Over the years I’ve met many people who have lost loved ones due to the violent actions of another human being. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends, All sharing loss as a common experience. For the majority of my policing career, I never really thought about the build-up to a murder. I just sought to investigate it. Whilst I did take witness accounts leading up to the violence, I was focused more on solving the case rather than mulling over how it could have been prevented.
In recent years this has changed. I now find myself focusing on acts which can, if unchallenged, lead to the likes of rape, sexual assault, even murder. I often ask the question “Where on the continuum of violence do you intervene?”
We are in the midst of the 16 Days of Activism. Starting on the 25th November each year the period is used to shed light on the epidemic that is ‘Men’s Violence Against Women. For those rushing to remind me that men are victims of women’s violence or that men are more likely to die by homicide (often as a result of other men’s violence), I understand that, but for this period the focus is quite specific, and rightly so.
Today I saw a tweet posted by @FemicideCensus highlighting the number of girls and women killed by men between 2009 and 2018, 1425 to be precise. Over the period, between 124 and 168 girls and women were killed annually by men. Let that sink in for a minute – 1425 girls and women killed by men.
Whilst 8% were killed by total strangers the majority were killed by partners or former partners. It’s 2020 and it remains the case that one of the most dangerous places a woman can be is in their own home.
Look at this image. It remembers all of the victims discussed in the census report.
Seeing the names really beings it home don’t you think? These are our mothers, our sisters, aunts, friends and work colleagues. These are people, that people care about.
So why have I referenced this census? Why have I focused on the people behind the statistics?
Those around the victims never once thought that their loved ones would later appear on such a list. I bet you would never think in that way.
For some it’s too late. They have already lost their loved one. So, I ask you the question “Where on the continuum do you intervene?”
So, what do I mean by a continuum?
A Continuum – Something that changes in character or in very slight stages without any clear dividing points.
When it comes to preventing violence, I find looking at the violence continuum a form of ‘looking under the bonnet’. When you look deeper you can find ways to prevent violence.
For most people, violence involves the physical act, the punch, the kick, rape or sexual assault and murder. This is a very narrow definition and one that doesn’t really help prevent these acts. To prevent we really need a wider definition and one that allows you to work to stop the physical elements of violence.
UN Women recently shared a useful link which highlighted types of violence that can be committed against girls and women. It’s useful because it forces us to look wider than the physical.
For me a continuum of violence or abuse looks like this, starting from the left and moving to the right. To be clear within emotional abuse I tend to include financial abuse and likes of stalking. But as the above definition suggests, the dividing points are often unclear.
A continuum suggests a progression rather than levels of seriousness. Whilst many people will say that physical or sexual abuse is more serious. In some cases, they may be correct but try telling that to an individual who is a victim of coercive control. The terror they face is constant.
The continuum also allows society to see places for action, for intervention. Stepping into say a physical altercation presents risks as does intervention at all points on this continuum. My focus is on our own networks, our friends, work colleagues, this is where society needs to see a role in preventing violence.
So, with our new improved definition of violence what can we do to intervene as early as possible on this continuum. Here’s some suggestions.
- We can step in – Speaking to a friend who is being sexist or verbally abusive doesn’t have to be confrontational (unless you want it to be). Try connecting with your friend. Remind them of your friendship but that you are unhappy with what is being said. Call them in rather than Call them out.
- Support victims – Intervention doesn’t have to be directed at the abuser. Speak to a friend who is a victim. Make sure they are safe and tell them what has happened wasn’t their fault. If domestic or sexual abuse, consider providing them with some organisations who can help them.
- Create a distraction – Changing the subject or making up an excuse to remove a friend from a situation can be enough to simply stop what is happening. I really admire girls and women’s creativity. You seem to have the classic distraction in asking a friend to go to the toilet with you. Other groups haven’t mastered such skills.
However, remember that a distraction is a short-term fix. You may have to speak to a friend the next day and have that courageous conversation as discussed above.
- Speak to friends – It’s likely others in your network will have witnessed the abuse and may just be waiting for someone else to act. Be that one who takes action. Others often just want that reassurance that it’s not just them who see problems.
- Tell someone – If you feel unable to use any of the above at the very least tell someone. This is a good tool if it’s a stranger situation. Use your phone to call police or, when bars eventually open again, speak to member of staff. They will help you.
All of the above is part of your bystander toolkit. Using the tools always start from a place of selfishness – “Am I safe?” Being selfish at first allows you to move to being selfless.
So again, “where on the continuum do you intervene?”
You now have a better idea of the continuum but importantly you have tools to act. Start thinking of violence as something that could impact on you through a loved one or friend. Don’t wait for it to become a reality.
Don’t be a bystander, be a friend.