North Yorkshire Police Commissioner Philip Allott’s comment that Sarah Everard “never should have submitted” to the false arrest by her Police Officer killer is both profoundly disturbing, yet also deeply revealing. However clumsy his words, this attempt to lay even a grain of blame on Ms Everard, the victim of a heinous crime, should be seen for what it is – an indication we still have a serious problem with how we talk about, understand and deal with violence against women and girls.
How such violence manifests varies significantly and ranges from misogyny, sexual harassment, coercive control, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, ‘honour’ crimes and even political violence.
Yet at its heart violence is an expression of power, control, and objectification, which can result in significant psychological trauma and physical harm. Whilst Allott’swords are a tasteless reframing of the age-old victim blaming question of “Why didn’t she just leave?”, as a society we have a shared responsibility to understand the reasons why Ms Everard and victims of such violence find ‘just leaving’ nigh on impossible.
The Istanbul Convention defines psychological violence as ‘seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats’ and whilst coercion and threats can also be physical, psychological violence does not produce any bruises or scars to ‘evidence’ a pattern of violence.
This can be disorientating and plays into the tactics used by perpetrators to instil a belief that the violence only exists in the mind of the victim. In a 2019 report on Psychological Violence by Safe Lives they set out a glossary of such violence including ‘grooming’, ‘gaslighting’ ‘crazy making’and ‘stonewalling’ or more colloquially – ‘the silent treatment’. In that report one victim talks about their difficulty accepting such acts as violence.
“You didn’t feel like it was violent because the… for me, I didn’t have hands on me – I had no bruises, or whatever”
But the violence is all too real. It becomes the victim’s normality, a world of shame, guilt and self-blaming where the victim can lose all sense of themselves becomingprogressively dehumanised and believe their own needs to be invalid. They exist in a world of subjugation to the perpetratorand as a person, they no longer matter.
Deliberately making anyone feel less than human, that their happiness, their hopes, dreams and safety does not matter is an inexcusable act of violence.
Thankfully organisations exist to help women, girls and alsomen, traumatised by such violence to seek help and rebuild their lives. I have long been a supporter of the work of such organisations and no more so than Fife based Saje Scotland and their Freedom Programme.
Allott’s ill-chosen words indicate that as a society we have much work to do to address violence against women. We must collectively resolve to never tolerate the blaming of victims or denigrate anyone’s concerns as invalid. When we witness such acts of violence, at home, in the workplace or in public life we have a shared responsibility to name it and challenge it.
I am increasingly impressed by Neale, who I did not know well until recently. He displays a very caring nature and has a deep understanding of complex personal experiences which allow him to comment intelligently on many difficult issues lesser men might struggle with.
I am , as always
YOURS FOR SCOTLAND.
BEAT THE CENSORS
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