A British MP has received a standing ovation after giving a moving speech about a previous relationship as Parliament debated new legislation to tackle domestic abuse.
The Domestic Abuse Bill was among those brought to a halt when Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided last month to suspend Parliament – but with the legislature reconvening following the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruling against Johnson, the bill is again open for debate and MPs are working to amend its proposals.
The number of domestic violence killings in the UK has hit a five-year high, according to figures released last month.
“So what is domestic violence or abuse and where do we get our ideas about it from?” Rosie Duffield, a member of parliament for Canterbury, asked on Wednesday during her speech at the House of Commons.
“Often we see the same images and stereotypes on TV. Housing estates, working-class families, drunk men coming home from the pub, women surrounded by children and a sequence of shouting followed by immediate physical violence or assault.
“But the soap opera scenes only tend to focus on one or two aspects of a much bigger and more complex picture.
“Domestic violence has many faces and the faces of those who survive are varied too.”
The Labour Party MP added: “Abuse isn’t just about those noticeable physical signs, sometimes there are no bruises.
“Abuse is very often all about control and power, it’s about making themselves feel big or biggest, but that’s not how abusers present themselves.”
Duffield described how the signs of coercive control are not apparent at the start of a relationship, but gradually start to build up and develop.
She told MPs: “It’s not how they win your heart. It’s not how they persuade you to meet them for a coffee, then go to a gig, then spend an evening snuggled up in front of a movie at their place.
“When they ask you out they don’t present their rage and they don’t tell you that they like the idea of strong, independent, successful women, but not the reality. They don’t threaten, criticise, control, yell or exert their physical strength in increasingly frightening ways. Not yet. Not at the start.”
Domestic violence has many faces and the faces of those who survive are varied too. Abuse isn't just about those noticeable physical signs, sometimes there are no bruises. Abuse is very often all about control and power
She added: “Every day is emotionally exhausting, working in a job that you love but putting on a brave face and pretending all is good, fine, wonderful in fact.
“Then the pretence and the public face start to drop completely. Being yelled at in the car with the windows down, no attempt to hide behaviour during constituency engagements. Humiliation and embarrassment now added to permanent trepidation and constant hurt.”
She added: “Impossible to comprehend that this is the person who tells his family how much he loves you and longs to make you his wife. But the mask has slipped for good and questions are starting. Excuses are given to worried friends, concerned family, colleagues who started to notice.
“So one night after more crying and being constantly verbally abused because you suggest that he help pay a bit towards your new sofa, you realise you’ve reached the end and you simply cannot endure this for another day, or week and certainly not for the rest of your life.
“Having listened intently for two whole weeks to the sound of his morning shower, timing the routine until you know it off by heart, you summon up the courage to take his front door keys from his bag.
“You’ve tried everything else on Earth and know for certain 100 percent, what awaits you that night if you don’t act today.
“Heart-banging, you hide them carefully and creep back into bed, praying he won’t discover what you have done. You know for certain what will happen if he does.
“You know an apology will not follow. You know for sure it’ll be because of what you’ve done and that it is all your fault.”
Duffield continued: “He tells you to remember that you will always be his. He kisses you lovingly as though there has never been months of verbal abuse, threats and incidents he knows you will never disclose.
“He tells you he will bring something nice home for dinner. And sure enough, the next few days and weeks are a total hell. Texts and calls, yelling that ‘you’ve locked me out like a dog. Nobody treats me that way. This is the last thing you will ever do’.
“You cry, you grieve for your destroyed dreams, you try to heal, you ignore the emails from wedding companies but it’s like withdrawal and it takes six months.
“But one day you notice that you’re smiling, that it’s OK to laugh.”
So if anyone is watching and needs a friend, please reach out if it is safe to do so
Duffield urged others to come forward if they were suffering coercive control or other forms of abuse.
She said: “You realise that you’ve survived. That the brightest and most precious thing of all is to realise that you are loved and believed by friends, family and colleagues who believe in you and support you.
“So if anyone is watching and needs a friend, please reach out if it is safe to do so and please talk to any of us because we will be there and we will hold your hand.”
Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman paid tribute to Duffield.
“I too would like to pay tribute to my honourable friend, the member for Canterbury, because what she said just now will save lives. So we are incredibly proud of her today, and she should be incredibly proud of herself.”
Yvette Cooper, another Labour MP, also praised Duffield, saying her message would reach people across the country: “It is a message not just to those across the country who may experience coercive control or abuse, but also to everybody else, and for those of us across this chamber who think she is wonderful but did not know what she was going through and want to support her and other people who experience abuse or control or violence across the country.
“It is also really important that at a time where Parliament can feel hugely divided and angry, and the country can feel divided and angry, that we have seen so many people from all sides of the House come together on something that is so important and where radical reforms are needed.”
With parliament likely to be suspended again next week, the government said a fresh version of the proposed legislation was expected to be highlighted in a queen’s speech to mark the next parliamentary session.
The new legislation will bring together a “plethora” of separate orders into a single Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO).
“It’s going to be issued by the police,” said Robert Buckland, the justice secretary. “It will, for example, require the perpetrator to leave the home of the victim for up to 48 hours, and the issue of that notice will then trigger a police application to a magistrates’ court for a longer-term DAPO to protect the victim.”