Supporting and advocating for domestic abuse survivors is my life’s purpose. I am endlessly inspired by the strength, perseverance and hope so many women show in the face of often terrible circumstances. I will continue to use my expertise to do everything I can to empower women to survive and thrive following domestic abuse.
I gained in-depth knowledge of men’s abuse of women, having worked with domestic abuse for over 34 years, both as a police officer and as an outreach worker for a domestic abuse charity. In the police, I dealt with the full range of abuse including domestic homicide. I worked with perpetrators, survivors, and their children and saw all facets of this abuse, often soon after the incident had occurred and when those involved were in very raw emotional states. My work helped me develop an understanding of the conflicted loyalties many survivors of abuse felt, and how it often felt impossible for them to leave the relationship or give evidence against their abuser in court. Many women felt safer to ‘side with the enemy’ even when subjected to extreme violence. Other women clearly had very strong bonds with their abusers that didn’t make sense to me – until I developed a deeper understanding of trauma bonding through my outreach work. As an outreach worker, I provided in-depth one-to-one and group support to women. I began to understand common patterns of behaviour and the thinking of women subjected to abuse. I saw recurring themes of confusion, self-blame, trauma bonding and inability to leave the relationship. When survivors properly understood that the abuse was not their fault, that they were not losing their minds, that they couldn’t have ‘just left’, that trying harder to please their abuser would not have helped, then they had a very good chance of real and sustained recovery. Because domestic abuse is intended to confuse, understanding patterns of abuse can be hugely validating and liberating for survivors. I saw the relief women felt and the progress they made when they properly understood what had happened to them.
In my outreach work, I often encountered women who were disappointed by police responses to their reports of domestic abuse. With a police background and an understanding of police processes and procedures, I was in a unique position to work with the police to improve their response to survivors of abuse. I was involved in a collaborative research project funded by Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner to improve survivor experience and reporting of domestic abuse to the police. The research involved interviewing survivors about their contact with police and identifying key areas where communication could be improved.
I have also been instrumental in improving processes within Nottinghamshire Police. A domestic abuser who was on prison licence and with a history of serious violence, particularly against women, made a malicious report of assault against his former partner whom I supported. The former partner was unfairly cautioned for assault and forced to give up her career as a carer because of this unjust criminal record. The police had failed to investigate properly and did not consider the full circumstances nor establish that she had been the victim of a campaign of serious and sustained abuse by the man. I forced Nottinghamshire Police not only to withdraw this woman’s caution, but also to review its procedures for Out of Court Disposals. In highlighting this case and causing a review of procedures, other domestic abuse survivors should benefit from a fairer police investigation if they are the subject of malicious allegations by a domestic abuser.