This letter comes to you in response to the campaign by Scottish Women’s Aid to challenge proposed cuts to funding for specialise support services for women and children at both Dumbarton District Women’s Aid and Clydebank Women’s Aid. As a former child resident of Clydebank and a survivor of domestic/child abuse I thought I would share my own story with you in the hope that you would come to a better understanding of why these services are so vital and what can go wrong when vulnerable women and children are failed.
I was born in Drumchapel in the 1970’s, not the ‘old’ bit that the estate agents try to pretend is part of Drumchapel and is in fact Knightswood, by the water tower. The water tower is significant to me because you can see it for miles across Glasgow, a marker of where my life began.
As I understand it by the time I was born my mother, having already had my two siblings in a previous marriage, had been unwell for a a few years. She was diagnosed with Puerperal Psychosis, a severe post-natal mental illness. I don’t know if she was diagnosed after my siblings birth or my birth but I do know she was advised not to have another child under any circumstances before I was conceived and that her health deteriorated further after my birth. If you say Puerperal in a Glaswegian accent it sounds like pure peril and for my mother that’s exactly what it was, not just because of her illness but because of my Father.
My eldest sibling remembers the early violence best. Years later she described to me one incident where she had been alone in our room one day when he just walked in and started beating her up and throwing her about. She didn’t know why it happened, he was ‘just angry’. She also described our mother regularly experiencing the same kind of violence and the police taking him away only to bring him back again the next morning like nothing had happened, something that my sibling couldn’t understand at the time. The fear of reprisals for pressing charges and the emotional blackmail was too great for our mother. But violence wasn’t the only problem. Puerperal Psychosis is treatable with anti-psychotic drugs. It’s very important that the course of medicine is prescribed alongside continued support from mental health specialists and most importantly immediate family members, partners in particular. In our mother’s case not only was she subjected to sustained episodes of violence, she also had to endure verbal and emotional abuse, episodes of forced confinement in her own home and often had her medicine taken away and flushed down the toilet. As a result of all this she didn’t recover.
We left Drumchapel when I was pre-school age and moved in with my grandparents, our mother’s parents, in Singer. Although this was a breath of fresh air for us the threat of violence and the emotional abuse continued and although our mother was still receiving support from family, local mental health specialists and social work her health deteriorated even further until she found it unbearable to cope with. She took her own life. She was 32.
Unfortunately it didn’t end there. After my Mother’s death my father was given custody. I was separated from my siblings and endured the same violence and abuse. Social services didn’t help, the police didn’t help. The violence and abuse continued for over twenty years right into my adulthood. In the end the only people I could turn to for help beyond my friends and immediate family were Women’s Aid.
Severe cases of Puerperal Psychosis may be rare, but stories like mine are not. These experiences are why Scottish Women’s Aid was established and since its creation in 1973 countless women and children have been saved from the danger of domestic abuse and been guided through processing the trauma they and their children experience and resettled in a new safer environment. The support Scottish Women’s Aid offer is often unrivalled and all of the services they provide are essential for making that journey from danger to safety a real possibility. But, this can only be achieved through regular funding for all services. Services I still access now because there is no quick fix when it comes to Domestic abuse, it’s a long journey.
The huge difference made by all branches of Scottish Women’s Aid cannot be counted in pounds and pence but neither can the devastating damage done to lives when there is no help at all. Therefore, as a survivor and as a feminist I ask you to please continue funding all specialist services to both Dumbarton District and Clydebank branches of Women’s Aid and and support continued funding all over Scotland.