Picturing domestic abuse

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Source: Hollywood Life

But we know she’s not alone.The statistics are horrendous.

Worldwide, almost one-third (30%) of all women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner, in some regions this is much higher. Furthermore, globally as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners (WHO).  Chad, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have the highest rates of domestic abuse in the world.

But this is not just a third world problem where often cultural norms, poverty, poor education and weak legislation all work against women. This is a Western world problem too.

Every minute police in the UK receive a domestic assistance call.  1 woman is killed every 3 days in England and Wales by  a current or former partner (Office of National Statistics, 2015). 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes (Crime Survey of England and Wales).  This affect us all then; not just common, uneducated, or Asian women.

One of the ways to overcome this huge issue (say charities like Refuge) is for victims to keep speaking out. For decades (if not centuries) the shame and silence of being abused has ensured all the power remains in the hands of the perpetrators.  Slowly women have found their voice and this is beginning to make much more of an impact culturally.


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BBC Radio 4’s serial drama, The Archers recently featured a harrowing domestic abuse storyline featuring characters Helen and Rob. This wasn’t in your face violence though, it was all much more subtle. The show generated much Media comment and programme discussions on coercive control and emotional abuse .


The woman who walked in doors by Roddy Doyle. The heart-rending story of a woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after a violent, abusive marriage and a worsening drink problem. Paula Spencer recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her powerless. Capturing both her vulnerability and her strength, Doyle gives Paula a voice that is real and unforgettable.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage.

Why does he do that? by Lundy Bancroft. Inside the minds of angry and controlling men, a non-fiction choice that offers a different perspective.


The Burning Bed (1984) Farrah Fawcett stars in this harrowing drama. An abused battered wife has had enough of husband beating up on her. Everywhere she turns for help, there’s not much anyone will do. After he rapes her one night, she sets the bed on fire with him in it asleep.

Murdered by my boyfriend (2015) BBC 3 drama telling the true story of what happens to a teenage girl when she falls in love with the wrong man.

Traditional literary forms then like to serve up domestic abuse in it’s most ugly, bleak and distressing form.  But more recent artistic work is turning this around and instead offering a more feminine and softer cultural interpretation; perhaps this beautiful work will come to have more impact.


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Chantal Barlow’s grandmother was shot dead by her grandfather in a drunken rampage in 1975. Now, the artist is using her camera to take photographs of 36 domestic violence survivors for her a series allowing women to share their stories of domestic violence as she photographs them. Unconventional Apology, Chantelle Barlow

Whilst Australian students at Victoria University painstakingly created a pop-up exhibition, If These Walls Could Talk;

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Models merge into the background of large wallpaper panels – to highlight the faceless victims of domestic violence. Creative director Sam Pattison said the exhibition aimed to show the lack of voice, fear and shame that women trapped in a cycle of domestic violence feel – while showcasing extraordinary body painting skills.“It is really difficult to paint a moving, breathing body to exactly match the intricate wallpaper detail and it certainly showcased the body painting skills the students have developed during the course,” she said.

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Whilst Brazilian Flavia Carvalho, a tattoo artist seeks to transform scars on women’s bodies into beautiful, empowering and transformative tattoos for her project “A Pele da Flor” (The Skin of the Flower). For two years, Carvalho helped women cover scars left from knives and bullets, and from mastectomies as well. She‘s transforming these unpleasant mementos into a tool of emporwerement and beauty. “It began very spontaneously. As I said, my services are a hundred percent voluntary, and the only “cost” women need to invest is to choose a design for their tattoos!”


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But sometimes the simplest statement can have the most impact. This striking public art display on domestic violence (2009) was shown in Valparaiso, Chile, a little known, gritty city by the sea. Sewn intricately in beading or appliqué onto each dress was an outline of a weapon.

But still women’s voices can’t be heard everywhere. No doubt few wives ever speak out in Iran or Pakistan. And last year Chinese authorities stopped an art exhibition about feminism and domestic violence from going ahead in Beijing because they deemed it too controversial.  The exhibition, timed for the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, was due to open Nov. 25 at Beijing’s Gingko Space art gallery.But the photos did spread online, via several Wechat (a popular Chinese messaging app) accounts that were promoting the event;  you can view the work here 

I am sure there are many sufferers of domestic abuse, who want to thank Amber Heard for putting their plight on the front pages. She might just have helped someone somewhere know they are not alone.How the future will pan out for her will no doubt be played out in the press (and we can’t envy her that).