Michael Alexander speaks to domestic abuse survivors in Fife about the launch of a hard hitting new book that features their true stories.
Shocking stories and poems written by 22 women who have made their way to Fife-based domestic abuse charity Saje Scotland are being featured in a hard-hitting new book.
Her-Story Rewritten, which chronicles domestic abuse in all its forms – control, emotional harm, coercion, physical violence, sexual abuse, humiliation, and everything in between – is being officially launched in Glenrothes on November 26.
As The Courier met some of the women who have contributed their stories to the book, Saje Scotland co-founder Janet Henderson said that while it does not make for easy reading, the book is also full of moments of humour, joy and hope.
She also hopes that the book will open up a wider conversation that resonates with and reflects all people.
“The idea for the book came from one of our volunteers,” explained Janet who said all the contributors had been through Saje Scotland’s Freedom programme which aims to motivate survivors of domestic violence to live independently without fear of abuse, neglect and harm.
“She came up with the idea of getting a pile of stories together and making it into a book.
“Many women aren’t really aware of what domestic abuse and controlling relationships look like because it takes many many forms. They know there is something wrong: they know they are being controlled, harmed emotionally, victimised, manipulated, coerced, sexually abused, intimidated, worn down, blamed, humiliated, mocked and disrespected.
“And yet domestic abuse is still so hidden. A life feeling worthless and abused becomes normalised.
“There are hundreds and thousands of women out there who don’t actually recognise they are in abusive situations.
“Once they read these stories it’s like lightbulb moments. ‘Oh my goodness I didn’t realise that was abuse! I know I’ve not been happy for a long time, I’ve had this level of fear going on and not knowing why. I thought this relationship is how it is – that it’s a normal relationship! And just accept it.’ But they shouldn’t have to.”
Janet said statistics suggest that between one in three and one in four women experience domestic abuse at some point in their life.
She is also concerned at the number of young women coming to the charity with stories of abuse, suggesting that society still needs to change, while it was clear that lots of young men who experienced domestic abuse as boys now struggle to deal with the emotions of it all and the unseen damage caused.
One woman featured in the book told The Courier how she was in an abusive relationship for 17 years which came to a head when her partner broke into the house and attacked her with a baseball bat. She become involved in the Freedom programme and was asked to write her story for the book as a volunteer.
“It was really hard to get started with the writing side of it,” she told The Courier.
“I put it off and put it off. But because my story was quite extreme at the end in terms of how my ex-partner behaved, I was keen for it to be told. Once I started I couldn’t stop!
“I start my story by saying how I feel now. I’m so much better. My life has been transformed. I’ve always said about the Freedom programme – if I can bottle how I feel now and give it to women, I’d do it. If women think they are stuck there are ways through it and to get out of it. If I hadn’t been assaulted that night I would possibly still be there. I would like to think women could feel as good as happy and as positive as I do now. My life is just so peaceful now compared to what it was.”
Another woman featured in the book explained how she was physically assaulted but also experienced years of historic emotional abuse that came to a head when she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
She initially found it very difficult to write her story down – “ripping it up and starting again, ripping it up and starting again”. But in the end she found the process cathartic.
“The physical abuse was clear,” she said. “But a lot of mine was emotional and by doing the Freedom programme it’s given me an understanding of what went on.
“I felt like my life was up in the air. But by doing the programme, I feel like I’m putting the pieces of the jigsaw back together.
“If it wasn’t for the programme I don’t really know where I’d be today because speaking to other women that have been in similar situations, you’ve got the support there, you’ve got the encouragement from them all.
“There’s also the bigger picture – especially when you have children – because you might not realise how affected they can be by being exposed to experiences.
“By bringing my story forward, I just want it out there – I was never at fault. If it just helps one person out there experiencing similar abuse to come forward, get out of a similar situation and take back control of their own life, it’s been worth it.”
Figures from Police Scotland show that levels of domestic abuse recorded in Scotland have remained relatively stable since 2011-12, with around 58,000 to 60,000 incidents a year. The police recorded 59,541 incidents of domestic abuse in 2017-18, an increase of 1% compared to the previous year.
On April 1, new legislation came in which criminalises psychological domestic abuse in Scotland.
· Her-Story Rewritten will be available from Saje Scotland from November 26 www.sajescotland.org/