I see domestic abuse everywhere – but people still don’t understand what it is

Original post from The Guardian

‘…………….By Kelly Mattison

As a domestic violence worker, many of the young women I work with have no idea they are experiencing abuse

Kelly Mattison teaches young women that it’s not their fault if their partner abuses them. Photograph: Eric Audras/Onoky/Corbis
Kelly Mattison teaches young women that it’s not their fault if their partner abuses them. Photograph: Eric Audras/Onoky/Corbis

My role

As an independent domestic violence worker, I have trained doctors and nurses in A&E departments across Greater Manchester in how to spot the signs of domestic violence, and worked one-to-one with patients in hospital with visible injuries. I am a trained to facilitate the freedom programme, a 12-week awareness-raising course on domestic violence. I deliver this programme to women of all ages who have experienced abuse. I also go to schools to teach girls about healthy and unhealthy relationship.

A typical day

I make a rough plan for my day, but know from experience that I cannot anticipate the issues that may come up. Last time I was in a school, I received a disclosure about child sexual exploitation. A young girl told me she was being labelled as “the biggest charge sheet going”. I had no idea what this meant so I asked her. “You know,” she said, “it’s the sheet the guy gets off the police when you’re underage.”

When I trained doctors and nurses in hospitals, each session was sidetracked with someone telling me about their own experience of domestic violence. One nurse told me she had been thrown down the stairs. Another was being threatened by her ex-partner each time she went to work. A session I delivered in a children’s centre was diverted by a 19-year-old girl telling me the level of domestic violence she had suffered was so high that the police had built a panic room in her house to protect her and her children from her ex-partner when he was released from prison. She said she still didn’t feel safe, so we spent the session going through safety planning techniques.

The issues affecting my work at the moment.

There isn’t enough awareness about the different types of domestic abuse and the various tactics perpetrators use. With some professionals I have come into contact with there is a fear of the phrase domestic violence, and a misunderstanding about what it is.

Many young people I work with have no idea that they are experiencing domestic violence, and so many young girls tell me the same kinds of stories again and again. If more education about domestic abuse was given in schools, then young girls wouldn’t be under such pressure, and they would not have to go through these debilitating anxieties about relationships by themselves.

The moment I’ll always remember

The time I was called to A&E to work with a woman who had been beaten so badly by her ex-partner and his friend that I could not make out her face. The first thing she said to me was “It’s my fault”. I spent the first part of our meeting convincing her that it was not in any way her fault.

What I love about what I do

I love teaching young people. It is satisfying to know that I am arming them with information about domestic abuse at a young age. It’s rewarding to see their confidence increase as they realise they can do what they want, when they want, that it’s not their fault if their partner calls them a “slag” or a “whore” and that they’re not fat, no matter what their partner says. Most importantly, it is satisfying to teach them that it’s okay to say “no” to their partners, and to anything, whenever they want.

One thing I wish I’d known when I started out

I wish I’d known that completing my freedom programme training would change my whole outlook on life. I see things differently now. I’m aware of every tactic – emotional abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse – and because of this I see it everywhere.

If there was an extra hour in the day …

I would call into more schools, and explain to headteachers what a difference it would make to girls’ lives if they put just a couple of hours a week aside to teach teenage girls about domestic abuse and the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship. It would be so great to arm all girls with the knowledge that could protect them from abuse, rather than dealing with the aftermath.

Kelly Mattison is an independent domestic violence worker. You can follow her on Twitter @kellymattison7

If you would like to feature in our Day in the Life series, or know someone who would, email socialcare@theguardian.com   ………………’


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