My Dearest Son,
“DON’T TELL YOUR DAUGHTER NOT TO GO OUT. ASK YOUR SON TO BEHAVE AND RESPECT”
When I read these words on a campaign placard pictured on the Southall Black Sisters (SBS) website, I felt compelled to learn more about the group. As I read on, I started wondering whether mothers talk to their sons about domestic violence, and if not, why don’t they?
You have just turned 11 and I think it is time I told you the truth about your biological father. I broke up with him when you were a year and half old, as you already know, and I told you it was because he tried to abduct you on two occasions. Yes, that was true, but what I didn’t explain was that your father was also violent, both verbally and physically. When I was pregnant, I was afraid I would lose you. I called the police for the first time when he beat me blue, a week after having you. He grabbed you and barricaded himself in the bedroom threatening to take you away. The police had to take you off him. This happened a second time six months later, but this time he succeeded in taking you away on a cold night in just your baby blanket. Again, the police were able to bring you back to me, but only on your father’s condition that I would not press charges. The rest, as you know, is history.
Today my thoughts are on what would happen if every mother or parent educated their sons on the evils of domestic violence. Men, who are often the perpetrators, come from all backgrounds; rich, poor, professionals, layabouts, upper and working class, from sink estates as well as detached houses. Irrespective of colour, culture or creed, domestic abuse happens everywhere. Boys on the cusp of manhood like you, son, need to hear this now more than ever.
Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse [psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional] between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.
This is the government’s definition of domestic violence, so you see, the problem is not confined to beating a woman black and blue. The portrayal of women in black rap, Bollywood films, and radicalised religion are all at the heart of a society that hates women, this is why we see increasing incidents of violence.
Domestic violence can lead to murder in some cases. Do you remember when we watched that tragic news story reporting the death of six children in a house fire? Well, the parents of those children were found guilty of committing that offence with the help of a family friend. Mick Philpott’s family lived in fear of him because he was an abuser who had a history of violence towards his partners. Stripping them of the money they earned, he left them with no lives of their own, even driving them to and from their places of work. Sadly it’s too late for those children.
There are a dwindling number of organisations that still fight to protect women and their children from domestic violence. Recently I was fortunate enough to meet a woman, who in 2011 was listed amongst the Guardian’s top 100 women activists and campaigners. The journey of Pragna Patel, Co-Founder and current Director of Southall Black Sisters, started when at 16 she was taken on a family holiday to India. Whilst there, she was put under pressure to marry a chosen partner, an arrangement between two families. Pragna returned home engaged, with plans for her to sponsor her husband-to-be to join the family in the UK. However, she rebelled and resisted with all the determination a young girl could muster. Remember in those days, rebelling against family traditions was unheard of, for a woman it was near impossible. She took strength from her hero Mahatma Gandhi to engage in her own campaign of ‘civil disobedience’. Inspired by her A-level study of A Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce, Pragna fought to reject the stranglehold being enforced by her family; “I will not submit” became her personal mantra.
It was this steely determination that drove her on to support Kiranjit Ahluwalia, imprisoned for murdering her violent husband, as the first campaign that SBS would take on, successfully challenging the legal definition of ‘provocation’. Looking at Pragna, and hearing the unwavering determination in her words, I marvelled at how she was not etched with scars from the battles she has fought. If there were any, then they were well hidden from me.
More recently, SBS played a leading role in bringing about change to immigration rules which were trapping non-British-born women in abusive marriages. They did this by campaigning to abolish policies which disallowed these women from accessing public funds. Following SBS’s action, the Home Office launched the ‘Sojourner Project’ to assist victims of domestic violence who have fled abusive relationships. The SBS are exceptional in representing women who are doubly marginalised, by people within their ethnic communities as well as those outside of that group.
Organisations such as SBS are slowly losing funds and closing down due to government cuts. However, parents do not face cut-backs, neither can we be silenced. So, I am letting you know that is not right to hit women. It is not right to threaten or to force yourself on a woman and it is not right to inflict verbal or emotional abuse on her. It is not right to take her money. You must remember this when you turn sixteen and start experimenting with different media and music. You must remember this when you make new friends so that you can pass this message onto them.
If one woman’s convictions led her to fight against her own arranged marriage so that she can now take on powerful institutions to bring about change other like her, then my convictions can influence you not to perpetrate in domestic violence. If one voice made a difference then, this voice and other mothers’ voices can also effect a gradual change, one boy at a time.
I love you,
Bibliography and sources:
Black, minority ethnic and refugee women, domestic violence and access to housing
Ending violence against women and girls in the UK
Equality and Diversity Impact Assessment on the CPS Violence Against Women Strategy and Action Plan
Donna Howells Skoludek – Catharsis, 2nd place – NZ National Poetry Slam
Polly Neate comments on the Mick Philpott case and the domestic violence he perpetrated for over 30 years
‘It sends message that raping women is cool’ – Sportswear brand Reebok criticised over ties with rapper Rick Ross
Are Sharia councils failing vulnerable women?
Tackling domestic violence in the ethnic minority community – Harriet Harman
A look at domestic violence among families from ethnic minorities
Ethnic Domestic Violence Hidden
CPS Violence against Women crime report 2009-2010 data
Rise of ‘raunch culture’ is damaging schoolgirls, warn teachers
Home Office Research (1999), Domestic Violence: Findings from a new British Crime Survey self-completion questionnaire, London: Home Office.
Buzawa, E.S. and Carl G. Buzawa (1992) Domestic Violence – The Changing Criminal Justice Response, London: Auburn House.
Editors note: Antoinette works in her community and this letter pertains entirely to the the negative examples that influence boys in her community.
Antoinette Scott was raised in Ghana and The Gambia and is currently settled in the UK. She is a final year mature student in Journalism and Creative Writing. She writes literary fiction as well as addressing issues that affect the BAME community. When she is not writing, Antoinette enjoys creating meals that not only excite the palate, but heal as well. She has guest edited BBC London radio The Dotun Adebayo Show and interviewed Reverend Jesse Jackson amongst others. She was diagnosed with Dermatomyositis, a rare auto-immune disease that affects the major muscles and is actively involved in raising awareness about this little known condition. @manibron1