Susan Ellingham interviews Mary Fredlund- co-ordinator of 16 days of action in Exeter
Please describe what you do.
I am the Co-ordinator of 16 Days of Action in Exeter, which is supported by the Exeter Domestic Sexual Violence and Abuse Forum (EDSVAF). I have been involved in the Exeter Domestic Sexual Violence and Abuse Forum since 2009. I got involved after I had been a service user from 2006. By 2009 I felt I was in a place to give something back and contribute to the service provision to improve the system for other service users.
What led you to attend the Forum?
I undertook a pattern change course in 2007 and I was later invited to talk to the funding commissioners at a Women’s Aid AGM to explain to them how important the course was and how it had helped me. From that talk I received feedback that the professionals and commissioners in attendance had understood what a valuable resource pattern change course was to vulnerable people like myself.
When I first attended the Forum, I just observed how the professionals there interacted with each other. This enabled me to consider how I could contribute to the Forum.
The Forum meets to raise awareness and to disseminate knowledge and ask questions regarding the issues. The Forum meets three to four times a year. Each quarter there is a talk from a professional i.e. from the police or another professional with updates in the law. The aim of the Forum is to try to get a local picture of the services available and the usage, with professionals sharing knowledge and responding collectively to domestic abuse.
How did you become to be Chair of the Forum?
In 2012 it was decided that we needed a permanent Chair to give the forum coherence and weight in the wider community. I was nominated and accepted the role. I was Chair from 2012 to 2017. The new chair is Jenny Lynch.
In your role as Chair, what did you do?
One of the first projects I undertook as Chair in 2012 to 2013 was to include the issues of Sexual Violence and Abuse into the forum. Until then it focussed on Domestic Violence and Abuse. We knew that there was a big overlap with the minority groups and we wanted to make sure that all the issues were addressed and that collectively we would be stronger in raising awareness.
So, the acronym changed from EDAF to EDSVAF. At this time, we became more organised and developed a terms of reference (TOR) and a workplan. One of the key aspects of our workplan was to raise awareness of DSVA and how everyone in the community has a role to play in preventing it.
Then we had to work at a countrywide level to find a way to replace the Devon-wide Domestic Abuse Awareness Week which had been held in November/December each year. The Awareness Week funding was stopped by the Local Government.
As a Forum we wanted to acknowledge the time (November/December) but be more inclusive to recognise domestic violence, sexual violence and abuse, in line with our focus. I spent some time considering how we could raise the profile for all and frame the collective issues. Whilst considering this I discovered that there is an international “16 Days of Activism” which the UN acknowledges and which takes place between 25th November and 10th December each year, to end violence against women and girls.
However, as a Forum we wanted our campaign to fit a local context. We named it “16 Days of Action” as we wished it to be all-inclusive as any person, of any gender can experience violence and abuse in a domestic setting from an associated person, be that members of their own family or intimate partners. As a Forum we chose to follow Devon’s framing of Domestic Sexual Violence and Abuse (DSVA Alliance), which is all-inclusive. We acknowledged, however, the victims of abuse are predominantly women and girls and that the majority of perpetrators are male.
In 2015, our first year of running this campaign, we were able to offer a small amount of funding to other people to run events, and then co-ordinated and frame-worked the events into a leaflet. The funding is thanks to our developing a working relationship with Exeter’s community safety partnership (CSP).
This is our third year of running the campaign. There is a website at www.16daysofactionexeter.wordpress.com and DSVA Devon intends to be active on Twitter during the campaign.
The aim is to promote and make local people aware about what abuse is and to emphasise what healthy relationships are. It is to raise awareness and to promote change. We hope that local people will feel empowered to run events themselves. We want to reinforce the message that everyone has a right to live safe and free from violence and that everyone is equal. We want to make sure that victims are aware that there is support available to them.
I know from my own experience that a perpetrator tries to control your life and eliminate your self esteem so that you feel worthless and unable to change your circumstances. The event tries to counteract that feeling and make people aware. It aims to make people aware of signs of abuse such as the victim missing work, the partner always ringing them at work, the victim withdrawing from their friends and family, lack of esteem and confidence.
This year we have a very good line up of events and the leaflet regarding the campaign contains a list of useful contact numbers. Hopefully a victim will receive support through someone becoming aware of these support services.
Who attends the Forum and what is the Forum?
The forum is attended and run by volunteers. The rationale behind the Forum is that everyone and anyone has a role in interrupting domestic and sexual violence and abuse.
The Community Safety Partnership, which is made up of the local police, councils and other organisations has four priority areas which they have to deal with one of which is domestic and sexual abuse.
The Forum is the official working group of the Community Safety Partnership (CSP). The CSP provide the budget to the Forum which is effectively funded by the police and Exeter City Council.