#194 Own My Life - a feminist recovery programme for domestic abuse survivors

August 14, 2023 FiLiA Episode 194
#194 Own My Life - a feminist recovery programme for domestic abuse survivors
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#194 Own My Life - a feminist recovery programme for domestic abuse survivors
Aug 14, 2023 Episode 194

"Creating this women only space, we're creating a journey for women to be honouring each other, celebrating each other, and that's something that women haven't had much time with."

Sally Jackson leads a discussion between Natalie Collins, creator of the Own My Life Course, Catherine Mc Quarrie from Border Women's Aid, and Danielle, survivor and facilitator, explaining the principles of the Own My Life course and why recovery spaces for domestic abuse survivors need to be feminist and women only. 

They talk about the importance of feminist consciousness-raising as a path to healing - oh and vulva tea towels!

Show Notes Transcript

"Creating this women only space, we're creating a journey for women to be honouring each other, celebrating each other, and that's something that women haven't had much time with."

Sally Jackson leads a discussion between Natalie Collins, creator of the Own My Life Course, Catherine Mc Quarrie from Border Women's Aid, and Danielle, survivor and facilitator, explaining the principles of the Own My Life course and why recovery spaces for domestic abuse survivors need to be feminist and women only. 

They talk about the importance of feminist consciousness-raising as a path to healing - oh and vulva tea towels!

Sally: I'm Sally Jackson. I'm one of the trustees and volunteers at FiLiA. And I'm really pleased to be joined by three wonderful women today to talk about some of the issues around recovery from domestic abuse. I'm going to let the women introduce themselves one by one. But if I, one by one, go through… Natalie, can you tell us a little bit about you and why this is important for you? 

Natalie: Yes, so my name is Natalie Collins and I've worked on issues around men's violence towards women for about 15 years. So I started off delivering courses in the community for women who've been subject to abuse and then had opportunities to develop more kind of national work.

I wrote a course for young people who've been subject to abuse and to raise awareness about abuse in the schools and in a youth context, called the Day Programme. And I set up a campaign about the Fifty Shades series a few years ago, you know, when it was a big thing, basically talking about how it was abuse.

I've done quite a lot of work with faith communities, so I've done lots and lots of different things. And in about 2014, started to write a course for women who'd been subject to abuse ‒ it felt like there was a massive gap in terms of what needed to exist ‒ and that became what is known as the Own My Life course.

And besides my professional journey into this sector, my ex-husband was abusive and I was with him from when I was 17 till when I was 21. And so that history and that experience hugely impacted and influences my understanding of this issue and the kind of needs that we have when we've been subject to abuse.

Sally: That's brilliant. Thank you, Natalie. And Catherine, if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and your work. 

Catherine: Hi there, so I'm Catherine McQuarrie. I work as a domestic abuse support worker at Border Women's Aid. We support women on both an outreach basis, doing one-to-one support and obviously peer support, as you know, doing the Own My Life course. And we also have refuge facilities in the Borders, to temporarily house women here, but mostly my job is focused on outreach support given to survivors. 

Sally: Brilliant. Thank you very much. And Danielle, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Thank you. 

Danielle: Yes, I'm a previous service user of the Border Women's Aid. So I am a domestic abuse survivor, and I attended one of the first Own My Life courses in the Borders. I'm now a volunteer with the Border Women's Aid, and I co-facilitate, Own My Life courses with Catherine. 

Sally: Fantastic. So that's quite a journey, isn't it? And do you know, it's not unusual and it always fills my heart how often we find that women go through something really difficult and manage their way through that process, often with support from other women. And then as they come out of that, they immediately start giving back to support other women that have been through there. So thank you, Danielle. I know lots of women like yourselves and it's really appreciated. 

Danielle: I've always sort of said, to myself and others, through the pain or my pain, I've found my passion now.

Sally: That's a lovely way to put it. So we've mentioned in the introductions as we've gone along, the Own My Life course. And this is a recovery program, and we're very aware as we work with different services, up and down the country, that very often as far as resourcing and funding goes the government funding tends to be sort of targeted towards the crisis work ‒ emergency provision, refuge provision, etc. and not so much around recovery. When of course women have gone through, you know, a variety of different traumatic experiences as part of the abuse they've been subjected to. 

So, I suppose actually if we could start perhaps with you, Catherine, and ask why you felt at Border Women's Aid, this was something that you wanted to put some time and some resourcing into.

Catherine: Yes, so as you've said, there's been a big focus on kind of that emergency support crisis point. And we've seen that because our outreach service here at Border Women's Aid is actually very recent. I think it was only 2020, which we started supporting women on an outreach basis. So previously that kind of need wasn't even identified. And then in the past couple of years… I mean, I've been here since end of 2021, when the Own My Life was kind of identified by my colleague, Karen, as a new venture which we could roll out and I think from that point, we realised that. Group work was something that we’d just been given funding for recently, and things like mindfulness courses, craft groups, things like that, which women were happy to take part in and come along to. 

It's really hard to sort of navigate those conversations and get things flowing and people maybe know that they're in the room for the same purpose and they're doing something, but to really focus on the recovery and try to get them to process their experience was a difficult thing. So that's why Own My Life has been, you know, a great tool and having that structure for women to kind of process all of it in that way. 

Sally: Brilliant, thank you. And so, talking of structure, Natalie, actually it would be really helpful perhaps if you could talk us through it a little bit. So, if I was coming along or thinking of joining an Own My Life course, what are the sort of things that it would cover? How would it work? 

Natalie: Yes. So it's a women-only group, so the only people who can train to run the course are those who are women. So facilitators have to be women and those attending are women. And one of the reasons that I wrote Own My Life is it feels like as the sector has grown… and it's been an incredibly important journey to see services move from kind of women in their houses pulling this stuff together… I recently read Gill Hague's book [History and Memories of the Domestic Violence Movement:] We've Come Further Than You Think, and there's so many joyous stories in that. 

And what it feels like, as women have fought and campaigned for the severity of domestic abuse to be taken seriously by statutory services, almost that journey, the success of women's work in activism and campaigning and doing that resourcing, has meant that essentially we've had it taken from us and put into statutory services’ hands and been taken. You know, the professionalisation of the sector has been really harmful, you know… that you get people who might be really good at managing banks who then become the service leads. Rather than what used to happen that women had enter a service, learn from that service… 

You know, there's a current buzzword of ‘lived experience’, as if it's a magical new thing, rather than what actually this work was founded on, the lived experience, you know, the personal is political. That's like our core assumption, right? So, I had seen that this kind of increased professionalisation, this kind of move, this de-gendering of the sector, you know, that everybody's being required to work with men… And obviously men need services, but actually it's not women's job to provide those. 

And so we wanted to develop something that would really kind of reinvigorate the feminist consciousness raising that the sector was founded on. Well, I'm 38, so I'm a bit young to have, you know, been around the first time around, but so much of my understanding of myself, of my liberation is being rooted in those same principles, even if I wasn't around when it was going on as I wasn't quite born yet.

And so, with the Own My Life course, it's a 12-week course, two-and-a-half-hour sessions. We have loads of whiteboard animations that are accessed through an online e-hub for facilitators. We have a quiz every session. We have activities which involve a kind of traffic light system.

We have all sorts of really interactive and engaging ways of doing the work and it can be both delivered either online, for women who have care responsibilities or work full time, or it can be delivered in person. And I think, you know, some of our principles and values are… we’re woman-centred, we believe that women are the experts on their own lives, we are committed to honouring resistance. 

And I think one of the things that has happened, and you kind of mentioned it a bit before about the focus on crisis, actually what we see within the UK, and it's not quite as bad in Scotland as it is in England and Wales, is this obsession with men's risk to women. And we don't even talk about it as men's risk. We talk about her risk. So we say ‘Oh, she's a high risk victim.’ No, she's not. She's not a high risk anything. He is a high risk perpetrator. And he's dangerous to her

And so this focus on risk means that we stop being able to honour women's resistance because actually it potentially means his risk increases if she stops doing what he says. And so actually there's all sorts of problems with how risk is harming and this measurement of risk and apportioning resources based on a perpetrator's risk. And actually what we want to do is honour women's resistance. 

So last week I was delivering a training and somebody who was running an Own My Life course said that one of the women in the group, talked about how her partner, before he’d sexually assault her, he would brush his teeth. And so she started brushing the toilet with his toothbrush. And like everyone in there, and everyone in the course and the trainer was like ‘Yes!’ And then, a woman came in the following week and was like ‘So, over the last week I've been brushing my partner's toilet with their toothbrush.’ 

And she's not left him, but the thing with Own My Life is it's about being, you know, kind of fun and joy. It's not about just coming into a space and going, this sad thing and that sad thing. It's not that this stuff isn't sad or hard, but actually, one of the ways that we overcome what has been done to us is by sitting in joy and sitting in positivity in that sense. 

Sally: Do you know, I'm just imagining now across the land, women getting that toothbrush out and getting ready, it sounds fabulous.

Danielle, can I ask you, having gone through the course and experienced it, what that felt like for you? Were there specific parts of it that really resonated or how did it feel to be a participant? 

Danielle: Throughout the whole course, it was very validating and I constantly had these sort of lightbulb moments, through everything, even from day one, that validated my experience as well as the other participants’ experience as a domestic abuse survivor.

And even the similarities between each woman… they connected us all. I mean, we did have a laugh, but we did have a cry. I was crying from day one, basically, because it was just like, it's not just me, I'm not alone. So that was a big factor in it. There were, there are, some difficult things to talk about, like sexual violence and things like that.

But I felt that the shock of it was… I needed that shock to… what was done to me was wrong. So the shock factor, I feel, was necessary in that case with regard to sexual violence, etc. But every single session was absolutely amazing. I felt a bit lost when it was finished, but we all still kept in touch and now I participate as a co-facilitator. It's just wonderful. I'd love to do it for the rest of my life.

Sally: That's wonderful. And it really struck me as you were speaking there, and Natalie, you referred back to consciousness raising, and something that women would do is gather together and talk about what was happening in their life. You get this realisation that actually that's not happening to me because I did this or because I didn't do this. That's happening to me because that's the way women are treated in society and actually if it's happened to lots of other women, then maybe it's not my fault, maybe it's the perpetrator's fault.

It's the way that society enables that again. So it's really great to hear of those methods still being used and also I think the fact that you were saying that some of the women were keeping in touch afterwards, because there's quite a bonding that goes on, isn't there, when you go through a process and a course like that.

Natalie: One of the things, when I wrote Own My Life, that I thought was important was to have a kind of follow-on process and different services run it in different ways. We very much honour the expertise of the services who run Own My Life. So when people come on our training, we're like… we created a whole structure, a whole system for you to run it, but actually you are the expert in making that work in your context. And so we ask people to commit to our principles and values, but we want people to commit to that, but actually whether you run it over 12 sessions or 10, or whether you just use it as a toolkit is up to you as a service. 

And so, one of the things that I felt when I originally went on a group work programme after I left my ex-husband, was that you get to the end of the last week and it's like ‘Well, thanks very much. Goodbye everyone.’ And that felt really like the power sits with the service and sits with those who run it. 

And so the way that Own My Life works is there's an opportunity for the service to run a six-week follow-on course. And we provide the materials to create a bridge where it goes from being facilitated to peer led. And so at the end of six weeks, those women can continue to meet independent of the facilitator.

Some services, as Catherine was saying, at Border Women’s Aid, they have craft sessions; they have other sessions. So it might be that women finish the 12 weeks, and they can go on to other courses that are being run by the service. But I really wanted to… and it's really meaningful to me to ensure that the model that we're operating out of is one that is making sure that the power doesn't stay in one place. And so the idea of, instead of saying to women, it's the end of 12 weeks, the end, goodbye. It's like, actually you can choose to come to this, but a lot of women don't want to do that. They're like, actually I've finished my journey, but the power of saying I don't need to come rather than you're not allowed to come is quite transformative.

Sally: And really important as well that that power is handed back to the women for them to make that decision about. Catherine, I wonder if you've seen differences in the women that you're working with as a result of them being part of the course or having completed the course. 

Catherine: Yes, absolutely. The difference you can see is just visibly dramatic. I mean, even taking Danielle as an example, I can actually recall in my head how she appeared when she came in and just quite shy, timid and I think not expecting… you didn't expect the transformation, in yourself by the end of the course. I don't think you ever would've expected to be the person that you are now or today. 

And just even seeing Danielle… we facilitated Own My Life this morning online, and just being able to see Danielle lead a group like that. And I know that when she came along to that first session, a year and a half ago or maybe a bit less than that, I don't think you ever would have imagined yourself taking the lead or leading a group of women and kind of prompting that conversation, that same conversation that you were a part of whilst you were contributing to, but now you're leading.

And I think it's just such a magical thing and women say it. They verbalise the difference it's made, so I can hear the impact it's had, but actually being able to see something is just so great. I mean, they’ll come in and they'll just look… you know when someone feels better inside, they look better, you know, more sprightly and kind of smiley and they might be complimenting other women.

They're wanting other women to feel better and to share that journey with them. So, yes, it's so remarkable the difference it makes to women. 

Sally: Thank you. And again, one of the things you mentioned actually is the importance of the women-only space. And that's something at FiLiA we feel very protective of, that we should be able to have access to women-only space for a variety of reasons. And for you, in designing this course, what were your thoughts about why this had to be women only? 

Natalie: Well, it's interesting because we did a pilot with four outreach services and a refuge service, and I hadn't really made a decision either way. You know, it was written with very strong feminist values, very women-centred, and we had an accidental trial in that one of the pilot services had a male student who just sat in a number of the sessions. I probably would have not wanted to try it, you know, but actually the impact for the group that had a man in the group, it was hugely, hugely detrimental to how that course ran and to the outcomes for that course compared to other courses.

So I think, we know that it's important. But also, within the course, there's like different sections… there's a section on ‘Owning my mind’. There's a section on ‘Owning my body’, which focuses on understanding our literacy about trauma and what's going on in our bodies and brains. There's a section on ‘Owning my world’, which is that kind of social piece about the patriarchal society we live in. And so we do stuff where we look at body modification and how our body is like kind of required to be shaped around patriarchal expectations. We do stuff around the music and the songs that we hear.

And, and so there's something about sisterhood and the power of sisterhood that the Own My Life course enables, that actually would be… And that sense of just unapologetically being like, women are incredible. Women are amazing. We're not going to apologise. When we do the Own My Life training for practitioners, practitioners often come on… And I always start by explaining that Own My Life was written and is underpinned by feminist principles. It's not actually like ‒ Danielle would probably be aware ‒ that actually in the journal, it's not anywhere. We don't use the ‘F-word’ in the journal, because you don't want to scare anyone off do you?

You know, like actually, so we don't mention it in the course as it's delivered. But it's really important that those who are training to deliver it understand that it's kind of underpinned by feminist principles. And I usually say to facilitators as they come in ‘You might not like the F-word, you might not even sign up to it, that's fine, you don't have to be a card carrying feminist’ ‒ not that there is a card, but you know ‒ and then I say ‘But if you get to the fifth day, if you get to the end of the training, and you realise that you agree with everything in the course, then I hate to break it to you, but you might actually, accidentally be a feminist.’ And for me, there is a pragmatism around the fact that we live in a… anything, any movement for liberation that's effective, there will be those who try to undermine it by making out that there's stereotyping and diminishing the power of that movement.

And so actually, we don't want to kind of get into the semantics or people's rhetorical discomfort with feminism. But actually, the reality is that if you kind of find this stuff to be liberative, if you find this stuff to be transformative, then you probably are just a feminist, and you didn't know it. And on our training last week, one woman got to Wednesday and she was like ‘Oh, on Monday where is that woman. Oh, not this!’ She didn't even get all the way to Friday. By Wednesday, she's like ‘I'm in! I'm ready to march!’ 

You know, so there’s definitely something about this. And within the training, creating a space where practitioners are in a women-only training, and that's profound, particularly given that we're in a sector… I mean, you know, in Scotland, you had the male period poverty officer, didn't you?

We had the Irish practitioners last week and they had a man who's being paid to be the CEO of the organisation in Ireland to get more women into politics! And so I think there's something about… we have to hold a standard. We have to be standard bearers in this and say, some things that are really, really important and the healing that we can do… 

And actually patriarchy is about dividing and conquering women. And making women hate each other, ensuring women aren't really honouring one another. And so I think by creating this women-only space, we create a journey for women to honour one another, celebrate with one another. And that's something that women often haven't had much time with, because often we're like ‘Oh, women are just so bitchy.’ But that's because we haven't created honouring and sisterly spaces. 

Sally: I think you're so right. And also I think sometimes people think of patriarchy as being quite dramatic and that's when a man hits a woman and that's the patriarchy. But the reality is that very often women don't find those women-only spaces as naturally as perhaps we're used to.

We're being separated, aren't we? And then the revelation of being in a space that's just women and that letting your guard down, you know, not having to worry so much about how you present, because you're not being judged in the same way, just opens up that, that whole sphere.

Danielle, if we could ask you, were you even thinking about the fact that it was a women-only course to start with? And was that important at the beginning or did that become important as you went through? 

Danielle: It didn't come into my mind initially, because I was just thinking about the group and getting there and learning something. I didn't sort of connect the emotional connection that I would have to it.

And I feel that because it's women only, women led, that is vital because it's only, whether you've been in an abusive relationship or not, you can empathise and understand what it's like to be a woman. As a collective, to be drip fed with misogyny and drip fed how you should be in society, what you should look like, diminish yourselves for your own protection.

And it's only women that can understand that on any level, really. And like you were saying, Natalie, it's not feminism, feminism, feminism, but it's through learning about the patriarchy, and you're finding out what your own values are. Or finding them again, like retaking your own values, retaking your own power. 

And I've always had an uncomfortable feeling about using the word power, but I'm getting comfortable with that now ‒ it’s not a bad word. It's just, you finally realise that society is subtly saying to you that these abusive behaviours are okay. It’s just to know that is a revelation. But it's obviously the emotional connection with these women ‒ you're like ‘Aye, this is not right!’ And you do come out a feminist or just how you should be, how it should be. You shouldn't really have to have a label. You just should be this empathetic, understanding, kind person. That's how a human should be.

Sally: Absolutely. And it's amazing that we have to sometimes go through certain things and processes like the course to actually get that realisation that that's me, that's what feels comfortable to me. As you said, Danielle, sort of like finding your own values, where you feel comfortable.

Catherine, if I could ask you, and again we've alluded to a little bit now, as services have professionalised, unfortunately, some of them have moved to a, well, not women-centred approach. They're kind of like ‘This is a service for anybody and we offer the same sort of services for anybody.’ And it's really positive to see services like Border Women's Aid taking on board something which is so clearly women centered. And was that something as an organisation that you felt was important for you, for your identity in the way that you work. 

Catherine: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we operate as Women's Aid because we know that domestic abuse is a gendered issue. I mean, that's just a fact ‒ that domestic abuse is both a cause of gender inequality and also a consequence of gender inequality. And I think that's just hugely important. Like Natalie said, it's kind of underpinned by these feminist values, and I think it's just important to sit in that space where we know, both on a societal level and an interpersonal level, that we are affected by a kind of trickle-down effect of the patriarchy. And that kind of shared sisterhood sort of idea, I think is, hugely important. 

Natalie: I think the law in Scotland… I only learned last week, that in Scotland, coercive control legislation only applies to a partner or ex, rather than in England and Wales, it's to anybody who's been an intimate partner or family member. 

And so I think there's something interesting about, that kind of foresight to go, if we make coercive control, like child to parent violence. If we make all these other things, we then are going to expect those domestic violence services to be experts in everything. And I think there is something about, kind of having a strategic and political engagement with this conversation that says we're actually going to limit what domestic abuse can be. Not because we don't care about familial abuse or child to parent violence or elder abuse, and not because we don't care about those things, but because actually we can't expect domestic abuse services to be able to do everything. And so I think there is something about… almost the fact that we get, oh, if we don't consider these people in this particular legislation, we almost must hate them, rather than actually, we can only have certain do so much with stuff.

So I think there is something about… often Scotland's laws come in after England and Wales, and so they can learn. For instance, the coercive control legislation in England and Wales, is that the impact is how we warrant it becomes considered coercive control. So, if we are not severely impacted by what the abuser has done, he can't be prosecuted for, for coercive control in England and Wales, whereas in Scotland that the law is around, would a reasonable person say that what he's done is controlling?

So even if everything proves that he's controlling, if she's managed her keep her life together, keep her kids, go to work, and she's got no evidence. There was a case in England where this happened! A woman was like… she kept her job, she looked after her kids, she was an incredible, strong… you know, it was incredible what she did.

Because if she hadn't have done, she'd have flipping lost her kids, she'd have lost everything. So she kept it all together, and they were like, ‘Sorry, we can't prosecute him, because you're clearly not that badly impacted.’ Which is mad! It'd be like trying to prosecute for murder and go ‘Oh well. Yes, they’re dead but, you know, the family aren’t that sad, so it's not murder.’ You know? It's absolutely ridiculous. Sorry, I went on a bit of a rant then! 

Sally: I was thinking about the coercive control as well. And it is. You know, it recognises the difference in relationships when you're talking about say child to adult or familial abuse, and the specifics of intimate partner violence and what that looks like. And as you said, we started off being women whose friend was escaping, and so we gave her a bed for the night and helped her to escape. And we learn about these things through direct experience with working with women, either ourselves or friends that had direct experience and us stepping in to do the bits we could do. And then gradually that's got more and more formalised into services and agencies etc. etc., but without necessarily looking at the wider gamut of how does this impact on someone, perhaps if they're an older woman or someone that has a caring relationship and that's the context of what it is. 

I know women do tend to be master of all trades ‒ mistress of all trades ‒ and be really good at everything they do, but there is kind of like that assumption that women will just pick that up and do that work and look after everybody else.

Natalie: Definitely. I think it's interesting, even Evan Stark, who came up with the initial coercive control definitions and wrote the book on it, he said only men can subject women to coercive control. Like his entire understanding… I don't think people often know that, that coercive control as a structure was understood to be gendered by Evan Stark and it then, you know, it gets watered down and watered down and watered down.

And I think, you know, one of the things we do within… one of the reasons why it's called the Own My Life course is because ‒ and we introduce this on like session two ‒ is actually the reason someone is abusive is because they think they own us, they have ownership, and they think they're entitled to do what they want.

And so when we're in a relationship with somebody who's abusive, we become owned by them. And so the process of moving forward is about us taking back ownership of our life. And so that idea of owning our life is really about ‒ even in the name of the course ‒ it's about that literacy about patriarchy.

We talk ‒ and Danielle will be able to talk about this ‒ within the video about patriarchy, we essentially talk about a sick planet that makes everybody sick. And that the sickness is the patriarchy. And it says that one group of people are more important than another.

And so trying to find a way to have those conversations in a meaningful way that doesn't bring up this big P-word that feels a bit like ‘Oh, I don't even know what that is!’ I know it feels a bit like, I don't know, it allows a way to engage in it. I didn't know whether you have any thoughts on it, Danielle, from your perspective?

Danielle: The patriarchy side of it was… even though I knew what it was… it's just… because it's so subtle in society and media and things like that, it's great that you're told that. And in the video The Sick Planet, it does put it in a more simple and less aggressive terms, because when people hear about feminism, patriarchy, they're like ‘Woah, it's just too much for me, thank you very much!’ So, I really learned a lot from that aspect of it, even though I didn't know about it. It was the going into details with patriarchy and how much it trickles down and through the media, about religion and things like that. So yes, I'll have that one, that was brilliant.

Sally: I think one of the other things that struck me was the length of the course. The fact that it goes over… and I know you said this is flexible Natalie, but 12 weeks and then possibly some further work afterwards and that feels really important to me as well. Because my experience is very often when women do manage to escape relationships and perhaps the crisis part is over and you're starting to think about what does that mean for my life? That's where some of the small things that perhaps you hadn't even noticed had impacted you, start to come to light, and take you by surprise sometimes. And you need some time to be able to work out where that came from, why you might feel that way, why one day you feel like ‘I'm a survivor and I can take on the world and that's it.’ 

And then the next day, it's like ‘I can't do this anymore. And I thought I was better. So why am I feeling like this?’ And to have the course available throughout that period of time, I would imagine is really helpful as women go through that process of healing, because let's face it, it's not something that you're going to stick a plaster on and make better. It is an absolute process as women start to relive their life and get hold of, and as you say, own their life and, and move forward. 

Natalie: So the course is actually accessible for women who are still with an abusive partner, as well as women who've left. So the online course you have to have left, but if we're attending in person, we can still be with an abusive partner.

It's sort of designed that there are activities to kind of help us to realise he's even abusive because there's this kind of mythology that if we're being abused, we all know it. You know those kinds of posters that are like Are you being abused? Like, like actually one in a hundred women will be like, ‘Yes, I am.’ Most of us are like, ‘No, it's not abuse. It's not like that. I'm not one of those women. He's not one of those men.’ And so even getting to the point of us being able to articulate that what is being done to us, it's such a big bombshell to even acknowledge. 

That word abuse is so big, just like sexual violence, just like the word rape. They’re such big words that we want to shrink them down and make them into… repackage them as ‘just a bad relationship’ or ‘he’s just having a hard time’. And so I think that, yes, there is that sense that actually the course can, as well as taking women on that journey of moving on with their life, getting women to the point where they're like, ‘Right, I'm ready to leave.’

So… and within the course, every woman gets this journal. I know that the listeners won't be able to see it, but it's essentially like a 200-page full-colour book. And basically, lots of women are like, ‘It's like my bible!’ And so there is a sense that even after the 12-week course, that that book is something that women can come back to again and again.

It's got all the scripts for all the videos, all the quizzes. So often, I think it's interesting when I talk to services who are considering running Own My Life and they're like, ‘What? There's a book. How much is it?’ And they're 11 pounds each. And so the service is like, ‘We can't afford that. We can't do it.’ And actually what's interesting is, when I speak to CEOs who've made the decision to actually invest in the course, now they just accept it's an expense. 

And we realised that women get the book and they go, ‘Oh, this means that it's serious.’ One of the women, um, recently be on the course said to me ‘When I got this book, I realised that this was a serious journey, like had loads of pages in and it was robust. And it made me realise that I needed to invest in this, and I was worth something, and that I mattered.’ And so I think also there's this kind of ongoing support that the journal can give, that the ongoing community can get. 

And also women get access to an online part of our website called Own My Life Extra, which has got additional stuff that you can… like homework that you can do. It's not compulsory, but if women want to, there's that. There's that sense of trying to create something which is much bigger than just that two and a half hours a week that we go to. 

And very often women will say… I know that there's been somebody who had come to a Border Women's Aid stall, somebody I know was on the stall and she'd said ‘Oh, that book!’ She’d seen the journal and said ‘That book changed my life!’ She hadn't been on the course, but a relative or friend had gone on the course. And this woman who was at the stall was like ‘And my partner's not abusive, but rugby always came first in our house. And I thought that's just what it had to be, because that's how men are, you know, he's… rugby's important. I have to just prioritise that.’ And she said ‘After my friend had gone through this book and some stuff she'd known on the course, I discovered rugby no longer comes first in our house.’ 

And there's something about that, through the journal, through the information women are getting, that that's getting passed on, and there's a sort of... like this wave of knowledge and sisterhood and information kind of spreading much further than just the women on the course. I don't know about you, Danielle, is that something you've found that you're like… ‘I need to tell you this thing!’ to your friends or family?

Danielle: I went through it with my daughter, she's 14. I went through it with my mother, because unfortunately she's had a few abusive relationships as well. I was going through it and I was… ‘Do you recognise any of these? Do you feel like you resonate with this?’ So yes, it's very… it is my bible. And I go back to it and I'm constantly referring to it. It's nice to pass… even though obviously you wrote all this, it's feels like it's an honour for me to pass it on to the people who I'm co-facilitating with as well. It does feel like it's mine, as well. So it has got a right emotional connection to myself anyway.

Sally: Yes, that is lovely. And I'm guessing as well, Catherine, that actually there's a kind of ‘by osmosis’ effect to staff at Border Women's Aid inside the experiences that they pick up when you're running the course. 

Catherine: Yes, absolutely, even for my colleagues who haven't been on the course, yes, they absorb all of these concepts. You know, I think, Nathalie, you've done a fantastic job about diluting what otherwise would be quite complex concepts or psychological concepts or kind of sociological theories. 

And you know, like you talked about earlier, the Sick Planet video, which really boils down the concept of patriarchy into terms which are easy to understand, and then they can build up that understanding. So, I think you've done a fantastic job at that. And even showing colleagues the content on the course or a sneak peek at the videos and things and exercises, they've then utilised these maybe in support sessions with women in the service. 

So the Biderman behaviours are a great example of that. And just being able to pinpoint each kind of method of abuse and how it can be perpetrated in such different ways. I think that's a hugely insightful bit of information. And I know that colleagues have used this information too. So, that osmosis effect is there, yes. 

Natalie: And I think one of the things… not everybody's got the capacity to do a five-day training, especially if they don't work in this sector. Like, we'll have you all… come along! Actually the Own My Life videos and the support materials ‒ not the journal ‒ but if people want to be able to access the videos, we have an online subscription platform that's at the maximum a fiver for a month.

And with teams of people, it gets cheaper. You get access to the videos, you get access to a CPD accredited learning pathway if you want to do that. And people can just commit for one month, and it's probably a terrible sales tactic, but just sign up for one month and then cancel after you watch them, which gives people a sense of what these videos are like.

And the idea is really that those videos can be used in any context. So when you've got the videos, if you are doing child protection training, if you are wanting to explain complex concepts around trauma to your mum or your sister or in your workplace, the videos are designed to really enable you to do that.

And so I think that there is a way to access some of our materials without coming on our training or attending a course. Although if there's people listening, and are like ‘Oh, I could do with going on the Own My Life course’, or they've got people they know in their life they think would benefit from it, on our website,, they can go and there's a Find a course page and they can find a map of where the course is. We only kind of became established in 2020, so we're quite new. So we're still really keen to expand the number of courses that are running and grow those.

But some of the courses are run online, which means women who might be a bit further afield can still access them. So I think that what Catherine was saying about practitioners coming on the training and then spreading the knowledge across their organisation… It's really hard for us to explain what the value is of coming on our training or even of attending the course, because it's so much bigger. But for instance, I'm going to let you in on one of the secrets that happened on the Own My Life course is, I have a pair of vulva dungarees and I always wear them during the training.

Women who've been… their colleagues come on the training like, ‘I heard about the dungarees.’ But their colleagues haven't told them… they don't tell them what they're about. They're just like ‘Watch out for the dungarees!’ And so while it's partly because vulvas are amazing, and you know, I like to be the first woman to mention the clitoris in any space that I possibly can. Anyway, you know, if we're talking about women's joy, the clitoris is very significant. So there's something about it being about joy and about that kind of stuff, but also one of the things that I talk about later on in the training is that in the domestic abuse sector, particularly, we're terrible about talking about sexual violence when we're a bit like… it's a bit icky and we don't really know what to do with it. 

And so often the only time we talk about anything to do with sexuality or women's genitals or bodies, sexual parts of their bodies, is in relation to violence. And it’s like… no. No, no, no, no, no. Women's bodies are incredible. And so it's really important that we find ways to celebrate and honour like the goodness of women, rather than that all being tainted by the awfulness of what can be done to us. 

And so I think that's another thing about what we are trying to bring forth is this sense in the sector ‒ we shouldn't apologise for this stuff. We should be honouring and joyous and celebratory. Actually, they're a limited edition, so I can't guarantee that everyone… we do sell vulva tea towels, that are like, with those on, so I do feel like that's an option. I really want to get a purse designed, like a vulva purse, with the zip being the clitoris. I feel like now someone's going to steal my idea and I've mentioned it here first.

Catherine: You need to get that patented. 

Sally: I was thinking, careful, we've got a craftivism circle, so I can see that being on there later.

Natalie: Yes, we need a pattern invented.

Sally: Crocheted vulvas we had one year at our conference, women could come along and make their own, very beautiful vulvas. I think actually that's summed up really well, Natalie, because I think one of the things that I really liked when we first talked about this course was, yes, of course it covers the difficult issues that women experience when they're healing from having gone through an abusive relationship. But it does in a way that encompasses all that is strong, all that is beautiful about women and recognises and celebrates that strength and the way in which when we do stuff together as sisters, that strength is then multiplied. So of course there's difficult aspects to it, but it's a very positive programme. It's very… looking forward and looking to the future and helping women to remember and recognise all the brilliant things about being a woman. 

So you've mentioned the website and we can put that link to the podcast so that people can get in contact with you. But before we go, I wondered is there anything any of you would like to add just as final words before we finish? 

Catherine: Just thank you for this platform and the kind of opportunity to spread the word about Own My Life. We need to roll out new blocks every time one is finished, we start a new one in a different town, so it's just great getting the word out. Getting as many people involved in this kind of peer support as possible because it's such a powerful thing, that kind of shared experience.

Sally: Fabulous. Natalie? 

Natalie: I want to honour Catherine and all the women who are doing this incredible work, making a difference in women's lives. And Danielle, I want to honour Danielle for having been courageous enough to go on the course and then dedicating time and energy and yourself to continuing to move other women through that journey, and your sister. And we saw your mum and your daughter, and anybody else who comes into the vicinity. And it just fills my heart with so much joy and so much delight that actually we as women can change the world and so, I want to honour you both and all the women who are doing this work, whether in their own journey or in kind of making a difference for other women. And in doing so, we often find we make more of a difference to ourselves as well. So, celebrating women. 

Sally: Thank you Natalie. And Danielle? 

Danielle: Just to anybody… any women that are listening who are either in an abusive relationship or who have been in an abusive relationship, definitely, just do it. Do the course. It changed my life. It saved my life. It's absolutely wonderful.

It teaches you how to own yourself again, to learn to say no, to be okay saying no, to not have to say sorry all the time, to own your feelings, to be allowed to be angry ‒ we were talking about that today actually at our online Own My Life. Be comfortable with all the feelings that you're now allowed to have, or you will be allowed to have if you leave the perpetrator, so definitely do it. 

Sally: Thank you, Danielle. And thanks all of you for the work that you're doing, supporting women. Women are just the best, aren't they? So thank you all. And, as I say, we'll put the details on the podcast, so if anyone's interested finding out more about the course or doing the course, they can follow the link there.