DAY SIX: Young Survivors of Gender Based Violence: Innovation and Impact

We stay on the theme of child survivors of domestic violence today. Read about the innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors.

Picture above: Artwork above from the Everyday Heroes arts collaboration with students. Reproduced by permission

Ruth Friskney and Claire Houghton

Young survivors of gender-based violence are at the forefront of innovative responses to Gender Based Violence in Scotland. National young people’s participation projects like Voice Against Violence, Power Up Power Down, and Everyday Heroes have transformed Scotland’s understanding of gender based violence through young people’s perspectives. The projects’ creative, relationship-building approaches are rooted in the skills of support workers in empowering children to speak about abuse. Young survivors themselves innovate in speaking directly to people in power and reaching out to other children and young people experiencing GBV, including during Covid-19.

Voice Against Violence led this campaign, co-produced with Government, about young people’s experience of living with domestic abuse alongside their mothers.

Young survivors have worked to see children and young people recognised as victim-survivors of all forms of gender-based violence. A Voice Against Violence film was used by young survivors to critique the lack of recognition of children in legislation about domestic abuse.  A key step forward was achieved in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 to finally recognise that the perpetrators’ ongoing psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse adversely affects children as well as women.

Super Listener, designed by the children involved in Power Up, Power down, to set out what children want from the adults who work with them. Now available in nine languages through Improving Justice in Child Contact. Slide the arrows left and right for English (left) and German (right).

Key messages  are consistent across projects: young people don’t know how to seek support, support is inadequate, training is needed and specialist workers are invaluable. Young survivors have taken action on this, using fabulous innovative and creative methods: websites by young sexual violence survivors for support and information, training videos and resources like Super Listener for professionals and a national online platform currently being co-developed (That’s Not OK) to take forward survivor’s recommendations to Government.

Still from You are not alone!, an animation designed by young people affected by domestic abuse for young people affected by domestic abuse. Watch different language versions from the Improving Justice in Child Contact media channel.

When COVID-19 hit, and evidence began to build about the ways in which the pandemic helped perpetrators of domestic abuse to harm women and children, Yello! a group of young advisers to Improving Justice in Child Contact (IJCC),  felt that

we had to do at least something small to help out – or at least let someone out there know that they’re not alone and what they’re going through will pass. [1]

What it was like to make the animations, from Yello’s blog: We knew we had to help

Yello! wanted to make sure that children and young people knew that there was help and how they could get to it. They worked on two animations (“You are not alone” and “If home is not safe”) and supported partners across the five countries of IJCC to tailor animations for their own languages and contexts.

Locally, young experts from AWARE, Angus Women’s Aid’s Young Expert group, created their own film about what young people affected by domestic abuse might be feeling and the questions they would be asking during COVID. The film signposts sources of help, to make sure that young people affected by domestic abuse – in their own relationships or alongside their mother – know, even in COVID, that “You are not alone”.

Artwork from the Everyday Heroes arts collaboration with students

A key message from all these projects is that the justice response to young survivors needs improvement – in particular for children and young people’s views to be given due weight and for the perpetrator, not the woman or child survivor, to be held accountable. Everyday Heroes’ call for action expressed through displays in Parliament and creative dialogue with key decision-makers resulted in a pledge for collaborative action by Ministers.

Child contact remains a key area of concern – one being considered by the Improving Justice in Child Contact project including Yello!, its young advisers. Evidence from young survivors indicates that domestic abuse continues even if a mother and child are able to separate from a perpetrator. Child[1]  contact can be defined as communication, such as phone calls or spending time, with a parent that the child does not usually live with, and its type and frequency can often be set by the Courts. Child contact is often used by perpetrators to continue to harm mothers and children. COVID-19 has provided perpetrators with additional opportunities to enhance their abuse.[2]

“Don’t dismiss us – we experienced it, and we know what we’re talking about.”

From Yello!’s evidence to the Justice Committee

In Scotland, Yello! have been instrumental in the development of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, meeting with the Minister, submitting written evidence, and taking part in person in a session with the Justice Committee. One young woman worked with Scottish Women’s Aid to write a case study of her experience of the child contact system – with the aim of giving decision-makers a glimpse of what it is like for a young person not to be listened to, and to be told to spend time with someone she feels unsafe with.

Yello!, the young advisers to Improving Justice in Child Contact, dressed up as ghosts to meet the Scottish Minister for Community Safety in Parliament. Their key message was that young people affected by domestic abuse feel invisible in court processes that decide child contact.

Internationally, IJCC have inspired partner organisations and the young people they work with to reach out creatively to share their experiences and to meet directly with people in power. For example, young people working with the IJCC partners in Portugal have been invited to meet directly with judiciary and other key stakeholders. Maria, a young person working with the IJCC partner in Romania, has written a blog, including poetry, about her experiences:

It was only one wish I have had,

I asked not to see him again

And it is such a sombre thing

You demand that I must visit him.

I read and a tear slipped my face

Because in danger you have put me

You told me I need to stay with him

As if it was a little thing.

Note to my judge
‘Maria’, 13 years old, working with the Romanian partner in the IJCC project, writing about the experience of reading the child contact court order

Young survivors of abuse have transformed policy and practice responses in Scotland through participation – and are inspiring young people internationally with what progress is possible. Such innovation needs resources and the support of competent adults to fully harness the wonderful power, talent, expertise and passion of young survivors.

“I think projects like ours are important because not that many children and young people have a say in their lives, because people think we are too young to know better.”

Yello!, on the experience of taking part in participation work

[1] There is a large academic literature on the impact of domestic abuse on children and the particular issues around child contact such as: Katz, E. (2016). Beyond the Physical Incident Model: How Children Living with Domestic Violence are Harmed by and Resist Regimes of Coercive Control. Child Abuse Review 25(1), 46–59. Callaghan, J., Alexander J., Sixsmith, J and Fellin, L. (2018). Beyond “Witnessing”: Children’s Experiences of Coercive Control in Domestic Violence and Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(10), 1551–1581 Holt, S. (2017). Domestic Violence and the Paradox of Post-Separation Mothering. British Journal of Social Work 47 (7), 2049–2067; Mackay, K. (2018). The approach in Scotland to child contact disputes involving allegations of domestic abuse. Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 40(4), 477-495. Morrison, F, Tisdall, E.K.M., and Callaghan, J., (2020), Manipulation and Domestic Abuse in Contested Contact – Threats to Children’s Participation Rights. Family Court Review, 58 (2), 403-416.

[2] You can read Improving Justice in Child Contact’s response on COVID-19 to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

This blog was written by Dr Ruth Friskney and Dr Claire Houghton from the University of Edinburgh. Ruth is a Research Fellow on the Improving Justice in Child Contact project (funded through the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020), working to improve participation in child contact processes for children affected by domestic abuse. Claire is a Lecturer in Social Policy and Qualitative Research working to improve young people’s impact on gender equality and gender-based violence policy, through Voice Against Violence (ESRC/Scottish Government funded), Everyday Heroes (Scottish Government) and the new ESRC UK project CAFADA. In writing this blog Claire and Ruth have drawn on the inspirational and creative work of the young people leading and taking part in the projects described in this blog, as well as the organisational partners: with thanks to them all.

Their twitter handle is @CYSRG1

DAY FIVE: I will not let your shadow hang over me

Singer/composer Jack Colwell’s new work The Sound of Music addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse: It is: “a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.”

Photo: Kylie Coutts reproduced by permission

Jack Colwell

When I was a child, I lived in the hallway between my bedroom and the kitchen at the back of our house in the sleepy Sydney suburb of Collaroy Plateau. The hallway was painted lime green, and a print of Monet’s “Water Lilies” hung framed on the wall next to a towering bookshelf (at least, it seemed to be towering when I was six years old). 

I remember the hallway in our old home so vividly because it is where I often hid during outbursts of domestic violence. There was no set time or circumstance that brought these moments on. It could happen at any time, really.

My dad taught at our local primary school and, on occasion, these acts of violence would happen in the morning before we left the house; my mother screaming for me to run to the neighbours and call the police, as my Dad smashed plates around her before picking me up and carting me off to class. At home he could be a monster, but at school he was the most popular teacher on the playground: Mr. C. Before we got in the car to leave for school I would sneak into my room and grab some handkerchiefs to put down my school shorts to soak up the piss from soiling myself in fear.

The violence was terrifying. Growing up in that environment left me with incredibly low self-esteem, and I’ve struggled as an adult to form healthy bonds with intimate partners; what my psychologist described as “insecure attachment”. These are side effects I’ve never fully grown out of. 

It actually wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised the toll these actions had taken on me – which feels almost absurd to write, but I think when you grow up in a hostile environment you become accustomed to it; it somehow becomes your normal. Since coming to terms with this realisation, I have started my own journey of working through this pain and figuring out how best to express it. That’s when the song came.

“The Sound of Music” felt like an important story to tell, and one that I couldn’t contain. During the writing process for my debut album, SWANDREAM, I looked inside myself at my own childhood trauma, and used it to construct narrative songs. 

I believed – and still do – that the stories on the album, and the sharing of my experience, could help others. I remember towards the tail end of the writing period I had been going over these memories each night in my sleep, like an old worn VHS in my mind. I was restless, and low. It felt like a heavy burden to carry inside of my chest – an albatross around my neck.

When I sat down at the piano, the song appeared, as it rarely does, almost fully formed. I had been thinking of “Dido’s Lament”, from Purcell’s famous opera. At the beginning of “Dido’s Lament” there is a small musical moment – a recitative – where Dido announces to the chorus that she will lay herself in the earth, almost as though she is breaking the fourth wall. I used a similar structure in “The Sound of Music”. 

After months of turning the idea over in my mind, it seemed that the song was actually a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.

The song opens:

“I will not let your shadow hang over me,

For I have grown into a cherry blossom tree…”

It’s a sentiment that is peaceful in tone, but strong in nature –and what could be more powerful and beautiful than nature itself, overcoming all obstacles? Once the recitative is spoken, the song descends into the night, tying together key events of my childhood. It’s mostly set around birthdays, important holidays and the like – all occasions when instances of domestic violence are statistically more likely to take place. These are the events that destroyed the innocence of my childhood and drained the sense of fantasy and wonder from my youth – including one Christmas Eve when my father introduced himself as “the real Santa” while drunk, moments after beating my mother. I consider my work both personal and political.

While this story is painful to share, its message and the conversation I hope it creates overshadows my shame and humiliation. We talk a lot about how victims should not be defined by what befalls them, but I think that what you fall victim to can shape you in a way that does define your identity and existence. It’s what you do with that experience that is important.

Directed by Matt Sav using archive footage of Jack Colwell 

Jack Colwell is an Australian singer/composer whose debut album, SWANDREAM, was recorded in Sydney and produced by renowned singer Sarah Blasko. SWANDREAM paints a picture of a young queer man contending with identity, heartbreak and historical abuse. The songs are informed by Colwell’s classical training at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, his love of confessional singer-songwriters, and his infatuation with fairytales and myths. In 2015, his debut EP spawned the sleeper hit “Don’t Cry Those Tears”, which attracted significant radio play and led to a remix by US noise-rockers HEALTH. Extensive domestic touring and LGBT advocacy followed, and Jack soon became one of Australia’s most prominent independent artists. @jackcolwell_

DAY FOUR: “If I’m not in Friday, I might be dead”

This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK.

Picture above: cover of Femicide Census report of Femicides in the UK between 2009-2018. Source:

Karen Ingala Smith

This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK.

The report entitled UK Femicides 2009-2018:  The police said, “there is no risk to the wider community” offers an in-depth analysis of the deaths of 1,425 women and girls aged 14 years and over killed by men and boys between 2009 and 2018.

1,425 dead women over ten years is an average of 142 a year, though in fact the range was from 124 women in 2016 to 168 women in 2010; a woman dead at the hands of a man on average every 2.5 days. The majority, 888 women (62%)’ were killed by a current or former partner, meaning that for ten years, a woman was killed by a current or former partner every 4 days. The report also addresses the suspicious deaths of another 117 women, for which, owing to various reasons addressed in the report, a suspect could not be legally held responsible. 

Femicide, the killing of women and girls because they are female, is not a specific offence in the UK.

  The specific sexed contexts of these women’s deaths were erased. Instead they were homicides (murders and manslaughters) – or where the man killed himself before he was detected, charged or convicted – unlawful killings.  But whether the law recognises it or not, there is much that is sex-specific about men’s fatal violence against women. 

The subheading of the Femicide Census is, “If I’m Not In On Friday, I Might Be Dead”. These are the words of  Judith Nibbs who said this to colleagues as she left work in April 2014. She did not go to work on the Friday in question. She was murdered by her husband.  

It’s true that there were a far greater number of men killed over those same years: 3,796[1] males aged 16 and over. But women are disproportionately victimised, comprising approximately 36% of victims but only 8% of those convicted[2] in the year ending March 2019. Between 2009 and 2018, annually between 4% and 8%[3]of men were killed by a current or former partner compared to our finding of 62% of women who were killed by men. Men are also much more likely to be killed by a same sex partner. There are sex differences in histories of abuse between couples where intimate partner homicide ends the relationship, women killed by male partners or ex-exes have almost always suffered months of years of abuse from him prior to their death, while men killed by female partners are usually those who have been inflicting abuse. There are also differences in methods of killing, sexually motivated killings and use of sexual violence, and overkilling.

Men kill women because they can and because they decide to

Men’s violence against women is often framed as a loss of control. Indeed, this is available as a partial defence to murder. But men’s fatal violence against women is much more about control, than the loss of it, particularly, but not only, when we’re looking at intimate partner femicide. Of the 62% (no. 888) of women who were killed by a partner or former partner, at least 378 (43%) were known to have separated from or to have taken steps to separate from the man who killed her. The majority of them, 89% (338) were killed in the first-year post separation and 142 (38%) in the first month. This finding ties closely with Jane Moncton Smith’s 8-stage model of domestic homicide, where four of the eight stages: coercive control, trigger, change in thinking and planning, relate to men increasing their control not losing it.  

It is not only women who are partners of abusive men who are controlled, and whose liberty is restricted by abusive men, – it is all women – in the routine choices we make, in the ways that we’re judged and whether we do or don’t comply.  

Men’s violence against women is a critical tool of patriarchy. 

Women are killed by husbands, partners, lovers, exes of all these, by men whose advances they reject, by their sons, so-called friends, neighbours, maintenance men, burglars and sexual predators as well as men who get off on women’s pain and humiliation, be they women they know or women they don’t.

Less than a month before we published the report, Peter Sutcliffe, who had killed at least 13 women and attacked at least 10 more in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester between 1975 and 1980, died in prison. His death is a timely reminder that femicide extends beyond men killing current and former partners, or other family members. Also, that the sexism and misogyny that are characteristic of systems and institutions that regulate our lives are not restricted to those that deal with the domestic. Joan Smith has argued that in the policing of West Yorkshire, men’s arrogance and misogyny meant that Sutcliffe was able to kill more women than could have been the case if survivor accounts had been taken seriously, that is, if women had been believed. Men charged with murder lie about their intent and actions even when the consequences of their crime, a woman’s dead body and the injuries that they inflicted, are plainly available as contradictory evidence.

Rape convictions have fallen to a record low, to the extent that feminist campaigners suggest that rape is as good as decriminalised. Yet stereotypes about women’s false allegations rather than men’s false protestations of innocence, and juries’ false ‘not guilty’ verdicts are those which dominate popular consciousness.

So-called ‘gender neutral’ responses to domestic and sexual violence, including prostitution, are anything but. Ignoring the sex-specific nature of women’s victimisation hides disproportionality.  The Femicide Census team are very clear that statutory services and the criminal justice system could make a difference by doing their jobs properly and implementing existing laws and policies. At the same time an inquiry into institutional sexism and the state apparatus would surely reveal a system stacked against women.

However, without a clear and ambitious strategy that addresses the individual, relational, institutional, cultural and cross-cultural factors that create a conducive context for men’s violence against women, we fear that men’s violence against women, girls and children will not be eradicated.  Approaches that see incidents of men’s fatal violence against women as isolated incidents and that do not recognise that some members of the community – women, by virtue of our sex – are at risk of victimisation by men that is disproportionate and different in nature to any violence we inflict, are doomed to reinforce the structural sex inequalities of patriarchal societies. The Femicide Census is a call to action and a commemoration of our sisters.


[2] ONS Y/E March 2019

[3] Ibid

Karen Ingala Smith is a co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census. She set up the website Counting Dead Women (CDW) in 2012, now replicated across the world. She is Chief Executive of nia, an East London charity providing services for women, girls and children who have been subjected sexual and domestic violence, including prostitution. Karen is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Durham. Karen was awarded the Positive Role Model for Gender at the 2014 National Diversity Awards.

Her social media handles are @k_ingalasmith @femicidecensus @countdeadwomen

You can find the Femicide Census report here.

DAY THREE: The Place I Must Call Home

What is a safe space for non-binary and trans people in a pandemic? This post explores the ways in which ‘design’ as a discipline can respond to the systemic oppression(s) faced by the marginalized Trans Binary and Trans Non-Binary identities, a crisis that has been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Picture above: ‘Trespassing the Binary’ from the series ‘Unblocked: Beyond the Gender Normative’. Medium: Digital. Reproduced by permission of author/artist

Non-Binary Existences and Negotiations in a Pandemic-Ridden Binary World

Natasha Chandhock

Gender-Space Identities and the World as Binary

We understand ‘identity’ as an intrinsic part of our being, something we assert in different capacities, given our comfort, safety and surroundings. This forms part of the environment we interact with, be it the rhythmic harmonies within natural environments or the pulsating ticking of a clock. In the same breath, gender and space too interact with one another, producing experiences that are different for different social identities, depending on their standing in the world around us. For instance, certain public spaces become sites of male dominance and are instrumental in defining the levels of safety for non-male identities.

Continue reading “DAY THREE: The Place I Must Call Home”

DAY THREE: Returning Home And Violence Within The Home: COVID-19 and multiple gendered violations

This post, while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, will primarily look into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront.

Rukmini Sen

The COVID 19 public health crisis and the subsequent lockdown has generated discussions about the ‘shadow pandemic’ of the rise of gender based domestic violence. This post, while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, will primarily look into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront. As a part of the 16-day activism against GBV, and the UN Women theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’ with a special focus on pandemic induced heightened domestic violence, I  will briefly assess what are the multiple ways in which home has been confronted the pandemic. I see contestations around five meanings of home emerging in this crisis all of which have gender based implications and consequences.

All of us by now have been made conscious about the need to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus. In India, which this post focuses on, the first advisory came on March 16, directing closure of schools, regulations on mass gathering, ensuring physical distancing of minimum 1 metre between tables in restaurants, postponement of examinations, avoidance of non-essential travel. It was only a matter of time before we understood that the implications of stay at home in conjunction with work from home was going to be serious for gender based household work over and above the impact of professional work space moving inside the home.

The public discourse of Stay at home meant the homeless and the urban pavement dweller were excluded from the discussion

It has also had hierarchical implications depending upon the space inside an individual home—how many rooms, how many people in each room, how many members having their own electronic gadget to connect to the world outside the home? Space, privacy, personal phones all have gendered implications and there have been specific studies about women’s inadequate access to smartphones in India, before the pandemic.

Work from home for most of urban upper middle class women in India has meant a disproportionate increase in domestic labour. Finding  work life balance becomes difficult if not impossible because the increase in care work, in addition to the professional work all from the confines of the home. Middle class professional households were without assistance from paid domestic helps for at least the first two months of the lockdown and this impacted on women’s lives in manifold ways.

Traveling to the workplace is an important liberating journey for most women, including college going women students.

These sites, however gendered in themselves, still create the possibilities of travel, self time, friendships, conversations—away from caste-kinship determined existence within the home. While this situation is experienced by professional service sector women, the pandemic has increased the gender gap in employment. According to Ashwini Deshpande women employed in the pre-lockdown phase were 23.5 percentage points less likely than men to be employed post-lockdown.

A third type of discussion around the home has happened in regard to violence within the home or domestic violence. It is necessary to remember that the stay at home, work from home advisories and experiences were clearly creating a condition for increase in domestic violence. According to National Commission for Women, domestic violence could have increased by 2.5 times during the lockdown. Some of the reasons for physical as well as verbal abuse as reported are ‘not managing resources properly’, ‘not serving food on time’, and also ‘not being able to procure rations/relief material’.

Specifically, in Tamil Nadu the reasons for increase in violence within the home were arguments arising out of sharing household work, suspicion over time spent on social media, unemployment resulting in a cash crunch at home etc. One of the main strategies for tackling COVID 19 -related rises in domestic violence has been to increase helpline services by various women’s rights, child rights and sexuality rights organisations in different Indian cities and a WhatsApp helpline number set up by the National Commission for Women. However, finding the opportunity to report cases with most members of the household also indoors has become even more difficult.

Indian migrant workers during the COVID 19 pandemic. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Images of migrant workers—a bulk of whom were women with children walking back home, travelling unimaginable distances by foot due to the sudden announcement of nation wide lockdown, are now global. What this clearly demonstrated is that big cities do not become homes for migrant labourers, they come there to work, mostly as construction workers and short term migrant workers face a complete sense of precarity if there is no daily work in the city. It is impossible to survive in the metropolis, to pay rent, buy food without wages. Seasonal migration for construction, migration in the city for sex work or bar dancer, migration due to agricultural purposes are to be understood as conditions where the worker comes back home when the work ends or goes to another place in search of work. Thousands of migrant workers walking back several days to reach home—where they could at least find food and the security of other members of the community —signify which is really shelter.

Finally, the anxiety and hope of home coming for many students who stay in halls of residence away from their parents, or in rented apartments in cities where they work, within or outside the country, away from their original natal or marital homes. Travelling back home for a certain class of people, takes a flight or an AC train to ‘come’ home/country of original residence has been disrupted and shaken up in ways that has never happened in the recent past. People of all genders are affected by this, but for women students or professional single women, the isolation during these months and its deep psychological impact are sure to have far reaching consequences.

The pandemic crisis opened up a sociological insight to the gendered site of the home as contested between the metaphors of caged, sheltered, violent and secure.

Rukmini Sen is Professor of Sociology, School of Liberal Studies, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi. You can contact her at