By Antoinette Scott
My dearest son,
I saw a placard of a campaign on the website of the Southall Black Sisters which read “DON’T TELL YOUR DAUGHTER NOT TO GO OUT. ASK YOUR SON TO BEHAVE AND RESPECT”. Immediately, my thoughts turned to you.
As I read on I started wondering whether mothers talked to their sons about domestic violence and if not, why not? 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 2 occasions. Yes, that was true, but what was also true was that your father was violent, both verbally and physically aggressive. I was so scared I would lose you when I was pregnant, but when he beat me blue a week after having you, I called the police for the first time. 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 brought you back to me on condition I did not press charges domestic violence was not taken seriously by the police at the time. 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 and exclusive semis. Son, irrespective of colour, culture and creed, it happens everywhere. These men were once boys. Boys on the cusp of manhood like you, son, need to hear this more than ever. You ask why? Social media has unfortunately replaced parent talk. Everyone is busy pressing the keypad at every opportunity. Father, mother, partner, children are all clicking their lives away on the modern device, laptop or mobile phone, oblivious to everything. So although technology has made communication global and accessible, we are being robbed of valuable interaction such as the one between parents and their children.
This is what is creating the generation of young people who are disconnected from real life and live their lives on rather tenuous principles or wrong ideas like seeing women as sex objects for example. You think that’s not true? Listen to the words of hip hop or grime music or watch music videos on MTV. Rapper Rick Ross’ latest song “U.O.E.N.O “has lyrics boasting of a woman being date raped. Women are called by degrading terms like “Bitch”, “Ho”, “Slut”. The list is endless but these are the printable ones. I know you wouldn’t want your sister to be described as such and so that makes it wrong to use such terms to describe someone’s sister. Rape for example is now a punishment gang members use to teach girls a lesson. You may well ask what this has to do with domestic violence. Well this is what the Government has to say:
The Government’s definition of domestic violence (agreed in 2004) is: ‘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’.
So you see, it’s not only hitting women. It can also be sexual, amongst many others. There is also now the disturbing problem of ‘sexting’, where boyfriends pressure young girls into sending sexual photos of themselves. This is used to bully the girls, leading to them having a low self esteem. The portrayal of women in black rap, Bollywood films and radicalised religion are at the heart of a female-hating society and that is why we see increasing incidents of violence towards women. Domestic violence can lead to murder in some cases. Remember the night we watched the news report on the 6 children who died in a fire and were saddened by the tragic loss of so many young lives? Well, the parents of the children and a family friend were found guilty of that offence. Mick Philpott’s family lived in fear of him because he was an abuser and had done the same to his previous partners too. The women did not have a key to their home and he drove them to and from work. They had no life of their own. You would think this could only happen in Saudi Arabia and not in England. Well, sadly, it is too late for those children now.
For those who are fortunate however, there are a dwindling number of organisations which still fight to protect such women and their children. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Pragna Patel, a founding member and Director of Southall Black Sisters. In 2011, she was listed in the Guardian’s top 100 women activists and campaigners. You may well ask, my son, how she got there? Well, it all started when she was 16 and went on holiday to India. Whilst there, she was put under pressure to be married, an arrangement agreed between her family and the potential husband’s one. So she arrived back in the UK engaged and was expected to sponsor her husband-to-be to come over and settle in the UK. However, she rebelled and resisted with all the determination she could muster. Remember in those days, rebelling against family traditions was unheard of and also for a female it was a near impossible battle. But she drew strength from her hero, Mahatma Ghandi, to engage in this first campaign of civil disobedience. She had read James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for her English A levels and was inspired by his struggle to reject religious stranglehold and so ‘I will not submit’ became her personal mantra.
It was this steely determination which drove her on to support Kiranjit Ahluwalia, imprisoned for murdering her violent husband, as the first campaign that SBS took on. They successfully challenged the legal definition of ‘provocation’. So on the 4th of October 2010, the law of murder in England and Wales was changed as a result. Looking at the petite Pragna, and hearing the unwavering resolve in her voice, I marvelled again and again at how her wrinkle-free face was unscarred from the battles she has fought. If there were any, they were well hidden from me.
More recently, the SBS changed immigration rules which trapped non-British women in abusive marriages and campaigned towards abolishing the ‘no-recourse to public funds’. Following that, the Home Office launched the’ Sojourner Project’ to assist victims of domestic violence who had fled abusive relationships. They took on the government and won. The SBS are exceptional in representing women who are doubly marginalised both by people in their ethnic groups and those outside of that group. They are tenacious in defending their client group against unfair policies and legislation. However, groups like these are slowly losing funds and closing down, as Government cut-backs kick in.
But parents do not face cut-backs, neither should we be silent. So, this is to let 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 abuse her verbally or emotionally. It is not right to take her money. You must remember this when you turn 16 and start experimenting with different media and music. You must remember this when you make new friends and pass this on to them.
Do you remember we used to see a lot of Auntie Christine and her son Kofi? The two of you used to love playing together. She met her present partner, a man from Cote D’Ivoire whose wife had died leaving behind three children and they set up home together two years ago. Since then, Auntie Christine has slowly stopped seeing her former friends because her new partner doesn’t let her. From a self-sufficient, confident woman, Auntie Christine has become withdrawn and only sees her friends when she needs to borrow money off them. When she cannot repay, as is often the case, she cuts off links with the friend. She has changed her phone number so many times that even the few friends she has left can’t keep up. This is the reason why you don’t see Kofi nowadays.
Son, if one woman’s convictions led her to fight against her own arranged marriage and she now fights big institutions and makes changes for female ethnic minority victims, then my convictions can influence you not to participate in domestic violence. If one voice made a difference then and now, this voice and other mothers’ voices can also effect a gradual change, one boy at a time.
I love you,
Visit Fight Back – Domestic Violence in Ethnic Minority Groups’ Facebook page here.
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