A ‘silent pandemic’ of violence and abuse faced by women and their children was in focus when the University of Huddersfield’s award-winning None in Three (Ni3) Global Research Centre hosted an online forum on 8 March.
The event took place on International Women’s Day and disseminated the UK findings and recommendations of three-and-a-half years of research exploring young women’s experiences of Intimate Partner Violence and the voices of men who perpetrate it.
The main aim of the Policy Forum was, through the most up to date UK research, to challenge and change current thinking policy and practice.
The forum was a free, invite-only, event for senior leaders within the Police, Social Services, Health and Education. It also involved policy makers, MPs, safeguarding leads and more to ensure that the recommendations presented could be considered with delegates in a position to potentially make change happen.
Gillian Kirkman, UK Country Director of Ni3 and Subject Leader in Social Work, stressed that for as long as figures have been recorded, two women a week have been killed at the hands of a partner or ex -partner and three take their own lives to escape.
Domestic abuse soars during lockdown
This has increased horrendously during the coronavirus pandemic. Sixteen women were killed in the first three weeks of the UK’s first lockdown in 2020, while in its first month four children were murdered by their father or stepfather.
“As a country we need to respond differently to domestic abuse, by fully understanding what it is and how it impacts on victims, which includes children,” says Gillian. “It is not a series of one- off incidents but a continuous and often daily, hourly assault on a woman’s freedom, self- worth, psychological and physical wellbeing.
“Our research shows that women and their children sustain significant trauma and are often powerless to leave. There needs to be an urgent shift in the current professional and organisational mindset from victim-blaming to a position where, as a society, we hold men accountable and responsible for the violence and abuse they inflict on those they purport to love.
A public health and child welfare issue
“Domestic abuse is often considered to be a private issue,” adds Gillian. “But given that it causes untold damage to the victims, and costs the UK economy over £66 billion per year, it is clearly a public health and child welfare issue that has to be addressed.
“We hope to show how important it is for employers to develop HR policies that tackle domestic abuse and sexual harassment within the workplace. We will be encouraging that thinking, to try to ensure that employees are better supported and protected.”
A screenshot from the new None In Three prosocial game under development
The event also showcased their groundbreaking immersive computer game which aims to change young people’s attitudes and behaviour to dating violence and abuse.
Through interviewing both survivors of abuse and those who perpetrate it, the UK Ni3 research team were able to learn from lived experience in developing plotlines, dialogue and outcomes in the development of the game. Gillian explained that, “the pro-social game is specifically designed to change attitudes and behaviours to dating violence and abuse. It will enable young people to play both the victim and perpetrator, building empathy and understanding whilst experiencing conflicting messages from their peers.
“The game, which is set in a college, depicts how technology and social media can increase the level of abuse, and demonstrates the impact and outcomes it can have on the victim and the perpetrator. The game will be trialed in schools and colleges, hopefully in September 2021, enabling young people of 14 years and older to learn and understand what constitutes a healthy and unhealthy intimate relationship.
Showing young people what healthy relationships look like
“The normalisation of abuse by young people has to be countered as they often mistake possessiveness and jealousy as love. The game challenges this and tackles the hard but necessary subjects of consent, sexual coercion, manipulation, control and physical abuse. We do not shy away from the reality for young people but are mindful of the need to do this sensitively, and within an educative setting.
“We have also produced a free wrap-around curriculum to accompany the game, enabling those working with and caring for young people to encourage debate enabling the exploration of the complexities and nuances of their intimate relationships.
“It is a groundbreaking intervention – there is nothing like this.”
The global Ni3 research team have already evidenced the impact of a computer game they developed in 2016-18 that was purposely designed for the children of Barbados and Grenada. It was the success of that game in changing children’s attitudes and behaviours to domestic abuse that brought about the current successful bid that sees researchers in four countries carrying out research on gender-based violence and creating computer games to prevent further abuse.
“Pro-social games can be used in a variety of different settings, and can be designed for adults and children”, adds Gillian. “The full potential to change attitudes, behaviours and practice has not yet been reached, a situation that we are keen to do something about.
“The forum had a fantastic turnout of 86 delegates, who engaged in a range of discussions following presentations about our findings and recommendations. They were asked to write a pledge at the end of the forum about what they would do to start conversations in their workplaces about bringing about strategic change.
“A willingness to assess current policies, consider more robust training, and actively seeking the advice and involvement of survivors of domestic abuse were just a few of the pledges made. We will contact them in the months to come about how together we might overcome these challenges.”