Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The 12 inch remix of "And the beat goes on" is also not just a groovy disco tune...

Well, my last blog turned up some interesting results. One such revelation to me was that anyone bothered to read the bleedin' thing it. Secondly, that not only do some read it, but respond, either online or send me texts or phone me as a result.
I don't take praise well and to be honest, it wasn't written with anything other than admiration for those who do deal with domestic abuse, either as victims or those who are helping said victims.
Basically, it's my past, I have to deal with it as best.

My only concern came about after the response to this article: http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/news/Objectors-fail-stop-plan-abuse-refuge/article-3024923-detail/article.html which made me think whether I should've coughed up to my past and my opinions.

Now, as a reporter, I have to try and be without bias. That's the rules. Being a human being [no really, I am], that's not always easily achievable. Some of the comment responses were expected [yes, yours Mick, I could predict pretty easily, you little ray of eternal sunshine you].

I made what I thought was a sensible decision to not put in the address of the new refuge. By law, the planning committee have to know the location of any planning application and by law, all planning applications have to be made public.
Which in this case is a bit awkward, to say the least.
I made a point of warning the council, the Plymouth Domestic Abuse Service and the applicants that I was writing an article - which is in the public interest to know about and clearly has a lot of interest to the residents, certain councillors and other parties such as the various groups and charities involved - and that as a result of the article a bit of digging would result in the planning application being found by anyone who went looking.
My decision was to say it was in the city, was in a quiet area which included cul-de-sacs (a point emphasised by the concerned residents) and was to be at an ex-council depot (ie a brownfield site, not a greenfield site, and also important because of the amount of police call outs to the current refuge by comparison to the current disused council depot, also important in the arguments put forward by both the residents and the council officers)
If I put in too little or didn't write it at all, I could be accused of ignoring the residents fears, if I wrote it but put in too much information I would be revealing the location. I hoped to have found a balance, and having warned the authorities, hoped something could be done to avoid the Googlers in the reading audience. They can't remove or redact it because basically, that's the law. Frankly, either way, I knew I'd lose.

I'll side-step the catch 22 situation I found myself in for the mo' by highlighting this case which has recently come to light. http://www.sussexexpress.co.uk/news/abuse_awareness_training_call_for_magistrates_after_murder_1_2200144
The Karen Brookes story highlights what I was getting at on this blog the other week, in that everyone needs to recognise why this stuff is important. Recognition of what can happen when it's all-too-often poo-poohed as "oh, just another domestic".

Following my last blog post I had a conversation with a former senior police officer about the William Goad paedophile case and stressed how there were hundreds, possible even into a thousand or more young men in and around Plymouth who are still dealing with the childhood trauma of sexual abuse. Here's the parallel. Very often domestic abuse is seen in the light of "husband hits wife, wife calls police, police turn up, wife fails to make statement, police go away, husband hits wife, wife calls police... " ad infinitum. The bit that's forgotten is "child in room watches father hit mother, child sees police officers turn up (who, when you're a kid, are bloody scary), child sees police officers finally leave (with a confused mixture of relief and ominous fear) and child is left to deal with it in their own confused little head.
On the plus side, hopefully next month, I'm going to be able to tell you a truly wonderful story about a police officer who is hoping to tackle this very horrible scenario with a corking idea.

Meanwhile, for those of you who think domestic abuse only affects a certain class of woman, the 'lower orders', those who work 'downstairs', who can't countenance that proper, decent, law-abiding, well-educated people in good jobs need worry about this sort of criminal practice.

This was the awful case I covered back in Basildon. Here's the inquest http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1641255.stm and story of the history of domestic violence which went on for years http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-69653/The-parents-war.html. (Yeah, sorry, I've actually done a link to the Daily Mail... only because I can't find a link to my stories in my old paper).

Jill was well regarded and well respected by senior members of the council. The Chief Executive at the time even told me he had her pegged to be a future Chief Executive herself in the near future, she was that good at her job. Her husband was considered a pillar of the community, even though it later transpired his colleagues were aware of his questionable and arrestable home life habits. A former council leader at the authority admitted off-the-record to me they and others suspected Jill was being assaulted, but they weren't sure, didn't know what to do and she would always explain it away.

After her murder, staff at the Basildon Women's Aid/Refuge ended up being invited into the council to give them advice and guidance in how to deal with people they suspected were victims of domestic abuse. Then the local magistrates asked them to give them advice as well. Then the local police. Then local schools (even primary schools) and then other organisations in and around Basildon, then other parts of Essex and even outside of Essex. Needless to say, I was well impressed with the awesome work the local refuge were doing and still do, but bloody hell, it was such a cost to get some people's arses in gear and get them to finally listen.

Scary fact to leave you with, one which I never tire of stating, and never stop wishing it would change to a smaller figure. Since being a reporter, which currently is at 13 years and counting, this figure has remained pretty static. According to Home Office statistics, every week, on average, in England and Wales, two women are killed by a partner or former partner.

Every week.

Sometimes that figures gets added to with men, but far more often, with children. Sometimes it's a baby, lying in a cot, repeatedly hit with a claw hammer after their three-year-old brother and mother has been slaughtered in front of their slightly older brother and sister.

Have a ponder the next time you hear someone say it's "just a domestic" or that a new refuge in a relatively quiet bit of Plymouth is more trouble than it's worth...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

"And the beat goes on" isn't just a groovy disco tune.

So, Domestic Abuse Awareness Weeks has been and gone and I didn't really write anything for my patch.

I say this as every year I try to do something to highlight the issue. But as I (repeatedly) say to my contacts in this field, particularly the Plymouth Domestic Abuse Service, "domestic abuse isn't just for domestic abuse awareness week".

No-one seems to get my joke, mainly because I say it through clenched teeth. In my old patch of Basildon, I'd be down at the Women's Refuge, chatting with the manager, staff and current guests about how they are, what they need, what they're planning, who they're teaching about DV and how it needs to be countered, which court cases I need to know about and which bigot in the council is trying to give them a hard time.

Here? I'm person non grata, being a) a man and b) a bloody journalist. A combination which assures the view that I'm not to be trusted. So I don't write as many stories about DV as I'd like.

The irony for me being the Basildon Women's Aid group had me tagged from the first second. The manager there and outreach workers (most of whom were 'survivors' themselves) sussed my background before I'd opened my big gob.

I still recall hearing my mum's screams. I recall her black eyes, split lip, her fear as the door went and Dad'd come home in one of "those moods" which meant we should all run for cover unless we wanted a piece.

I can't find any pleasure in playing with Matchbox toys because the metre long track, usually orange, but occasionally the more stiff and unyielding yellow tracks, were not something of fun for me and my brothers. Kept on a little ledge above the fridge, we'd know that if Dad headed towards it, we'd be nursing welts for the rest of the night. I remember almost proudly being able to breathe through an ear after receiving a clout around the ear. I say clout, but that's rather a quaint old fashioned description. I was playing cricket with a tennis ball with my friend in our garden. The ball hit our back outhouse. Nothing broke, but I was hit around the ear so hard I couldn't hear the rest of the day and found if I held my nose I could push air out my ear. Strange really.

I had a regular nightmare (at least once a week for several years) of a steaming monster racing up the stairs if I dared venture out of the bedroom to go to the toilet. Only years later I clicked it was about my Dad who, if you heard him stomping up the stairs because me and my younger brother made a noise at night we'd cop a walloping. I remember lying in bed one night, listening to him getting hit and hit and hit, screaming "no, no, no" thinking to myself "if I call out, tell him to stop, I'll get it too" and hating myself for being a coward.

I got the same feeling of cowardice when I'd hear my mum, in the next room at night, making the same pointless appeal. She'd cry out, begging him to stop. I'd lie there, feeling sick, wondering how breakfast time would be, and whether school would be a kind of freedom.

Like I said, it's hearing your mum's screams which I'll recall for a long while yet.

This went on for years. I didn't even know it was wrong for a lot of it. I do recall sitting on my bed, in the room I shared with my younger brother. I was about 10, sitting there sobbing after being hit several times. Mum, who'd tried to protect me before I ran, came in and was sitting next to me, also in tears. She'd been hit after she'd stood between me and Dad. She sat, I sat, both crying. I eventually asked her in all sincerity "why can't we just leave him". She hugged me closer and after a long pause said: "where can we go? There's nowhere we can go... I'm sorry".

Here's the thing. I know full well it's all relative and I got off very very light. Since becoming a reporter I've made it a kind of point to do stories on domestic violence, or to give it it's current name, domestic abuse. I've heard far, far worse straight from the horses mouth as it were, cases in court, or from officers who've attended scenes. Some will make your jaw drop and shake your head. Like the one where the wife is kicked on the ground for daring to answer back, and then the guy got his seven-year-old son to keep kicking mum, so he learned that "that's what you do to a woman who answers you back".

One or two have made me well up, particularly when it's kids because I think back to the fear you feel, all the bloody time. The dread you feel on your way home from school, dawdling so you don't get home early, hoping he'll come home in a good mood or there will be Morecombe and Wise or Les Dawson on telly so he'll laugh in his chair, and we can watch and laugh and we can sit and act like a normal family for half an hour.

I had one of those moments today. I've heard this woman's story from a couple of other people in Plymouth. It was only a few seconds of conversation. I don't know her name. I was with Kerry Whincup, the co-ordinator for the Plymouth SEEDS (Survivors Empowering and Educating Domestic Abuse Services) for a meeting. Round table, different ages of women, different styles of hair, different outfits, different stories.
She'd come back in after a ciggie and a wee.

She'd left an 11 year relationship on New Years Day. She'd suffered lots of beatings. "After 11 years you leave with what you stand up in". She has two children. To get at her, to make her suffer, he took a pair of pliers to the children's teeth.

He's dead now, and - I am not surprised - she is pretty happy about that.

"You get so used to the daily beatings and everything which goes with it. I didn't even know what a Refuge was..."

I've thought for a while about writing this. About some of my past, why I want to write stories about domestic abuse, why I keep banging my head against some organisations to ensure the message gets out not just one week a year, but as many times as possible.

Meeting her today made my mind up. So bloody brave... and now joined with other victims (okay, survivors for the PC brigade) to help other women, to educate the authorities, the police, the magistrates, the judges, the lawyers, the councillors, the public about why it's so damned important that this - domestic abuse, domestic violence, 'another bloody domestic' as jaded cops sometimes say - should be dealt with, taken seriously, acted upon, spoken about out loud.


I f***ing ask you! Pliers!

And you know the worst thing?

That's not even the worst story I've heard so far, after 13 years as a reporter. Not by a mile. But it still makes me go very, very cold inside.

And also reminds me to call my mum and tell her that I love her because she took a lot of punches for me. So bloody brave...