I was very sorry to hear of the death of Jack Ashley the former MP for Stoke South. He was a doughty fighter for the rights of the disabled and a very good constituency MP. I knew him best during the 1970s and 80s when I was active in the Labour Party in Stoke, for a short period between 1985-6 I was Vice Chairman of Stoke South Constituency Labour Party. His campaign on behalf of people effected by the thalidomide drug in the 70s which would be a fine record in its own right but added to that was his work around domestic violence and the need for a refuge for victims of violence later in the decade.
I can recall the event very clearly even though it’s some time ago. I was driving home to Leek from Stoke and it was a fine early autumn evening as I drove past Carmountside.
I saw two people walking towards me looking very unsteady on their feet both were dressed in black suits, one tall and powerfully built and the other slight. As I got nearer the taller figure punched the smaller to the ground. I stopped the car as I past and looked in a mirror as they walked drunkenly towards me. As they passed the smaller figure climbed into the car. It was a woman and the other pulled open the passenger door and tried to drag his wife out. He seemed calm and said that he was a former police officer and that this was a private matter. Quietly he asked her to get out of the car. The woman who was hysterical urged me to drive on. I speed away with the woman crying.
I went to a nearby friend’s house who offered sanctuary. The woman told us that they had just been to her father- in-laws funeral. He had died a painful death and her husband feeling angry had taken it out on her although it was not the first time.
She told us that she worked for a local authority in Social Services whilst her husband worked for the same council in Education. They had a young child. They lived in a leafy part of the City.
We rang the police in vain and despite several phone calls there was no appearance.
The woman was drunk but told us more of the history and the prolonged violence of her husband against her. The local Police had been called several times when he had got particularly brutal.
At the woman’s insistence we rang her mother who arrived shortly afterwards. Her role seemed to try to talk the woman out of reporting the attack to the Police. She need not have bothered as they did not arrive anyway. An ambulance did turn up as the woman had bruises and was mildly concussed. At her mother’s prompting she declined to use it and they went off home.
When I spoke about this incident at the writing group I belong to in Leek one of the group members a gay man told us of the psychological abuse he had suffered at the hands of a former partner.
There was an unresolved aspect of this incident and that was the disinterest of the police that needed to be tackled.
I was very shocked at the lack of interest shown by the Police and wrote a letter to the Chief Constable expressing my dismay. A senior officer replied saying that Staffordshire Police did take the issue of domestic violence seriously quoting some figures proving this assertion.
However the Staffordshire Police website is very clear and unequivocal on the subject
“Domestic violence is very common. One in four women experience it in their lifetime and between one in eight to one in ten women encountering it every year. Though less than half of incidents are reported to the police, one call to them about domestic violence is made every minute in the UK.
In Staffordshire, police received around 18,500 reports of domestic violence incidents last year. Approximately a third of these calls were from people who had suffered physical and/or sexual violence”
There is a myth that domestic violence only occurs in socially deprived groups but what the whole incident and the wider reaction to it proved to me was how widespread domestic violence is and it’s a social question that draws in all classes, sexual preferences, genders- it can be perpetrated on men by women- and ethnic groupings.
But I guess domestic violence and the Middle Class is an angle on the subject that is overlooked.
And if to prove the point a recent case I had at a CAB I work as a volunteer further illustrates the point. A woman told me of the control that her ex husband ““ a professional man- had exerted over her and her children by, for example, giving her a pittance to live on and expecting her to account for every penny.
Cruelty can take different forms but the problem might be increasing during the recession. Obviously there is no excuse for domestic violence, and many men and women who suffer a sudden drop in income or lose their jobs don’t take it out on their partners and children. But pre-existing abuse is likely to get worse if a person is angry, depressed and spending more time at home because they no longer has a job. People who feel insecure often abuse their partners and children to make themselves feel less inadequate.