Refuge

Stop right there Hundal

It was 2008 and I was at an awards show for the Asian entertainment industry. I was the girlfriend of a magazine editor and we got all the invites going. Sunny Hundal was relatively unknown then. He had a couple of forums through which I’d met my then partner, and was well known in the nepotistic world of Asian media. They knew him as the IT geek done good and I guess some were secretly bewildered they’d underestimated his prowess.

I liked him in those days. I thought he was doing something important for Asian people by getting them involved in politics and providing a hub where professionals could network. I even stuck up for him when the others sneered at his success. I looked up to him and that is the only reason I did not slap him in the face when he proposed I go undercover for an expose of the national domestic violence charity, Refuge. At the time Southall Black Sisters were under threat of closure because Ealing Council decided that there was no longer a need for a culturally sensitive service and the contract should be given to someone more inclusive, like Refuge. I was as dismayed and shocked as the rest that a national charity with miles more funding than this small set up would present themselves as competition like this. I assumed Sunny was upset by this also and so I shared my negative experiences of when I had temped for them. I wasn’t immediately angry when he suggested I could go undercover for him. I was annoyed at the kyriarchal oppression playing out, on this occasion there was no solidarity from the white women but it was only when I went away to think of what Sunny was asking me to do that I decided it was harmful and maybe his intentions were not so sincere.

Here’s the thing, if I’d done that for him I would have risked putting the wellbeing of many thousands of women at risk. I might have had my issues with the management but I could not let this affect the fate of the service users. This is when I showed my solidarity to feminism as a whole, regardless of the way they’d attempted to sell others like me down the river. We never spoke of it again until the past year when, frustrated at Sunny’s liberal white feminism and his complete inability to recognise his own straw man presentations, I challenged him just like I would anyone else. How did Sunny respond? Well, first he laughed at me for being someone nobody believes on account of the one false allegation of racism I made in my entire life. Thanks for the solidarity ‘comrade’. When I responded with the above account, he GASLIGHTED me and said I had approached him, suggesting this was just sour grapes cos he’s so successful yo. He blatantly did this because he knows he has a following and I have already been hung up to dry as a liar. What he doesn’t know is that I don’t bow to this kind of bullying, really and if anything, I am not going to let him forget.

How dare the BBC approach him for a quote regarding the feminist hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick? To my understanding this was a hashtag where Asian women could discuss the ways in which Asian women are controlled, by the white majority but also men of colour. Why then is Sunny happy to jump on to his PR friendly soap box and speak for me and others like me? I’m not surprised at the BBC; this is patriarchy at its very best. Wanna talk about abortion? Bring in the menz. Wanna talk about teen pregnancy? Well, we haven’t heard from any men lately.

It is not the BBC I hold responsible here, it is Hundal. He could just say no, y’know? He doesn’t though and that’s something we have to think about.

How you can help

Friends.

With Refuge facing closure due to government funding cuts of over 50%, women need your support more now than ever before.

Southall Black Sisters established in 1979, provide support to BME women at risk of or fleeing domestic abuse. Whenever there are cuts, services for the most vulnerable go first.

In response to the inherent racism and sexism we face in modern day Britain, I have decided to give up my long locks in protest and hopefully make a few pennies along the way.

Don’t worry, it’ll grow back!

We can’t bring women back from the dead though.

This year so far, there have been 47 gender related murders.

PLEASE DONATE:

Southall Black Sisters: http://www.justgiving.com/Sam-Ambreen?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=tweetfeed&utm_campaign=mypages

Refuge: http://www.justgiving.com/Sam-Ambreen0?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=tweetfeed&utm_campaign=mypages

Thank you for your support.

How To Support A Survivor Of Domestic Abuse

When 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, we all need to be prepared to deal with the fact that it might happen to someone we love. If you suddenly found out that your sister was being abused by her loving, doting husband, how would you react?

DON’T SAY: I can’t believe he would do something like that, what did you do? Why would he hurt you?

Perpetrators of domestic abuse are often charming and sociable characters. They know how to manipulate people into thinking they are calm and reasonable. Your sister will not have seen this side to him; he was hardly going to begin the relationship in his true colours. Asking her what she did and why the abuse took place is justifying the act. There are no excuses for physical and emotional abuse. I have had people argue that “she deserved a slap” for her behaviour. Or “she made me do it”. Nobody makes an abuser do or feel anything; they allow themselves to feel a certain way because it is never their fault, somehow they are always the wronged party. However she might behave, the decent thing for him to do is walk away.

DO: Offer to listen, without judgement or advice. However much you may want to protect your friend/family member, you cannot start telling them what to do. Chances are she is trying to leave a controlling situation, the last thing she will want is more orders. Instead, calmly offer your shoulder and listen. This might be the first time she has disclosed anything so you want to remain calm and in control. If you break down, she might feel she is burdening you. If she does ask for your help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 where they can advise you on how to plan around safety and advise on the steps she will need to take should she need to flee.

Remember: It has taken a lot of courage to break her silence. Confidentiality is key. You are there to buoy her spirits and offer reassurance that she is not alone. She might want an immediate solution, then again she might not. Relationships are complicated and there are bonds that run deep. He might be her abuser but he could also be her first love, the father of her children. She might just want him to seek help. You are not there to judge but to make life more bearable.

I have been approached once or twice by women who are dear to me. In these situations, I knew their partners, we all socialised together. Holding it together for them, kissing their abuser on the cheek when meeting, is difficult and requires strength and diplomacy. You can never lose sight of the trust your friend/family member has placed in you by confiding. Should they see past the façade, the consequences for your loved one could be devastating. Also, although you are trying to save the day here, don’t be a hero, you do not want to make yourself a target.

If you do find yourself involved in a situation where harm is imminent and your loved one needs to escape urgently, get together some essentials. Toiletries, passport, a change of clothes. Children’s favourite toys. Refuges are furnished and if she is not able to get away with more than what she is wearing, some refuges can make arrangements for provision and may also be able to enlist the help of the local police should she need to return to the property for the rest of her belongings. Ensure this is all done in a safe manner, if it is not possible then simply leave to another day.

As I have previously mentioned, the National Domestic Violence Helpline can help with queries. I am also here should you need additional support.

Tweet me.

Safe as Houses

Since Refuge announced it might have to close due to excessive funding cuts from the government, we have to question whether the withdrawal of support to such an institution is lawful and whether the local authority has a duty to provide shelter to those at risk of harm.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 was the first revision of DV legislation in over 30 years and put in place new powers to support victims at risk of or fleeing domestic abuse, through the courts and police e.g making common assault an arrestable offence and breaching of non-molestation orders, a criminal offence. It implemented a framework from which all agencies could follow a code of practice to ensure all victims were given adequate support and protection.

This was an enhancement to existing legislation – Housing Act 1998 and Homelessness Act 2002 – which aimed to prevent further incidents of abuse by providing an interim duty to accommodate;  an admission that where there may be reason to believe (a verbal declaration should suffice) a person is believed to be at risk of homelessness due to domestic abuse and it is not reasonable to occupy their current premises, the local authority has a duty of care to establish whether they are in priority need (under section 184 Housing Act) and eligible for assistance.

In my experience as a DV worker, priority need differed from one city/borough to the next. Single women without children were not considered in this category and as such, their only recourse to safe accommodation came in the form of a refuge. Even in cases where a service user had come to the end of their license agreement, whereupon they would become unintentionally homeless, local authorities would refuse to accept they had duty of care, suggesting that we move the survivor on to another refuge. So much for Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 – The right to privacy, family life, home and correspondence.

The role of a refuge is to provide temporary accommodation, a halfway house before suitable, permanent accommodation is allocated. As a rule, all the women passing through safe houses should submit homelessness applications on arrival, because they are in fact, unintentionally homeless. If, for whatever reason, the service user could not remain at the refuge, she was then considered to be intentionally homeless and as a result, not eligible for assistance. Survivors were being manipulated into staying at refuges.

I had a case once where the survivor was at an immediate risk of homicide. Police reports had been taken, her injuries photographed. She had been viciously attacked and her small children witnessed it taking place. Social services were involved. We were in the process of securing an injunction. A clear-cut case if ever there was one. Yet the local authority disallowed her application because the worker believed she was lying about her disclosure.  They simply did not believe her. She had presented with a hospital report but this was not enough. However, she was sent away with a list of refuges whom she would  have to call herself along with the advice that she may be in a refuge for up to 3 years, after which she would no longer be deemed priority need Band A and would be demoted to that of non-priority Band C. The housing worker suggested to my client that if she were to approach a refuge, the local authority might be more inclined to believe she was telling the truth. Despite the reams of paperwork and evidence suggesting she and her children were at an increased risk of homicide. Eventually, a multi-agency approach imcluding me and her social worker was successful in demonstrating the local authority did have a duty of care to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need” (Children Act 1989) which includes providing accommodation.

Essentially there are 3 options when fleeing:

  • Homelessness application
  • Transferring tenancy from current premises to another borough
  • Refuge

Local housing lists are stretched beyond their limits, many more people presenting at Homeless Needs Units than there are properties available. In order to transfer tenancy, another must become available. As a result, many women are forced to stay in hostile situations. Or approach a refuge.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities states (paragraph 16.27):

“Housing authorities should develop close links with women’s refuges within their district… However, housing authorities should recognise that placing an applicant in a refuge will generally be a temporary expedient only, and a prolonged stay could block a bed that was urgently needed by someone else at risk. Refuges should be used to provide accommodation for the minimum period necessary before alternative suitable accommodation is secured elsewhere.  Housing authorities should not delay in securing alterative accommodation in the hope that the applicant might return to her partner.”

If Refuge are forced to close their doors, where will the non-priority, supposedly intentionally homeless survivors of domestic abuse go? Local authorities will no longer be able to place duty of care at their door. A system that has already collapsed under the strain cannot conceivably provide additional support. How will local authorities cope with a drastic increase in homelessness applications? Will they have temporary accommodation in place for women who urgently need to flee? Where will they find the stock to re-house these urgent cases?

There are no answers to these questions because we cannot magic provision out of thin air.

I’m Every Woman

On the eve of International Women’s Day 2012 I was called a slag, a cunt and a whore. My crime? “banging on about womens rights n nhs what about us fathers oh yeah we dont matter” (sic) A timely reminder for why we need such a day in the first place. Of the 365 days of the year, today we can shout about the injustice billions of women face in their daily lives. The abuse 1 in 4 women will suffer. The 2 women a week that are murdered by their abusive partners. The never ending struggle to be recognised as equals, not above or beneath but standing together.

We’re not equal. We’re far from it. As a British woman of South Asian descent, I often hear how lucky I was to be born in the West. From people of the same background for sure, but white people point it out too. I don’t have to cover myself up (much), I have access to an education and my partner won’t chop off my the tip of my nose for getting the tea wrong. I should be grateful. Except I don’t feel it so much anymore. Our most feminist politicians (ever) are sending out a message that woman is a giggling schoolgirl, one to be jeered at and dismissed. She is incapable of taking control of her own body, her mental state is too fragile. They’ve put out a direct hit on women and their interests; cuts to the public sector resulting in job losses, withdrawing vital funds from women’s services. They have introduced a law which tells you whether you are involved with a perpetrator of domestic abuse but should you need to escape, you’ll have nowhere to go.

There are parts of the world in which men can have four wives. Somehow this is more repugnant than being with one wife but sleeping around. In some parts of the world they use rape to control ‘their’ women. In the UK, we just joke about doing it instead. The word slag is still commonly used. And slut, whore, bitch and cunt. And cougar and MILF. Women, they nag. They use their feminine wiles. They sleep around, they get you under the thumb. Sometimes, they even deserve a good slap.

Why does a man have to point out he would never hit a woman?

When 1 in 5 young men and 1 in 10 women think violence against women is acceptable, has the world really changed much at all?

Attitudes may have started to shift. Public displays of violence/abuse are not the norm so much. There has been a reduction in violence because we have had services like Refuge reminding the world it is not acceptable. So, some of it may have gone underground. Except it’s resurfacing now, from the top down. Emotional and mental abuse, toxic shaming, is thriving.

I haven’t felt as strongly about International Women’s Day as I do today. Learning that the UK did not even make the top ten for many of the awards in the Independent’s best and worst places to be a woman has a lot to do with it. And of course, the threatened closure of Refuge. I’m reminded of the judge who called an 11 year old girl “willing” at her rape trial.

I’m of the opinion the West is equally damaging to the physical and emotional well-being of woman.

Their methods may differ but their inherent need to own and control women is the same.

*Happy International Women’s Day*

Anthem (Leonard Cohen)

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

No Woman, No Cry?

Refuge, the single largest provider of safe havens and support to survivors of domestic abuse is facing closure due to a 50% cut in funding. Local authorities have slashed their contribution to services for women at risk of domestic and sexual abuse by over £2 million. The organisation have already shut down two of their culturally sensitive projects providing support to women from ethnic minorities, specialist services that cannot be replaced, placing the most vulnerable women in our society at even greater risk of abuse and/or homicide. My heart is pounding as I write this.

I have worked for Refuge and various other schemes. They provide the backbone to many other services, leading the way with their specialist in-house training and the national 24hr domestic violence helpline. They have helped implement a framework which ensures equality and good practice across the board. Putting it mildly, without Refuge, many women would be forced to remain in abusive relationships, destined to put up and shut up.

2 women a week are murdered by their abusive partners. In the year 2012, spousal homicide is still very much a reality. Whilst this is still an issue, how can this government possibly justify slashing the budget by half? Austerity means cuts, but we’ve all seen what cuts do to the people of this country. They are already dying due to welfare reform, vulnerable people are committing suicide because this government has not listened to them, has not believed that they are genuinely unwell, has withdrawn their support to leave them suffering alone. The campaign to divide and rule the public against the sick and disabled has been malicious. They want people with mental health issues to work for their benefit.

Now, what will they think of our women at risk of or fleeing domestic abuse? Rhetoric around the breakdown of the family, single mothers and their devil spawn, the women that broke Britain by undermining the role of father and breadwinner… Male privilege must be allowed to return and flourish. Hear hear, vote Tory!

As a child, I witnessed domestic abuse in all its forms. In my home, on the street, in the media. Women were not more accepting of it back then, they simply had no choice. The police would not respond as urgently to domestic calls because they were exactly that, issues to be resolved between ‘man and wife’.

My mother remained in an abusive relationship until I was old enough, aged 15 to drag her away from it and into a safe house. She just didn’t have the strength. She couldn’t do it herself because she was afraid to speak the language (my mother spoke fluent English but was too ashamed to having been mocked by father for being illiterate). Culturally sensitive refuges meant that women like my mum could approach a service themselves if they needed to. When I eventually began my career in domestic violence services, I started off in a refuge for women of South Asian origin. The work we did was invaluable. It saddens me that cuts will always affect the most specialist services first.

Vivien Hayes of the Women’s Resource Centre, speaking to the Guardian, says “Government cuts have impacted more negatively on women than men. You have to wonder whether this is a case of institutional sexism.” And by its very nature, institutionalised racism too. The culturally sensitive refuges go first, then services to women in general.

Whether it is cuts to job in the public sector or direct funding to vulnerable women and their children, women have borne the brunt of this government’s policies. They’ve tried to affect the way in which we access family planning services. We’ve seen them mock their female members of parliament, “calm down dear, yada yada.”  It’s easy to imagine the PM as a spotty teenaged boy, pulling on the pigtails of his crush, calling her a slag when she rejects him.

Are we in the slightest bit surprised that the Tories would do this to us and our services?

What comes next? The decriminalization of spousal rape?

Cutting services for women, thereby definitely cutting services to BME women, turning the clock back to the 1970s and all the other privileges that period afforded men. Yes, the country will save money. There’ll be fewer divorces, fewer welfare claims, fewer women to deal with because many more of them will be dead.

The Independent on Sunday places the UK in 16th place for the best place in the world for a woman to be.

SIXTEENTH.

I have a feeling it’s about to get a lot worse.