Sexual abuse is something I’ll always live with
What I’ve been through has had an impact on all aspects of my life. I’m speaking out now because I feel that lots of services and public bodies just don’t understand how to deal with violence against women. I want to help change things for other victims.
I was repeatedly abused as a child, including by family members, and became very withdrawn at school. I barely said a word but no-one took the trouble to find out why so the abuse continued. I was told that I could have gone to Oxford or Cambridge but I did badly at school. I was later abused by a man I married at 18 – he also abused my children.
As a result of the abuse I’ve had serious mental health problems for over 40 years and I’ve been unable to work for most of my life. When I told my GP about the abuse he offered no support and didn’t even know there was a Rape Crisis Centre in the area. Similarly, when I was on a hospital ward and the nightly screams of another patient triggered flashbacks to my childhood abuse, I became very distressed but the ward staff offered no support at all.
Even worse, I was referred to a psychiatrist a few years ago who, unknown to me, had been accused of sexually abusing patients in another country. I saw him for several months before finding out about him – his case was featured on television – and he was later convicted of indecently assaulting another female patient in this country.
I live alone and often feel unsafe because my flat isn’t soundproofed and I can hear every intimate noise of the man next door and it feels as if he’s in my flat. This is very frightening but the council just don’t seem to understand. All I’m asking is for them to soundproof my flat so I feel safe in my own home, but they won’t.
My life has turned around since I’ve been going to my local Rape Crisis Centre. They understand about women’s safety and have given me constant support even when other agencies have failed me. I even went to college in my 50s and passed all my courses with flying colours!
Things have got better for me but other women are still being failed by service providers who simply need to respond far better to violence against women. This is true for schools, hospitals, GPs, housing and benefits agencies – everyone! Most importantly of all, there has to be more support for Rape Crisis Centres and other vital women’s organisations who are the real experts.
The government must listen
When a woman like IL speaks out, writes Liz Kelly about a lifetime of coping with sexual abuse, the government has a duty to listen. Her article spells out the human cost of a fractured approach to dealing with violence against women.
Whilst three million women in the UK will experience rape or other violence this year alone, health and other professionals are ill-equipped to respond, schools adopt a ‘can’t see, won’t hear’ approach and resources are focused on the criminal justice system even though most victims don’t report to the police. Meanwhile Rape Crisis Centres and other vital support services are closing due to a funding crisis. Moreover there is little work to actually prevent violence in the first place.
The cost of violence against women to victims can be counted in physical injuries and mental health problems. The cost to society is £40 billion a year in England and Wales alone.
There is now a deafening chorus of voices calling for a cross-government strategy on violence against women. Our YouGov poll shows that this is supported by 84 per cent of the public, it is also supported by the main opposition parties and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Scottish Government has been developing this approach for some time now.
We are setting out our template of what such a strategy should look like in Realising Rights, Fulfilling Obligations. It would include: schools addressing healthy relationships and supporting victims long term public campaigns (similar to road safety campaigns) to challenge attitudes that tolerate violence a coherent funding strategy to stabilise and expand support services.
Training so that professionals and civil servants understand and respond to the reality and impact of violence against women.
Government departments to include violence against women in key policies, such as social exclusion, poverty, healthier lives, substance misuse and community cohesion.
The government must listen to IL and others who say that we’ve got to start seriously addressing this issue. And we must begin with a vision of ending violence against women.