|Written by Erin Pizzey||Wednesday, March 21, 2007 12:00 AM|
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Thirty six years ago I opened the first shelter in the world in Chiswick, London. Before that time if a woman and her children were unable to go back to her family, she had nowhere to run to.
A man’s home was his castle and whatever happened behind the front door was nobody’s business. The police were helpless and not allowed to interfere. Unless the woman could show evidence of multiple violent attacks either in person or photographs, she had no right to leave the matrimonial home. Even if she did leave and show evidence because there was nowhere willing to take her in with her children, she was told by the social services that they could only offer to take her children away from her and she would have to find her own accommodation. Often women were unwilling to return to their own homes because their violent husbands/partners would seek revenge and threatened the family.
Kathy was the first woman to come into my refuge and she showed me her bruises that her husband had inflicted upon her body with the leg of a chair. That night I took her in and within a few months there were women and children coming through the door and lying on the floor of the tiny house on mattresses at night. The conditions were dreadful but for these families it was better than risking their lives in the hands of their violent perpetrators.
Some of the women who came to my shelter were very vulnerable. They had witnessed and experienced violence and sexual abuse in their own childhoods and I realized that it would take many months, and in some cases, years of counseling and care to enable them to move back into the community in order to lead a successful and harmonious life with their children.
I knew from personal experience the devastating effects that witnessing or experiencing domestic violence can have on children. I have always believed (and research is now available) that domestic violence is a learned pattern of behavior in early childhood. Boys who witness violence or sexual abuse tend to explode with rage and become violent but girls also exposed to the same suffering tend to implode and harm themselves often becoming victims repeating the patterns they also learned.
The job of a shelter is to offer sanctuary, a safe place and to reassure the mother and her children that she is now amongst kind, caring people who will protect her and her family. Because my shelter was the first of its kind in the world I faced a great deal of persecution. The local religious leaders in my area called me ‘marriage wrecker’ and the authorities tried to have me jailed for refusing to turn women and children away. With God’s help and constant prayers the refuge grew and very slowly others were opening across England and then across the world.
Today I am honored to be here in Bahrain to take part in the inaugural opening of the Aisha Yateem Counseling Centre and Shelter. This is a very historic moment for me and for all those who have worked so hard to create the first shelter for victims of domestic violence in the Arab world.
I believe that the family is the primary socializing agency in a child’s life; I also believe that the family is the corner stone of any civilization. Destroy family life and you take away the building blocks that underpin the safety and sanity of any society.
Part of the job of any shelter is to reach out into the community and educate the children in our schools about the effects of domestic violence. We need programs that also explain to parents the devastating damage that their violent behavior has upon their children. We need to create not only shelters but also business opportunities for women who need to find employment once they are ready to leave the shelter.
The Aisha Yateem Shelter offers a wonderful opportunity for all those who care about the future of women and children in Bahrain and indeed hopefully it is a forerunner of many other places of safety.
Thank you for inviting me to be part of this day of celebrations. I look forward to the rest of my stay and the time I will be able to share with those of you who are involved in this wonderful, compassionate and exciting project.
Copyright © 2007 Erin Pizzey, All Rights Reserved
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