Lockdown part 3…. Week 17

Here we are another week closer to life returning to some sort of normality! I am pleasantly surprised at how well I seem to be adapting to this new life so far, but I am not putting pressure on myself to do things that make me feel uncomfortable. I have booked tickets to take my girls to an indoor mini village play area later this month that they both love! (We’ve not been for nearly a year). I also got excited and decided to book a holiday to France next summer with the hope that things will have calmed down by then.

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I am proud of myself for making it to college this week after last weeks wobble, it took a lot of strength and reflecting to get past it as old me would have struggled and probably spat the dummy out (given up).

As I walked back to my car which was parked in a multi-storey carpark, I suddenly found myself thinking there was no one around and even though it was light I was thinking how easy it would have been for someone to be lurking around a corner, so I found myself running up the stairs. I have also been parking as close to the door as possible so that I don’t have to walk across the car park. I would never have thought twice about this until Sarah Everard’s murder, and I found myself feeling a little uneasy but at the same time thinking is this how I’m supposed to feel from now on? Is it not a good idea to be outside on my own? Especially after the tragic events of PCSO Julia James who was murdered earlier this week. An innocent woman walking her dog near her home, brutally bludgeoned to death and the killer remains unknown.

What can we do to protect ourselves? Are we supposed to walk around with a rape alarm, pepper spray? I will never condone anyone who walks around with a gun or knife however I do understand why some people may feel the need to, in order to feel safe. Just like people I know of who now sleep with baseball bats after being broken into.

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Last week I mentioned that I feel as though I am starting to rebel (or maybe I am just discovering my true self after my previous sheltered life) …I still can’t quite believe what I did. Anyone who knows me would know that I am not someone who has ever shown an interest in them let alone someone who would consider getting one, but something came over me. I did not even discuss getting one with anyone or seek approval. Yet here I am, with a purple heart tattoo on my arm!! It may not sound like a big deal, but for me it is.

My friends and family where shocked particularly as I am normally someone who needs permission to do things particularly as drastic as this, however they love it. They are probably wondering what’s next!! Aside from having a new hair style next week I don’t have any other plans (for now!).

I decided to book an appointment to give blood later this year (I have to wait a few months after having my tattoo) for the first time since being pregnant with my eldest daughter. Despite having health anxiety and not liking ‘medical’ environments I have given blood a few times and would like to start again.

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Finally, I wanted to share some happy news that I found. An alternative to plastic that can be composted (and even eaten) has won an award for innovation. Dr Anne Lamp has designed a system to transform agricultural residues into a range of plastics, which in turn can be safely reintegrated into the food supply chain. The process can cut carbon emissions by 87 per cent compared to conventional plastics production – and it promises to compete on price, too.

I’m not sure how I would feel about eating sweet wrappers, but I love the fact that it would be put on the compost heap and no longer polluting the environment. What an inspiring woman Dr Anne Lamp is, I truly hope this takes off!

Police

The police are certainly being scrutinised at the minute following the disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard and the following protests.

I was brought up to respect the police and always feared a police car being behind me when driving in case I was going to be pulled over. I never had reason to doubt the work of the police until my first direct experience with them.

A few months after leaving my abusive relationship I was encouraged by the local domestic abuse agency to consider reporting the abuse to the police. I was very hesitant about this for numerous reasons including fear of any repercussions and wasting police time. I was assured by the domestic abuse agency that there would not be any repercussions and that I would not be wasting police time. It took me awhile to consider what to do but it the end I decided to report it with the aim of helping other women speak out.

I found the whole experience incredibly nerve racking and emotionally draining – from the initial phone call to the first meeting with a police officer to the 3-hour video interview. After the initial conversation with the police, I was told that based on what I had shared that if my ex had lived in the same county as myself that she would have been immediately arrested, however because that wasn’t the case, I was told the decision had to be made by an officer in the county that she lives in. I never realised that decisions that the police make differ depending on where you live and assumed that the police would all sing from the same hymn sheet.

In 2015 a new law came into force banning emotional abuse and controlling behaviour. It was stated that the new law meant that people who use emotional abuse to control their partners – for example by threatening them, stopping them seeing their friends or denying them access to their own money – could face prison.

‘Controlling or Coercive behaviour’ describes behaviour occurring within a current or former intimate or family relationship which causes someone to fear that violence will be used against them on more than one occasion or causes them serious alarm or distress that substantially affects their day-to-day activities. It involves a pattern of behaviour or incidents that enable a person to exert power or control over another.

According to the crown prosecution service (https://www.cps.gov.uk/) an offence is committed by A if:

  • A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person, B, that is controlling or coercive; and
  • At time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected; and
  • The behaviour has a serious effect on B; and
  • A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.

A and B are ‘personally connected’ if:

  • they are in an intimate personal relationship; or
  • they live together and are either members of the same family; or
  • they live together have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

There are two ways in which it can be proved that A’s behaviour has a ‘serious effect’ on B:

  • If it causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them – s.76 (4)(a); or
  • If it causes B serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities – s.76 (4) (b).

The phrase ‘substantial adverse effect on Bs usual day-to-day activities’ may include:

  • Stopping or changing the way someone socialises
  • Physical or mental health deterioration
  • A change in routine at home including those associated with mealtimes or household chores
  • Attendance record at school
  • Putting in place measures at home to safeguard themselves or their children
  • Changes to work patterns, employment status or routes to work

A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable:

  • On conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;
  • On summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine, or both.

Relevant behaviour of the perpetrator can include:

  • Isolating a person from their friends and family
  • Depriving them of their basic needs
  • Monitoring their time
  • Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware
  • Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep
  • Depriving them access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services
  • Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless
  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim
  • Forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities
  • Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance
  • Control ability to go to school or place of study
  • Taking wages, benefits or allowances
  • Threats to hurt or kill
  • Threats to harm a child
  • Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone)
  • Threats to hurt or physically harming a family pet
  • Assault
  • Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods)
  • Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working
  • Preventing a person from being able to attend school, college or University
  • Family ‘dishonour’
  • Reputational damage
  • Disclosure of sexual orientation
  • Disclosure of HIV status or other medical condition without consent
  • Limiting access to family, friends and finances

The Statutory Guidance outlines a non-exhaustive list of the types of evidence that could be used to prove the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour;

  • Copies of emails
  • Phone records
  • Text messages
  • Evidence of abuse over the internet, digital technology and social media platforms
  • Photographs of injuries such as: defensive injuries to forearms, latent upper arm grabs, scalp bruising, clumps of hair missing
  • 999 tapes or transcripts
  • CCTV
  • Body worn video footage (Who goes around wearing a hidden camera?!)
  • Lifestyle and household including at scene photographic evidence
  • Records of interaction with services such as support services, (even if parts of those records relate to events which occurred before the new offence came into force, their contents may still, in certain circumstances, be relied on in evidence)
  • Medical records
  • Witness testimony, for example the family and friends of the victim may be able to give evidence about the effect and impact of isolation of the victim from them
  • Local enquiries: neighbours, regular deliveries, postal, window cleaner etc
  • Bank records to show financial control
  • Previous threats made to children or other family members
  • Diary kept by the victim
  • Victims account of what happened to the police
  • Evidence of isolation such as lack of contact between family and friends, victim withdrawing from activities such as clubs, perpetrator accompanying victim to medical appointments
  • GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones, tablets, vehicles etc.,
  • Where the perpetrator has a carer responsibility, the care plan might be useful as it details what funds should be used for

(The blue text covers some of my personal experience of abuse)

Just reading through this, I believe that my experience would be a classic example of coercive and controlling behaviour, however, I felt the police never took my case seriously.

The police officer who originally interviewed me was incredibly supportive and certain that my case would be taken seriously – this officer was female. She had to compile her report and send it to the police in the area my ex-lives for them to take over the case, however I found out through my sources (I knew someone who worked for the police) and by making a formal complaint, that the police officer dealing with my case had been prevented from actioning the case by her boss (who was male). It came to my attention that they didn’t want her to carry on with the investigation, but I was never told why.

After my complaint, another female officer contacted me to organise a video interview and again another officer/s tried to prevent this from happening. In the end this female officer and a colleague of hers managed to arrange for me to do the video interview but the only way they managed to organise it was by the 2nd officer coming into work whilst off sick (because they valued my case and knew what had been happening).

After my file was sent off to the police where my ex lives (which included the 3-hour video interview, a full transcript, letters from the local domestic abuse agency, letters from my GP and midwife, diary entries etc) it was taken over by a female investigating officer who was very on the ball, keeping me updated all the time and who appeared to be taking it very seriously.

I was told that they would be bringing my ex in for questioning under caution but then shortly before they interviewed her the officer contacted me to tell me that she had been suddenly taken off the case and had been replaced by a male police officer.

The male police officer never contacted me and when I chased up the outcome of the interview with my ex, he informed me that it was just my word against her and that he didn’t have any evidence to take it any further, he denied seeing the 3-hour video interview, transcript and that there was any evidence (in forms of letters) from my GP, Midwife of local domestic abuse agency.

I could have appealed but by this point I was so drained and felt incredibly let down, that I wasn’t been listened to and that despite the domestic abuse agency and the female police officers reassuring me I was doing the right thing and that they were certain my ex would be brought to justice that it was just empty words and that I had put myself through a highly stressful and emotional experience for absolutely nothing. At this point I hit an all time low and wanted to run away to a deserted island.

I’m not sure how many if any prosecutions will be made under this new law and have the impression that the police aren’t generally bothered about looking into cases like mine because they are hard work. If I was black and blue and beaten within an inch of my life, then maybe they would have taken my seriously.

I’d put it all to the back of my mind until reading about the recent incidents with the police and how male police officers have been seen treating women.

I questioned if the male police officers didn’t take me seriously because I was a woman or because the person who had abused me was female or because they just couldn’t be bothered.

It’s fair to say that I have lost pretty much all my faith and confidence in the police.

I then read that a woman who attended a vigil for Sarah Everard walked past a man who was standing on a pavement with “his genitals out of his fly”. After which she went up to a group of “about five or six police officers” to ask them if they could address the situation as she was feeling “very uncomfortable”. “The female officer said ‘ok, fine, we’ll go’ and she was about to go when a male colleague said, ‘we’re not dealing with this anymore, no, we’ve had enough with the rioters tonight, we’re not dealing with it’,” she said.

This is an absolute disgrace and once again leading to women feeling belittled and that they are not being taken seriously.

I must admit that I wish I had not put myself of my family through my experience of reporting the abuse to the police. If anyone ever asked me for my opinion on whether they should report abuse or not I would always want to say absolutely as I don’t believe anyone should get away with treating anyone this way, however based on my experience I would probably be hesitant to encourage them unless they had a lot of concrete evidence (e.g., video footage from a long period of time) which saddens me.

Having said that, I know that I have done the hardest and best thing by walking away and starting a new life for myself and my daughters. I no longer feel trapped or suffocated to live my live or be me and I am no longer (nor will I ever be) a puppet on a string!

Lockdown part 3….Week 10

This week has certainly been a mixed bag. Monday marked the return to school for all primary pupils in England and a staggered return for secondary school pupils. I am sure that parents up and down the country were relieved after what has been a challenging and memorable time. I loved reading about the schools that made a special effort to welcome pupils back such as laying down a red carpet and lining it with balloons and that pupils were running to greet their friends.

The news has been heavy going this week and I was deeply shocked and upset when I first read about Sarah Everard’s disappearance. Without wanting to be pessimistic I didn’t have a good feeling as in all my life I can’t remember a time where someone has been reported missing on the news to then be found alive and well. I admit that I then followed the story like a hawk, all the time I could hear my counselling tutor saying, ‘you need to think why it upsets or bothers you?’ I can’t really answer that question other than to say that I am soft, and I care, and I can’t bare to think that something absolutely horrendous could happen to someone. I guess I also cannot even begin to understand the mindset of someone capable of hurting anyone. I suppose we can’t help but think about ourselves and our loved ones when we hear something bad in the news and maybe more so because she was a year younger than me, and I have a lot of friends of a similar age.

When I watched Dame Cressida’s statement, I had goosebumps all over me, although she didn’t say that the body, they had found was Sarah’s she heavily implied that it was. Then to hear that a serving Met Police officer was arrested on suspicion of her kidnap and murder and who has now been charged with this made me feel sick. We don’t know what happened, we don’t know if Mr Couzen’s knew her, if he planned this or the events surrounding such a heinous crime.

Whatever happened I cannot stand by anyone pointing blame at Sarah for walking home from a friend’s house at 9pm at night. It sounds as though she had walked this route before, it was on a main road, she had spoken to her boyfriend whilst walking home, was wearing brightly coloured clothing and had her mobile phone with her. I am not sure what else she could have done. It is 2021, people should feel safe to be out and about on their own. No one should feel scared or unsafe or that we have to constantly look over our shoulder.

I saw that the police had posted on social media some ‘safety tips’ for women, which included planning your route, having a charged mobile phone, tell someone where you are going – all of which Sarah did. They then went on to say that from the moment you step out onto the street to look assertive, act and walk with confidence – all of which they suggest will make you appear in control. I’m shaking my head as I write this – who’s to say Sarah wasn’t doing all these things?! Are they suggesting that if she acted this way that she would still be alive?! Have you seen a photo of Mr Couzen’s?! He looks like he’s built like a shit brickhouse, in which case nobody stood a chance!

Dame Cressida also suggested that cases like Sarah’s are incredibly rare, yet 118 women and girls have already been killed in the UK this year by a man. Labour’s shadow domestic violence minister Jess Philips read out all their names as part of the International Women’s Day debate.

Sarah Everard was a beautiful, successful, popular young woman with her whole life ahead of her. I am sat here raising a glass to her and I am sending my thoughts to her family, friends and loved ones.

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This week we have been playing in the garden as much as possible, my eldest daughter has mastered writing her name and has enjoyed doing lots of writing. We’ve done lots of Easter art, baked some buns and the girls had free reign decorating them!

I love watching the girls do their Tot Bop Boogie dance class (topbop.co.uk) as they know the warmups and cool downs off by height. Mummy has to join in too (of course) and I have particularly enjoyed doing The Charleston this week! I’ll sing and dance away in front of my girls, but I would freeze in front of anyone else!!

I braved taking the girls to a garden centre this week and they loved it – the last time we went was Christmas and they could both remember it in ridiculous detail!! They loved going around with their little trollies and having a ride on the tractor!

I feel incredibly lucky to have woken up with my girls crawling into bed for cuddles on Mother’s Day as well as being able to spend quality time with my Mum as I know so many people won’t be able to spend time with their loved ones this year due to lockdown. My Mum is an incredibly strong woman and someone who I admire and look up to. As well as being my Mum and my rock, she is also a true friend and although we can sometimes get on each other’s nerves I love seeing her everyday and miss her when I don’t. I’ll never be too old to give my Mum hugs!

Finally, I wanted to share that I now have 50 followers (in just over a month) – most of whom I don’t know. To say that I don’t have a clue how to share my blog, I feel proud that it has so many followers from nowhere. I love seeing the map showing who has read the blog and it has now been read by people in the Netherlands, America, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, India, Romania, Indonesia, Egypt, Ireland, Poland, Switzerland, China, Albania and of course, the UK. Thank you to everyone who has read my blog and shared it!

To those worrying about children needing to catch up on school work
I saw this and wanted to share!