Understanding Gemma Collins, and all survivors of domestic abuse

18 September 2017

Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, Katie Ghose, on understanding survivors as a means to end domestic abuse

The story of the abuse that Gemma Collins endured which is across the headlines today is harrowing. Graphic images of a physical attack from three years ago, in which Gemma was repeatedly kicked, beaten to the floor and locked in her flat will trigger memories for millions of women.

The story confronts the reader with an upsetting truth: that nobody, not even a rich, strong, television star is immune to domestic abuse. In fact, she is not the only one to talk today; Spice Girl Mel B congratulated Nicole Kidman for shining a light on domestic abuse in her acceptance speech for her role in Big Little Lies, something Mel has experienced first-hand.

It is not easy for any survivor to speak about the abuse they have endured, let alone someone so much in the public eye. The myths and victim blaming that are rife in our society can make it a scary, and as Gemma says, an ‘embarrassing’ thing to do. This must change. These myths must be busted so that as a society we can recognise and challenge the culture that allows domestic abuse to happen, and remain hidden behind closed doors and we stop blaming victims.

I wonder how many times Gemma will have been asked ‘why don’t you just leave him?’, but as she remarks it is not always that easy. “I was still in love with this person but I knew what he did to me was really wrong. How do you press charges against someone that you love?” Gemma said. “He was still on license and I didn’t want to be responsible for sending him back down and it was a very difficult situation but actually all I ended up doing is hurting myself more to save him.” It can be very difficult for a woman to leave an abusive partner – even if she wants to.

A woman may still be in love with her partner and believe him when he says he is sorry and it won’t happen again; she may be frightened for her life or for the safety of her children if she leaves; she may have nowhere to go; and he may have taken control of her money and left her with no financial independence, or separated her from her friends and family over time, making it even more difficult for an abused woman to escape. Abuse is about power and control, and that can leave survivors feeling isolated and with nowhere to turn. Women in abusive relationships need support and understanding – not judgement.

That’s why Women’s Aid works hard to break down these myths and challenges toxic notions of what abuse is, what it looks like and who it happens to. Too often women who reach out for help are brushed off, disbelieved, or blamed for ‘provoking it’. We need that to change. That is why we are running Change that Lasts; a project which aims to ensure that no matter where a survivor is, or who she speaks to, she will get the right response to domestic abuse the first time she reaches out. She will be heard, listened to and believed. Through the project we will be training communities, professionals and experts alike to make sure they understand domestic abuse and can offer useful guidance on where to go to get the specialist support survivors need to escape and rebuild their lives. This work can save lives, and will help the countless women like Gemma. Together we can end domestic abuse.

If you, or someone you know thinks they might be in an abusive relationship, they can find expert advice and support on our website www.womensaid.org.uk

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