Life at the Bar- Battered Wives
Soon after I moved to London I was asked by the Cambridge Settlement is I would help a group of women who were trying to establish a Battered Wives Refuge in the East End of London. They needed a woman lawyer, as the group did not want a man coming into the house, and there wasn’t one amongst the former Cambridge graduates. The group had identified a suitable property, a former doctor’s house and surgery on East India Dock Road.
One night I found myself, a respectable member of the legal profession, along with four other women, climbing the wall of these premises and breaking into the house through a side window. After making it habitable, getting the electricity connected and arranging to pay the rates, a number of women with their children came to live in the house.
I had been recruited to assist the women with their legal proceedings, and there were a number of social workers who also worked with the families to help with claiming benefits etc. The house had room for about ten women and we had to set out a number of rules about how the house would run, things like a cleaning rota, use of bathrooms and the kitchen etc. In order to ensure the house continued to run effectively, we decided to have a weekly meeting at which any problems could be aired and I would make appointments to see anyone who needed help with legal proceedings.
Generally things went well until a woman came to the house with her three children. She was very difficult, the children were always filthy, and she left the kitchen in a mess preferring to spend time watching television. Her husband turned up frequently to ask if the children were alright. I formed the view that the women was, to a large extent, the author of her own misfortunes. I said as much to one of the social workers who retorted that there was never an excuse of violence.
Our meetings were always held at 7.30pm on a Monday evening in the sitting room, the only shared space in the house. This particular evening, we all gathered for our meeting when this woman came in and turned on the television pronouncing that she didn’t want to attend the meeting but wanted to watch East Enders. The social worker who had told me there was never any reason to assault another person, asked her to turn the TV off. When she refused, the social worker went over to the TV and switched it off. The woman got up and turned the TV back on. This was repeated a number of times with the language getting more heated until, as the woman stepped forward again towards the TV, the social worker grabbed hold of the woman by the arm, swung her round and slapped her face.