Speech – Housing Rights for Domestic Violence Victims & Survivors (4th Nov 2014, Full Council)Posted: November 5, 2014
Domestic violence takes place in the home in a context of trust. It violates a safe space which is emotional as well as physical.
So when a woman’s access to a bank account is taken away, when a partner has been ‘persuaded’ into having sex or when vulnerable family members are systematically isolated, violence is already taking place within the home.
We cannot just understand violence as a single physical act giving rise to physical harm – sometimes there is no such act to speak of. Violence in the home must also be understood in terms of its effects and in terms of the attitudes that make it possible.
The abuser is permitted to treat the victim, not as a human being but as a blank canvass and as an object. The abuser is permitted to behave in this way by wider society through a continued failure to intervene. And the permission given to the abuser encourages the victim to implicitly accept the abuse. In many instances the victim is silenced by a culture which shifts blame and responsibility on the victim, should she choose to leave her relationship or marriage.
To keep on surviving in an abusive relationship, the victim needs to disavow their humanity and experience of vulnerability. Many continue to do so over a period of years – placing cultural expectations, the interests of their children, and the interests of the perpetrator over and above their own basic human needs.
Where the victim has experienced abuse for a long period of time, he or she is often also rendered voiceless by trauma.
So too are the children in a family who watch this behaviour even if they may not entirely understand it and are later unable to speak about it.
So when a woman or man knocks on the door of a council and says that they wish to leave everything behind in pursuit of a new life, this is not just an act of last resort and desperation but also one of immense courage, resilience and survival. It should be recognized as such.
It marks a turning point where a victim realizes their own humanity and value is equal to that of others.
It is a moment where a person shows determination and the will to vocalise their traumatic experiences.
It is a moment of opportunity, not just for the victim, but also for the council – to end patterns of conduct that are cyclical and result in huge cost to society.
The council must in its approach be alive to the sensitivity of this moment, alive to the emotional ambivalence of the survivor, and alive to the power it has to support a new and different life for the survivor.
That is why it is wrong to ‘gatekeep’ – creating bureaucratic loops for survivors to jump through before being rehoused.
That is why it is wrong to wait until physical abuse has occurred before rehousing a survivor.
And that is why it is wrong to push survivors to the back of the social housing queue.
We have an obligation to create real choice for victims and survivors – so they are empowered to make the incredibly difficult decision to leave if they wish to do so.
For these reasons I urge all of Council to consider how best they can help survivors to make genuinely free choices.
I thank Council for listening, for speaking and for responding on this important issue.
And I move this amendment in my name.