Tag Archives: battered women

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Originally Chiswick Women’s Aid Centre had an urban aid grant of £10,000 which was withdrawn because of ‘illegal’ overcrowding.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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Battered women: who cares? (Women’s Voice 1980)

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‘You’re punished for being homeless.  They try to make you feel inadequate.  You get no support, just hassle.  From the minute you walk through the door it’s subtle pressure to get back to your husband.’

This is one woman’s account of the attitude she met in a council hostel for battered women.  Women’s Voice spoke to three women in the hostel about conditions there, and how they had been fighting to get themselves and their children decently rehoused.

The most striking thing was the lack of any emotional or practical support for women entering the hostel.  This isn’t due to individual members of staff but rather the general attitude that if you’ve been battered and find yourself on the streets with your kids, it’s your fault.  You’re just seen as a housing problem.

Helen told us about the reception she had when she arrived at the hostel with her ten month old baby.

‘I’d been walking around the streets all night.  The first thing I asked for was a cup of tea and they wouldn’t give me one.

I was upset, and the biggest mistake you can make is to cry in front of them

When I arrived I had no money.  They sent me to the Social Security but I couldn’t get a giro.  (The women are charged about £9 a week for a room).  We can’t help you they said.  We can’t give you anything.  I started to cry.

I’ve grown up a bit since; you have to in a place like this.  I’m still learning, but you learn fast.’

There are no communal facilities at all – a deliberate attempt to discourage women from getting together.  Some women have been asked to spy on others – a clear case of divide and rule!

But the women we spoke to had managed to get together and were in a much stronger position as a result.  They had spread the word that you don’t have to accept the first offer of accommodation that the council make you.  One woman had been told by a housing official: ‘You’ve got to take what we offer you even if it’s a slum.’

Staff make weekly reports to the housing officer on whether the women make their beds, leave washing in the bath, have a drink in the flat etc.

There’s the underlying attitude all the time that battered women should really go back to their husbands.  Perhaps these women are seeking the ‘excitement of life as a single parent’ – (councilor Edwina Currie talking about single parent families in Birmingham).

Some of the women do go back in desperation when accommodation isn’t offered soon enough.  Accommodation isn’t offered at all until they’ve ‘proved’ they’re battered, and don’t intend to return to their husbands, by starting legal proceedings.

As Barbara said, ‘What do they suspect us of?  Coming here just for a holiday?

They want to know not only if you’ve got any savings bonds, gratuities, etc, but if your children have.  Well, if they have, it’s in their names and you can’t touch it.  I couldn’t tell them about that million pounds I’ve saved out of the housekeeping, could I?’

The women often don’t know their rights, and because it’s hard to get together they are unable to stick up for themselves.

Anne described the experience of one woman: ‘A woman downstairs went back to her husband.  As she walked through that door I felt like crying.  She didn’t want to go back but she’d been offered a slum.

I felt like smashing someone that night.  We had to help take her things down.  Three times she’s been here.  She told me they don’t offer her decent places because they know she’ll go back to her husband.  I said stick it out, but she went.  She was made weak – beaten by the system.’

So what’s the answer?  It’s not individual staff who are to blame – they’re working under pressure, expected to go by ‘the rules’, perhaps afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t.

A lot of problems could be solved by more money.  The cuts in spending mean nowhere near enough council houses are available for rehousing – but this won’t get better with the Tories in charge.

Battered women just aren’t seen as a priority.  The attitude is that they got themselves into this mess in the first place, and if only they’d go back to their husbands then of course the problem would go away.

Helen, Barbara and Anne provide part of the answer – through sticking together you can make some headway, even against near impossible odds.

Jenny Austin

from Women’s Voice 38, February 1980