By Naomi Dickson
Jewish Women’s Aid
Last Tuesday, I spent the day in Brent Cross. Not my usual working pattern – in my relatively new role as Jewish Women’s Aid’s Executive Director, a shopping day is a rare event. However, I and the rest of JWA’s committed team of staff, volunteers and board members felt that a day of action and awareness raising in Brent Cross was an appropriate way of marking the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Our stall, outside John Lewis and Kanteen (where else?!) was a hub of activity for the day. We spoke to over 700 shoppers, using the opportunity to ask them what they knew of domestic violence as a Jewish issue. Some expressed their support of JWA and all that we do, and some told us that they had a friend living with domestic violence, and asked what we’d advise . Some asked about the training courses we run for professionals or talks we give to community groups. Some doctors and rabbis stopped to find out how we can help them to support their patients and congregants who don’t know where to turn for help.
And some women stopped and told us their own personal story – of the violence and abuse they have been living with for years. They stopped at JWA’s stall in the middle of Brent Cross Shopping Centre, and cried. They told us that they had lived with abuse for many years, and that it was perpetrated on them daily. We did what we always do when a woman opens up to us and reaches out for help for the first time – we listened, encouraged and believed.
Women are typically affected by domestic abuse 35 times before seeking help. Domestic violence is a hidden crime, taking place behind the closed doors of a family home, where the woman affected is often too ashamed, and scared to tell anyone, even her closest friends and family, what happens to her each day. At JWA, we offer professional support, advice, counselling and refuge space to women and their children affected by domestic violence. We are busier than ever before.
People often ask me in disbelief if domestic violence is a ‘Jewish problem’. It is. It affects Jewish women across every religious and social strata. Jewish Women’s Aid is here to support those women. I would like to see them coming forward for support and help before they have been abused 35 times or for 20 years like the woman we met in Brent Cross. I would like the environment of disbelief to be replaced with one of support and encouragement. The Jewish community needs to stand together with JWA and acknowledge that domestic violence is an issue we all need to tackle, together.
Our stall in Brent Cross was just one of several elements of our November awareness raising campaign. We have created a short film in which a client describes the appalling abuse she suffered and how it affected her children. You can see it at www.jwa.org.uk/hidden and listen to her speaking about her dark days where she feared she’d never be able to leave her home again. With JWA’s support, she and numerous other women we have supported, were able to move on to a life free from fear and abuse.
Domestic abuse. It’s closer to home than you think.
JWA Freephone helpline 0808 801 0500