Kayla Harris

The Freedom Programme

Living with a Dominator

As a previous victim and now a campaigner for women who suffer at the hands of violent and controlling men (or women), I took an active interest in taking part with the ‘Living With A Dominator’ course, otherwise known as The Freedom Programme. This is a nationwide accessible course that victims of Domestic Violence can attend. As I understand it, a referral is required, either by your GP, social worker or police officer. In my opinion, it is not heard of half as much as it should be.

Pat Craven began the programme after experiencing domestic violence and began training women to understand and give them the tools to be able to recognise an abusive character. The idea was to empower women and give them the ability to walk away from potentially dangerous men and save themselves from torment. Pat also gave talks to men who were either self-confessed abusers or had been convicted of violent crimes. This was meant as a means to give these men the abilities to understand their own behaviour and to encourage them with the ability to change. Of course, this lecture alone is not substantial enough to enable the amount of therapy needed for this amount of change to take place, but it is most certainly an excellent starting ground.

Having experienced domestic violence in more than one previous relationship, I found this course particularly helpful, insightful and supportive. I made friends with many women who were on my wavelength and for the first time able to really speak my mind and talk about all the experiences I had.

Initially, I minimised my experiences claiming them to be “not so bad” when compared to others, as I engaged with the other women who attended. It seemed to me that there was always someone with a more horrific story than my own. But as time went on, I began to understand that it isn’t about who was punched, who was raped or who was mentally abused the worst, it isthe fact that every individual experience is each women’s own personal nightmare. Yes, having the attitude that “there is always someone worse off than me” can be positive in many ways, strength can be drawn from this motto, but what we must all get to grips with is the fact that, no matter what each individual has experienced, abusive behaviour, mild or extreme is not acceptable.

Over the course I began to accept this in my own mind and came to terms with my experiences and I watched proudly as other women began to do the same. It is after all, the hardest part of recovery, acceptance. I felt energised and strong for the first time in my life.

Over the course of the 12 weeks I attended the Freedom Programme, I began to wonder why it was that I’d never heard of this before. I had been referred via a psychiatrist after an assessment was commenced. I had learned that this course was a recommendation whilst involved in child care proceedings and/or part of bail conditions etc and so I wondered how else the public might access it.

It is not hidden from the world, search engines on the internet show sites with plenty of information about this. I bought the book “Living with a Dominator” online along with the study guide that goes with it. It got me to thinking, what if I had known about this information when I ended my first abusive relationship? Or better still, before I even left school and began dating in my teens? How would I have benefited from learning more about domestic violence whilst in school and how would teenage girls of today benefit?

When I was 16 and still at school, I had lessons in PSE (Personal and Social Education) these consisted of topical issues like sex education, illegal substances and pro-social behaviour (to a degree). I remember learning about things like abuse and violence within relationships, yet it had always seemed to be portrayed in the most simplistic of ways that even now I am not sure anyone would be able to ascertain exactly what domestic violence really is. Most young adults will tell you it’s being physically beaten and bullied and being made to believe, as a victim, that you are worthless. To a certain degree, they wouldn’t be wrong, but there is so much more to it, so much so that it completely took me by surprise.

With this in mind, I decided that I wanted to ‘spread the word’ so to speak. I am not an active feminist, but I do believe in giving women strength and the ability to protect themselves. Pat Craven is a feminist, one with some extremely valuable points of view and opinions. Through her lessons I tuned into my own beliefs I had grown up with, thinking about where they came from and why I had these beliefs. What I hadn’t realised, was that almost all abuse comes from belief.

The course encourages you to investigate beliefs taught to us by the media, law, the government and our own family. From there we can learn about what we, as individuals, have learned to tolerate and accept. Our tolerance of certain actions is what actually leads to us being victims of domestic violence and this same level of tolerance is what makes us minimise our own experiences. By exploring this further, we can assess this level and decide for ourselves what should be accepted and what we would tolerate. For this, there is no real right or wrong answer, it is purely personal. Pat gives us the the ability to see how much society has almost enforced a belief that abuse is tolerable. Of course, acts of violence are not acceptable within our laws, but even the law seems to have confusing levels of its own tolerance and beliefs. This of course does not help those trapped in abusive relationships to gain the right help and support.

What I began to realise was that if women gained this knowledge and way of thinking at an earlier age, for example, when we are beginning to venture out and form relationships of our own, then we they would be far more likely to make healthier choices. Let me explain further.

A teenage girl will have grown up within a certain environment in her family home. Lets say, for example, her own mother is a victim of domestic abuse of the emotional side. Her father is a verbally abusive man who constantly puts her mother down and criticises her etc. This is a common thing in relationships as women allow, through their own beliefs and tolerances, this to happen. This then creates the next link in the chain where the teenage girl believes this is normal, and therefore would begin to tolerate this behaviour at school by other pupils and more worryingly, potential partners. Thus beginning her path towards Living with a Dominator. This could lead to finding an abuser who could potentially put her life in jeopardy. Furthermore what would happen if she had children? They would be placed in care, under child protection orders and she would have to fight her way to getting her children back. It would be at this point she’s finally introduced to this course, but this, by then is too late. She’s already found herself in trouble and her children have already suffered.

If she were to attend classes during this crucial stage in her life, she would be enabled to make up her mind and form her own beliefs. She would have the opportunity to re-evaluate her tolerance of certain behaviour and possibly amend them, therefore allowing her the possiblity to make better choices of partner in her future and gaining the strength to say “this is not acceptable” when she encounters behaviour that she would not tolerate.

Should we as women, put up with being treated as objects for men to use and criticise, abuse and torment, rape and beat? No.

Young girls are constant prey to the media what with magazines proclaiming they should preen and primp, slim and diet, beautify and objectify themselves because that’s what men want, right? I am not saying that girls should not follow trends or make themselves look good, I am hoping to give them the power to ascertain why, and if they are doing it all for the right reasons.

This course certainly helped me begin to make decisions for myself and even more importantly, for my children. I no longer feel a overwhelming desire to hunt the next Mr Right-Now, instead I am finally happy in my own skin and discovering my own beliefs, tolerances and desires in life. I merely want other women, young and old, to discover the same. It truly is exhilarating.

By introducing this course into the national curriculum, we would be enabling our teens to make better choices, we may even help teenage boys to re-evaluate their own behaviour and approach relationships in a healthier way too. We do not want a society of abused individuals, where their children will be subject to child protection orders, possibly even adoption. Do we?

We cannot change the media, or what society leads us to believe, but we could give the children of the future a better start.


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