By Johanna De Wolf
The Southmead Project is a Bristol charity which provides counselling and group work for those who are both survivors and perpetrators of abuse. We spoke to Gerry Monaghan, one of the co-ordinators at the Southmead Project, about what Bristol Zero Tolerance means to the organisation.
The Southmead Project is primarily a counselling service for those who have experienced trauma as a result of abuse. The organisation largely helps those who have been victims of sexual abuse, particularly in childhood, but also those who have suffered physical and emotional abuse and neglect. They offer long-term one-to-one counselling for both men and women, as well as supportive recovery groups. They also help those who are misusing substances as a way of coping with past abuse. Those who use the Southmead Project’s services are predominantly women, with roughly 70% female and 30% male service users.
According to Gerry, it is important for the Southmead Project to sign the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge because “victims of domestic and sexual violence often feel a lot of guilt and feel that they are to blame for what they have experienced. In order to work through this, we have to take a different view. We have to say ‘NO’. Victims are not responsible. The Zero Tolerance Initiative demonstrates this view. It doesn’t matter what women do, how they dress, how much they have had to drink or where they go, they are not to blame if they are abused or attacked.”
Gerry told us about some of the new projects that the organisation are currently working on to help those affected by abuse. In September 2016, the Southmead Project will run a group for parents, carers and friends of those who have experienced abuse. Loved ones of victims of abuse will be able to meet and support each other, and share their experiences. The Southmead Project are also running a group called ‘Caring Fathers Safer Children’ which is aimed at men who are perpetrators of abuse and want to change their behaviour. This group is supported by Next Link and the NSPCC, and works with men who want to maintain a relationship with their children. Gerry believes “it’s very important to work with men in order to prevent domestic and sexual violence. We need to change men’s attitudes towards women and children, otherwise we are only dealing with the victims. Men who attend the ‘Caring Fathers Safer Children’ group often refer themselves to counselling afterwards because they have experienced trauma and abuse in their childhood.”
For Gerry, a Zero Tolerance Bristol would “send the very strong message that we as a city will not accept violence full stop, particularly towards women and children. We won’t accept excuses or reasons or anything else that will undermine the message of Zero Tolerance. A Zero Tolerance city would mean a safe place for women to be, where women can walk around day and night, be on their own and not be at risk or feel under threat of violence.”