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The global pandemic and domestic abuse: why we should all be looking out to spot the signs

Last week, the ONS released research and statistics that showed the effect that the global pandemic has had on domestic abuse cases. During the initial lockdown, one fifth of crimes reported across the UK involved domestic abuse. However, this does not include the cases that go unreported. I recently made a film on a child’s […]

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Last week, the ONS released research and statistics that showed the effect that the global pandemic has had on domestic abuse cases. During the initial lockdown, one fifth of crimes reported across the UK involved domestic abuse. However, this does not include the cases that go unreported.

I recently made a film on a child’s perspective of coercive control. Based on extensive research the short drama tells the story of how a father draws his son into a game involving timing his Mum’s visits to the shops. The longer she takes the greater punishment. It is a shocking story, based on the testimony of one woman. The film, called Timekeeper, was really well received, however the one piece of feedback I hadn’t expected was that the storyline seemed far-fetched. The reality was I had toned it down – some of the stories I’d heard were incredibly brutal. It made me realise how little is known about the extremes of domestic abuse. If any positives can be drawn from the staggering 20% increase of domestic abuse cases during lockdown, increased awareness is one of them.

While it easy to make the assumption domestic violence only exists on the margins of society, the reality is very different. In a film I made earlier this year for the NHS, which tackles the notion of “bringing your whole self to work” we feature a consultant living with domestic abuse. The aim of this scenario and the whole film was to challenge people’s perceptions of others and what they might be dealing with in their personal lives. It is highly likely we will at some point come across a colleague or friend who is experiencing it or is struggling with a childhood trauma. Currently 1 in 5 children are affected by domestic abuse.

As a writer/director specialising in using film to change behaviour and inspire policy and process change around mental health, domestic abuse seems to feature heavily in my films. Last year I made a film to raise awareness of the psychological trauma connected with violence and aggression against NHS staff. As part of the research, I interviewed Martin Griffiths National Clinical Director for Violence Reduction at NHS England. He talked about how gang culture offers young people the sense of belonging that was stolen from them through issues such as domestic violence in childhood. This insight formed the basis of the film. It also reiterated my belief that domestic abuse is society’s hidden shame and until we tackle it head on, we are going to continue destroying lives and spreading dysfunction.

Timekeeper was commissioned by Lewisham Council and funded through the Home Office. It is currently being rolled out to the Lewisham workforce. The aim is to help staff better identify vulnerable children and also to spark debate around the issues the films raises. In the film the central character is a child who has “numbed down” through the trauma of his home life. His salvation comes through an inspiring learning mentor, who spots the signs. Despite the fact a lot of children tend to act out as a way of dealing with trauma, I was keen to feature the withdrawn child as they are so easily missed.

 I think this is true of the workplace too – today more than ever. We all need to be surrounded by people sensitive to identifying changes or warning signs in the behaviour of others, and more importantly willing to offer a helping hand.

With Timekeeper, my hope is the film will encourage self-reflection, but I am also keen the film offers an emotional insight into mental health issues and an understanding of the subtleties often involved. I am a great believer in using data to help us find solutions to tragic trends in society like domestic violence, but I also think feeling to think is a powerful principal. Domestic violence is something that affects families, friends and colleagues from all backgrounds and for too long asking difficult or uncomfortable questions has been taboo or simply the emotional journey has been missed.

As well as the authorities, government, and charities that specialise in supporting domestic abuse cases we all need to be open to recognising the signs and having conversations, often this can be the starting point to driving solutions.

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