Unless you have been living in a cave this week you have probably read something about  Jordan Worth, who last week became the first women in Britain to be convicted under the new ‘controlling or cohesive behaviour in an intimate relationship’ law introduced in 2015. She was sentenced to seven and half years in custody for this and other offences against her finance Alex Skeel and it has been the subject of much discussion on facebook and in the media.  There have been many references to her ‘petite’ size, charity work and the fact that the victim ‘Alex Skeel’ himself has hydrocephalus, a condition which makes him especially vulnerable to head injuries.  There is mention of his horrific injuries, I believe he had 118 when he left, and the many times his neighbours heard his cries for help and saw his black eyes. We have read about the fact that she scolded him with boiling water and did not allow him to sleep in the same bed as her. There is less mention though of the fact that he was denied contact with his own family for a long time and virtually nothing of the two children who were probably one of the main reasons he didn’t leave earlier.  Now I ask you ‘SO WHAT?’

I have read lots of comments from people praising his bravery for firstly leaving Jordan and repoting these crimes to the police, then secondly, for waiving his anonymity in an attempt to raise the profile of domestic abuse and particularly the plight of male victims.  I have read many comments, and even arguments, about whether men are treated fairly and how women only have to say they have been hit and police believe them.

I think throughout all of this many people are missing the point.  NOBODY should be subjected to abuse, anywhere, but definitely not within their home. This is the one place that they should feel safe. NOBODY should live in fear of upsetting their partner, feeling cut off from those who may offer support and salvation. NO CHILDREN should grow up in an environment where they can’t sleep because they are worried about what is going on in the next room , or live in the constant tension that exists in a home where domestic abuse is going on.  Although there are differences between male and female victims, to get caught up in the gender argument is, I believe, missing the most valuable lesson for the story. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

Now don’t get me wrong, Jordan, as the perpetrator of the violence and abuse, is completely responsible for the pain and emotional harm she subjected her boyfriend and children, but who else?  What about Alex himself? Is he to blame for staying? Unfortunately in our society we often do blame victims for their own abuse, asking why did they stay? Needing the excuses of his vulnerabilities to explain how a ‘petite’ women could inflict harm on a man.  What about medical services who had seen him on previous occasions, and did not step in, I understand that support was offered but he denied any problem. His family then, why didn’t they step in? Would you allow a family member to suffer abuse without rescuing them? What about social services? Shouldn’t they have helped those poor children? Who else? The School? The Neighbours? The Police? What if the outcome hadn’t been as positive?

There were 454 Domestic Homicides recorded by the police in England and Wales between April 2013 and March 2016 (source Office for national statistics). This represents 31% of all homicides where the victim was aged 16 and over during this time period. Of these 70% (319) were female and 30% (135) male. These are surely shocking figures to anyone. Despite this we only talk about a small amount of these cases, the ones that stick out as different, but every one of them had family, friends, neighbours, and many had children.

So who cares? We all should! I believe that until we start breaking the silence and start talking about domestic abuse, things will not change. Responsibility sits with everyone to stop ignoring the signs, ask the questions, call the police, report concerns to social services but most of all to listen. Let’s be clear most victims don’t want to be rescued, they want to be heard and we need to start listening. We have come a long way in the last 20 years, but can you honestly say that you would call the police if you were worried about a neighbour, a friend or a family member, or would you think it’s not your place to get involved?  Alex’s neighbours have been publicly thanked by his mother and praised for helping to save him, would you do the same? Change is everyone’s responsibility so we ask you to join our campaign to ‘end the public camouflage of domestic abuse’


Who is to blame when teenagers are violent and abusive? Society? School? The media? Hormones? Are they ‘born evil’? Or are their parents to blame? Even then, what about the nature versus nurture argument? I bet you have an opinion about it, I know that it’s something regularly discussed in our office. It’s a massively emotive subject and one that cannot easily be answered without someone saying ‘ ah but, what about…’. It’s complicated even further for those of us with children with a difficulty separating our own feelings of responsibility for our children’s behaviour from the horror stories that we hear about children committing horrendous acts of violence and abuse towards others. The other week I was watching a TV programme about the horrific torture and murder of James Bulger 25 years ago, and couldn’t help but hold the parents mostly responsible for the action of their sons, in fact I felt incensed to seen the fully grown men making threats directly towards the boys and throwing themselves at the vans they were transported in, can we really hold a ten year old fully responsible? It’s all too easy, I think, to sit in judgement of others and search for all the things that separate us from those terrible parents who obviously just don’t care where their children are, or what they are doing.
So what about when this abusive behaviour is directed at their parents? One of our projects deals directly with this issue, providing interventions and support to those families experiencing adolescent to parent abuse. For those of you that think that we are working with young people who are ‘acting out’ in a way most teenagers do, please believe me this is not the case. Some of these young people use all the tactics of adult perpetrators of domestic abuse to control their families. We see significant incidents of physical, emotional, financial and even sexual abuse, that often go entirely unreported to anyone. One of the things that shocks me the most is that, after reading a referral filled with stories of a mother feeling afraid to do anything for risk of physical reprimand and younger siblings being terrorised and controlled, we are greeted at the door by an angelic looking twelve year old, who looks more like they should be writing a letter to Santa than facing removal from their family home as a protective measure for others.
So who is to blame? I am afraid there isn’t an easy answer to that although there are patterns that we see too often for it to be mere coincidence. The families that we see have, more often than not, experienced significant trauma in the past. This trauma can vary and includes incidence of parental substance misuse, mental health issues, serious illness of a parent and bereavement. However, the most common cause, by far, is domestic abuse between parents. From this, we think, things can develop in two different ways.
The first, which we have seen in male and female young people, is when a young person ‘steps up’ into a parenting role themselves. This can be seen as really helpful at first with them taking on responsibility for caring for siblings, cleaning, cooking and often becoming the emotional support for the parent who is stuck in the aftershocks of the trauma itself. This can go on for some time with the young person feeling more and more powerful and simultaneously losing confidence in the parent’s ability to protect and provide. This will generally come to a head when the parent manages to make improvements and tries to regain the position of ‘head of the house’ resulting in resistance and a battle for control.
The second group we see is predominately, if not exclusively, male and seems to arise mostly when they have been witness to domestic abuse directed from their father towards their mother. In these cases the relationship has ended, sometimes dramatically, with criminal action, imprisonment or no contact with their father, where there is contact is often very acrimonious with on-going harassment and intimidation. It seems, in many of these cases, the boys have learnt that, as a male, they have the right to be dominant in the home and women should be obeyed in the home.
For parents in either of these situations it can be really hard to admit what is going on in the home, they are often wracked with guilt about the things their children have been exposed to, disempowered as parents and have little or no confidence in their ability to protect. They feel frightened that asking for help will cause people, and service, to judge them. Yes they may be guilty of over indulging their children, or having weak boundaries and little in the way of consequences being enforced, but let’s make sure we consider the path they have taken to arrive there. We’ve seen mothers who have worked hard, with support, to end violent relationships and prove to social services that they can protect their children, only to return to us years later in desperate need for support as their teens behaviour can no longer be hidden and has become dangerous to others and themselves.
So who is to blame? The answer, as I said, isn’t an easy one, but I think it is something that we all need to be more aware of, as those little comments we make when giving our opinions in the office or with friends, can make an already isolated, disempowered mother, even less likely to seek support.