Naomi Dickson, CEO of Jewish Women’s Aid
In the first two months of this year, seventy women have called Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA) seeking help in their abusive relationships. This is double what we received in the same period last year. Seventy women who are being physically, mentally, sexually, financially and emotionally bullied, harassed and controlled in their intimate and closest relationships. Women who felt unsafe in their own homes, who feared for their children, and who were brave enough to make a phone call, and to name what was happening to them as abuse.
Is this progress? Over the last two years, JWA has experienced a sharp and sustained increase in the number of women seeking support from us. People often ask me if this means that there is more domestic abuse happening in our community. I am pretty sure that the answer to that is no. What we are seeing is women who are empowered to pick up the phone and call us. Women who are courageous enough to call out the behaviour of their partner, and who are prepared to take the first, very brave step to a life without fear.
Mostly, the women calling us are not those who have been abused for the first time in their relationships. They are women who have lived in an abusive relationship for years – they have experienced controlling behaviour from their partner over a period of time, behaviour which has worsened and escalated until she feels increasingly unsafe for herself and for her children, and until she feels she has no option other than to seek help.
Women are feeling empowered to call us for several reasons. Domestic abuse has risen in the public consciousness over recent years through governmental campaigns, media storylines, proposed changes in law and MPs and celebrities speaking out. Jewish Women’s Aid has played its part too – we have chosen to make our awareness-raising campaigns bigger and bolder, and these in turn have been supported by an increasing number of community leaders, speaking out against domestic abuse. We have reached out to greater numbers of community professionals – rabbis, rebbetzens, therapists, welfare workers, healthcare professionals and emergency services personnel – and given them the tools to identify, signpost and support women who are victims of domestic abuse.
Is this progress? Yes it is. The Anglo-Jewish community now acknowledges that domestic abuse is an issue in a way it has never done before. Women are reaching out for support to JWA with the encouragement of their friends, doctors, rabbis, rebbetzens and family.
But I would like to see a community where women don’t need to feel that they have to wait until the abuse escalates before seeking help, where they are educated to identify it at an early stage. I’d like every professional in our community to understand the prevalence and presentation of domestic abuse so that they can support the women who need it. And I’d like every young person to be educated to avoid abusive relationships through JWA’s healthy relationships in schools programmes, and our Safer Dating sessions for students and young professionals.
Seventy women in two months is too high – together with the community we need to prevent domestic abuse happening in the first place, and that is the progress we need to push for.