Monday, 17 August 2009

"i lost some of them"

the woman who brought her friend to the drop-in today who told me of the other friends she'd lost to domestic violence and the immigration system. women who'd been unable to escape their husbands, dependent on them in order to remain in the uk. prevented from working and/or from claiming benefits. no protection. "I've been there myself and i have to help her because many of my colleagues have been in the same situation. i lost some of them."

as a supporter you have to stay with what you're being told and get the support&information done, swallow the tide of anger and panic, that peculiar panic that comes from letting yourself actually think of catch-22s and kafkaesque situations, real traps, systemic traps, racist traps. then you have to remember to pause later to face and tug out what you've absorbed. sometimes i don't want to, but one purpose of this blog is to debrief and to explore healthy ways of being a supporter, finding out how to process people's everyday horrors.

the cases that i can't handle are these, where women are trapped between the control, violence and entitlement of their partner and the control, violence and entitlement of the state. i'm tired tonight. analysis some other time.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

cat-lit steps

late august, early hours, we stood drunk under the stars at the edge of the crag, contemplating our steep descent into the tree-top dark. as we willed our night vision to improve a white cat wove between our legs and took charge, tracing our path. its coat carried all the light in the sky, reflecting the cities that neighbour this small wilderness.

our star-lit cat waited at the corners of the path while we stumbled down, trusting, half-joking to each other about the chasm inches from our feet. as we caught up it would leap, apparently into nothingness, the only visible thing in a gloom made of rocks and trees and night.

i described the mythical sea-horses in the book i'm reading about ireland: they would gallop from clifftops to drown their bewitched riders. will this unlikely night creature have us step into the void? it chose not to; we were delivered to our tent and while we played at tarot by candlelight in an old fire pit, it hurled itself up oaktree trunks as if its next magic would be to fly.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

love, commitment, interdependence

Jess' new post at (Re)Thinking Walking has been buzzing around my head for days. I'm inspired by the ways she writes links between her ideas of love, relationships, commitment, family, violence, capitalism, resistance, queer, interdependence...

"That’s what we’re trying to do, isn’t it?, all of us who desire and work toward social and economic justice, all of us who are trying to create or sustain ways of being in the world that are not about dominance and exploitation and violence? So much of what we’re doing together is about building relationships of many kinds rooted in love and commitment, aiming for interdependency... Finding, creating, sustaining different versions of love and commitment is part of how we are resisting cultures of violence and domination, part of how we are surviving.
Queerness... can also be about radical visions of interdependency, resource sharing along entirely different lines from the hierarchical, atomizing, hoarding ones of the economic/social paradigms we’re living under. It can also be about transformative justice and figuring out how to be in relationship with abusers who are also survivors, or how not to, or."
Ach, i want to write with this much integrity and with such courage and clarity to draw links between the different parts of my life and what i know and believe.


ISOLATION is required for abuse. Repeated abuse can't happen if the person being abused can speak out, be believed and supported, and sanctions are put in place against the abuser continuing. "Divide-and-rule/conquer" is a big part of isolation.
In politics and sociology, divide and rule (derived from Latin divide et impera) (also known as divide and conquer) is a combination of political, military and economic strategy of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into chunks that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy. In reality, it often refers to a strategy where small power groups are prevented from linking up and becoming more powerful, since it is difficult to break up existing power structures.
One of my main aims with this blog is to articulate and study how patterns of oppression operate on a personal and family level using the same strategies and patterns as political oppression. I believe that the most powerful way for people to become safe from domestic abuse and child abuse is for communities to understand how oppression works and to apply this understanding to all the structures in our lives.
Typical elements of [divide-and-rule] are said to involve
Potentially, siblings living in a household ruled over by a tyrannical abuser could compare notes on their experiences, could identify patterns in his behaviour, could understand more about what their mum's going through and could unite to reduce his power and influence over them all. So before he can exert the worst of his behaviours he must first minimise the chances of this happening. So if a father is sexually abusing one or more children in the household he must say or imply "If you tell anyone ...." - so ISOLATION is so often backed-up with THREATS to be most effective. The other members of the household are silenced, they are divided, and they are ruled.
Children can be easily manipulated into joining in with verbal abuse against mum. They gain a sense of power (and perhaps material rewards from the abuser) from this, making them less likely to ally with mum in future. It can be very effective to play favourites with the children, gaining the strongest alliance from those who behave 'best' in the eyes of the abuser. This has the added benefit of creating jealously between the children and destroying their trust in one another, making them increasingly unlikely to unite against the abuser.

There is more to say about this, more to say, more to say...

Thursday, 6 August 2009

secrets and complexities

sometimes the support groups feel like entering another dimension. this is when i really love my job. hearing secrets shared and shame demolished. hearing what really happened, what we're not meant to hear. the simple act of creating a space where it's possible to tell the truth, the power of that bowls me over some days.

someone told us about holding her boyfriend underwater. because she knew he was just about to get her. i got leathered for it afterwards like but.. how pure her power was, for those minutes.. i had control.

these acts of resistance don't exist in normal discourse, can't be written in the magazines: already it's too complicated for the victim to fight back against the monster. so many lives contain these untold moments where the power dynamic was flipped. and yet the fact that she was violent in that moment has been used against her ever since by the abuser, eclipses everything he's done to her before and since. and our failure - as friends, family, community, media - to articulate what was really going on here: a moment of resistance against prolonged, calculated abuse of power, leaves her with a burden of shame and guilt that becomes weightier every time we refuse to engage with the complexities of that moment.
"The survivor's shame and guilt may be exacerbated by the harsh judgement of others, but it is not fully assauged by simple pronouncements absolving her from responsibility, because simple pronouncements, even favorable ones, represent a refusal to engage with the survivor in the lacerating moral complexities of the extreme situation. From those who bear witness, the survivor seeks not absolution but fairness, compassion, and the willingness to share the guilty knowledge of what happens to people in extremity."
Judith Herman, in Trauma and Recovery.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

you profit from the lie

riot grrrl showed me that this stuff really happens. that sexual abuse, rape and violence have been experienced by so very many young women. riot grrrl demonstrated, in typewritten and scrawled words and screams and guitars the sheer power of breaking the silence. that survivors have the right to tell their truth of what happened to them.

this is kind of a first step. as a woman (as a person) among the minority who have never experienced any physical violation, how did i become someone who is prepared to accept that these violations are real? i ask because i am frustrated and angered and saddened all the time by people who turn away from this. who deny and minimise and blame the victim. who turn away in their own minds from what their friends have been through. "if women told the truth for one day..." survivors are telling the truth, and survivors are waiting to be asked. abuse requires silence and denial. abuse withers when people look it in the face and start dealing with it.

if you have the privilege of never having experienced abuse you owe it to the world to figure out how to be an ally to those who have. like any other form of privilege: your comfort is at the expense of silencing and oppressing those who lack your privilege. this is unacceptable. you can start by accepting that you know people who have been through abuse, even if no one's ever told you such a thing. (if this is the case you could also ask yourself why no one's felt comfortable sharing this with you. do you indicate in your speech or behaviour that you deny or minimise abuse or hold victims at all responsible? do you make jokes about rape and/or paedophilia? how would you know if someone who'd experienced rape and/or paedophilia was in the room?). then the next step is, if someone tells you they have experienced intimate violence, believing them. meanwhile you could do some research about abuse, how it works, what effects it has, and how to support survivors. there is a lot of material out there to help you help people you care about. at some point i will make a list of the ones i know about on this blog. a starting point could be Support zine.

"I am not proposing that sexual violence and domestic violence will no longer exist. i am proposing that we create a world where so many people are walking around with the skills and knowledge to support someone that there is no longer a need for anonymous hotlines..."
Rebecca Farr of CARA, in The Revolution Starts at Home zine produced by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence.