Oasis volunteer Helen reflects on her experience helping someone affected by domestic abuse in the 1970s and what’s changed for people today.
During my winter break, I have time to reflect on what a very privileged life I enjoy; how very lucky I am. To think how life has changed over the years. The path we are offered – the path we decide to take. Life is never easy.
Looking back now, I always wanted to be an Oasis volunteer as I know my life could have been very different.
Leaving home aged 16 in the 1970s, I was always the independent one, but life was difficult. But with determination, I knew it could only get better.
It was when I was 17, walking back to my bedsit with my sister Ann, that we came across a young woman crying at a bus stop. She was beside herself. We stopped, asked her if she was ok and then obviously why was she crying. She explained that she had left her husband and baby at home and just walked out. She was inconsolable. Her name was Christine* and her baby was 10 months old, a boy called Peter. Christine was probably about 19.
We sat with her as she poured her heart out, saying she had to go home but was very scared as Simon would hurt her. This was such a shock to us. We said, “You cannot let someone treat you like that”.
She was sobbing her heart out by now. I said, “You must go to the police and tell them”, but she said she had just come from the local police station, wanting to report Simon and ask for help.
She was told, “Go home, Love, it’s a domestic. Sort it out for yourself, it will be fine”.
We were outraged. We were also concerned for the baby. Simon wouldn’t hurt him, would he? Christine thought not but she did need to go home and she started to shake.
The bus then arrived, and she begged us to go home with her. “He won’t hit me if you are with me”, she said. So we agreed and all jumped on the bus. She cried all the way home, it was awful.
When we got to the house, she rang the bell. She was not allowed her own key. Simon came to the door, starting to shout and stopping when he saw us with her. She said she had invited her friends home for a cup of tea. He just glared at us.
Ann and I were both amazed at Simon. We were expecting a big bullish sort of man. Simon wore thick black glasses and was only about 5 ft tall. He was skinny. He did not look as if he could hurt a fly.
They had a large room which was their lounge/bedroom. A corner area for a kitchenette and they shared the bathroom with other residents. As we walked in, Peter was crying. Christine said she would put the kettle on but Simon told her to see to the baby and “shut him up”. I suddenly realised that this could go very wrong if we were not careful. I noticed that the room had about 12 television sets. This was the 1970s and TVs were very large! He had the insides distributed all over the room.
The atmosphere was quite uncomfortable. He said “How do you know Christine? She has no friends, who are you?”
Well of course we had not thought about that, so I quickly asked about the TV sets, giving him the opportunity to talk about himself. He did it as a sideline, he said, fixed them up and sold them to make a bit of money.
Christine brought Peter in to meet us and we all sat there, drinking our tea, with Simon glaring at us. After a while, Ann and I said we really had to go now. He said, “Yes, goodbye”.
Christine said she would show us out. I just felt so awful; we could not stay there forever, what could we do? When we got to the front door, she begged us not to go. She said he would beat her. We just said we had to go home. We left her. I don’t think I have ever gotten over that.
Ann and I were outraged that a man like him could abuse and scare someone like Christine so much that she shook. I felt ashamed that we abandoned her. We just didn’t know what to do.
As time has gone by, I have often thought of Christine. I do hope the path she was offered eventually gave her a happier life.
Working at Oasis, I realise if it was now, Christine would not have to suffer in silence but could get specialist help.
People really care at Oasis. They do such marvellous work. I know there is a long way to go with Domestic Abuse but support for victims is so much better now, than in the 1970s that is for sure.
*all names have been changed
*All images used on this website are representative. All names are anonymised for people’s safety.