No Place to go (Women’s Voice, 1977)

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EVERY week in Starsky and Hutch men chase, attack, fight one another. You’ll hardly ever see a man hit a woman – this is what goes on off the glamorous TV screen, behind net curtains.

The person who first publicised what went on between those four walls is Erin Pizzey. We spoke to her recently at Chiswick Women’s Aid Centre about her work over the last four years and her fight with Hounslow Council in particular.

Originally Chiswick Women’s Aid Centre had an urban aid grant of £10,000 which was withdrawn because of ‘illegal’ overcrowding. The refuge can officially take 35 persons including children. It always has 70 occupants and sometimes up to 100. Because Chiswick Women’s Aid Centre is so famous, women are sent by social workers from all over the country, as well as from London.

The refuge operates an open door policy at all times, no person is ever turned away. What this all means to Hounslow Council is a huge problem on their doorstop, that they don’t want.  But taking away the grant from Chiswick Women’s Aid Centre didn’t make the refuge go away, so they tried sending Erin Pizzey to prison. But for the moment that hasn’t worked either.

Erin herself comes from a violent background and sees the problem as one of violence – ‘the vicious circle of violence – children subjected to battering become violent adults and in turn brutalize their children and families.’ What Erin tries to do is break this vicious circle, teach people to control their violence.

Violence exists in middle class and working class families alike. When the middle class woman gets battered – and undoubtedly it goes on – she may have the economic independence to go away with her children to another home. Even if she personally hasn’t got the available funds, one of her friends may, and that’s where the difference in class lies.

Although working class women have friends they are usually in the same financial position as the battered woman herself. The working class woman will endure her hardship for a long, long time before she’ll try to get the man out of the home and leave her and her children in peace.

But she up against  the most amazing barrage of ‘experts’ who will assure her her place is with her husband and kids and ‘their’ home. He will improve, if only given time and understanding. He too suffers like she does, but she unfortunately carries the broken ribs and scars of years of violence.

Even if the woman has an injunction out against her husband, a piece of paper which is supposed to keep him out of matrimonial home, the police will not physically enforce it. Even when he returns and forces entry, even if he beats her again.

Only tipstaffs and bailiffs can enforce the injunction and they work 9am-5pm five days a week. So after maybe years of intimidation, traumatised children, the battered wife may eventually leave her man, still believing she loves him, still feeling a lot of faults in their marriage are her making. Knowing somehow she must provide a roof, clothing and food for her family, she goes to a refuge.

There, whether it is the Chiswick Centre or one of the hundred refuges run by the Women’s Aid Federation, she will find a lot of sympathy, practical help, workers prepared to go to court with her, fight for her matrimonial home back (minus the offending husband), fight for the custody of her children. Try to pull her life back together again. Try to humanise her kids who been brought up to accept violence in their homes from babies. But it’s unlikely she’ll ever rid herself of the fear of her man returning, finding her new home, watching the kids come out of school, trying to snatch them. Will he see her shopping and follow her home?

The refuge can’t stop that fear, but it can help in many other ways.

Diane Watts and Alison Kirton

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