By Emma BELL, Executive Director of Jewish Women’s Aid.
Picture the scene. You’re out for a meal with friends – two or three other couples.
You’ve known one of the women for years, and she has brought along a man she’s been seeing for a while. You’ve met him a few times before tonight and have always been struck by his charm. You’ve envied the intimacy you see between them. The way they share everything; the way he often whispers in her ear; the fact that he seems always to be by her side, holding her hand, stroking her hair.
Tonight, though, she seems on edge, withdrawn, anxious. She’s pregnant and has given up work. She mentions wistfully that she never sees her family any more as he is not keen on them. They leave abruptly before dessert. He looks thunderous. She looks shrunken. What do you do next?
What would any of us do? Might you wonder in passing what might be going on? Would you call your friend in the morning to see how she is? Would you be more likely to feel uneasy for a day or two and then forget it, as memories of the evening fade in your busy life?
Whatever you do, don’t just leave it. Domestic abuse is closer to home than you think. Horrifyingly, 30 percent of abuse begins or escalates in pregnancy. It can involve not just physical violence but coercive, controlling behaviour, intimidation, humiliation, threats and psychological abuse designed to strip the victim of her sense of self and to make her live in fear.
Next Monday, 25 November, is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. At Jewish Women’s Aid – the only communal charity that specialises in supporting women in abusive relationships – we are asking you to take a moment to think about the women, friends and relatives that you know, who might be facing abuse, be it physical, verbal, emotional, financial or sexual.
They aren’t the only victims, of course. Around the world, women aged 15 to 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data. Domestic abuse affects the lives of one woman in four in this country. Two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner. And women will typically be affected by domestic violence 35 times before seeking help or support.
It would be nice to think – and many people do – that Jewish women are immune. But our research suggests that sadly the problem is just as prevalent in the Jewish community as in the country at large, even if we prefer not to talk about it.
Help and support are available. Jewish Women’s Aid runs a confidential helpline for women who need a listening ear and offers a range of support services nationally including practical, tailored support from trained workers, free counselling and safe accommodation for women fleeing violence and abuse.
Our children’s worker spends time with children who are traumatised by what they have witnessed and supports mothers with parenting in the aftermath of the abuse. We also try to stop abuse before it starts, with our prevention work in schools, on university campuses and among communal professionals. So please, on Monday stand with us against violence and abuse.
Challenge the behaviour you see, reach out to women that you know and are worried about, educate yourself by visiting our new website which contains lots of useful information about warning signs and ways to help. Ask your rabbi to speak out against domestic abuse.
In the words of one of our clients: “Throughout my life, abuse made me feel different things. Often it was emotional, and the lasting scars of being made to feel that you do not matter and would be nothing without your husband. The physical abuse gave me something to concentrate on. The pain was unbearable, but so was the emotional agony. It was the emotional pain, the belittling, stalking and yelling that made me try to kill myself. I could run from his slaps, not his words.”
Domestic abuse happens to women like you, your sister, friend or colleague. Or like the women in your shul.
Can we count on you to help us support them?