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OPINION: Domestic abuse documentaries are shining a light on an issue we can't ignore

PUBLISHED: 09:21 09 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:21 09 March 2019

Mandy Proctor, chief executive of Leeway, the charity providing support to those experiencing domestic abuse.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mandy Proctor, chief executive of Leeway, the charity providing support to those experiencing domestic abuse. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

Mandy Proctor, chief executive of domestic abuse charity Leeway, shares her thoughts on the recent media attention on domestic abuse.

Hazel, from Great Yarmouth, featured in Channel 5 documentary The Abused. Photo: Channel 5Hazel, from Great Yarmouth, featured in Channel 5 documentary The Abused. Photo: Channel 5

It has been great to see a couple of excellent documentaries on television recently, giving an insight into the lives of people experiencing domestic abuse.

Two women, Hazel and Kelly, from Norfolk bravely shared their stories in “The Abused,” in the hope of raising awareness and encouraging others to seek support.

The extent of the abuse they faced was shocking, receiving multiple injuries as well as experiencing psychological and emotional abuse.

The reaction that the documentary received on social media was positive, although it was upsetting, but sadly not surprising, to read that domestic abuse had touched the lives of many viewers.

There was a similar reaction to “Abused by My Girlfriend,” which focused on a young man called Alex, who had experienced years of abuse at the hands of his girlfriend.

In Alex’s case, it was thought that he would only have another ten days to live, such were the severity of his injuries and physical state.

Both documentaries perfectly showed the true reality and nature of domestic abuse, as well as highlighting how hard it is to escape an abusive relationship.

The survivors featured all faced multiple barriers before they were finally able to break free and, even now, they are still heavily affected by their experiences.

It is so important to make people aware of the barriers faced by someone leaving an abusive relationship and being able to spot the signs.

It can take as many as 35 incidences of abuse before someone will come forward to a support agency or the police to access support.

At Leeway, we often find that the people we support have very little confidence and have often had all sense of independence removed.

A perpetrator will often decide who they can or cannot talk to, which usually will mean cutting ties with close friends and family members.

The fewer people you are close to, the more dependent you are on the perpetrator and you have fewer people to reach out to for support.

When you become isolated, it is very common to get into the mindset that nobody will believe you, even if you do come forward.

Some people are reluctant to come forward through fears of having their children taken away or unsettling them by moving away from family and friends.

In Kelly’s case, she didn’t initially tell police about the extent of the abuse through fears of losing her child.

The fear of what may happen to themselves or a child can cause victims to make excuses for the abuse that the perpetrator inflicts, when questioned.

Bruises are passed off as accidents from walking into something or falling over.

Controlling behaviour, such as constantly demanding to know where someone is, is passed off as being caring.

Alex was able to get support thanks to the professional curiosity of a police officer, who was concerned about his injuries and general condition.

Without the curiosity and persistence of the officer, it could have been a totally different story.

Thankfully those featured in the documentaries accessed support and are rebuilding their lives, free from abuse, but there will be many people who are suffering in silence.

It is often hard to fully appreciate why someone doesn’t just leave an abusive relationship, but the real question should be “why doesn’t the perpetrator stop?”

For so long domestic abuse had been viewed as a grey area, a topic that just wasn’t discussed or dismissed as being “just a domestic.”

By having hard-hitting conversations about domestic abuse, we are raising awareness and making people realise that there is support out there for them though.

Here in Norfolk, the family and friends of Kerri McAuley continue to do a fantastic job of raising awareness and campaigning to support others experiencing domestic abuse.

If we can maintain this level of raising awareness, backed up with strong policies by the government, I am hopeful that we can really start to tackle this issue that has been hidden for too long.

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