The question of why a person exhibits abusive behaviour has been a topic of great research for a long time. And it’s an important one as it can help authorities as well as potential victims identify the behavioural traits of an aggressor and take measures to protect themselves as early as possible.

According to a vast number of studies a common thread of psychological traits and behaviours have been identified. Ultimately, domestic abuse can affect anyone, is centred around power and control and can include male and female abusers.

First, let’s have a look at some of the personality traits commonly exhibited and then dive a little deeper into what’s behind it. Abuse can take on many different shapes and forms – from physical and sexual abuse through to more subtle forms of emotional bullying or financial control, which can nonetheless be just as damaging to one’s sense of self-worth and greatly impact the victim’s wellbeing. According to the safeplaceolympia.org – an online platform aimed at supporting freedom from violence, there are 17 main behaviours an abuser can use. If a person exhibits at least three of these, there’s a significant chance of violence in the future:

  1. Jealousy (an abuser often hides their need for controlling the other person by rationalizing their jealousy as a sign of love)
  2. Controlling behaviour (it often hides behind the pretence of an aggressor being caring and ensuring the victim’s safety – be cautious, this has nothing to do with love or caring behaviour, instead – it’s a sign of possessiveness)
  3. Quick involvement (quick to jump into a relationship)
  4. Unrealistic expectations (an abuser usually expects the victim to meet all of their needs)
  5. Isolation (the aggressor often tries to cut the victim off from all their connections)
  6. Blames others for their problems
  7. Blames others for their feelings
  8. Hypersensitivity (an abusive person is easily insulted by average day to day occurrences such as being asked to help with a task or getting a speeding ticket)
  9. Cruelty to animals and/or children
  10. Use of force in sex
  11. Verbal abuse
  12. Rigid sex roles
  13. Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (complete switch in the person’s behaviour – from being nice one minute to being nasty the next)
  14. History of past abuse (the aggressor may admit to have abused a person in the past but they say the victim made them do it)
  15. Threats of violence
  16. Breaking or striking objects
  17. Using any force during an argument

So why does an abuser become an abuser?

It is estimated that a large number of people exhibiting abusive behaviour have a personality disorder – a type of mental illness where an individual differs significantly from an average person, in terms of how they think, perceive, feel or relate to others. Three personality disorders most commonly linked to abusive behaviour are – narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. People who become abusers may have been abused themselves as children or may have seen their parents being abused. When these people grow up they simply shift the dynamic around and begin exhibiting controlling behaviours themselves.

The abuser believes that their feelings come as a priority and they use possessive behaviour to dismantle equality within the relationship. It’s important to remember that the behaviour of an aggressor has nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with maladaptive coping mechanisms developed by an abuser. No one ever deserves to be abused and it is never the victim’s fault.

 What can you do to help yourself if you suspect you’re being abused:

  • Tell friends you trust
  • Make safety arrangements
  • Telephone the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247
  • Contact The Sharan Project info@sharan.org.uk 08445043231
  • If in immediate danger, call the Police 999 or ask to speak with the community safety unit on 101
  • Take notes detailing dates and times of all the abusive occurrences

And remember, if you feel the slightest inclination that you’re being abused, do not suffer in silence.

Guest blogger: Dasha Lukiniha, Phycology guest writer,  www.dashalukiniha.com






My name is Nabila Sharma, some of you may have read my book Brutal  which talks about my personal experience of being sexually abused as a child by a local Imam.

It has taken me 30 years, but I finally sought justice for the abuse I suffered at the hands of the Imam at the mosque I attended when I was just seven years old, a place that I was meant to be safe and by a man who was meant to be trusted to keep me safe. I faced many challenges to speak out, will anyone believe me? Will they think it was my fault? Where could I go for support?  The days, months and years that followed were some of the hardest in my life.

In 2012 I finally had the courage to come forward and report my abuser In 2016 he was convicted and sentenced to 11 and a half years.  I was tired but relieved that finally, he would be punished for what he had done to me

He was convicted Wolverhampton crown court in October 2016 after two trials that had lasted for 4 years, but he then absconded the next day and fled to Bangladesh where I believe he will continue to abuse others.

I felt utter disappointment.

I’d been let down by so many institutions over the years

I’d spent almost 30 years in silence.

I felt betrayed again…

But now I have a voice and I intend to use it, I am no longer that scared little child and I’m hear to make changes to ensure this does not happen again.

I was contacted by The Sharan Project who told me about the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Truth Project and, after some research, I agreed to talk with them. The Truth Project seeks to understand the institutional failings in cases of child abuse and what can be done to prevent such failings.

Right from the first moment I was reassured that my account would remain anonymous and my feelings were always considered. I was spoken to with so much empathy and consideration. This is something that I did not experienced during the four year period when my case went to trial. I had a wonderful social worker who was in constant contact with me and even came along to my session.

Everyone involved in the Truth Project have been wonderful and I cannot praise and thank them enough for all the support I received. Nothing was too big a problem and they made every step of my journey stress free and safe.

The Truth Project is doing an amazing job but to break the taboo and to stop child abuse particularly within minority communities, we must support others to report it and to speak out and this is why I wanted to help and be a part of the Project so that I could help other victims and survivors and make a positive change for the future.

I’ve started a petition where I am calling for it to be compulsory for all places of worship to be OSTED and DBS checked. If you would like to show your support please sign the link.

Your support could make all the difference for children who continue to be abused by those who are entrusted to protect them

If you have been affected by child sexual abuse, there are many organisations who can help or you can contact the Truth Project.

Don’t suffer in silence. Let our voices be heard. Together we can end child sexual abuse.

Nabila Sharma



Following the story about Faryal Khan speaking out about the treatment she has and continues face from her in-law’s I was inspired to share my story to help raise awareness and show that this happens all too often.

He caught my eye at a wedding and things started out like a fairy tale. He was the most charming man I had met- he was so caring, wanted to know of all my problems, gave me reassurances to confide in him- my deepest troubles, failures in past relationships, my insecurities and intimate details about myself and my family. I felt like this is what I was waiting for all my life, but little did I know that my dreams of marriage, a happy home with a man who loves me “more than his own family and friends”, a man I wanted to have kids with- would all turn into my worst nightmare!

Leading up to our wedding, I used all my savings and splashed out on a lavish wedding because this was his dream and I wanted to make him happy, a few days later, we were on our honeymoon and he said he was going to change his mobile number and wanted mine to be changed because it was a new start. During our honeymoon he told me he wanted me to resign from my job there and then because he wanted me to work for “his company” when he decides to open it. Every instruction by him always seemed to have valid reasoning so I never dreamt of questioning him.

From the moment we got back home, I noticed my mother in law’s attitude change completely towards me, no longer was there praise and adoration for her new daughter-in -law, as was played out in front of my family members and instead there was hate and resentment. She made it clear that “my son will always love his mother first; a wife is nothing in comparison”.

As weeks went by, it became my duty to cook for the family of 6, fresh breakfasts, lunches and dinners, make shopping lists ready for whenever I would be taken accompanied by a family member, wash everyone’s clothes (I even learnt whose underwear belonged to whom). Over time, my mother in law became more and more picky about things that didn’t exist such as creases on the bed sheets or apparent splashes of water around the kitchen sink and when I would go to clean up after apologising to her, I would find that it was spotless. She deliberately set standards impossible to achieve and then fill my husband’s ear about how my mother never taught me how to be a good house wife, the rest of the family just watched or joined in. Eventually I would get hit for tasks incomplete or not having been completed to the standard they expected.

My phone and bank card was taken away from me, passwords were changed on my social media accounts, laptop and iPad so none of these were of use to me anymore. It was made very clear to me very early on in my marriage that because did not bring more dowry, they needed to punish me, I was refused access to friends or family, I wasn’t allowed to see my niece when she was born, or go to my grandmother’s funeral when she passed away- which I still hate myself for til this day.

Life became a monotonous realm of fear, waking up with a list of chores to complete from 6am until 2am. I would pray that they would wake up in a good mood because if they were in a bad mood, even if there was perfection surrounding them, I would be attacked- either for the way I looked, being a cheap bride, not being a good “cook” or for nothing at all. My mother in law would give me chores until the early hours whilst my husband would sleep and once I was locked out of our marital room so I slept outside the bathroom on a towel on the floor. My in-laws showed me that there was nothing I could do.

I wasn’t allowed to register with a GP because I was accused of potentially “sleeping” with him or her, or “snitching” on my in-laws. When we did go out, I was too scared to look up in public because I would be accused for “knowing” this guy, or be “checking him out”. Once we went to the cinema as a family and my husband pinched my upper arm really hard saying “you slut how dare you look at him with so much lust” to the actor on the screen, then he would deliberately give me the silent treatment and showed he was angry infront of his family- who then hurled abuse at me for “upsetting their son”. I could never win so what was the point in trying!

They became better and better at this game and I became weaker as the time went by.  I was told to always smile at family gatherings, especially photos for their social media and if I did not, I would be beaten, such was their power to show the world what a ‘good’ family they were and to ensure no one would believe me if I dared to speak out . I accepted my life to be their forever slave – until the police started to come by, immediately they started to change, making fake promises, crying and begging me never to leave. I should have found the strength to say no but I wanted to believe them – even though deep down I knew it was all an act.

I eventually left the marital home but sadly things didn’t end there, they still won’t leave me alone by fabricating stories about my character to tarnish my reputation in my community – which is so difficult to ignore and like with Faryal Khan, publicly protest that I am a liar and even a ‘fallen’ woman!

They repeatedly come to me in my dreams making the trauma very real and difficult to move forward. I am trying to get back on track but I’m still no way near the finish line. After attempting to take my own life several times, I am seeing counsellors and psychiatrists to help with my fears and nightmares. I’ve got a long way to go- but I am grateful for having left that life as a forever slave living in constant fear.

My biggest support by my side has been my family, and the support I received from The Sharan Project- who believed me and without them both I wouldn’t be alive today.

We all need to stand together and call it out for what it is, Abuse. If you have been affected by any of the issues in my story, please do not suffer in silence contact The Sharan Project info@sharan.org.uk

There’s a strong argument to be made that domestic violence is absolutely 100% about power and control but we must be all too aware that this doesn’t necessarily manifest in physical violence. Emotional control can be just as devastating.

Men might be the first to argue this. Let’s take that argument first, they would contend that while a woman is less likely to use physical force to imprison a partner, they are still more than capable of doing it (by belittling, by cutting a man off from his friends and family, by degrading his interests and work).

Yet I maintain that we certainly need to be more astute about the perspective from a woman’s side. The reason why men need to be more aware of their actions is because we are generally more capable of inflicting physical damage.

And so, quite rightly, it is men who need to bear the majority of the weight of DV.

Women who flee an abusive relationship can be at greater risk of even more traumatic abuse, including death. Some women may be deciding to stay in an abusive relationship to ensure the safety and well being of their children. Some women may be staying because they believe they will be deported if they complain. And some women may be staying because they keep hoping the abuser will change. If we want abuse to stop we need a truly interdisciplinary and multi-level approach, rather than a piecemeal approach that relies on hoping abusers will obey the law.

In my experience writing on this subject and authoring a book about its genesis you don’t just get smacked one day out of the blue. These people (bullies) start first with the emotional abuse, wearing the victim down so when they move onto violence, the victims worth has already been eroded enough that they don’t leave. Also men/women who commit domestic violence can look like anybody, and be completely charming outwardly.

I think we need to teach young people to look out for much earlier signs, such as in trying to stop you seeing your friends/family and what emotional abuse is and how to recognize it. Sadly, by the time the violence starts the self-worth of the victim is already too low to leave and the shame of admitting what is happening makes it very hard to reach out, especially when the advice tends to be “just leave”.

The path to domestic violence is learned in the home as a child witnessing the interaction of parents and by a society dominated by the teachings of religions that emphasise the superiority of the male and his God given right to dominate the woman and for her to be subservient to him.

Indeed it is only in fairly recent times that the law has recognised rape in marriage and religions are still teaching that the woman is the source of ‘original sin’ and is ‘unclean’.

Undoing a few thousand years of religious ‘brain washing’ and accepted social behaviour is going to take a lot more than the threats of harsher penalties or several pages of newspaper articles sensationalising the ‘news’ under the guise of ‘raising concern’.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be making a start, of course we should, but changing a patriarchal society into a gender neutral one is not going to be achieved by legislation.

As a man I am disgusted by the men who are responsible for the vast majority of domestic violence. They need to be called for what they are: despicable evil cowards. We need to protect women now through provision of shelters, and by jailing perpetrators on the first breach of domestic violence restraining orders. In the longer term, relationship education for kids may make a difference.

“Domestic violence” is really a far, far too simple and seemingly banal description of what is really ongoing psychological and physical terrorisation and torture easily comparable to what happens in wartime. But, those who live through war have others to share their experiences with. The partner living with “domestic” violence is often totally alone in it both due to the lack of understanding of it in the community and also their own confusion and shame which is a powerful barrier to admitting that “this terminology” applies to the woman in question.

This loneliness and shame that “this happened to me” and the lack of understanding of people around the person living in a “domestic” hell often make it too hard to escape and recover from the trauma.

Part of the picture of why women stay is that along with the control, violence, and possessiveness there are often dramatic expressions of great love and remorse and never again. It is a complex dynamic. And the woman may know what the man has been through, whether in childhood or later, and is inclined to forgive. The problem is the escalation, which many women may not know at the start is how it tends to progress. As for ‘stress’ not being a reasonable excuse – it is, at any rate, certainly a reason.

I don’t know if everyone would agree, but psychological and emotional abuse and trauma, even without physical violence, can be caused by controlling and belittling behaviours. And this emotional abuse can have similar impacts to physical intimidation and violence on a person’s psychology.

This is not about the survivors or the victims who were unlucky enough to not make it out alive. It is about the anachronistic attitude that some men have towards women, seeing them as property to be controlled for their own benefit. It is about the lack of funds directed towards spaces and services towards which these women can flee and seek support. It is about the children and their witness and victimization through domestic violence. White Ribbon Day is not enough. Governments need to direct funds towards this travesty of justice.

No woman or family should be denied refuge in this wealthy country.

Saurav Dutt

It makes depressing reading but the number of prosecutions relating to violence against women and girls in England and Wales reached a record level last year, the director of public prosecutions said, as she warned of the increasing use of social media to threaten and control.

Such is the scale of the offending that special guidance is being issued to prosecutors about the growth of cyber stalking to improve prosecutions.

I submit that solutions through policing, court innovations and prison programs are good, but the horse has already bolted. Surely we need to look at preventative approaches with research into the way boys are raised and educated in our society and programs to suit?

We have a long way to go as the problem is complex. It seems to me that change will occur over generations, and much work will need to be done in many facets of society, requiring reform in education, health, labour, economics, politics and yes, media and journalism

In the UK, something very interesting happened a year or so ago. In Northumbria a woman called Vera Baird trialled a policy where workers from the local refuge went with police to every domestic violence incident reported. This had tremendous success, a massive increase in women agreeing to take forward prosecutions against the perpetrators of violence against them. We aren’t just talking a few percentage points here; it was something like 25% as I recall. It works. It seems that the women were far more trusting of the refuge workers than they are of the police. This is just one perspective however.

Tacking DV and VAW needs forward, lateral thinking. Let’s take some elements in turn:

  1. Society. We need to recognize that there’s no such thing as violence that’s permissible, or victims who don’t deserve help.
  2. Educational. Nobody should leave school without knowing what DV is, and what laws and services exist to protect people.
  3. Services – mental health (this is the big one) social care, specific support for families that have risk factors and those drifting into trouble
  4. Criminal justice the least effective, by definition this is picking up failures, but offers important protection to those who are at risk of further harm. Assault and coercion within families should be treated as a priority by the criminal justice system, and where violence has occurred, treated more harshly than equivalent ‘normal’ assaults.

We also have to include the way power is top down and self-serving, the institutional structure of society itself is never examined and that is perhaps the real issue of the current election, as described by others above, as to monies stripped from social infrastructure to pay to corporations and the wealthy through tax cuts.

There are lots of talks in Europe about it but when it comes to actions, nothing really happens, unless the guy is a primate brute, with no money living in a Paris apartment and being already known by the police for other crimes.

But if you have in front of you a white collar delinquent, well payed and well connected, that’s a completely different story. It’s a shame that civilised societies and people can tolerate this kind of brutality until now. They obviously do not want to understand that if it goes on like that there is a chance that tomorrow the victim of the domestic violence can be their daughter, sister, mother of female friend.

One thing that bothers me is the assumption that domestic violence is a spontaneous reaction by a person who lacks anger management skills, or respect for others. From my research for my book, I firmly believe that domestic violence is a premeditated crime. The abuser can control his, or her anger, but chooses not to. They can control their anger at work and socially. They can control their responses to their victims when they want to, often choosing to wait days, weeks, sometimes months before reacting to something that has angered them. Domestic violence is purposeful behaviour, intended to increase uncertainty and fear, as well as the sense of shame the victims feel, and ultimately keep them under the control of the offender.

I think a part of the problem is that this crime is treated as some sort of illness or as a simple behavioural problem on the part of men, rather than the violent crime that it is. Do we send rapists and murderers to counselling rather than jail? Do we send coward punchers or armed robbers to social rehabilitation, or do we send them to jail where they belong? A woman I interviewed for my book only ever had peace when her ex partner was in jail for other, lesser crimes such as drug and property crime. The way that we view this crime as somehow a ‘relationship’ issue or emotional problem with men almost as the victims is a large part of the problem. This is a crime, like any other crime. Sure, provide these programs in jail, but these men need to go to jail with adequate sentences that hold them accountable for the violent crimes they’re committing against women, children and their extended families.

Legal responses are an important part of the solution. But most of the abuse perpetrated by men against women is not ‘illegal’. A stare across a room, a raised voice, making all the ‘big’ financial decisions, not supporting a woman to pursue her own goals and aspirations, refusing to contribute to housework and parenting, putting her down through jokes and comments to friends and family – the list of tactics used by men to oppress women is long. All of these things are forms of family violence, but we have no way (at this time) to intervene with legal sanctions in these kinds of behaviours.

I believe we need to move away from only discussing the extreme forms of family violence – for which we have laws – but unfortunately that doesn’t make for ‘exciting’ press. We need to have conversations about all the other things men do in an abusive relationship, and try to do something about that.

My experience in research is that assaults and murder don’t happen spontaneously – they emerge as controlling and abusive relationships spiral to extremes.

Early intervention in my view is critical. You can only send someone to jail once the harm is done. Too late in my view.

Saurav Dutt

One of the most persistent and dangerous myths of domestic violence is that the perpetrators are good men who made ONE bad choice because their wife pushed them too far. It’s a neat little way of excusing male violence and rather unsubtly hinting that the female victims were the problem all along.

My time working within legal aid cases and the legal industry illustrated that even the highest levels of the legal system in the UK (and elsewhere) accept some disturbing myths about domestic abuse.

You can look at sentencing remarks from judges when male offenders were looking at prison time and also in documentation of cases, often which take pains to portray men (who sometimes had committed extremely serious violent acts) as essentially inherently good guys who had gone off the rails ‘just this once’. So I saw this borne out in comments and judgements based around “good work ethic” as attested to “by your employer” or maybe somebody who is a “good community leader.”

Then of course there are some cases where the law seeks to blame the victim, looking at the wife or spouse or girlfriend as the source of the conflict, or that culpability of the man was mitigated because of depression or anxiety caused by the survivor because she separated from him, which I find remarkable and troubling.

Now of course the law gets it right more often than not but only after a relentless number of appeals, through which some women (and even men) sometimes lose hope and just give up on seeking justice. I found the tables turned somewhat when the woman was up for trial having harmed (or in some cases killed) the male.

Unlike the male perpetrators, the judges didn’t bother delving into the women’s social disadvantage or relationships with their fathers. With women, judges preferred to be less social worker, more religious preacher, declaring the wickedness of women e.g. “Your wickedness knew no bounds.”

A recent report that just came out in Australia complements these observations and assertions well. Given the differences in the portrayal of male and female offenders, it’s perhaps unsurprising that female offenders fared worse when it came to sentencing. The researchers note that all five cases involving women were in the top ten highest sentences of the sample, and that female offenders received two of the highest sentences – 36 years and 23 years.

The root causes of domestic violence are buried so deeply into our national psyche that even our judges, the people we pay to be impartial, appear to believe that men kill women for a complex range of psycho-social reasons – and because women bring it on themselves.

The law of course is learning, adapting and is constantly in flux. The best organisations who help domestic abuse survivors work with the leading legal experts and The Sharan Project is no exception.

The SHARAN Project, which is currently run by a growing group of volunteers trained to understand the wide range of harmful practices faced by South Asian women and the barriers they face in seeking help, provides assistance to develop key life skills:

The charity also aims to reduce isolation and provide a voice for those who are unable to speak out.

Through the SHARAN Project, Polly is also leading on developing outreach projects and events to raise awareness and generate debate within communities and part of this entails working with legal experts to help women and men to access justice if their circumstances merit this approach.

Saurav Dutt


The public and the political sphere may well be blind to many things, however the issue of domestic abuse arguably does highlight just how blind we can be in the place of honesty and integrity. I believe this issue is core to any progressive development for humans and it is high time that society faces all its dimensions.

For example, black women and women from all ethnic minorities struggle to get the support they need. Not only are they victims of violence and abuse but also endemic racism that often pervades this country. These women can be judged more harshly as not helping themselves and they have additional difficulties accessing the justice system.

People may often dismiss their domestic abuse as cultural or perhaps linked to their religion when, in fact, domestic abuse is domestic abuse whatever that culture may be.

Funding is an issue for all victims of domestic abuse (male or female) and obviously it can be more difficult for people in same sex relationships too especially if you need to use a refuge and the residents are the same gender as your perpetrator.

Being female seems to be a culture when so many women experience the same issues. There is a culture of domestic abuse for such women which doesn’t always include violence but certainly includes low pay, high childcare responsibilities, being told what to do, wear, say and be by the males in their lives. The expectations on women to do domestic duties is a badge proudly worn by males on social media and the backlash should a female question anything is immediate and violent.

I contend that the full truth of the situation needs to opened up and examined – from both sides of the gender divide. And a closer and fearless examination of cultural tendencies would also help – if we’re brave enough to face that one.

The general attitude still tends to be “Why doesn’t the stupid woman (man) leave? Yet there is often the case of women woman who DO leave, only to be stalked and murdered by their very aggrieved partner with the police doing very little to prevent it.

And when you read about the horrific physical violence that some suffer, and the very unappealing options open even in extreme cases, then those being subjected to the less blatant coercive control can end up feeling even more marginalised and bemused. In that respect, prosecuting the perpetrators isn’t the issue, stopping them is.

It has taken a long time, but attitudes to sexual harassment have been changed – and it is those who inflict it who have to take care. I didn’t think bringing in a law on coercive control would make a whole lot of difference, but making it more widely understood and discussed just might.

There are amazing, committed people such as those in The Sharan Project working in the sector battling against a popular perception which the sensational press stokes that says that solutions to these issues cannot be socially-based nor consensus-based.

Any solutions which are based on central authorities providing expertise and money have been derided and patronised over decades by the popular press. Add to that an economic system that works tirelessly to atomise everything from individuals to government intervention then people no longer believe in nor want to campaign for anything that the Daily Mail will label A Waste of Taxpayers’ Money.

Usually when a woman becomes a victim of domestic violence, the control has also gone even further than physically beating her to also control of the finances, to control of the means of escape (motor vehicles), control of any children (making sure she can’t leave with the children) and much more.

There are people who will make excuses that it is the woman’s fault, and the woman should have left and all the other excuses, and I know that some are violent abusers themselves and will try to excuse their behaviour, and others just have no real idea about it and dismiss it as not plausible.

The shelters that are for women and children become full due to domestic violence and can’t take on any more women until a spot opens, so it leaves a woman vulnerable until that time. And it can be hard to get away without money and transportation away for her and her children.

The subtlety of control mechanisms within societies built on belief systems are that they don’t need anybody to be particularly nasty in order for them to function effectively – although nastiness is often tolerated through the sense of powerlessness generated by the culture of that system.

Our economic system is built upon explicit rights to exploit and implicit rights to abuse other people. Indeed because of the nature of our money system, the system cannot function without this.

With regard to women, the above, combined with the long-standing patriarchal nature of society, has helped to ensure the long-standing oppression and abuse of women.

However, it is the “legitimisation” (i.e. in practice, rather than what is written in law) of the oppression and abuse of people which needs to be addressed. Focussing on one group, whether women, children… or whichever) does not address the underlying problem, although it may help to bring more light to it.

If we’re to secure real progress in tackling domestic violence we have to engage men and women in the debate. Only then can we understand the different types of physical and psychological violence suffered by women and men in the home and develop effective ways of tackling it.

Even researching my book “The Butterfly Room” and being around long enough to speak to survivors of domestic abuse, I can witness the aftermath of a lot of relationships and one of the things that still shocks me is how deeply hidden violence and dysfunction is. Couples who seemed happy, caring and comfortable with each other are frequently exposed as something out of a horror movie.

I’ve given up trying to second guess what happens behind closed doors. The importance of bringing domestic life out in the open and providing support for victims is self-evident, but there’s a lack of discussion about behaviour within relationships that goes back to childhood and acts as a petri dish for concealed abuse.

As families become more insular and disconnected from their wider families and surrounding communities the likelihood of abuse being hidden is increased. It’s not helped by the scale of cuts in local authority provision and support, and the absence of relationship education at school.

Maybe we ought to move away from the simple binary of victim and villain? The person who needs to control is the problem, and that probably comes from weakness as often as villainy. Real physical violence is always clear cut and black and white, but coercive control is a lot greyer.

The Sharan Project is part of opening up that consensus and providing a clear window through to those who need to understand what their options are, that being the victim is a lonely ride indeed but a journey that need not be experienced alone. There are people who understand full well the complexity of these experiences and they are here to help.

Saurav Dutt



A naked shoulder is more of a stain on your family’s honour than killing your own flesh and blood; is that really how it goes?

One can only hope that Qandeel quietly inspired enough women and enlightened enough men to quicken the gradual erosion of the chatteldom to which so many women in this world are subjected to.

The tyranny under which they live will, inevitably, fade away until nothing is left other than the impotent fury of the diehard internet misogynists, who rage against progress from the sidelines while the world moves on without them.

Unfortunately it won’t happen in any of our lifetimes, but happen it will.

It’s high time we stop referring to these murders as “Honour Killings”, they’re not, they’re murder pure and simple. So stop pandering to these people by using the word honour to give their action some kind of legitimacy.

This is the climate of opinion which facilitates “honour” violence, the extent of which is apparently much under-reported.

Of course this is cultural, and conspiratorial.

Dressing up the murder and physical punishment of women as just being a cultural issue is cowardly at best and criminal at worst. So-called ‘honour’ crimes are obscurantist and barbaric and they have no place in western societies, ANY society. Yet at the same time have a cursory look on social media .

There are dozens of “respected” Muslim commentators attacking the likes of Maajid Nawaz for raising the issues surrounding this horrid murder. They think HE is the problem, and not the culture that murdered her.

I’m afraid to say that notions of ‘honour’ or ‘shame’ are part of the picture. Among other things, ‘shame’ and ‘honour’ are useful concepts for alerting us to two important factors. First, there is an important dimension of ‘visibility’. When something shameful becomes ‘visible’ outside the family and to the broader community, it catalyses the perceived need to resort to extreme measures to ‘contain’ this. (It is a similar dialectic between containment to avoid visibility which is connected, so my girlfriend has explained to me, to mental health problems among some Asian women). Second, the acts of individuals are experienced as a kind of familial shame: i.e. the acts of one are felt to profoundly disturb the identity and perception of their group.

Yes, the fact of these honour killings should not be used to tar entire communities – and, I stress, the programme had relevant examples of ‘honour’ crimes from Kurdish, Pakistani and Sikh communities. Some of the relevant dynamics (avoiding shame, the communal experience of ‘sexual sin’ etc.) are not exclusive to these communities.

But when it is specific cultural dynamics which generate some of this horrific violence and, equally importantly, have obstructed prevention and investigation then it could be argued that not thinking about certain kinds of cultural specificity seems rather short-sighted.

All attacks and murders and abuse of women is nothing but the man exerting power and dominance over a woman to ensure he maintains that power.

‘Wife-bashing’ and attacks by men upon women is something that was widespread in past British society and still happens in the British Isles today even though the crime has been legislated against by successive governments. It still goes on because in a lot of instances the police fail to take complaints seriously and in doing so help the perpetrator get away with the crime. Just as rape in a marriage is no longer accepted so should domestic violence be prosecuted as vigorously.
You can go back to the writings of Charles Dickens’ and the relationship between Bill Sykes and Nancy and her eventual murder in Oliver Twist to recognise that violence by men against women is prevalent in our society .Many reasons are used to justify it and all of them are wrong and just that: justification for the actions of the perpetrator.

Calling a murder or a cowardly attack on a woman as an ‘honour killing’ is not going to erase the crime, it’s just a weak justification for a murder or crime of violence. A judge is no more bound to accept the reason for that crime than he or she is to accept the pleas of a paedophile who pleads ‘I can’t help it I love children’. It’s wrong, it’s unlawful and should be punished by the courts and punished heavily. It does not matter where the perpetrator comes from as all should be punished equally.

We have responsibilities in how we speak about these things given that they can be co-opted. For some, these killings become part of a narrative about immigration or ‘multiculturalism’ (or whatever your bugbear is) as the abomination of desolation. Clearly this is a sensitive area.

What we say must be disciplined by accuracy (i.e. not overwhelmed by the overspill of a desire to break the perceived silence) and by awareness of the consequences if a potentially inflammatory issue. (This last point is, in part, practical: there is little point alienating members of the communities which have the greatest sway in changing attitudes and practices, especially when they abhor these practices as much as anyone else).

For example, some see this as a Muslim issue. When multiple Imams and perhaps an embassy or two unreservedly condemned the murder perpetrated by in the name of so-called honour, I take them at their word. I think that using analytical concepts like “honour”, “shame” or even izzat is a useful way to point to culturally specific dynamics in a way which doesn’t (inaccurately) associate these as essential dynamics of any imagined homogenous group such as “Muslims” etc. (The ignorance of cultural differences between Muslims from different countries and regions, to mention nothing of class, localities etc within countries, is sometimes astonishing).

These are terms which are relevant to understanding dynamics within different ethnic and religious groups: indeed, izzat is a complicated, mutable concept which you can find used – and contested – in different ways by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in North India and Pakistan.

By this same token, I think the regressive-left feminist argument is that culture doesn’t kill women, men kill women. How can we possibly reduce these attacks if we don’t recognise the cultural and religious dimension?

I have deep admiration for this courageous woman and utter contempt for those pygmies who laughed at her, belittled her and ultimately murdered her. She will be remembered long after those perverted ideas and those who hold them are dust.  In her own way she refused to be owned or controlled and that’s why she was killed. I hope the media watches this case closely to see her murderer is punished not forgiven and that other less celebrated so called “honour” killings are shamed and punished for the evil misogynist murders they are.

Likening her to Kim Kardashian is wrong. She was not a titillating commodity fetish but an artist working on one of the main edges of our time. I imagine she was a person of great courage and intelligence.

In the short term, I really wish the media would stop referring to them as honour killings. How about calling them senseless murder?

Saurav Dutt




Recently Indian actress Lisa Haydon , who plays a single mother in coming of age drama Queen, publicly disassociated from the word “feminism”. “One day I look forward to making dinner for my husband and children. I don’t want to be a career feminist,” she said in an interview.

Haydon is just one of many female public figures to express their concern at being linked to the word “feminist”.  In Bollywood alone, Madhuri Dixit Katrina Kaif to Vidya Balan all took a similar stand whilst in the West, the likes of Susan Sarandon, who played feminist icon Louise in the box-office hit Thelma & Louse, have also refused the label.

It seems ironic that powerful and independent women, who arguably would not be in the position they are had it not been for feminism, are rejecting the very movement that contributed to who they are today. However, it is understandable in light of the image that the F word evokes in the mind of the lay person. Feminists are widely portrayed as aggressive, man-hating women who think they are the superior gender. Everyone involved in women rights know that this is not true.

What feminists advocate for is the end of patriarchal society, not the end of men. It is the elimination of male privilege not the implementation of female supremacy. Nobody, except a small and much-ridiculed minority, would argue that anti-racist movements think themselves superior to the white and yet the same assumption is done when it comes to the women’s struggle against sexism.  So why does this happen?

First of all there are indeed people who hold extremists views in the feminist movement, as in any other movement.  And it does not help that they are the ones who make the most noise. Or rather, they are the ones who are more often represented in the media, the ones that people hear about. But judging an entire movement by a small minority of its members is illogical and it only works with humans because we are irrational creatures. Just as with Islamophobia the violent acts of the few are used to generate hatred against a whole group of otherwise peaceful people.

This is a very dangerous attitude that needs to be challenged, especially if we want to bring men to the feminist cause. Many men are in favour of gender equality but they are not going to join a movement they feel is against them. Sadly, this is the case for a great number of them, as is clear from their reaction to some feminist campaigns. For, example, they felt under attack when a post on social media challenged rape culture by saying that the best way to prevent rape is for men not to do it. It was a provocative statement against victim blaming but they interpreted it if it was accusing all men of being rapists.  In other words, they projected onto the feminist the same generalisation that is at the basis of their own thinking.

Another reason to reject feminism is that people are scared of change. To some, the system we have in place, however flawed, is preferable to one where we do not know what to expect. The idea that men and women have established roles in society is somehow reassuring even if it means that that the former dominate the latter. Defending this idea provides an excuse for some men to reinforce their privilege and a self-defence mechanism for women whose subjugated role will be easier to accept if they feel it is something that is out of their hands.

An argument we often hear is that men and women are biologically different and feminism is trying to turn women into men. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Given that we do not know how many of the supposedly biological differences are not actually the result of gender stereotyping, feminism is certainly not encouraging women to imitate men.

In fact, the only reason why some women do so is because we live in a patriarchal society where men make the rules and women are considered inferior. So becoming more like men, in a way, is like being a little less inferior, and playing by their rules is necessary to be successful. Take away male privilege and there will be no need to act like men to achieve anything in life so if anything, biological differences will be more openly embraced. At the same time, gender stereotyping will be eradicated so that both men and women will be free to follow their path without any pre-conditioning.

Unlike what Haydon suggested, a woman can be a feminist and a stay-at-home mum if she so chooses. The key word here is ‘choice’. Only when our choices as people are the result of what we really want and not what is expected of us for belonging to a certain gender can we truly lead a happy and fulfilling life.

In the end, men would benefit from an equal society too as gender stereotyping is just as damaging to them as it is to us. But as long as they believe a war between the sexes is going on and feminists are out to get them they will resist any movement for change. Here are some things you can do to change negative attitudes towards feminism:

  • Do not be afraid to call yourself a feminist. You will likely be challenges, insulted and abused but you are stronger than your critics. This is particularly important if you are a public figure as you are being perceived by many as a role model.
  • Try to devise campaigns that resonate with a male audience too. Possibly, get men involved as part of the solution not just the problem or show them to male friends to see how they perceive them.
  • Do not try to define feminism based on what others perceive it to be, create your own definition based on your own values.
  • Challenge anti-feminist comments but do not become aggressive. Always assume that they come from lack of knowledge rather than actual sexism.
  • Remind the world of the achievements of the feminist movement. Very few people would openly argue that giving women the right to vote was not a good thing.
  • Be a good Feminist. Be a good Human.

The-Butterfly-Room-Saurav-Dutt_ebc_650x310 (1)

Progression in the field of gender equality is an ongoing challenge and has been for decade upon decade. It will probably remain a challenge for many years to come. That challenge arises not least due to inequality relating to matters such equal pay and sexual harassment and discrimination but also towards the way society tackles and confronts attitudes and issues such as rape, alienation and objectification. Women have always and continue to combat this as best they can, through dialogue, debate, creative protest, argument and through NGO’s, charities and organisations.

It will not be enough by this alone, however. As a man I know full well we live in a male dominated world, a male dominated society. As long as the sky is blue and the clouds are grey and white, this will remain so because men are particularly good at trying to push their voice, their attitude, their singular perceptions to the forefront at the expense of women. They have been content to allow women to share the spotlight, the dialogue space on a speculative and transitory basis but it has not become a permanent fixture. As a man, I contend that it must become a permanent fixture if we really want to see gender equality and a real end to mixed attitudes and reactions towards domestic abuse, rape, psychological abuse and other forms of muting the female voice.

That’s why I was overjoyed to see The Sharan Project get its due by no less a person that Prime Minister David Cameron and by No 10 Downing Street. The hierarchy of power is learning who the faces are and getting used to the sound of their voices.

My book ‘The Butterfly Room’ was a learning process for me as a man. I’ve always been a fan of the bullied, the oppressed,the voiceless, sticking up for them in whatever way I can. They say one hand doesn’t clap. I might just be that one hand but there are other men who believe in fighting for women’s rights but I found researching my book that they’re either too lazy to try, too fearful that they will be viewed with suspicion and others who feel other men will view them as “kind of puny”. That’s what one man said to me when I asked him why he didn’t believe in sticking up for women’s rights.He was worried about what other men would think about his masculinity. He worried he might even be asked if he was gay or bisexual. For me and for the other men who take part in this battle, every woman is a mother, a daughter, a sister.

I’d tell every man that it really is the little things that help. If you’re afraid to put your voice out there for others to see and hear, to judge you, then at least help in another way, by donating to rape crisis shelters or organisations just like The Sharan Project, by writing to your MP to urge them to support the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, for example.

I’ll be frank, it’s not enough to turn up every few months, have some Perrier water, eat a few samosas or salmon and cucumber sandwiches and feel upset when you hear about how a woman was raped and kicked out of her house or any other horrific story. It’s about even asking the women and girls in your life about their experiences, understanding that if their answers shock you, it’s not about your reaction, it’s about their story and why they felt they couldn’t even share it before you asked them.

It also starts with another more obvious element. You’d be surprised how many men view ‘feminists’ with suspicion, they’re ‘fembots’ or ‘feminist robots’ who hate men, who are lesbians and no one would want to marry. Sounds bizarre but again starting to understand these organisations is part of the process. Come to the talks, seek out the writers, playwrights, musicians, authors, charities and speakers on the subject and educate yourself. I say this to women as well, those who are also reluctant to inject their effort into the debate and are afraid to be viewed as ‘agitators’.

I know there are other men who want to play a role in women’s rights, I never thought I would despite writing about it but I learnt from ‘The Butterfly Room’ that women might be bullied but they refuse to allow the bully to speak out on their behalf which is what will happen if enough men AND women don’t work together.

So men do need to do their part and move beyond conjecture and appraisal a few times a year or pay lip service. It’s time they realise that their pride and ego needs to be dented in the name of progress and to shut the bullies up once and for all.

I’d suggest they make a start by educating themselves. Every woman who reads this who has a brother, a father, a son in law, a relative who is a man, show them what The Sharan Project does, watch the videos, hear their founder Polly Harrar speak, read the blogs, the accounts from survivors and be a part of the process, not an observer.


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