone abusing them. Wrong. Some abuse slowly builds up whilst the abuser slowly destroys the victims self confidence so that they don’t complain when things get really abusive. In other cases it really does come out of the blue. A partner may snap. A carer may decide they want to rape. A trusted family member may decide to start stealing from you. No amount of confidence or self-esteem is going to act as a shield. It plays into the pernicious idea that abuse can be avoided and that victims are simply people who didn’t try hard enough. This kind of classic victim-blaming (or Just World fallacy) can add to the tremendous guilt and pain often felt by many who live through abuse.

It suggests that abusive partners/carers/people can be ‘cured’ by talking the right sugar pills. Firstly this only works if the people that are being abused/ being abusive realise that they are. In my experience many don’t. Most abusive people think they have anger issues or are control freaks or have to live with a really annoying person. They don’t wear the label of abuser clear as day. Many victims of abuse don’t realise that it is abuse. We are all told that relationships involve some give and take and there will always be occasional conflict between people who care for each other. These people often just think they are in a normal (if not rather intense) relationship. If an abuser does realise what they are doing and wants to take steps to help themselves one could argue that relying solely on pharmaceutical interventions (especially homoeopathic placebos) will not be magnitudes less effective than engaging in meaningful psychological therapy.

Secondly it draws on the quacks favourite, selling sugar to the desperate and promising miracles.  Many victims of abuse, myself included, believe(d) that by staying with their partner and just finding the ‘right’ way of behaving/thinking they can make it better. They can make the abuse stop. After all they are frequently being told they are the cause of the pain. Telling them that all they need to do is pop some homoeopathic Strychnine (Nux Vomica) into the abusers diet is feeding them false hope. If I wanted really to put Strychnine in my abusers diet I would probably try a bigger dose than 1 molecule in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 for maximum effectiveness*.

All in all this is just another example of why the homoeopathy industry should be regulated and exposed to the public.

* disclaimer: I do not condone murder or attempted murder

Domestic Violence Part 3 – The Aftermath

This post is a continuation of my posts about my experiences with domestic abuse. It follows on from;

Domestic Violence Part 1 – How It All Began
Domestic Violence Part 2 – Where It Led

Warning: This post will contain triggers regarding domestic abuse and upsetting images as I talk about my own experiences. 



It’s taken me a long time to write this. In many ways I found what came after the relationship to be the hardest thing to deal with. I’ve spoken about how it all started and how those early steps eventually led to abuse of a financial, physical, sexual and psychological nature. My last post finished with me having finally realised something wasn’t quite right with our relationship and that I no longer loved the man. I had asked him to move out.

The evening after I asked him to leave I came home with a couple of ‘mates’ in tow expecting him to have either left or for their to be a confrontation. Luckily for me he had gone, sadly he had only taken two changes of clothes, his house keys and some of his plastic men he war-gamed with. Still, I was a strange mix of euphoric and terrified. I was overwhelmed with hope that he would try to be friends and that we could all move on peacefully with our lives.

Two days later I saw him and it became painfully clear he didn’t really believe we’d broken up. He thought I just needed a few days space before he would come back and things would be as before. I saw things very differently. That night he came into my flat (as he wouldn’t give the keys back) and started grabbing his stuff whilst shouting at me and the friend whom was still staying there. He rampaged through my belongings until he found a vibrator (which was given to me as a ‘Yay! You dumped the fucker!’ gift, then he really exploded and started threatening me with pretty much everything because it was clearly ‘evidence’ I was having an affair. Eventually he stormed out and I locked the door. For the first time I called the police.

Over the next fortnight he would keep refusing to collect his things from the flat and he would use it as reason to get back in whenever he felt like terrorising me. In one horrific incident he caught me walking to my flat alone, poured petrol on me and whilst I cried on the floor he walked around me flicking a lighter telling me how even if someone called 999 I’d be burned to death before they made it to save me. All he had to do was drop the lighter. Of course I fell into flashbacks of when I was previously burned (something he knew all about) and shut down completely. He must have decided to leave. I was on auto-pilot, being dissociated can be like sleepwalking, and walked back into the flat, put all my clothes into the washing machine and then went and sat in the shower with some fairy liquid whilst I washed my hair and body. I fell asleep and woke up later with no real memory of why I had taken a shower with washing up liquid. I blamed it on feeling ill and just got on with my life.

Reflecting back over it I can see my PTSD at work. I can see how my brain reacted to ‘protect’ me from the horror of what he was doing. I was so sure he was going to kill me. So very sure. Sometimes I wish I could turn back time so I could have called the police and let them see me covered in petrol, terrified and broken. It was clear he didn’t want me back. He was just acting like a spoilt child; if he couldn’t have me then no one could.

Eventually the day came where I needed to close our joint bank account. It was the last thing to be done. I met him and we went to the bank together. He was red and sweating, eyes like saucers the whole way through. He kept snapping so the lady in the bank hurried through his stuff and then, when he was done he stormed out. I burst into tears in fear and the staff kindly came over to check I was ok. They told me they all hated serving him and were scared of him. Eventually I left to meet a friend who said they would walk me home. Just as we left I heard someone screaming “WHORE!” as loudly as they could. I knew the voice. It was him. He strode through a busy high street screaming every insult he could think of at me whilst I froze, like a rabbit in the headlights. He towered over me (I’m 6’1″ but I slouch at the best of times, while he was 6’4″). He asked me if I’d had sex since we broke up (three weeks ago). I was so scared I simply replied “Yes”. I’d been well-trained never to argue with him and to always answer. I thought he couldn’t get angrier. I was wrong. He just screamed in my face at the top of his voice whilst I cowered, head in my hands, braced for a punch. Some people on the street told him to leave me alone and he stormed off. My friend took me back home, but just as we got close we saw him run up and head in the front door. My friend helped me find somewhere to hide (behind a wall) whilst he kept an eye out so I could dial 999. After a while he left the building and started running around the back trying (and succeeding) to smash my windows. When the police arrived I was a mess and he had vanished off into the local housing estate. They took my statement and went out to arrest him. Locals pointed them to where he was hiding; sadly it was a drug dealers house so they chucked him out and he spent a night in the cells. As it was his first offence he was cautioned and released. One of the things I remember most clearly about that event was being sat down by a kind policeman after he had been charged. He tried to give me a leaflet about domestic abuse. Initially I told him I didn’t need it, my ex hadn’t been abusive, he’d just had some temper issues. The police officer just popped the leaflet on my table and soon after left. Later my eyes flicked over it and soon I was crying. I was only just starting to realise that to realise that my relationship hadn’t been as perfect as I thought it was.

The front cover of the police leaflet that finally helped me realise I had been abused.

Over the next 6 months I was bombarded by death threats. He kept calling the police and telling them to arrest me. Eventually they got so pissed of with him they threatened to arrest him. He would stand outside my work and watch me all day flicking his lighter. Just before my shift would finish he’d vanish and leave me terrified that he was waiting to ambush me. Sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn’t. He told the drug dealers that it was my fault the police had come to their flat (even though he was the one who ran that way) and they started a campaign of hate too. I worked with the police to help build a harassment case against him. They were called out a few more times when his temper would stop him being able to control his urges and he’d just have to hit me with a brick or walk into a restaurant grab my hair and start yelling.

Thinking back, while his abuse was horrendous to deal with, so was the way others behaved when they saw it. I was sitting having dinner with friends the night of the restaurant incident. All I did was cry and beg him to stop when he started, yet I was told by the restaurant manager that I had to leave as well as him. To be fair. At the time I blamed myself for sitting near the window. Now I see how messed up that was. He saw me in a restaurant, where I was a paying customer, and then decided to come in and abuse me and then I was chucked out. Out onto the street where he was. The manager should have called the police, but no, he decided I was equally to blame simply for being a person trying to live their life. Later he would hit me over the head with a brick whilst threatening to kill me in front of loads of witnesses. When the police were called two of the witnesses called me a bitch (even though I wasn’t the one who called the police) and said I “deserved it” for “being out and having fun somewhere he might see me”. I was “a whore, fucking with his emotions”. Others told them to sod off but it stayed with me. I really started to believe I was bringing it on myself.

Eventually a case was made and he was charged. It took eight months to get it heard, during which time he stayed away from me. His friends were an issue until the police explained to him he could be in trouble for ‘acting through agents’. My mental health deteriorated as I was plagued by nightmares, and waking nightmares I’d eventually learn to call flashbacks. I was scared to go outside and scared to stay inside. I was losing things, hearing things, my friends were telling me they’d seen him hanging around near my new ‘secret’ home.

The court case was a horrid. I was too scared to see him so I gave evidence via video link. During my testimony he was repeatedly told by the magistrates to sit down, to stop shouting, to stop laughing and so on. I was so scared I spent most of it shaking, crying my eyes out. I quickly discovered that the case only covered the harassment after the date of his caution for criminal damage. When the court would ask “Why were you so scared when he threatened you with ‘x’?” I wasn’t allowed to say “Because he used to do ‘x’ to me whilst we were together”. I wasn’t allowed to tell the court he’d been abusing me for 5 years before the harassment. Of course him shouting at me in the park didn’t seem that scary when taken away from the context of being part of an ongoing campaign of torture and abuse. He lied under oath, twice during my time in court, but was never picked up on it. Eventually a verdict was reached. Not Guilty. He was warned and told not to come near me again or he would be given jail time, but they had decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. The solicitor told me they thought I was ‘too emotional’ when giving my evidence which made me a ‘unreliable witness’.

Of course, he told everyone the case had been thrown out, I was a liar and he wasn’t guilty. My life became hellish. I broke down. A week later I discovered some people I had believed to be my only friends had been ‘Gaslighting‘ me for ages because they felt sorry for him. I hadn’t been loosing my stuff, they’d been hiding it. Then they began to blackmail me asking for money or telling me they’d tell him where I was and how to get me. I lost all my ability to cope. I hid in my bedroom either crying or catatonic, trying to commit suicide. I was put under the local crisis team and after a few months I decided to move to a new city to get a fresh start. I had a new partner at that point, who was sweet but like my previous partner, had an aversion to financially supporting himself. After living together for a few months in our new home city I broke up with him. I felt that there were too many similarities between his increasingly poor behaviour and his refusal to sort out benefits whilst he was out of work as well as his refusal to do any housework and his increasingly passive-aggressive manner when his damaging behaviour was challenged.

I continued to get death threats every 6 months or so from my doom ex but eventually things started to get better. I started to live my life for the first time since I was 17, I had sex and went clubbing without terror, I cooked food I enjoyed. I fell in love with the man I would later marry. I got diagnosed with PTSD and got some help which is still ongoing to this day.

I guess that’s my story with regards to domestic abuse pretty much told. I should try to sum up what I learned. Often people assume being tortured by someone I loved and believed loved me would be the worst part. It wasn’t. Not being believed by people. Being blamed for having brought it on myself. People telling me that if “he says A and you say C then the truth will be somewhere in the middle” did more damage than I can say. I was minimising my trauma as my way of coping, he was lying and suggesting that it never happened at all. The truth wasn’t somewhere in the middle, it was unimaginably dark and horrid. People were all so keen to give him the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn’t question his obvious lies.

I discovered the Just World Fallacy;

The just-world hypothesis (also called the just-world theory, just-world fallacy, just-world effect, or just-world phenomenon) refers to the tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just. As a result, when they witness an otherwise inexplicable injustice they rationalize it by searching for things that the victim might have done to deserve it. This deflects their anxiety and lets them continue to believe the world is a just place, but often at the expense of blaming victims for things that were not, objectively, their fault. [Source: Wikipedia]

I learned that people don’t like to think that someone they rate as a person might have a ‘dark’ side. They often see people as good or bad, and react with hostility and doubt to people who challenge it. They didn’t want to think he could do horrid things to someone. Years later I still have people looking me up on facebook and saying “You know you said he did ‘x’ to you? Well he’s been doing it to [insert name here]” or “I’ve now seen what he’s like when he looses his temper, how did you survive?”, yet at the time they refused to even entertain the idea.

It shocked me how easily people would believe I was an evil, lying, manipulative, cruel, abusive bitch and he was a naive, charming, sensitive fool. Even when they’d watch him rage at me, completely out of control, they’d still try to find away of making me just as culpable, if not more so. I remember losing one of my jobs because he’d stand outside each day and then occasionally wander in and start shouting and threatening me. It was my fault he did that, even though I never engaged him or did anything more than carry on with my job by way of provoking him. It was still my fault.

I spent a long time blaming myself before I realised that a lot of the stuff that had happened really wasn’t my fault and that the blame lay elsewhere. I did a lot of reading about psychology, social psychology, sociology, feminism and other such things before coming to the conclusion that people’s perceptions of my gender had coloured their views. They thought women were hysterical by nature, which made ignoring my emotional distress easier. They believed women often lie about rape/abuse which made my story less valid. They believed women were over sexed ‘sluts’ (often at the same time as believing they were pure and needed a chivalrous hero to protect them from the world) which is why I couldn’t have been raped and why I must have asked for some of my treatment. Of course other things coloured their views, but most things were warped by gender. That’s why I identify as a feminist these days. I believe earnestly that regardless of gender or sex people should be treated equally.

In short, I discovered the world is not fair, sometimes bad things happen to people who did nothing to deserve it. I discovered most people are not comfortable with that simple truth and will go out of their way to try to re-frame the issues. Crucially I discovered that institutionalised sexist* stereotypes effect the re-framing of the issue and help create a culture where domestic abuse regardless of gender too often goes un-noticed, un-challenged and un-believed.

I believe if we want to make it easier for those suffering domestic abuse to get the help they need we need to work on raising awareness around the issues. No one deserves it. Whatever gender they are, however they present. The abuser makes the choice, albeit often unconsciously, to abuse and they are the people who need challenging and helping. Teenagers and adults need to be taught about the intricacies of unhealthy relationships so they can spot them before things get worse. I like to think that if I had regularly seen examples of how behaviour like my ex’s was abusive and dangerous, even in the early days,  it might have helped me realise how I was being warped and broken before it was too late. but If I hadn’t been raised not to complain, not to make a fuss, to believe women were ‘naturally better at housework’ I might not have been so easy for him to manipulate. This list isn’t by any means exhaustive and in 5 years I may well have changed my mind about certain parts of it, but so far these are some of the key areas I’d like to see addressed.

Thank you for reading this series.

* as well as racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist, disablist etc…

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