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Lunch talk: Richard Kemball-Cook, Domestic abuse

There’s been a fair bit of media about domestic abuse lately, especially in light of the current pandemic. During a recent talk we learnt much more about the issue from Rising Sun & National Domestic Violence Helpline volunteer, Richard Kemball-Cook.

 

Richard is a current Member and Past President of our Club and recently we posted an article about him in which he mentioned in passing his work with the local domestic violence and abuse service, Rising Sun.

Richard started his talk by saying that he’d been on “an extraordinary journey” over the last 12 months.

Where did his journey start?

In fact, Richard’s journey into the world of domestic violence started much earlier. He recalls a time when he met the headmaster of a local school who had commented on how often he saw the same families, year after year – children who had suffered domestic abuse had grown up and got married, but often became domestic abusers themselves. “We’ve got to break the vicious cycle.”  It was this comment that had first got Richard interested in helping those who had suffered from domestic abuse and had spurred him on to volunteer with the children’s groups of the Rising Sun, the Canterbury Domestic Violence and Abuse Service.

Last September Richard started work as a child mentor for “All about Me”, an after-school group for children from broken families. In his role, he helped the team from Rising Sun give these children a chance to play in a safe, supportive environment along with children from similar situations to their own.

Origins of male aggression

Later in 2019 he went to a conference run by “Respect”, the lead organisation for male domestic violence issues, he was intrigued to learn more about the link between male attitudes that may lead to them being perpetrators. He learned of the concept of “toxic masculinity” – outlined in a presentation from Promundo (an organisation focused on gender equality and prevention of violence) which talked about “The Man Box” report. This was a study on young men in the USA, UK and Mexico.

This report presented men in the study as being “boxed in” by ideas of self-sufficiency, acting tough, physical attractiveness, rigid masculine gender roles, heterosexuality and homophobia, hypersexuality and aggression and control. It seems that adhering to “The Man Box” ideals can be harmful – putting health and wellbeing at risk, restricting intimate friendships, resisting seeking help, experiencing depression, and often thinking about suicide. Violence towards men as well as women are common among this group of young men – but “breaking out-of-the-box” is not often something a young man can do on his own. Frequently, it seems, these young men have trauma from their own upbringing and thwarted childhoods which can, without support, lead to resentment and behavioural issues. The rate of suicide within the group of 18-30-year-old males is very high.

Joey Wicks and the Prince of Wales Youth Club The Man Box was discussed with Joey Wicks, the CEO of the award-winning Prince of Wales Youth Club, a youth club based in Canterbury that our Club often supports.  Richard says: “the Youth Club is a good example of ‘trauma recovery operation’, where youngsters can focus their energies on many positive activities to overcome their upset emotions, memories, and seek to gain more balanced values”.

Men’s Groups

However, the need was to see what could be done for 18-30-year-olds, so Richard set out to find out more about the Men’s Group movement. He attended a Men’s Group run by an experienced practitioner in Notting Hill Gate, followed by three groups in North Kent (started as a result of some tragic local suicides); he joined a national wide Zoom group in April (of which, six months later, he is still a member). He learned that all too often, men don’t talk and “get things off their chest”. He heard men talk about the many anxieties, relationships and stresses they have; for the first time, he heard about men as victims, and the misplaced shame of being in that situation. Discussions dealt with their anxieties and pressures, the failed marriages, violence within the family, issues with stepfathers. He was struck by “the extraordinary wisdom” that the group produced.

Men’s Advice Line

Richard started a group at a local Football Club – but was only able to hold two meetings before Covid-19 restrictions started. With the lockdown came news that domestic violence rates had soared. Richard made contact with the team leader of the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run by Respect), offering to volunteer his services. A reply came with urgency: volunteers were not required, but would Richard join Respect staff as a call handler, working 3 days a week? The Home Office had offered Respect a big contract to deal with domestic violence issues.

Richard was interviewed, given some further training and, as he says. “off I went, handling and signposting some 400 callers over a period of 3 months to the Men’s Advice Line for male victims of domestic violence and abuse.” In a period of 12 months he had gone from “dealing with just a few children in the local area to working for a national helpline for male victims.”

Domestic violence in the media

Richard showed us a number of slides to illustrate how domestic violence was very much in the media at the moment – and not just because of the Covid-19-related surge (there has been a 5-fold increase in reported incidents). A major bill was going to Parliament, a domestic violence commissioner had been appointed etc. There were also storylines featuring domestic violence on the radio and TV; recently, BBC Radio 4’s “Life Lines” had featured the issue, and of course not long ago the Rob and Helen story in R4’s “The Archers” had involved domestic violence; the latter featured a story showing an escalation in violence and abuse; Richard had realised the scriptwriters had, in essence, followed a sequence published on the Women’s Aid website (swept off feet, marriage, increased control, dislike of friends and so on). Richard also mentioned a number of high-profile cases in the media – such as that of actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

Power and control

Richard told us that domestic violence and abuse are really about the maintenance of power and control by the perpetrator over the victim. Types of abuse include physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and financial. Controlling behaviours, we learned, included abusers being isolating, exploiting, depriving and regulating, with coercive behaviours including a pattern of assaults, threats or humiliation with the intention to harm, punish or frighten victims.

Richard asked us to guess the average time a victim stays within this exploitative relationship: the answer, shockingly, is 18 years! The ratio of domestic violence incidence between men and women is that for every 10 women affected, six men are. This ratio is reflected in the annual homicide rates between partners or former partners.

Organisations giving support

We learned that the main charities in this field include Women’s Aid (traditionally for women and children), Respect (mainly for men as victims and perpetrators) and Barnardo’s (for children affected by domestic violence in their family). Another type of abuse which is less spoken about is child to parent violence and abuse.

Richard said it was significant that a feminist organisation like Women’s Aid has shifted its approach from “men being violent against women” to “perpetrators and victims”. This shift recognises, at last, violence against men by their partners. Women’s domestic violence organisations across the country are finding that funding nowadays is restricted if they refuse to offer victim support to men. “So,” said Richard “times are changing!” He added that researchers from Hull University monitored some calls to gain some measure of what men suffer at the hands of their perpetrator partners.

We learned from Richard that the cost of domestic abuse (as published by the Home Office for 2016/17 in England and Wales) was approximately £66 billion; for comparison purposes, the education budget is £85 billion. This tells us just how serious the issue is.

Richard shared some quotes from the submission to Parliament on the domestic violence bill from Barnardo’s titled “Not just collateral damage – the Hidden impact of domestic abuse on children” – one quote was: ““Children suffer from traumatic experiences and this has an impact on their brain development, causing delayed social skills and development in all areas”.

The Rising Sun’s children’s groups

Richard showed us a picture that many of our Members have seen before, drawn by a child in the adolescent (11-18 years) Rising Sun group. It shows a very small child, ready for bed with their teddy bear: however, a huge, dark and menacing shadow looms over the child (see picture).

Richard returned to his experiences working with Rising Sun. “So, I started my first day with the Rising Sun after-school’s club for the adolescent group in some trepidation. Although I had 3 three years of psychotherapy training under my belt, what on earth was I going to do that day?” he’d wondered.

He told us he sat down beside a young man who was fiddling with his smartphone. “I got my phone out and fiddled with it too,” said Richard. The youngster noticed that Richard had the “Latitude” App from the rock festival of that name (that Richard had attended with his wife that summer). They got talking and the young man dove into the app, quickly locating his favourite artists. “We were able to download the lyrics and discuss them. So, I was on my way!” said Richard.

The young man told Richard that his father had been removed [from the home] because of domestic violence: the father had a responsible and respectable job; the mother also worked. When the family broke up, the young man’s schooling had gone to pieces; he was now being bullied and had to move to another school (not very successfully). The young man told Richard that he had a GCSE; on asking, he had received a distinction in a language! “This demonstrated,” said Richard, “that domestic violence can affect all families, all races, all societies” [A point also made by Rtn Farrukh Hussain, a consultant psychiatrist and Member of our Club, later on in our meeting.]

Adventures begin

As a Rising Sun volunteer, Richardwas asked by the organisationto arrange days out for some youngsters. One such day, two years ago (but repeated again last year) was spent on the TSB (Thames Sailing Barge) Orinoco – financed by the Kent Sail Association, Richard’s sailing club. Richard recollected the bad weather they’d faced on the day: “That summer, other days had been fine. But the day broke with a foul storm and driving rain. My heart sank – but I managed to get 14 kids into the dinghy and onto the barge. They loved it!” Smiling, Richard added: “Luckily, I’d bought some mackerel at Sainsbury’s – which they were able to cut up, find bits of string and “dip” for crabs. For many of them this was the first time they had dipped for crabs.

Richard said: “I was below in the long, cosy hold of the barge, furnished with comfy armchairs, tables, books around the side, a bit messy but very homely. One of the boys came down from the storm in full blast above: clearly amazed, he looked around and said, ‘I could live here all my life, it’s so wonderful!’ I replied: ‘it’s not that great, it’s a bit old and messy!’ ‘Oh yes,’ the boy responded, ‘it’s wonderful – there’s a huge storm above but you can find a place of calm whatever’s happening above!’” Richard saw he was moved by this metaphor.

Another recollection that Richard shared was a time a disruptive child came into the group after spending a weekend with his father. “He was crying – his father had said that his mother was so neglectful that he [the child] was going to be taken away from her and put into care.” Richard told us that the child’s social workers [who also attend the groups] immediately calmed him down and reassured the boy that this would not happen; they all regarded the mother as very capable. “It was just an example of a parent upsetting a child to wind up and attack the other partner,” said Richard.

Young children’s group

Richard then went on to talk about the “All About Me” Rising Sun after-schools club for 5- to 11-year-olds. He showed us a picture of the three permanent staff: Jamie, Emma and the Head of Unit, Jacqui – and also the two postgraduate social work trainees from Canterbury Christ Church University who were on their secondment in a voluntary sector organisation. At present, in this “Covid time,” the after-school sessions are not running, but the workers are holding groups in schools for the children affected. [They’d told Richard that they would like to give the children a book token each at the end of the term; our Club gave £250 towards this via our Community Service Committee; Richard will also be making a personal contribution.]

Progress in “All about Me” is monitored from both the parent’s and child’s perspective. This showed that 81% of parents reported an increase in ability for children to maintain/develop relationships; meanwhile, 87% of children reported an increase in emotional and general well-being.

Richard told us that he had arranged for a friend who does bush craft courses in her woods to spend an afternoon with the group – apparently the kids loved it! They especially liked the bits of snake’s skull and fox’s skull that she passed round! (See Hannah at www.natural-pathways.co.uk)

We learned that the Rising Sun is currently going around different schools in the Ashford and Canterbury areas, including primary and secondary schools.

Richard then went on to explain how a simple question (How are you today?) can be used by social workers to emphasise that the children and their feelings are very important and belong to them alone. The helping team spend all their time reinforcing this during sessions. For instance, they may just sit alongside a child as he/she plays. The child is not being bullied or ignored and getting lots of adult attention.

Richard recalled that at one time he was sitting next to a 10-year-old girl, helping her colour in a drawing, admiring her choice of colours, etc., when she suddenly said: “I hate my father” in a matter-of-fact way. “It was a comment with so many possible causes”, and this is one of the challenges of working with children affected by abuse.

Richard ended his talk with details of the most popular sites for support he signposted domestic violence victims to when he worked for the National Domestic Violence Line for male victims. Some relevat links are given below: 

National Domestic Abuse Helpline: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

0808 2000 247

 

Men’s Advice Line (for male victims of domestic abuse): www.mensadviceline.org.uk

0808 801 0327

 

Other resources, mostly free:

 

General queries:

Citizens Advice Bureau: www.citizensadvice.org.uk

 

Divorce:

Wikivorce: www.wikivorce.com/divorce

0800 44 88 66 44

 

Divorce Aid: www.divorceaid.co.uk

 

Children’s issues:

Child Law Advice: www.childlawadvice.org.uk

0300 330 5480

 

Children’s Legal Centre: www.childrenslegalcentre.com

 

Legal issues:

Legal Law Works: www.lawworks.org.uk

 

Simple Free Law Advisor: www.sfla.co.uk

 

Mental health support and helplines:

Information on mental health, trauma, PTSD recovery, etc.

www.nhs.uk/conditions

 

MIND: www.mind.org.uk

 

For counsellors:

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP): www.bacp.co.uk

 

With thanks to Richard Kemball-Cook for producing the first draft of this article.

Picture: A picture drawn by an adolescent victim of domestic abuse. Picture credit: Richard Kemball-Cook/Rising Sun.

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