GENtern Aarti Reflects on Bede House
Contributed by: Aarti Bhat
Having just come back from London, where I completed a social work study abroad program, I was struck by how many similar issues our country faces with other places around the world. Through the program, our class had the opportunity to visit several nonprofit agencies around the city, and one of the most inspiring for me was Bede, an organization based in Southwark which gives support to persons affected by domestic abuse. Bede’s services include individual and group therapy, as well as, in certain cases, legal assistance.
Although many tough topics were addressed during the course of the program, this was one of the most emotionally difficult presentations we experienced as a class. One of the women who works at Bede talked to us about their work helping victims of domestic abuse. She provided the definition of domestic abuse as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”. The specificity of this definition is important to note, she explained, because many people associate domestic abuse with only physical violence, but it truly encompasses a myriad of other issues within relationship. Thus, many people who are experiencing other forms of abuse, such as psychological or financial, do not know where to look for help in their situations.
In addition, the staff at Bede emphasized that it is crucial to understand that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. Although most of Bede’s clients tend to be women, domestic abuse is certainly not limited to this sector of the population. Many men who experience abuse have a very difficult time seeking help due to the shame and stigma associated with a situation deviating from the male gender stereotype of being the controller and the “macho” one in a relationship.
During our visit, we also heard from a woman who had been helped by Bede. She had been in an abusive relationship since the age of 19, and had a son with her abuser. She talked about how her son gave her the courage to seek help from Bede, because she did not want him to grow up in an environment of violence, trauma, and threat. She discussed her difficult journey, which included various ups and downs. At one point, which she described as her biggest low, she went back to her abuser. However, she has now made a clean break, and she told us that since doing so she has come to value herself again in a way she could never do with her abuser constantly putting her down. Her eyes lit up as she revealed that she has also seen a positive change in her son’s behavior and happiness.
Domestic abuse is a prevalent global issue. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among US families. Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence also suffer abuse or neglect at high rates (30% to 60%), and are likely to become either victims of or perpetrators of abuse in the future.
So, if the negative effects of domestic abuse are so vast, why do people not leave abusive environments? Many of the victims and survivors of domestic violence are people of fairly low socioeconomic status, and are financially dependent on their abuser. In addition, the perpetrators of violence often isolate their victims from friends and family, leaving them without a large external support group. 85% of women who leave an abusive relationship return, in many cases due to emotional and financial dependence on the abuser.
In the face of such a grim worldwide issue, however, I was left with a sense of optimism. Having the chance to meet with a survivor, I was inspired and humbled by her bravery in a terrible situation. Talking to the workers at Bede, hearing their stories and struggles in the profession, and their perseverance in such a difficult and sometimes even dangerous field of work, also moved me greatly. The knowledge that there are people out there who are dedicating their lives towards the eradication of domestic abuse gives me hope that, through education and passion, we will see fewer and fewer lives affected by abuse and violence.