The past two years have seen an important change take place in the world and it all started with a simple hashtag. Coined by American social activist, Tarana Burke in relation to the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, she used #metoo to express just how many cases of sexual assault take place not only in the workplace, but any other environment a woman should be able to deem safe in an ideal world. Women from all over the globe and spanning various cultural backgrounds took to social media sharing their stories, sharing their hashtag.
Not all of these stories resulted in justice being served, but we saw many a high-profile company stand up in support of the victims rather than the perpetrators – something that should be considered a human right and yet, this patriarchic society has proven time and again that it is not treated as such. Most importantly, it encouraged others to speak out and act. No crimes should be left unreported; as difficult as it may be to discuss such traumatic experiences, you will be serving not only yourself, but your entire community by turning to the police for help.
You needn’t be a part of the Hollywood scene, one of the most powerful industries in the world, to be intimidated into keeping quiet about having been assaulted or sexually abused. Unfortunately, in many cases the people closest to us can hold the same kind of threat over us when it comes to various forms of abuse, making the psychological impact even more serious. One of the most mentally exhausting aspects of domestic violence is the fact that it is taking place in what is meant to be your personal safe-zone: your very own home. When your mind and body is no longer able to relax in the home environment, it takes an immense toll on your physical and mental health, often resulting in depression, weight-loss, anxiety and an overall, weakened immune system.
When physical or emotional domestic abuse takes place in a family setting, blackmail exerted by the abuser can often consist of threatening the children’s safety. This can prolong the abuse cycle, especially when the affected feels they have nowhere to turn to. Long-term cases of domestic violence often result in survivors isolating themselves from friends and families out of shame, and this same sense of stigma stops them from turning to them even in times of crisis. Fear plays a big part in a survivor’s silence toward authorities. Many feel they will not be taken seriously or are afraid of major repercussions such as arrests and the involvement of child’s services.
In 2015, the UK introduced the crime of “Coercive Control” which recognises domestic violence as a pattern of controlling behaviours and abuse rather than one single incident. As such, responding police officers are practicing new approaches to handling cases of domestic violence, with a strong focus on discretion. The police now offers the set up of rapid response systems, personal attack alarms and mobile phones, and encourage victims to document incidents in a secret diary for further evidence. While there are charities who can offer legal advice, shelter and psychological support, we cannot place arrests. In contacting the police, you are setting the process of change in motion – one that could stop future attacks not just on yourself, but others.
For someone who has undergone long-term abuse in the home environment, the decision to call the police can be terrifying, especially if the perpetrator is a parent, spouse or immediate member of the family. Understand, that it is your human right to be safe and loved in a nurturing environment and there is no shame in reporting when you are being physically or emotionally hurt. Contacting the authorities is an act of self-love, a way to protect yourself, your family and your community.
There are various charities that can provide confidential, free and unbinding advice and legal support and will only contact authorities in emergency situations, when they believe your safety or the safety of your children to be at serious risk. In the case of physical abuse, however, we would recommend calling the police as soon as it is safe to do so. The sooner an officer can report to the scene, the less time there is to tamper with evidence or blackmail the victim retracting their statement.