Thursday, 28 January 2010

on big love

you can't talk about domestic violence without talking about relationships ending. you can't support people in the throes of considering ending an abusive relationship without having some idea of your own feelings about relationships: what are they, in your life? what are they for? what works for you and what doesn't? what will you compromise on? what would cause you to end the relationship immediately and walk away with nothing and never look back? if your partner hit you? today, for the first time? really? i don't believe you.

hmm i have so so much to say about all this but i think it will have to be split into several posts rather than an epic coffee-fuelled mess of a rant.

i just wanted to reflect on sitting around tables in child protection meetings, or on the phone with (fucking) social workers (spit)* and other beige professionals, looking/sounding appalled not so much by the actual physical violence as by the undignified intensity of the relationship being discussed. as if these people have never really loved, you know? i mean these are people who apparently can sleep soundly in their beds having taken children away from their mothers who want to leave the violence (see previous post), so there is definitely something missing from their hearts. but yeah, anyway - it does seem like there are lots of people who don't love with their all, who just look baffled, accusing and scared when confronted with a woman who loves in that all-consuming way and don't give me all that 'it's not love it's need' bollocks. yes it is need, and i am very anti need, anti dependency in relationships. but it is love too. it really is.

it maddens me that these women are made to feel wrong and/or crazy in terms of the intensity of their feelings. there's nothing wrong with loving with everything you have - as much as i fervently believe we should all figure out ways of being interdependent rather than dependent - we are not born with the knowledge of how to do this and our culture does not support or even suggest that. our culture pressurises us to find The One and if you're someone with an open heart who loves with their all, you can end up in a mess if that one then manipulates and controls you. but it doesn't mean you're wrong to love!

i think part of supporting, and what you're not going to hear on a 'how to do DV work' training course, is acknowledging the depth of that love, the passion, and slowly starting to unpick how the need is woven through it, how the need was created, and what else the person has in their lives - people, resources, and strengths, to lessen the need on the One. if you approach the whole thing by invalidating the real love, you aren't going to get anywhere, in fact you're very likely to leave the survivor with the (possibly correct) idea that the perpetrator is the only person who understands.

*possibly had too much coffee this morning

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Social Care quote of the day

ok so lots of women come to the UK on a visa or residence permit, often dependent on / sponsored by their husband. in most cases they have no recourse to public funds even if they are allowed to work, or they have to have been working for several years before being able to claim. 'no recourse to public funds' means you are not allowed to claim most benefits in the UK, including housing benefit, which is what pays for a refuge/hostel space for homeless people who can claim it.

if a woman flees domestic violence but has no recourse to public funds she is basically screwed. if she has no children, no one has to help her unless she has major additional problems such as a severe disability so that she is a 'vulnerable adult' and adult social care should help (however even if this is the case things are incredibly unpleasant, bureaucratic and fairly hopeless, let's not pretend that the system is falling over itself to support disabled migrants). if she doesn't have major 'additional needs' she basically can choose between the abusive relationship or destitution.

if she has children then 'children and young people's social care' (what used to just be called 'social services') have a duty to support the children under the Children's Act. however they have no duty towards the mother. usually they accommodate the mum and children for a few days while they consult their legal team and then offer a plane ticket to the mother's country of origin. if the woman refuses this, (perhaps because she cannot support her children in that country, has no family support, and/or knows they are likely to die of diseases that don't exist in the uk, as in recent cases i've worked with) 'social care' will remove the children (into 'care') thus 'discharging their duty' and leaving the woman with the same choice as above: abuse or destitution.

these are the choices open to people with valid visas, who are legally here. those who have overstayed a visa, or whose husbands/families etc have denied them knowledge of their legal status are obviously in an even scarier position.

i met one woman who approached social care for help, was offered a plane ticket, refused, had her child removed, ended up sleeping in her neighbour's garage, turned to alcohol and then was allowed even less contact with her child.

anyhow, a social care manager was particularly charming the other day when she said, to my colleague trying to get them to fund safe accommodation for a bit longer instead of forced repatriation of a mum with cancer and her children who had spent over half a decade in the uk, one of whom was born here (doesn't make you 'british' any more though, oh no, not unless at least one of your parents was also born here. seriously.): "we have concerns that she may not be the person she claims to be in her passport". in fact she had no grounds whatsoever for such concerns, but just felt it was a good idea to throw that in there, to put us on the backfoot and to play on what she assumed would be our horror that someone may be abusing the immigration system. i mean. i just don't know what to do with stuff like this. i'm speechless and tired and and furious and don't know what to do. it's like there's a shared vocabulary, shared culture where we're all supposed to join together in watching out for those coming to steal from 'us' and that any amount of cruelty justifies guarding against the possiblity that a foreigner might get something for free.

erm. i am nowhere near being able to articulate this stuff yet, especially not on a tuesday night after work. but. in case you were in any doubt. the immigration system in the uk is made of racism. it screws over abused women, among others, with the spectacular efficiency of a labyrinthine system that no one seems to understand. a lot of people in the 'caring professions' are gatekeeping, colluding with those in power to eject vulnerable, 'unproductive' people even faster than the law can do so. enough for tonight. tired.

campaign to abolish no recourse to public funds for women who have experienced abuse . or take it that bit further.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

pushed to adventure

hehe, i re-found this just recently, and it seemed like a response to the amazing derrick jensen article, Beyond Hope, that i linked to the other week. 
"but i think hope is like a crush. not the resigned hope, like - i hope things get better-- but the hope that feels like suspended disbelief. where spaces open up and everything is possible again, and you're pushed to adventure, pushed out of your regular boxes, pushed to show off, to be the person you want to be the most, working hard to show your best sides, your secret scars, your hidden dreams.

hope is like a crush, making things as beautiful as possible even knowing you'll get hurt.

it won't sustain you, not like the hard work of love will, but it pushes you beyond what you thought you were capable of.

i am not optimistic, but hope, yes, hope."
cindy crabb, in Doris zine, #26

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

working with the system

"One of the scariest manifestations of modern capitalism is the system's ability to co-opt experiences, practices, even culture, and to then re-create and repackage them within a careerist, profit-driven (even in "non-profits" [voluntary sector]), and competitive logic. The non-profit system... supports the professionalization of activism rather than a model of everyday activism. For many of us, activism has become something you do as a career. When organisers from other countries see that activists are paid to do work in the United States, it makes them wonder. It took my father (who is very familiar with grassroots struggles) a few years to understand the work that I was doing. "Your job as a community organiser; what does that mean, it's your employment? Who is paying you to do this work? And why?" And since many of us are being paid by foundations allied with corporate interests, my father also said, "Clearly, they are paying you to keep you from really challenging the system, to make sure that you are accounted for."
When we focus on organizing as a part of everyday life, the process becomes as important as the final product. In many cases, foundation funders and the non-profit culture expect groups to achieve a campaign goal in a relatively short period of time. They are not interested in funding the much slower work of base building which takes years and years to do. Consequently, non-profits become short-term goal orientated, even if they did not begin that way. Many also become focused on "smoke and mirrors" organising, in which you do something that looks good for a photo op but has no real people power behind it."
Paula X. Rojas, from Are the Cops in our Heads and Hearts? in The Revolution will not be Funded, edited by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence.

This is so relevant to the three-year periods of funding that have been the status quo under New Labour. they just won't fund an existing project (in the name of 'encouraging innovation,' yeah right) - everything just lasts for three years. it's insane. or calculated. especially in the domestic violence field where everyone knows it takes women on average seven years to leave, three years is pointless and leaves women hanging, distraught, i've spoken to them when their services grind to a halt...

i would be so interested in hearing/reading critiques of the UK domestic violence voluntary sector and the ways in which its funding is messed up, if anyone can articulate this or point me in the right direction... i heard an amazing speech from Amrit Wilson, the chair of Imkaan, an umbrella body for Asian women's refuges, at the Transnational Feminisms Conference in Manchester. she had so much to say, but i haven't found anything written down, or anyone to talk to yet (i wish Amrit would be my friend, but i think she's busy).

i mean, it's becoming increasingly painfully obvious to me that we need to restart at a grassroots level according to the needs of our own local areas rather than wait for ever-more coercive state funding. Rape Crisis centres' funding is being cut with heartbreaking regularity so as to make them almost non-existent now, (far too feminist, and overtly challenging and sceptical of the state; gotta go) and they are slowly being replaced with one-stop type centres (Sexual Assault Referral Centres/SARCs ; check out the difference between RC's website talking to "you, if you need support" and the Home Office SARC page: "victims receive an integrated service," gross.) which have streamlined the whole process, supposedly to make it easier for survivors (true, you can be examined medically, interviewed and counselled in one place), but this also has the effect of meaning the police are always in the building. and although survivors do have the right to use these centres without reporting to the police, i'd be interested to know how many 'monitoring details' they have to hand over. Supporting People, the central government body that funds accommodation and housing-related support for vulnerable people, including many/most refuges for women fleeing domestic violence, has moved from just needing age/ethnic origin/blah blah a few years ago to now requiring national insurance numbers for all people passing through those services. so everyone is tracked! amazing isn't it.

and yeah. why are we doing this work as a job? why am i? why am i getting paid to be a sticking plaster on a wound, and working far more with than against forces that cause violence in the first place? i'm really not sure. but i will figure out what else to do.

Friday, 15 January 2010

personality disorder

a woman was telling me this week that her partner has Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder. this is why he behaves as he does. great big "hmmm".

i am hugely sceptical of the diagnosis of personality disorders anyway, having spent time with so many awesome not-very-mental people who've had such a label slapped on them. it horrifies me what that does to someone; how we all defer to medical experts. so many people, especially women, especially queers, who've been through abuse and display normal responses to the twisted, conflicting realities of abuse, who were never asked about it, who were medicated and sent away with that label, who believe the label is what they are and always will be.
 "The authors of the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual] sought to extend the territory psychiatrists controlled. Just as various European countries built up their overseas empires in the nineteenth century, so psychiatrists in the twentieth century claimed jurisdiction over every aspect of human behaviour... They wanted to be experts on every aspect of behaviour which manifests or causes mental distress. So they invented personality disorders."
from Dorothy Rowe's incredible self-help book, Beyond Fear

and the diagnosis of personality disorders are used, like a great many things, to oppress survivors of abuse and to buttress the privilege of abusers.

our culture is always seeking new 'explanations' for why abuse happens, why rape happens, Why Men Are Violent. to make it even harder for us to sift through the lies, excuses, silencing, apologism, victim-blaming and so on to get to the real reasons (you get more power; no one stops you). personality disorders, infinitely malleable to fit the patient at hand, have become another tool for apologist psychiatry. the poor man is a victim of a mental illness. his behaviour makes no sense (ignoring the rewards he gets from his abuse combined with the lack of sanctions against it). result: the perpetrator does not have to take responsibility for his abuse. he has a label which he can wear indefinitely, explaining and justifying his behaviour. he can't help it. he is a victim, deserving of care. he can carry right on.
"[Abusers'] value system is unhealthy, not their psychology. Much of what appears to be crazy behaviour in an abuser actually works well for him... The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders... includes no condition that fits abusive men well. Some clinicians will stretch one of the definitions to apply it to an abusive client - "intermittent explosive disorder," for example - so that insurance will cover his therapy. However, this diagnosis is erroneous if it is made solely on the basis of his abusive behaviour; a man whose destructive behaviours are confined primarily or entirely to intimate relationships is an abuser, not a psychiatric patient."
from far and away the best book on domestic abuse, Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. please read it. 


argh! he hates trans people! (p28 of Violence) and binary gender is "the 'transcendental' difference that grounds human identity itself", apparently. for fucks sake.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

zizek quote of the day

he makes links, i like him. 
"Jacques Lacan claimed that, even if the patient's wife really is sleeping around with other men, the patient's jealousy is still to be treated as a pathological condition. In a homologous way, even if rich Jews in Germany in the 1930s 'really' exploited German workers, seduced their daughters, dominated the popular press and so on, Nazi anti-Semitism was still emphatically 'untrue', a pathological ideological condition... Exactly the same applies to the looting in New Orleans [following Hurricane Katrina]: even if ALL reports of violence and rape were to be proved factually true, the stories circulating about them would still be 'pathological' and racist, since what motivated these stories [and the media's reporting of them] was not facts, but racist prejudices."
from Violence.

jensen quote of the day

"This culture / civilisation... is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted, yet often unarticulated, hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always transparent, invisible, it's unnoticed. When it is noticed, it's fully rationalised. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher... is unthinkable, and when it does happen it's met with shock, horror and the fetishisation of the victims. And there are so many examples of this. One example is within my own family, when I was a kid, my father was extremely violent... so the violence flowed constantly downhill, and the one time that my brother ever fought back he got beaten far worse than any other time, because of course he had committed blasphemy by sending violence up the hierarchy."
From a talk Jensen did about his book Endgame, which i guess i'd better read. You can watch the talk here.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

forced debrief

this blog is supposed to be for debriefing, which is just as much a part of looking for patterns as my newfound excitement in book reading and intellectualising. sometimes i have to force myself to tug out already half-buried memories of what i've been told recently. ok. so. what's got to me this week?

child sexual abuse. always knocks me. it's too much a part of too many people's stories. it's not what i'm a support worker for, and i never encourage women to talk about it. they almost never do in detail, only in passing to provide context. and considering i never ask specifically, there is probably a whole undersea iceberg of child sexual abuse as context that i don't hear about. i actually can't immediately bring to mind how it's fitted in this week. which i guess is unhealthy. i just remember a sense of anger and overwhelm while on the phone and during a face-to-face session, both this week. come on.

ok. the anger and overwhelm was to do with how ridiculously, unbearably, far-reaching a single act of abuse can be. ah yeah i remember now. a woman was telling me as a side-note that her mother had been raped as a young woman and how this had caused her serious mental health problems which had caused the woman speaking to me to become her mother's carer and how this had impacted on her education, life-chances, confidence and ultimately contributed to her being in an abusive relationship for multiple decades. this brought to mind something i read years ago in Inga Muscio's book, Cunt, which i shall go and dig out... (jeez, doing that link i've just seen that the second edition only has a foreword by derrick jensen! that dude gets everywhere)... yes, she's writing about the affect on her and her sister's childhoods and lives, of her mother having been raped by a stranger aged nine:
"A man could, feasibly, sacrifice his coffee break raping a woman [child. she was nine.].
That woman would then spend her entire life dealing with it.
So would her daughters.
So would theirs.
This distibution of power is not acceptable."
i'm sure there are other things lurking in my unconscious from these first days back at work, but that'll do for now i guess.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

passages a l'acte

i got excited and ordered Violence by Slavoj Zizek. yeah! i tried to read another book by him once before that made absolutely no sense to me but this is much more accessible and compelling. fascinating, fascinating. i really should be taking it slowly and digesting but i'm itching to blog again while i still have a brain (post xmas break), before work sucks it out of me again. it was published in 2008 and it's really good to read analysis of events as recent as 2005, including hurricane katrina and the riots in france, which is the subject of the chapter i've found myself skipping to.
"If May '68 was a revolt with a utopian vision, the 2005 revolt was just an outburst with no pretence to vision. If the oft-repeated commonplace that we live in a post-ideological era has any sense, it is here... What kind of universe is it that we inhabit, which can celebrate itself as a society of choice, but in which the only option available to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out? ... The protesters' violence was almost exclusively directed against their own ... More than a form of protest, [the riots] are what Lacan called a passage a l'acte - an impulsive moment into action which can't be translated into speech or thought and carries with it an intolerable weight of frustration. This bears witness not only to the impotence of the perpetrators, but, even more, to the lack of what cultural analyst Frederick Jameson has called 'cognitive mapping,' an inability to locate their experience of their situation within a meaningful whole... Perhaps it is here that one of the main dangers of capitalism should be located: although it... encompasses the whole world, it ...depriv[es] the large majority of people of any meaningful cognitive mapping."
This passage by Zizek articulates so much that i've been struggling to say. passages a l'acte. in the groups sometimes we talk about what women have done to cope, to resist and to survive "an intolerable weight of frustration". i wrote before about the woman who momentarily drowned her partner, knowing his retaliation would be worse, fueled by the self-justification he'd gain from having been 'wronged'. and women drink, scream, cut, talk back, fight back, 'provoke' inevitable violence to get it over with, whatever, some of these things are self-destructive, and often come from the impossibility, at that time, "to locate their experience of their situation within a meaningful whole". if in that moment a woman living with abuse could see the whole pattern of control, and had a realistic escape route and some uncrushed self-belief, she'd be out of there.

So what is happening to our culture that we can't understand what's happening, can't see the patterns that control us? Judith Herman says: "Like traumatized people, we have been cut off from the knowledge of our past." We only feel this confusion and hopelessness and have some folk memory of resistance that involves smashing, breaking, hurting, a plea for some acknowledgement, to be seen, or to feel something. any knowledge of how and why, of coherent political action has been erased as the papers describe anarchists as unhinged people who would break shop windows for no reason. how has popular political analysis been suppressed and eradicated, reducing us to people who blindly act out? i'd like to know whether Mai '68 is taught in french schools and if so, how. in the uk it's easy to avoid history lessons, and even if you sign up, you are taught that facism and totalitarianism in europe are History, all defeated by the greater good by 1945 and 1990 respectively (so 20th century!). how impotent do we feel, with no popular language to articulate that impotence. and we turn that rage in on ourselves, hurt ourselves, and 'provoke' further 'justified' retaliation, repression against ourselves.


yeah, i'm less in thrall to the derrick book now, having read further on. there's a lot of stuff i'll be coming back to and a lot i want to say about things he articulates about violence and control (need! more! time!). he really hasn't got his anti-racism sorted though, despite (including?) his putting-on-a-pedestal of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. so far, he's got offended on two occasions when people of colour haven't welcomed him with open arms as he arrives to join in what they're doing. yeah despite his apparent humility and at-one-ness, he seems to carry a great big sense of white male entitlement. hmmm.

i'm letting my short attention span lead for now, and it's leaped to Zizek, which is a whole nother post...