White Ribbon Day 2023 - Har...

White Ribbon Day 2023 - Hard to Reach VS Easy to Ignore

November 2023

4 Min Read

To mark White Ribbon Day 2023, our Head of Service Laura McIntyre writes about the experiences of women who’ve faced various forms of violence and our ambition to #ChangeTheStory.

The first group of women I supported, over 17 years ago, developed a piece of local research and one of the key headings they chose to use was: ‘Hard to Reach VS Easy to Ignore’ – I still think this is relevant today to talk about.

I ask anyone who is reading this to think truthfully about the women in our communities who are maybe known to ask a passer-by for money, cigarettes, food, and the women who might also be known to our support services for offering a sexual service to some men walking by, to meet a survival need. And the woman who might use drugs and/or alcohol during her pregnancy, because her mental health is unbearable to manage due to her own repeated trauma and abuse. This is a challenging space to work within but from our experiences, professionals and members of our community focus the majority of their time questioning women’s behaviours and give limited attention to the thoughts of what might be going on for women in these circumstances, what has happened or happening in their lives - are they okay?

As a society, do we generally ignore this group of women and deem them to be problematic and see them as causing a nuisance to our society? I think this is true, and the women we support at Changing Lives have often been stigmatised in this way.

Many women who access support from our Women’s and Children’s Services will repeatedly talk about the multiple disadvantages and barriers they experience, including being affected by addiction, homelessness, crime, abuse and exploitation, poverty, and social exclusion. At Changing Lives, we believe that by using trauma-informed and trauma-responsive approaches, our staff can fully understand women and their families and challenge these assumptions that women are ‘too complex’ to support. We believe in the potential of everyone to achieve their personal goals to lead a flourishing life. 

This Saturday is White Ribbon Day followed by the 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence.

Changing Lives Women’s and Children’s Services will be sharing a series of events over the 16 Days and will raise the voices and experiences of the women we support, often the hidden and unheard voices.

The theme for White Ribbon Day Campaign this year is #ChangeTheStory and we will use this headline throughout our 16 Day messages and events.

#ChangeTheStory is about reversing this narrative - #AllMenCan take an active role in stopping violence before it starts by recognising and calling out attitudes and behaviours that are harmful and constitute as violence, and lead to more extreme cases of violence.

At Changing Lives, our ambition and drive is that every woman and girl is valued, respected and feels equal to others. However, many women we support feel completely removed and disconnected from the idea of equality. They do not feel equal, and often feel more vulnerable and at risk because of their gender and because of what has happened to them throughout their lives. Unresolved trauma creates a sense of fear, reluctance to trust others and reduces a sense of self-worth. This is true for many women, not just those we support.

Women tell us that in many situations they feel completely powerless, have no level of control, and feel more like an object than a person. This is not just in abusive situations - it’s also when in contact with services who are supposed to provide support. It sounds extreme, but it’s a real and increasingly frequent experience.

We recognise that women’s responses to their experiences are completely normal, and they are not ‘insane’, ‘problematic’, ‘challenging’, or ‘dangerous’, or other stigmatising labels that women hear in response to their needs. Far too often, the women we support are perceived as the ‘mad, bad, or sad’, to the point where serious sexual assaults are being investigated and questions are raised that suggest women might be suffering with a ‘false memory’.  There are many more examples of this judgement and discrimination that ‘gets in the way’ of women feeling equal and understood.

When women feel unheard or when their experiences are not validated, we see different behaviours playing out that lead to further stigmatisation and re-victimisation. Women develop harmful coping strategies and self-destructive habits, and unhealthy adult relationships that people continue to judge. 

We give power back to women who need it most, we help pull women out of their trauma to feel strong and capable, and where ‘nothing is in their way’ to eventually feel equal and to challenge when something isn’t right.

Our national Women’s and Children’s services challenge assumptions that some women are seen as ‘hard to reach’ or ‘too complex’ to support - we want to #ChangeTheStory so women are better understood and supported. We will do this by sharing our practice and research on supporting women experiencing multiple layers of disadvantage, violence, and abuse.

'Being allies with women every day shouldn’t be underestimated — even the smallest actions can affect big change.' (whiteribbon.org.uk)

 Keep up with our action across our website and social media platforms:

If any of the issues we’ve raised affect you or someone you know and you need support, you can get in touch with us on central.office@changing-lives.org.uk or call us on 01912738891. You can find out more about the type of support we offer here.