Guest Blog: Anne Heath

January  2013

As we look forward to the New Year – and we have much to look forward to as well as apprehension about how current government policies are going to impact on our families – I thought I would share with you something from the past.

In the Autumn I was in Japan and one afternoon took the train out of Tokyo to the nearby coast. It was a particularly still but grey day – the lull before the storm as a typhoon was due to hit that night. But amongst the many temples in the surrounding hills was one, which, was uniquely tranquil.

Shokozan-Tokeiji Temple was founded in 1285 by a nun named Kakusan’ni.  In those days when women had no right to seek a divorce Tokeiji was designated as a sanctuary for women where a woman could obtain a divorce from her husband after she spent 3 years at the temple. But in fact it became a women’s refuge in the widest sense with local people saying ‘Any woman in a hurry is kindly directed to Tokeiji, “Just over there’. It was assumed they were fleeing from domestic violence.

725 years ago this may just have been the first official women’s refuge.

Throughout the following centuries the sanctity of the temple and validity of the laws were respected – during the Edo period (1603-1867) the temple was allowed to maintain the law for underprivileged women.

In 1873 the temple law was adopted by the national court of justice,, enabling women to obtain a divorce and in 1902 it ceased to be a nunnery but remains as a national shrine.

But the women who lived there and those who fought courageously over the years to maintain Tokeiji have left an important and lasting legacy. They created and maintained a safe haven for women and they changed the law of the land.

The shocking truth is that today in 2013 domestic violence is a very disturbing fact of life for too many HSW families. Some of the most troubled children we see are living in the Refuges but there are more who are in their own home. It is well researched that many children who witness the abuse of a parent demonstrate significant behavioral and/or emotional problems and it can have long lasting damaging effects on development- a frightening high % becoming either victims or perpetrators themselves.

Domestic violence accounts for between 16% and 25% of all recorded violent crime in the UK and on average 2 women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: This constitutes around one-third of all female homicide victims. (Womens Aid website)
HSW works in strong collaboration with Westminster Refuges, Social Services and Relationship workers trained to work with victims of DV who are trying to find the courage and support to leave a domestically abusive relationship.. We are well placed to target those families who are most in need and can provide emotional and practical support for women who have fled into a refuge with no money and few possessions as often they have to leave with only what they can carry. With funding from Children In Need HSW have been able for the past 3 years to provide Art Therapy for the children living in refuges. This is an effective way of helping children unable to verbalise their emotional issues to address difficulties in a healthy and contained way.. It is a small step.

We have to move forward from what was started in Japan all those years ago, we have to find and fund a 21st century solution to an issue that continues to have enormous emotional and financial impact on the lives of too many women and children. Organisations like HSW are well placed to support these women access the right support and give them confidence to know that they are not alone. Like Tokeiji.

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