By the time I left my abuser, I’d regained my strength and sense of self. You see, it all started with the night he stormed in drunk and dragged me out of bed. For the first time, I feared for my life, and dashed out into the chilly darkness of the early morning even though he’d confiscated my wallet and keys. Thoughts of being homeless terrified me; I realised I’d hit rock bottom. Even though I went back to him days later, conned by his guilt trip about my “responsibility to help (him) get better”, I took active steps in healing myself and reconnecting with my friends. These actions eventually to led the epiphany that I was sleeping with a psychopath who would never change.
But I had a place to go, finances and people who had my back when I left. I am lucky.
Many women do not have that luxury because leaving their abuser means becoming homeless and penniless. With an abusive relationship comes feeling completely beaten down, isolated and traumatised. It’s a Catch-22— stay in hell, or face the terror of rebuilding life from scratch. Often too, they have children-in-tow.
So when I learned of EmergencyBnB— the service that connects people who have rooms to spare with domestic violence victims and refugees at risk of homelessness— I partnered with their founder, Amr Arafa, to show you your way out.
THE NUTS & BOLTS
Most of us have heard of AirBnB— a few clicks and we’ve found a place to stay. Like Uber and Neighborhoodgoods, it leverages the power of the sharing economy. Enter EmergencyBnB, an altruistic spinoff of AirBnB matching people willing to host victims of domestic violence and refugees for free.
A massive plus is the site’s clean and easily-navigable user interface.
“I MUST BE SILENT BECAUSE OF RESIDENCY” - DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & IMMIGRATION
“And she takes another step, slowly she opens the door [..] Another bruise to try and hide, another alibi to write”- Savage Garden
The two groups EmergencyBnB focuses on— refugees and victims of domestic violence— overlap.
Women with insecure immigration status— not having citizenship or permanent residency— have limited options for leaving. A Cambridge study on domestic violence concluded that exploiting a woman’s fears of deportation provides perpetrators of violence with a further tool of abuse.
My ex-partner’s violence escalated after he sponsored my visa, going from sporadic to sinisterly-orchestrated and frequent; my confusion eventually gave way to the realisation that it was all about control. He threatened me about immigration, saying he had the right to confiscate my possessions and keep me at home.
As a woman Voolma interviewed expressed, “I must be silent because of residency”.
In the UK, besides the obvious barriers like language, isolation, finances and shame, some victims of domestic violence face an added obstacle. Specifically, if their immigration status comes with the “No Recourse to Public Funds” clause, they cannot receive most welfare benefits, tax credits or access domestic violence shelters.
Then there are the accusations that she’s lying to secure her immigration status.
Voolma says, “It strikes as very unlikely that someone would migrate to England to suffer domestic violence, and somewhat ‘achieve’ this aim, or come to England knowing about the DDV Concession and trick all the authorities into believing a false account of domestic violence”.
But the shame, confusion and chaos in a woman’s life— not to mention the anxiety and trauma from being in an abusive relationship— can make her feel even more alone, as though staying with her abuser is her only option.
Here’s where EmergencyBnB can be your lifeline.
But a woman is in the most danger when she is preparing to leave or after she leaves. So here’s what else you need to know.
WHAT ABOUT THE SHELTERS, CHARITIES AND INSTITUTIONAL AID? NEWSFLASH: YOU NEED TO HAVE YOUR OWN BACK
Here’s the hard truth, as someone writing from the other side. Bureaucracy and the official channels will likely fail you.
At the very level of the police who are supposed to protect you, you may feel even more alone and afraid. 2015 figures suggest that the police in the UK received more than 100 calls an hour on average; yet few cases are recorded, much less prosecuted. More damning is the fact that the number of unreported cases eclipses this statistic.
Reading that my county’s police department was decorated for tackling domestic abuse, I naively believed they’d help. Instead, and to quote Veritas Justice, I was not only “fobbed off” by a policewoman but rebuked.
I spent hours on the phone and police station, desperate for protection, only to be told “If he does anything just call 999”. The police representative at the local domestic violence charity had assessed me to be “at medium risk of significant harm or homicide” before I left him. I was dealing with a vengeful man twice my body weight who abused cocaine and alcohol regularly, and had physically hurt me. Yet my pleas were ignored. Exasperated, I wrote to the Sussex Police Commissioner, “Would serious injury or my death be the only thing that warrants any real police involvement?”. Months later, I had a detective assigned to my case. A year on, many of my witnesses have not been interviewed— in fact, some have had to chase up the police multiple times.
I contacted the charities; most said they couldn’t help me.
This is why you need to find your own channels— the people around you, and those who will advocate for you.
Here’s how to help yourself
First, reconnect with your friends and family as soon as you can, no matter how guilty you feel for having been MIA. It is a common fact that abusers isolate you using overt threats and passive-aggressive responses, and it is not your fault. You eventually learn “It’s safer to not keep in contact with anyone”.
Simply say this line, even if it feels stilted and strange— “I know I haven’t been in touch with you for some time, and things have been very difficult in my relationship. I’ve been prevented from doing so. I’d really love for us to be part of each others’ lives again”. You’d be surprised at the outpouring of love and resources you’ll receive.
Second, I still recommend calling the police— abusers need to be brought to justice. Perhaps you could ask your friend to support you through it whilst you get busy with the practical actionable stuff that will keep you safe.
Third, pool your finances. If you have children, babysit for someone else to earn some money. Squirrel some funds away on the side. Ask the people you trust for help. If you haven’t already, do not be guilted into sharing your money with him— and stop lending him money. Also, he may stop you from having a job— mine started throwing a paranoid fit everytime I went to work. Or, he’d stalk me if I had a business meeting; it became easier to shut myself away from the world.
Fourth, engage a competent legal expert you trust to fight your corner for any relevant issues. I cannot emphasise this enough.
Fifth, record every incident of abuse— it doesn’t matter if it’s emotional violence, or if his physical violence leaves no scars. And tell someone who can advocate for you. My friends encouraged me to speak to my GP (physician), MP (Minister of Parliament) and a domestic violence charity. I remembered trembling when I made the appointments, as I waited in line, and as I told my story. I felt guilty— was I betraying my abuser?
Remember this, it’s not that your abuser cannot help himself. That’s bullshit.
He doesn’t go around beating everyone else up physically or emotionally. And if you observe carefully, it isn’t just the times he’s intoxicated that he does these.
Your abuser may have a personality disorder. He may be a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath. Know that a personality disorder is not the same as anxiety or depression. Most of us will experience some form of anxiety or depression some time in our life. A personality disorder pervades every level of functioning in one’s life; and a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath has no empathy— he’s learned to mimic the rest of us. He cannot and will not change.
Let’s call a spade a spade. He abuses because he enjoys it.
The bottom-line is. Fight for yourself (and your children, if you have any). Fight for your future. Ask for help— as a Recovering Perfectionist, I know how difficult it is. But really, learning to receive help can save your life and sanity.
Be very stubborn. Resistance is not futile.
Planning your Liberation
Sometimes, we have the luxury of time to plan. If this is your case, here’s what else you can do.
- Make physical and digital copies of every official document you own. Start by compiling a list.
- Lock down all your digital accounts— emails, phones, Kindles, hard drives, computers— abusers often insist on having your password.
- Check if your phone is being tracked; if you’re not sure, reinstall your OS.
- Start mentally packing your possessions to visualise it and give you continued strength.
- Tell the people you trust who will keep you accountable.
- Give away the things you don’t want.
- Do not tell him you’re leaving— even if he changes his behaviour for a short time, that’s merely to hook you in, then he’ll punish you for having the audacity to leave him.
Leaving takes alot of courage and strength to think about, start and follow through with. If you can, engage someone to coach and empower you.
LEAVING IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”- Anaïs Nin
Or, in Tony Robbins’ plain speak, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
It’s a brave new world out there. What do you do? Who are you? How do you see yourself? How do you explain it all? Will anyone believe you? Will you doubt yourself?
What if you can’t survive without him? The way he’s told you you’re too fat/ugly/old/useless to be without him, so many times that you’ve started to believe it. The way you’ve become conditioned to live in a state of fear and vigilance, becoming your own prison guard in Foucault’s Panopticon. The way you’ve become your own abuser, sabotaging yourself because it takes some of the pain away— making his words ring truer than ever.
Here’s the truth of the matter.
The prospect of any transformation is terrifying. Anything uncertain is anxiety-provoking.
And with it comes the opportunity to write your new chapter. On your own terms.
Having a place to stay is only the start. Many women eventually return to their abusers, and the cycle repeats itself. This is where your real work begins.
If you look around your life, you’ll realise that your abuser isn’t the only person you’ve let in who infringes your boundaries and hurts you.
My clients realise that they are/were mired with toxic family members, friends and colleagues. We attract toxic people in our lives for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps it’s because deep down, we don’t believe we deserve to be treated well (you’ll not like this, but sit with me through this). Or we don’t know how to assert ourselves. This is your opportunity to detox your life and heart, for good.
Know this: You will judge yourself
You will judge yourself for having been involved with him. For not getting away earlier. For ‘abandoning‘ him. For not realising you were being abused. For taking so long to call him out as an abuser. You’ll find a hundred different reasons and excuses for judging yourself.
Intimate Partner Violence is more common than you think— one in three women worldwide will experience it in her lifetime. As an Asian woman, what shocked me was this number increases to 61% for Asian women in America.
But I didn’t know that.
I looked at myself in the mirror and thought “You have a Doctorate. And a Cambridge degree. And yet you are so stupid to let yourself be hurt”. Ashamed, I refused to work as a psychologist— much to the befuddled anguish of my parents who didn’t know the truth.
You see, I thought I was alone.
Then I discovered Sandra Brown’s research that many women who have been abused are highly-educated and successful. They hold jobs like directorships, attorneys, doctors, therapists, CEOs and professors. I realised that I wasn’t just dealing with an alcoholic or drug addict who had been “cheated on or abandoned by exes, family and business partners” and therefore had “paranoid issues” he “couldn’t control”— I had to face up to the fact that I was dealing with a psychopath with narcissistic personality disorder who abused me for fun.
That was a tough pill to swallow.
But it took most of the stigma away.
After leaving, I had two options— hide myself away and play small, or rise up to my life. I chose the second. I chose to tell my story.
What stunned me was how many smart, successful women in my circle started calling me, “It’s time I face the truth. I’m being abused too”. Then other brilliant women I didn’t know told me “I want you to help me get away and heal from the abuse”.
It doesn’t matter how smart, educated or successful you are.
If you are a high-achiever, you will feel like a fraud for being involved with an abuser. If you’re in a position where you have no jobs, money or friends, you will judge yourself for being “useless” with “no way out”. The first group will also compare themselves with the second, thinking, “How dare I complain? I don’t have it that bad”. Then judge themselves even more. The second will feel hopeless for not having the resources.
My point is, it is not a competition.
You are not alone. You are never alone. The rest of your life starts now.
IF YOU’RE READING THIS AND NOT EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, YOU CAN HELP
As he sat on his mother’s couch in Egypt, seeing a Hungarian TV reporter kick a refugee girl and tripping a refugee father carrying his son kicked Amr’s conscience into action.
He realised that clicking and sharing wasn’t enough.
He’d always admired his brother Sherif Arafa’s political cartoons, but learning how to draw to create change wasn’t an immediate option for Amr. It was then that he decided to leverage his software engineering skills, and EmergencyBnB was born.
Amr says “Because many people live paycheck to paycheck, not so many people will be able to contribute to causes through monetary donation. Everybody has an apartment however”
And you may have reservations, so I spoke to Amr about this. Here’s what you need to know.
- You are not obliged to take any guest in. According to Amr, “Some people think that by listing themselves on EmergencyBnB as hosts someone would show up at their doorsteps and feel entitled to a free stay. It doesn’t work this way. We understand that it is a matter of personal preference. I tell hesitant potential hosts to keep rejecting requests until they find someone they absolutely can’t reject.”. You can also ask for official documentation (e.g. court orders, refugee passports) as part of your own vetting system.
- EmergencyBnB most likely doesn’t violate your landlord’s or building’s rules. Amr says it’s akin to hosting a friend and there’s no monetary exchange involved. With no cut to take, landlords often do not care.
- EmergencyBnB is NOT a political statement. You are not being anti-state, you are merely helping your neighbours and playing a role in your community. Amr says it’s no different to how #RoomForManchester was activated following the recent bombing— it’s all about offering someone a place to stay. Or to quote this piece on CNN, “an army of people who keep their homes and hearts open in case another person needs to walk through”.
All guests must also agree to EmergencyBnB's terms of service before completing their booking.
Making over the sharing economy
As I’ve penned above, I didn’t feel supported by the institutions; instead, I see promise in EmergencyBnB, because it leverages the power of the community.
Amr’s view is that “the biggest weakness of typical charities is that they are based on centralized models, (which) are becoming more and more outdated, obsolete, and ineffective. Comparing charity organization to EmergencyBnB is like comparing a taxi company to Über. The level of abundance offered by the sharing economy outstandingly surpasses the realistic capability of any centralized model.
It’s time that society considered more creative and efficient solutions. In reality it takes (the government) an average of 6-10 months for a homeless family to secure housing.
On the other hand it took a woman and her three children three clicks to secure a place with one of the EmergencyBnB hosts in DC.”
At the time of writing this article, I see only one other host in the UK— my country of residence. There’s much we can all do to change this, so that people around the world escaping violence have a safe place from where they can rebuild their lives.
Amr muses, “When did the word “sharing” become synonymous to “renting”? I thought it’s time that we started looking at this social activity as means of helping others, and not just as an economic opportunity. This is “sharing” by definition, this is sharing in its original primitive form.”
Amen to that.
“There’s no such thing as “just a domestic””- Sir Patrick Stewart
We need to take domestic violence seriously and personally. It violates basic human rights, and is startlingly more common than we think.
- If you’re experiencing domestic violence, know that you can get out of it. Like you, I was once trapped and feeling powerless. And know that you have options like EmergencyBnB especially if you’re based in the USA.
- If you know someone who is a victim of violence, here’s how you can help. Send them this article. Direct them to EmergencyBnB.
- And for everyone else, you can host someone on EmergencyBnB. Share this article. Bring this to the attention of key stakeholders in your community— politicians, celebrities, government agents, doctors, therapists, community/spiritual leaders, et cetera.
The more hosts we have on EmergencyBnB, the more we can transform lives and stop domestic violence, because we offer possibility to our fellow human beings. Your sharing this article can save a life.
About the author: What does it take for a high-achieving Type A woman to perform phenomenally and lead effectively in her career and life? Dr Perpetua Neo (DClinPsy, UCL; MPhil, Cambridge) sorts out these blocks quickly and deeply— the Big Three of busy minds, toxic relationships and panic attacks, that no one considers or cares about. Dr Neo’s been spotlighted as an international expert on Forbes, Yahoo! and Glamour, amongst others; and writes for The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen and Thrive Global.