On 6 October 1977, having lost the appeal to the House of Lords, I was taken back to Acton Magistrates' Court for sentencing, and was found guilty of allowing overcrowding in the refuge. I was given a twelve-month conditional discharge: the condition being, of course, that I in future refused further mothers and children entry when we had reached our limit of thirty-six bodies. Again, I stood on the steps of Acton Court and looked out at the crowd of mothers and their children.
One was Liza, and she should have had a baby in her arms. But the baby was dead, the victim of an uncomprehending maternity hospital. The hospital had insisted that, because of our 'overcrowded' conditions, Liza should be taken to a homeless family hostel and installed in a room of her own with her three disturbed children, rather than be left in a community that knew her and loved her. But we knew that Liza would not cope on her own, and the baby died - a cot-death.
There, too, was Gwen, whose arms were also empty. She originally came to us with thirty-two charges for theft, burglary, and illegal scrap-dealing. She was a big, healthy girl, yet her baby boy was stillborn. 'What happened?' I asked her when she came home from the hospital. She shrugged. 'Don't know. Just dead.' Gwen herself had been discovered, at the age of six weeks, hanging in a wardrobe, suspended by her neck by her father's tie. Coming from a violent childhood, she knew only how to recreate violence in later relationships.
'I think you'd rather have a good fight than make love with your Arthur,' I said to her in exasperation - after yet another
fracas with him had sent her catapulting through our doors again, trailing her brood of children. 'Least you don't have to give in to the buggers,' she said, snorting with laughter. You have to know how to laugh in this business.
Again looking round the crowd, I realised just how many pointless adult deaths there had been. One was Mr Simmonds, who killed himself in his car by filling it with carbon-monoxide, at the bottom of our garden. The young policeman who came to inform Mrs Simmonds took at least five minutes to get to the point. 'Thank God for that,' said Emma with much feeling when the PC finally mustered the courage to tell her. I had to help the policeman to a chair; he had not expected the bereaved to be just as violent as the deceased.
Also absent was Mrs X, now in another country after having been rehoused from the Refuge. Her very violent husband had been discharged from the mental hospital for a weekend visit, and knowing he was suicidal the psychiatrist had insisted that only contact with his family would save his life. When he arrived he was still heavily drugged from the hospital. The next day, it was alleged, he went to the local shop and bought some paraffin, climbed into the bathtub and poured it over himself, then set himself alight. 'Go in peace,' I said to Mrs X when she came to say goodbye to me.
There on the courthouse steps I wondered if official interference
would always make it such a struggle for us to give these people
a second chance.
Within just a few hours of coming back to the Refuge, I had broken the condition of my discharge. A very tired woman arrived with her children, who had travelled from the other side of England. We took her in. Sue asked me: 'What happens if you go to jail? Shall I write to the Queen?'
'Write to anyone you like,' I said in despair. 'It won't make any difference.'
So on 10 February 1978, a letter for Sue arrived from Buckingham
I acknowledge your letter of 19th January on 23rd January and I am now writing to say that the letter has
been laid before The Queen. Her Majesty has told me to thank you for your letter of 19th January about Chiswick Women's Aid. She is most concerned about the plight of battered women and pleased that since 1972, when Mrs Erin Pizzey founded the first refuge at Chiswick, much has been done to help alleviate the problem.
It is most unfortunate that there should still be disagreement
between Chiswick Women's Aid and the London Borough of Hounslow
but this is not a situation in which Her Majesty can personally
intervene. She has been assured, however, that there is no question
of residents at 369, High Road, Chiswick, being evicted.
That letter signified the end of the struggle. Various central and local government departments were called together with the Social Services. They cooperated with Hounslow, and I was called to the offices of the Greater London Council, where my colleague Steve and I heard George Tremlett, deputy head of the Conservative Party, outline a course of action that included the allocation of a quarter of a million pounds towards the building of a refuge.
I looked at Lord Goodman and David Astor. 'Does that mean no one will ever be turned away?' I asked. They confirmed that this would be enshrined in any interdepartmental discussions that would occur in the future. Peace at last!
Steve and I went straight back to the Refuge and called a house-meeting. We asked the mothers present to vote on whether they wanted to accept the money, and the conditions that went with it - one being that a Board of Management would be established, composed of people from outside the Refuge; another being that policy decisions would be made in future by a business manager, specially appointed, instead of by the community as a whole - or whether they preferred to continue operating in our present more haphazard way.
There was no argument, really, and the mothers voted to accept the Government proposal - which we did.
Our guiding principle had always been that we would never turn
anyone away. In the early days, this practice was vital, and sometimes
we used to have over a hundred mothers
and children living in the nine rooms and in sheds in the back garden. Indeed, on one occasion Anne and I rehoused in a squat thirty-eight mothers and children during the early hours of one morning, only to have a similar number arrive at the Refuge by the evening of the same day. This overcrowding had brought upon us a continuous barrage of criticism and legal prosecutions in the past. But now the Government concessions showed that public attitudes had changed.
The social agencies had become far more aware of the needs of battered women and their children, and these women were being given the help and support they needed to get away from their violent home situations. However, the more difficult problem of women from violence-prone relationships was still being overlooked or misunderstood, as new refuges opened and these families poured through the doors. Many of the genuinely caring people in charge of these refuges were so horrified by the violent attitudes of such women, that they quickly created selection procedures to protect other innocently battered wives from the chaos created by violence-prone families. Other refuges, unable to make that distinction, disintegrated into anarchy, and were forced to close down. But some had social workers who proved able to cope with, say, four or five violence-prone families at a time, and they did, and still do, excellent work.
However, it seems a lot of the refuges chose to exist merely to justify the political beliefs of the people who ran them. They encouraged violence-prone women to continue to see themselves as victims of male oppression, and of capitalism. Occasionally I have winced to see a dreadfully violent and destructive woman, who had left us because she refused to recognise the truth about herself, later emerge on a public platform with her refuge workers to vividly describe her 'brute' of a husband - when both she and I knew she was just as violent as he was.
After the vote to accept the GLC offer - with peace finally established
between ourselves and the Borough of Hounslow, and the future
of Chiswick assured - I could now think about giving up my full-time
participation at the Refuge. 'Chiswick Family Rescue' was then
David Astor as Chairman, to take charge of the buildings and staff at Chiswick High Road. Anne Ashby became the new Director. For two years I continued to act as consultant for Chiswick Family Rescue; and under its umbrella I wrote up some of our findings. (I have withdrawn from Chiswick Family Rescue, and I continue my work and my research in our own original charity, Women's Aid).
Soon after, I was asked by the new Board of Management to design my ideal refuge. This I did with the help of Gil Chambers, who had originally produced some drawings for me while we were working on the future ideals of shared living for single-parent families. Porter-Wright, our architects, who worked with him, then produced a clients' brief which outlined the needs of violence-prone families, and they came up with the design which is reproduced in Appendix C at the back of this book. [omitted] This groundplan for a purpose-built centre was my solution for containing these highly anti-social families within the same locale without disrupting the everyday lives of their neighbours. My plan was immediately attacked in the prestigious Architect's Journal, which - like so many other bodies - did not understand that I was not designing a refuge just for battered wives, but an inward-looking sanctuary for people outcast from society. Certainly, I feel there are many refuge groups and social agencies who will find both the brief and the groundplan of interest.
Unfortunately, there were insufficient funds to construct this building, and anyway Anne Ashby the new Director of Chiswick Family Rescue, quite rightly had her own views on how to run her own project. Anne and I have worked together for so long and have survived so many battles through our unswerving support for each other, that we will always share a deep and abiding friendship even though our paths have taken different directions. I have retained my direct interest in Women's Aid Ltd, whose aim as a charity is to train and teach people how to identify and treat families that are addicted to violence.
Part of my own experience arises from work I have shared in and observed in my travels all over the world. As an
example, once in a training programme in Anchorage, Alaska I was lecturing on 'The Uses of Inappropriate Behaviour in Violent Situations' when a social worker related an incident that occurred when she was called out to deal with a domestic crisis, and was met at the door by an enraged man holding a double-barrel shotgun. As he stood there, huge and sweating with anger, she asked him 'Have you got a typewriter?' in an ordinary, everyday voice. He looked completely amazed. 'No,' he said. 'Why do you ask?' 'I want to type my resignation,' she said smiling. He burst out laughing. That was an excellent example of defusing anger, letting someone off the hook. She survived the situation because of her training.
It must always be remembered that, since violent people have had to survive all their lives in a world that they perceive as hostile towards them, they are constantly on the alert, and therefore finely tuned to every flicker of emotion in other people, and can immediately pick up fear or tension. To work effectively with these families, it is essential for workers in this field to be trained to come to terms with their own aggression and their own internal fears, so that they can handle a confrontation without danger to themselves or to the person they are trying to help. Thus I often tell students to consider a violent person before them as being an unexploded bomb. And though rigorous training is given to anyone whose job it is to defuse live bombs; we make almost no attempt to train people adequately on how to defuse an explosive human being.
Fortunately, my own turbulent and violent background gave me a sound training for survival in this very dangerous field. What other people may have learned in books, I knew by heart. No amount of book-learning will teach you how to manoeuvre yourself out of danger when confronted with a man literally frothing at the mouth with rage. What you need to know is that a gentle touch of the hand will calm him. And using words will be useless, because at a certain point of rage, when the chemicals and emotions are flowing, he cannot even hear words.
When I first began taking in women, we all assumed that the address of the Refuge should be kept secret, to protect us
against their violent menfolk. So, for the first few weeks I did not allow the newspapers to reveal our whereabouts. But as most of the women coming in to us soon told their men anyway, I decided it was safer to meet these men in a spirit of sympathy. For this way we would not be seen as the 'enemy', and therefore we would not make the community vulnerable to physical attack. This policy involved a commitment to tell a man the truth, even if sometimes we had to tell him that his wife and children were indeed in the Refuge, but refused to see him. I gradually discovered that, provided I told them the truth and did not betray their trust, I could talk constructively to even the most violent of men.
At this point I realised I must have a project for the men, too. This was brought home to me by an interview on the front doorstep with a man who had regularly beaten his wife and sexually molested all his daughters, who were subsequently taken into care. He went to jail for these offences, but on release his wife took him back; whereupon they lived in a caravan and she gave birth again. One day he was left to baby-sit his eighteen-month-old daughter, and hit her in a fit of rage when she cried. She died as a result of cracking her head against a wall, and he put her little body in a suitcase and left it at a local golf-course. Again he was imprisoned, but on his release again returned to his wife. At the time I met him, she had come to us for shelter, complaining that he was yet again sexually interfering with their two new children and also with the wife's sisters. So I knew his history by heart, and indeed he looked a dreadful villain, with one lone tooth sticking out of the middle of his bottom gum.
Speaking with him on the doorstep, we reached the bit about him killing the baby. 'I didn't mean to kill her,' he said. This I came to believe, for he went on to explain how he had carefully packed the child's favourite toys around her before disposing of the body. Looking at him then, I knew there was potential for good in him as there is in any human being. From then on I actively encouraged a policy of working with the men, too, even if there was no chance of a reconciliation with the women concerned. Later on, I did secure a 'men's house' from the Greater London Council and it was fully booked up even before it opened. However,
we soon had to shut it, because the Department of Health and Social security withdrew our grant. But just the fact that it existed proved the need for a therapeutic community to handle men who otherwise would find themselves in prison. For there you can cage their bodies, but if you ignore their inner worlds there is no possibility of changing them for the better.
As far as the security of the Refuge was concerned, I also came to realise that violent men are far more intimidated by a large group of women than if faced by a similar group of men. So while the community contained twenty-five or more women we were safe. By the time we moved into a bigger house I had sufficient experience to realise that we should let our address be made public. Violence-prone women had no trouble finding us; most of them knew every agency going. But it was the genuine battered wives - so trapped by their net-curtain respectability that they could never tell anyone they were being beaten - who needed to know where to find us.
And each time I dealt with an angry man, I learned a little more
about the techniques of violence. For instance, I recognised the
fact that the more violent a man is, the less likely he is to
leave his own territory. Therefore, provided I moved the woman
from his local area to another refuge I did not expect any problems
from him, except perhaps the odd broken window. It was Junior
who presented one of the very few serious physical threats in
all my ten years' experience.
Junior confronted me on the doorstep. He was African and I was a woman. We did not have any male house-staff at this point, just one man who worked in the playgroup - and I would not risk him, as he was untrained for this sort of confrontation. Junior was very angry: he was shaking with rage, and had worked himself up to such a pitch that there was white froth at the corners of his mouth. He demanded to see his wife. 'She is here but she doesn't want to see you,' I replied. I should have touched him then, to let his rage ebb away. Contained in his body, it had no way of leaving him except through some violent and explosive act. As he walked away down the steps and began pacing up and down, he
seemed in the grip of something he could not control. So I warned the rest of the house - including a German film crew in the basement, who were making a documentary. Junior's wife went up to the attic of the house with her two children and barricaded herself in. I observed which of the other children found the situation exciting and were trying to get near the front door, and which were frightened and crying and looking for their mothers. I registered which of the staff were paralysed with fear, rushing ineffectively around, and which were able to function coolly, following my instructions to gather all the children into the basement.
There was a sudden crash and the sound of breaking glass, as Junior came through the basement window and tore up the stairs onto the first landing. Anne Ashby stood barring the stairs with a small posse of women. I took up my position in front of the door to the basement, to stop him getting back down to the children and frightening them. I had a plastic orange-squash bottle in my hand. I heard sounds of fighting from the upstairs landing, then the sound of running feet. Suddenly Junior turned the corner and charged towards me. I faced him very calmly and he screeched to a halt. We looked at each other - and both acknowledged that there would be no contest between us. He turned away.
Unfortunately, the police had been called, and as Junior left by the front door, he ran straight into them. There was a dreadful fight - it took six policemen to get him into the van. Finally they managed to close the door of the Black Maria on him, and drove off. I have discussed this problem of involving themselves with domestic violence with the police, both here and in other countries. They suffer from the usual misunderstanding of two different family dynamics. On the one hand they will find themselves called out by a woman who has genuinely decided that she can no longer tolerate her husband's violence. It takes a great deal of courage for such a woman to summon the police, because she is usually deeply ashamed of the circumstances she is in, but here the police are more than willing to help. On the other hand, however, their more usual experience is to be called out to one of those notoriously violent families in their area, and be asked to intervene in a fight that could result in the policeman getting
badly hurt, and the warring couple falling back into each other's arms.
Little Mo described to me a characteristic situation when she came into the Refuge with her two-year-old son, a broken nose, and many bruises. She had been having a fight with her lunatically violent boyfriend, the terror of his patch and of the local police station, but it was getting out of hand, so she screamed for her neighbour to call the police. 'I really thought I was a goner that time,' she said with some relish. On hearing the address, the police turned up in full force and set about Mo's boyfriend, who did his best to kill them all. Then Mo pitched into the police to stop them harming her loved one. In the ensuing melee Mo received a broken nose. So she had taken refuge with us to nurse her bruises, to set about suing the police, and to mend a broken heart because the boyfriend had now ditched her for another woman.
The police in any country in the world are more likely to get hurt (or where carrying guns is legal, even killed) when intervening in family quarrels than in any of their other policing duties. It is tantamount to suicide for a man to enter a violent man's territory when he is in a fit of rage. It would be far wiser to send two female social workers in first - one to pacify the man, the other to see to the woman and children. Then the woman should be asked if she wishes to be taken to a refuge. Then it becomes her own responsibility, with advice from the legal services at the shelters, to decide what action she should take.
Anyway, after this drama with Junior, it was time to see how it had affected the Refuge. I could instantly see the community was divided into two camps: those staff and mothers who were shaking and upset, and their children crying; and those who seemed excited and 'high' The latter talked animatedly about the event, gesticulating and capping each other's stories; meanwhile their children were bombing around the house, fighting and wrecking the place. But not all crying mothers had crying children; some were clearly excited. And the same was true of the 'high' mothers - some of their children were crying and shaking. As I went home that night I knew there would be trouble, not necessarily in the Refuge - there was a house rule against fighting - but
more likely because those mothers so 'high' they couldn't contain themselves would be looking for a fight somewhere else, to release their aggression in order to calm down.
Sure enough, at the next morning's house-meeting, I had to deal with a group of women who had gone to the local Palais and started brawling with some of the men there. They had very virtuously kept the fighting outside the Refuge, and were now loudly insisting that it was all the men's fault, anyway. But when the whole community examined the dynamics of the event, these women were forced to admit that they had gone out deliberately to pick a fight, and that the men involved were merely unknowing victims of an event that had occurred earlier in the day. When I pointed out that this was just the sort of behaviour they complained of in their own men, some of them at least had the grace to look embarrassed.
In the early days after we moved from Belmont Terrace ( a packed community in just four rooms) to Chiswick High Road, I already had ideas of how a community containing so many emotionally disabled and disruptive people could best be managed. I realised that a large majority of these mothers had come from institutional backgrounds, as well as violent families, and because of this their internal life was chaotic. After all, I myself had spent many years in a boarding school, and vacations in a holiday home. Improperly parented, and brought up largely in servants' quarters in the Far East, I remembered my own early struggles even to begin to understand the highly complex rules of socially acceptable behaviour. Institutions may create external order, but without that emotional and chemical bonding between parents and children which is necessary to create a learning situation as soon as the external rules are removed, the emotionally disabled person is bereft. It is like removing crutches from crippled patients before training them to walk. Their own internal world has no social structures for such emotionally disabled people to fall hack on; no internal clock to help get them up in the morning; no internal message to go to the lavatory regularly; to eat at spaced intervals; to sleep regularly, not only when they are exhausted. For them all is confusion - and finally they will find their way back to
institutions for safe-keeping. This structureless behaviour is also very evident in people from the background of violent families, which are by nature chaotic.
Most institutions have been designed by the emotionally able for the emotionally disabled on the 'But surely principle. 'But surely if you train people to get up, after a while they will get up automatically?' No they won't if all you do is train them to become addicted to the sound of a bell, like Pavlov's dogs. Unless they develop an internal response to the need to get up in the morning, they will sleep on. If you need the sound of a bell to elicit the response of hunger three times a day, once that sound is absent, you will have no internal messages telling you that you are hungry and need food in regular amounts. The result of this is usually stomach disorders.
All this I knew and observed among a middle-class elite that inhabited the rigid world of public schools. Where there was no confirming love and reassuring family life, there was also no internalised structure that enabled a child to cope once on his or her own. Thus, among twenty-year-olds living in the smartest areas of London, endowed by their parents with the best education and social advantages the country had to offer, there still grew up men and women just as dirty, just as violent, just as deviant, and just as promiscuous as any of those in our Refuge. The difference was that they were protected by money, and if things got too rough, they would be sent abroad - Rhodesia and South Africa being very popular lands of exile in my time.
It was with a great deal of enthusiasm that I approached the problem of how to create a thriving community which would enable people to grow and change out of the negative conditioning of their emotionally deprived backgrounds.
Many of the women arriving first seemed to expect me to be running an institution which would perform certain functions they could perfectly well perform for themselves. I realised I would have to make it clear to everyone that Anne and I were not social workers, and did not intend to act as nannies to them. Rather we saw ourselves as 'enablers' - and that our role was to enable them to cope with themselves.*
This was no problem with the 'battered wives' leaving
violent relationships never to return. For these relationships arose from the accidental choice of one violent man; the women concerned did not have a whole lifetime of emotional damage behind them. They still had plenty of their own resources; and could cooperate with us and utilise the help we were able to give them. But violence-prone women only had a lifetime of survival techniques to fall back on, which meant that they had survived mostly at the expense of other people. The first lesson they learned from me was that I was not prepared to be manipulated in the same way.
It was extremely difficult for such women and their families to
live in a community where the people they wanted to see as 'staff'
refused to be drawn into playing a role that would enable them
to be manipulated or organised against. In thinking about the
day-to-day running of the Refuge, firstly I decided that there
should never be an 'office'. For me, an office meant a place for
the staff to hide, and territory for the families to invest with
a sense of alienation, which would then allow them to behave one
way in the office (with the staff) and another way in the community
(their equals). This is precisely how most of them had operated
in their social agency offices, with their social workers or probation
officers on their best behaviour there but always reverting to
their real behaviour once outside the office door. In fact we
did have a little side room called 'the office', but this contained
only old clothes and junk. I had as much of a problem de-officing
this room for staff who wanted office status, as for the mothers
seeking 'social worker' type of control over their lives so that
they could relinquish responsibility for their own lives. At times,
after being away on lecturing tours, I would return to the Refuge
and have to physically remove tables and chairs from this room.
On one occasion I turned it into a
*1 used to joke with the mothers that while the rich had nannies, the poor had social workers trained to act as nannies and that was not our way. (This curious situation arises because when the upper middle-class designed the social services, they modelled social workers after their own nannies). What we could do for ourselves we would teach them to do for themselves. Above all, we were there because we wanted to he there. Ours was not a nine-to-five job; it was a deep commitment, and we expected a reciprocal commitment from the women and children in our care.
bedroom, so there would be no chance of staff making a territory out of it for themselves, or the more hesitant mothers becoming afraid to approach a door that seemed to be a symbol of authority.
The only telephones were in the sitting-room, and no staff were allowed to answer them. All information that came into the community belonged to the people who lived there, and it was their job to see that messages and phone-calls were relayed to those concerned. All post for the Refuge, addressed either to myself or to the house, except for mothers' private letters, was opened publicly in the sitting-room each morning, and was read out before the morning house-meeting. This included all bills, bank statements, donations, and anything else that came m. During those early years the post was of intense interest, as much of it involved major incidents in our fight for the 'open door' principle. And letters came in from all over the world asking for information - from groups as far away as Japan who wished to open refuges. The benefit of the house-meeting was that they constituted a safe coming-together of a group of people who, for better or for worse, were learning to cooperate with each other in order to survive the cramped and potentially hazardous conditions of a very overcrowded house. For in this situation antisocial and unruly families found themselves living with other families who behaved in exactly the same way. Normally, an antisocial family living in a street of quiet, peace-loving people will ride roughshod over their neighbours and terrorise them into accepting their behaviour for fear of reprisals. In our Refuge this type of intimidation did not work. There were no divisions between the Refuge workers and the families who lived there. The violent women were therefore unable to police the path to an office, and so all information about events in the Refuge would come to my ears immediately. Anyone attempting to bully or coerce other members of the community found themselves publicly answerable in a house-meeting, and often the bullies began to realise there were ways of achieving their goals other than terrorising someone else.
In these house-meetings a lot of the time was spent explaining simple concepts of love and caring in relationships
to people who had no language other than the language of violence. I found poetry the best medium for teaching, because of its immediacy. I would read some poetry and then encourage mothers to write down their own feelings. Some-times the mothers would write with such passion and clarity that we would all sit spellbound as they read out their own words. On other days we would spend the afternoon singing, and all the pain and hurt would then leak out, since people could express themselves with song in a way that they could never risk with words.
I will always remember the afternoon when an American girl dropped by with a guitar. Whether it was the sweetness of her playing or a particular chord, I shall never know, but the music had an amazing affect on Jewel. Jewel was African, and only about four feet high. She had come to us two years before this event, having walked out on her husband and five children. On checking her background I learned that she was the despair of the local mental hospital and social services. She had a hard-working husband, and all her children did the best they could with a mother who seemed unable to share any part of anyone else's reality. Most of the time she behaved like a naughty, spoiled child, but it was interesting to see how the rest of the community protected her and loved her. Her contribution to the house-meetings was a series of interruptions that were so bizarre we would always go into fits of laughter. On one occasion I was delivering a dire warning about the perils of bringing stolen goods into the Refuge. I was particularly admonishing several mothers who had been born and bred to shop-lift, and who were now training their own children in the fine art of stealing. I told them firmly I was not prepared to accept the well-worn excuse that they were only stealing for survival, since most of their haul consisted of nail-varnish and dresses for the local dance-hall. Furthermore, I was going to shop them myself to the police station. '333,' I intoned pompously - this being the number of the local-beat policeman, 'will be called in.' Jewel could contain herself no longer. 'What about 222?' she enquired ingenuously, and everyone erupted with laughter. She had done it again.
It was always a dreadful struggle to get Jewel to pay her
rent on a Monday morning. We were not an institution, and it was vital that when the mothers cashed their welfare cheques they should pay their rent to us on a Monday morning. For many of our mothers it was a culture shock to be expected to actually part with money for anything as pointless as rent. Most of these families were up to their necks in hire-purchase debts and rent arrears. They had always relied on repeated evictions eventually as a means of clearing rent arrears and avoiding pursuit by catalogue companies. But in the Refuge there were no evictions for arrears, only the house-meeting, where those who chose not to pay their rent had to face those who did. The consequences for nonpayment were decided by the community and not by the staff, and this group pressure meant virtually no non-payment, except in the case of Jewel, who would not recognise group pressure if she saw it.
After several house discussions it was decided that if she refused to pay her rent, she should be carried to the front door and left outside every Monday morning, before the house-meeting began. I was chosen to carry her, as I was by far the largest member of the community, and there was no other way of removing her. On the first occasion, I scooped her up and carried her out to the front doorstep and left her there. We all felt confident that because Jewel so loved house-meetings, particularly the Monday morning ones when the whole of the weekend was under discussion, she would not take long to reconsider. It did not work. She just bounced back into the sitting-room unrepentant However, for all her lovable side, there was an untouchable part of Jewel I could never reach.
On this particular day we were singing old cockney songs. Many of the community at that time came from the East End of London, and it was a pleasure to hear the original words of many songs that are passing from our musical heritage. As I listened to the words, I became aware that these songs were the oral history of the emotionally disabled, who passed them down from generation to generation. For instance, 'My old man said follow the van and don't dilly dally on the way' is a Victorian song about a family doing a moonlight flit before the bailiffs arrived.
After a while, the American girl started playing 'We Shall Overcome', and as that was particularly appropriate to our current struggle to survive we all joined in. Jewel was listening intently, and suddenly from this tiny, wrinkled, little black figure came this huge melodious voice. It filled the room and we all fell silent. The words were those of an African lament, and Jewel sang with her eyes closed and tears running down her cheeks. Her voice rose and fell with a rhythm that seemed to be an eternal prayer for black Africans in exile from their homeland. She was truly in exile, for now there was no one to go back to; her tribe had been disbanded. There was no going home.
When she stopped, we all began singing softly again. From that day on she decided not to live any more: she took to her bed and refused to eat. Everyone tried everything. Eventually, because we could not nurse her efficiently, we took her back to the mental hospital where they knew her and also loved her as we did. We all missed her dreadfully, though from time to time we would hear news of her. (She is still in a mental hospital). One of the advantages of the world I work in is that, just as there is a Who's Who of the emotionally enabled, listing their clubs, like the Athenaeum and Boodle's, there are also clubs for the emotionally disabled: homeless family hostels, mental hospitals, borstals, hospitals for the criminally insane, like Broadmoor and Rampton. This is why in my own entry in Who's Who I list my club as Women's Aid.
Often the community would contain several women who always reacted to events by exploding with rage. Many of the women would also regularly batter their children. As I explained earlier, in the Refuge there was no territorial space for anyone to organise their rage. I grew up in places like Hong Kong and India, where I saw families living ten to a room. I knew many of the children of these families, and was aware of the high level of sensitivity that these families displayed towards each other so that they could survive in those living conditions. There was similarly no privacy in the Refuge in which to beat children, and this acted as a controlling factor for violent mothers. If you have been brought up by the rule of the boot and the fist, then all conflict
between yourself and anyone else, including your children, is resolved by the impact of pain.
If a violent person hits a non-violent person, the latter will react by feeling pain, and will very quickly give in and obey. In our problem families, however, where the constant level of pain is very high, the mother would have to really lay into her children to get them even to pay attention. Usually, it was possible, with a lot of group pressure, to get a mother to give up beating her children, but then we were left with the problem of children who used their mother's violent behaviour as a means of achieving satisfaction.
I had often heard stories and read accounts of battered children clinging to the parent who battered them. Various analytical discussions grew out of these reports, but I could see that - as with many of the women and their violent men - these children were often not particularly fond of their mothers. Indeed, they often expressed a great deal of hostility and dislike. But they were addicted to their mother's violence, and would return time and time again to receive a blow or a kick which would then produce a feeling of calm and satisfaction. Once we had established a relationship with a mother where she herself no longer looked for violence, it was then the job of the staff to effect a change in the relationship between the mother and her children.
The dormitory conditions provided a living experience of co-operation between families. I would oversee the mix of families to make sure that the 'heavy mob' did not organise themselves into one room and then dominate and terrorise the other members of the community. By ensuring a mix of those who were good physical copers with those who could not physically manage themselves and their children, we achieved a good atmosphere of people helping themselves and each other. The absence of rules imposed from outside meant that everyone had to pull their weight to keep the house in some sort of working order. For the community voted its own rules.
I had only two rules. The first was: no violence in the house. But if this rule was broken, I had no sanction, because the only sanction lay in the hands of the women. They were the only ones who were able to vote for a mother to be asked
to leave. If they did vote this, it had to be unanimous, and it was also their responsibility to find a place for her to go. In my time voting out very rarely happened, but certainly it did occur. The house could also vote out a member of staff. I remember once wanting to get rid of a member of the play-group, but the house disagreed, so the staff member stayed.
My second rule was: no men in the house, other than male staff and professional visitors. This rule was introduced by the mothers themselves in 1973. Before then we had struggled with the idea of allowing men friends in to visit, because so many women were there for a year or more. But jealousies would break out, and women would go home and tell their husbands we were a 'knocking shop', which was totally untrue. Apart from anything else, there was no room to tie a shoelace, let alone make love. By this time I was well aware that some of the women were attempting to use the Refuge as an extra weapon in the war against their partners. And enticing a man inside in order to further excite the community was also intolerable.
On one 5 November, Guy Fawkes night, we organised a spectacular event for the children in the back garden. At the house-meeting it was voted that boyfriends could attend so that they too could 'share the joy of the children at the sight of exploding rockets and help them wave the sparklers in their little hands'. (They really thought I'd swallow that story.) All day the mothers worked in the kitchen to prepare food, and we all contributed to wine, beer and juice. The party went off without a hitch - but also without any sign of the boyfriends. As I was leaving at about 9 o'clock, I found the sitting-room full of men, all obviously waiting for the real party to begin.
Now I am well aware that most social institutions are designed to suppress any deviant behaviour. That is why they are singularly unable to change the behaviour and responses of the people who fill their beds. It would have been perfectly easy to have asked the men to leave; to tell them what they already knew, which is that they had missed the firework party. But I realised that this particular group of mothers had deliberately organised with their boyfriends a party that would take place after the children were in bed.
So I left thinking to myself that the next day's house-meeting would be hectic. It was.
Patsy, who usually manipulated from the wings and looked as though butter would not melt in her mouth, had gone for Gloria, who was the house bully, and had removed handfuls of Gloria's hair. The party itself never got off the ground, because the men, on witnessing these two women fighting, all fled. I was asked to climb to the top of the house and see the damage for myself. Sure enough, Gloria lay in bed feeling very sorry for herself, bald as a coot at the front of her head, and with handfuls of hair lying in a saucer beside her bed for my inspection. The ensuing house-meeting was one of the most constructive ever. It was a result of this incident that the house voted to keep all men out, except for male staff and business visitors. Alcohol was also voted out, though occasionally it was voted back. They usually voted it out again soon because we had too many heavy drinkers among the violence-prone families. And there was no point in 'breaking rules' for the thrill of it. If the community was self-determining, even the most determinedly deviant woman had to co-operate with the group or attract the group's displeasure.
We also had to tackle the problem of women who acted out their violence and released their feelings through rage; and those who released their feelings through attracting pain. An example of this behaviour occurred in the relationship between Jenny Moland and Patti. Jenny M was a vital, intelligent, energetic woman. She had a voice like a fog-horn, and a terrific sense of humour. The problem was that she totally refused to accept that she was violent. House-meeting after house-meeting there would be complaints that she had terrorised some poor soul with threats. 'If you don't fucking get your dinner eaten, I'll plaster you to the ceiling,' was her way of saying 'There's a love, eat your dinner quickly,' when she was on kitchen duty. It was impossible to get through to her about this. She had no idea of her aggressive behaviour - in her reality she did not actually hit anyone, therefore she was not violent. The fact that she was totally intimidating meant nothing to her. In her own background everyone behaved that way, and only those who actually lashed out were considered violent.
However, she met her match in Patti. Patti was a whinger. Women
who keep themselves high on their own adrenalin are a bloody nuisance
in that they tend to jack themselves up with deviant acts like
shop-lifting and a lot of noisy behaviour. Yet I find them far
easier to work with, because they externalise all their problems.
It is the Pattis of this world, who turn all their rage and violence
inwards, who prove far more difficult to treat. Patti never raised
her voice but, where there was a violent scene, there you would
find Patti. In house-meetings she would be seen virtuously wagging
her finger at others and telling everyone about her good mothering,
her immaculate children, and how life had ill-treated her when
all she did was be a good and faithful wife.
Patti was the sort of woman everyone wanted to hit occasionally. If you did not have to live with Patti, I suppose you could be fooled by her, but for those of us who had to endure her, and other women like her, day by day, she was a terrible trial. If the whole community was going to have a football match, Patti would not join in. If we all decided to have a party, Patti would stay upstairs. If we were singing, she would sit there looking mournful. If the play-staff were organising an expedition for the children, she would refuse to let hers go. She talked about herself incessantly. In a house-meeting, it would take only a few minutes before Patti drew the discussion round to herself. If she was reprimanded, she would shake. If shaking did not get her anywhere, she'd cry. If crying did not get her anywhere, she would leave the room, only to burst in again demanding attention. But she met her match in Jenny.
People tended to avoid Jenny Moland when she had had a few drinks. She was usually quite amicable, hut experience with violent families teaches you to treat with caution, anyone who has a hair-trigger temper and a few drinks inside them, unless you are looking for trouble. Patti was looking for trouble. So she stood in front of Jenny Moland, wagging her finger at her, and holding forth on her own virtuous avoidance of alcohol. Jenny, maddened beyond endurance by the monologue and the finger-wagging, leaned forward
and bit off the top of it. Patti was taken off to hospital and duly bandaged, and I was confronted with a severely shaken and overhung Jenny in the Refuge the next morning. She expected me to be angry, but I only wanted her to acknowledge that even she would have to agree that biting off the top of someone's finger was the act of a violent person.
I explained that they were both equally violent people, it was just that they expressed their violence differently. Jenny was sufficiently shaken by her own behaviour to be able to begin to admit that she was violent. That event changed her whole perspective of herself. 'What happened to the top of the finger?' I enquired. 'Don't know,' said Jenny, green with her hangover. 'You probably swallowed it,' I said. Jenny heaved and bolted past me for the lavatory. After this she used her energy positively. She became an active member of the building team that repaired the various properties. She also was known affectionately as 'Jaws' by everyone. Eventually, she moved out into her own flat and is happily remarried. On the other hand, we never got through to Patti. She left us vowing her innocence. Her kind of violent behaviour is very commonly practiced by both men and women.
People who are addicted to their own adrenalin from early childhood choose outgoing methods of externalising their damage. As soon as they are irritated by some event they go into a rage and then seek a climax in explosion. But there are other people addicted to their cortisone - the chemical in the body which should balance the adrenalin. When the cortisone level shoots up in response to an event, then the cortisone personality will implode. In other words they internalise their damage. Watching women in a house-meeting you can clearly see those that yell and scream if they are very angry, and then sit back satisfied, having got it off their chests. There are those, too, who cry and shake with silent fury. But they do not get any relief, and they will be the ones to suffer migraines, asthma, hay-fever, eczema, so-called epileptic fits, and any of the other stress diseases. The adrenalin users will pay a different price for their aggressive rage, because they tend to suffer from hypertension and heart diseases. Children exhibit the same symptoms, too, depending on their way of expressing rage.
All these people trooping through my door came with bottles full of pills to treat the symptoms of violence. In my experience of dealing with these families, I must have seen several hundreds of women and children diagnosed as epileptic. I would always have them taken to hospital for an EEG. They were not epileptic; the pills to control their fits were unnecessary. They threw fits because of an inability to express emotions. Once they were able to ventilate their rage the fits disappeared. Certainly I accept there are medical conditions that require medical treatment for all the above diseases, but stress diseases are too often dismissed by the medical profession as purely physical, when in fact they are symptoms of internal emotional and chemical upheaval. Pills are merely bandages over gaping wounds. Fifty years ago, Freud said that all emotions will be found in the chemicals of the brain. Now in the 1980s, with the discovery of the enkephalins, which are the body's own pain inhibitors, and of the opioid-peptides, which are the body's own opium, it looks as though he was right.
Probably, in the future, it will be found that a child is affected by the mother's emotions and chemical reaction to those emotions from the moment of conception. For myself  I began to formulate a theory that maternal bonding, which is a necessary biological link between a mother and baby to ensure its survival, is also a chemical bonding. However, where the child's natural development has been disturbed by the parents' own violent and incestuous needs, the bonding turns to addiction.
I came to this rather odd conclusion because I had watched so many thousands of men and women totally unable to leave what was in fact a truly dreadful and painful relationship. On one level I could understand it in emotional terms: I could understand the intensity of a violent relationship, the passion and the excitement. But I also knew the degradation, the physical abuse, the self-loathing that the people in those violent relationships expressed about themselves. I also spent many years visiting refuges in Europe, in New Zealand, and
all over America. It is the same everywhere. I remember speaking to an audience in the American Mid-West. I had just finished talking about the 'high' of a violent relationship, when I noticed a woman six rows in front of me. Her eyes were full of tears. 'You know what I am talking about,' I said to her. She nodded. 'I'm married,' she said, 'for a second time, to a man who loves me, who is so kind to me.' 'But you miss the high,' I said. She nodded. It wasn't the man she missed, it was the addiction. I thought about that for a long time.
Women came in, pregnant with babies that did not move, afraid that the babies were dead. They weren't dead; but the babies seemed aware of the danger to themselves, so they stayed still. In violence-prone families these babies are born to women who have no mothering skills at all. They are very rarely breast-fed, and if they are handled at all, they are treated roughly. If a baby cries in an emotionally able family, the cry will usually arouse in the breast of the parent pity and compassion and an urge to comfort and protect. In an emotionally disabled family, the cry of a baby arouses rage and resentment and the urge to destroy. This is why you get such horrific injuries inflicted on young children. The cry of a loved baby in distress is also quite different from the cry of an already neglected baby in a violent family. It is interesting to see even ordinary non-violent people react in a hostile fashion to the disturbed cry of a baby who expects pain from contact with adults.
I began explaining to such women that their need for violence was no different from a drug addict's for his needle, or an alcoholic's need for his bottle. Hopefully, a happy, loved baby would eventually grow up to express emotional and sexual pleasure in making love with another human being. However, where a baby knew only pain and betrayal, that child would grow up to find its sexual and emotional goal in various deviant and painful outlets. I used to draw a little diagram like the one below
Then I would ask a man or woman, or a teenager, where applicable, to tell me where they found themselves on that chart. Women usually identified themselves in pain, and their men in rage. We would discuss how deadly that combination was because the escalation could lead to death.
Arousal/stimulation -> tension -> chosen mechanisms to release tension
deviancy/shoplifting/taking & driving -> climax -> satisfaction
gambling/winning & losing -> climax -> satisfaction
drug addiction/'the rush' -> climax -> satisfaction
pleasure/sexual intercourse -> climax -> satisfaction
alcohol/intoxication -> climax -> satisfaction
rage/explosion -> climax -> satisfaction
pain/perversion -> climax -> satisfaction
danger/risk -> climax -> satisfaction
Teenage girls would tend to choose shop-lifting because of the excitement. In fact they would describe the thrill as a climax. The boys would usually choose danger, for instance taking and driving away cars, when they would often ejaculate while driving away.
Of course, if you translate this chart into middle-class terms, there is a higher probability that the same type of people would find more socially acceptable and rewarding methods of achieving the same goals. Shop-lifting can be transposed to the climactic thrill of asset-stripping, which effectively destroys and steals away other people's jobs and livelihoods. A violent policeman or member of the armed forces can legitimise his violence in a way that a wife-beater cannot. Taking and driving away cars is a crime, while killing yourself and others on a racing-track is acceptable. Asking for pain is seen as masochism, while boxing is a popular sport. And how many women can confirm the overt hatred and violence they have endured at the hands of doctors and surgeons, particularly some gynaecologists. In talking to middle-class people I merely adjust the terms of reference.
If you accept, as we do, that you are both emotionally and chemically bonded to your parenting, then it becomes so much easier to understand your own addiction. In a healthy family, that bonding plays its part while a child grows and learns. Then, when the child is ready to turn outwards, the bonds are slowly loosened, while the parents readjust their lives to use their time for themselves and enjoy their future with each other. The child meanwhile seeks to recreate the good, warm, loving relationships and home environment that it experienced in its own home. Usually, this child will succeed. An emotionally and chemically synthesised maturing adult will seek the same relationship with its partner.
On the whole, the emotionally able will avoid the discomfort and turmoil of the emotionally disabled. If by chance they do attempt to form a relationship with an emotionally disabled person, they will then find themselves in the position of a battered woman or battered man. Confused and bewildered, they continually misunderstand the messages
they get from their partners. It is very rare that they can actually do very much to change their partner. If their partner will not seek help, their best bet is to get out before children are born and they become the unwitting parents of another generation of damage.
Children born into violent homes will usually express the violence and betrayal of their childhood according to how it personally affects them, their position in the family, and their genetic inheritance. Instead of flowing with the warmth and the love of a happy family, they have had to survive against the violent and often incestuous onslaughts of their parents. Violent and incestuous families do not let each other go. The parents take little pleasure in each other's company, and use one or all of the children in the highly complex emotional theatre and battleground of the family. Betrayal is the key word in these families. Betrayed parents in turn betray their children. They rob them of their childhoods. They exploit them physically. They exploit them emotionally. They keep them on edge in a jealous rage for attention. Then when the children do finally break away, the rest of their lives are spent in reaction against their parents.
Should a girl from a non-violent home marry a boy from such a family, the chances are that no amount of reassurance will ever convince him that she will be faithful to him. That primary betrayal of a faithless or promiscuous mother will make him morbidly jealous for life. His only hope is that he can find someone who can help him not only to come to terms emotionally with the damage, but also to be able to identify the moment when an event can trigger a chemical reaction in him that sets off the emotion of jealousy, and then to relate it to the past, not the present. Sometimes it can be a smell, a perfume, an inflection in a voice, which can stimulate the feelings of betrayal, and bring the rage flooding back into the present. He then behaves in such a way that it is out of proportion with the current event.
Unfortunately, so far, very little work has been done in this field in Britain, where there is noticeable resistance to any attempt to understand why human beings behave as they do In other countries where I lecture, I find a great deal of interest and research going on.
Where the children leave violent families in an attempt to create a happy and loving relationship that they were unable to find in their own circle, they are largely doomed to disaster. Because they have not been able to emotionally and chemically synthesise their personalities, they tend to look for a partner who will fulfil their bad and damaged needs. This drawing done by Eunice when she went back to Gerald (Chapter Four) perfectly describes what happens. They have a symbiotic relationship where they perfectly meet each other's worst needs. The adrenalin personality finds the cortisone. The exploder meets the imploder. The sadist finds the masochist.
Only the ignorant ignore the fact that there are many men who ask for pain and instead insist it is totally a woman's condition. It is time to say that more boys are physically battered than girls, and then tend to become batterers in their adult life, whereas girls tend to be emotionally violated, internalising pain and suffering. On the surface, it often looks as though the dominant partner holds the power. Actually, in my experience this is very rarely true. Usually the adrenalin personality has the drive, the creativity and the energy which seems to be a by-product of violence and chaos. Indeed if you study the lives of world-famous leaders and artists and musicians, a high proportion of them were violent people.
The cortisone personality, on the other hand, is usually structured and seeks to impose that structure on its partner and to feed off their adrenalin. You will often see a couple where only one of them is gifted and creative. Certainly it is true of famous couples in history that people will say 'Why on earth is he/she with that awful woman/man?' The answer is that the chaotic adrenalin personality is looking for structure because they were given none in childhood. The cortisone personality is trying to feed off the adrenalin of their partner, because they adopted structure as a method of survival in childhood. Either way it leads to various levels of disaster.
I attempted to get a dialogue going concerning violence-prone families through the pages of New Society, but had almost no positive response. The description of adrenalin personalities was rewritten by a biochemist who
fortunately knew and approved of our work.  We were roundly attacked by various women's groups who insisted that all women were victims, and we were also plagued by male journalists who again argued that they had always known that women both liked being beaten and deserved it. The problem is that when you publicly discuss a social problem, the people you tend to hear from are those who suffer from it. For example the violent women will furiously deny their violence under the guise of victim, and the violent men will defend their need to beat and torture women under the banner of 'They like it'. Either way, those people to whom the world of the emotionally disabled is completely foreign go along their own path occasionally muttering 'But surely not' when they read about a mother battering her child, or they put a donation in the post to the NSPCC or - less likely - to us. What we say is uncomfortable for people to hear.
The time has now come, however, for everyone to take notice. For the last thirty years there have been no wars to clear off our violent men. There have been no shipments of children from children's homes to Canada or Australia since 1949. The social order is rapidly breaking down. Our jails are full to bursting. Our mental hospitals can no longer cope. The cost of taking children into care is prohibitive, and it is officially accepted that institutional care for children has bred several generations of sociopaths. The violence that has for so long been contained behind the family front doors has now finally erupted onto the streets.
The western world is now paying the price for the dream of our Industrial Revolution that would free man from the enslavement of the soil. A hundred years have been spent in fulfilling that dream. All man's ingenuity and gifts have been poured into machines and into the fields of the sciences. We have all benefited immeasureably from improvements in housing, hygiene, medicine, and standards of health. But in the race for advanced technology we have lost sight of our essentially spiritual natures. Hopefully as we create a new macro-chip technology that will free us from the enslavement of machines, we will be able to devote the next decade to exploring and understanding our own inner world. All
human beings need to love and be loved. Every child has the right to its childhood, and we are all responsible, both within our own family life and as regards other less fortunate families, to see that those rights of children are protected.