A Safe Space

By Susan Rayner

Safe spaces are becoming increasingly valuable to people who are escaping from domestic violence. Since the Covid outbreak in the UK in 2020 many relationships have become so strained that they terminated altogether or turned couples and families against each other.

Living with someone else 24 hours a day would drive most people to distraction. Even more so for poorer people, where there is no spare room or garden to escape to.

I decided to join the charity Refuge to raise money for women escaping domestic violence in Britain. A 35-year-old neighbour died in hospital and seemed to be living in fear for months before her untimely death. At one time she was a friendly, happy, strikingly fashionable woman whose personality changed so much so that she became unrecognisable. I don’t know the details, but there is an emptiness remaining in her place in the complex where I live.

Through Refuge, I have had an opportunity to read many life stories about broken families. Violent husbands, beaten wives and traumatised children and animals. Some of the stories are shocking in terms of the damage done to the body, mind and emotions of the victims and persisting over many years. It seems as if married life is like a prison sentence for many couples and their children. Presumably, the one who is violent is also suffering and needs help to change. Being safe at home is probably the most important stabilising force in any society. If you are not safe in your own home, where can you feel safe except somewhere deep inside your own soul?

Family life is not all rosy but the idea of romantic love and marital bliss are rarely challenged and so the cycle repeats from generation to generation. For a spiritual person choosing a monastic life is a way out of that cycle. There are families who are happy and well-functioning that continue life without much attention because they are not newsworthy.

Still, the ones who do face long-term damage and their children need attending to and places of safety to go to.

A place of safety is like an oasis in a desert. Teaching children how to build a place of safety and a sanctuary of peace in the home, through example, might be the best education they will ever have because self-care leads to caring for others and ultimately building a healthier society for everyone. The violent partner who learns to understand himself better has the potential to change and help build a more positive environment to live in. Every step towards change can produce a rippling effect at home and in the wider society.

  • The writer is a former visitor with Victim Support, London