In November 2016 my book WITNESS was published – self-published. WITNESS recounts Sarah’s experience of living with a violent and abusive man in a relationship lasted 20 years. I wrote this book to help give voice to the millions of women who have shared Sarah’s experience of marriage, and to picture for others the lived experience that is difficult to imagine, unless you have experienced it, or have close contact with someone who has. In many ways, the book was born out of real frustration with the way domestic abuse is viewed and dealt with in our societies, and the way, despite our best efforts, women are so easily marginalized in our society. When 1 in 4 women experience gender-based violence at some time in their lives, it’s clear that we all know a woman or girl who has been abused, and can I count myself as one of the 1 in 4. In my family, without asking searching questions, I count 5 women, and among my friends, I count 4; it’s clear to see how endemic this form of abuse is.
WITNESS is divided into 10 chapters, and each chapter has 3 sections. Each chapter begins by recounting a part of Sarah’s story, then I move on to hear from a friend, family member, or professional who was involved with Sarah at that time, telling their impression of Sarah, and what they knew or didn’t know about her life; each chapter ends with a meditation and supporting illustration reflecting Sarah’s desire for healing.
It was important to Sarah to describe her journey rooted in her spiritual life, which was a constant undercurrent to her life, even when she was unable to express it. For me, it was important to try to engage with my own church and other faith groups in this issue of gender-based violence, because it became clear to me that the abuse of women has been embedded in our religious traditions over many millennia. Western Christianity, for instance, was developed through the lens of the ancient Greeks beliefs, and their view that women were just incubators for the already formed life passed to a woman via semen helped form the otherness of women in Christian thought. Women were there for men to use to further the development of men. When I came to write to the leadership in my denomination, all men, you will not be surprised to find that interest in my concerns were few and far between. I plodded on, nonetheless.
For the 16 Days of Activism in 2009, I wrote a piece for the ecumenical journal Open House (http://www.openhousescotland.co.uk/) entitled ‘Mary’s Daughters’, hoping to reach others interested in this issue, and inform those who did not realise the extent of this problem. No one got in touch. In early 2010, Rev Jane Scott, who had been addressing this issue for many years, picked up the piece and contacted me, and subsequently introduced me to Lesley Orr. We three met several times, and I developed the idea of an ecumenical conference during the 16 Days of Activism in 2010. With the support, and assistance of Chris Boles, then Superior at the Lauriston Jesuit Centre in Edinburgh, we hosted ‘Breaking the Silence’, which included awareness raising from Lesley Orr, Janet Henderson (then working with FFDSA, now part of SAJEScotland delivering empowerment training to women; http://www.sajescotland.org/) and a short input by me. Fiona Buchanan, then with Scottish Women’s Aid, provided support materials and was available to talk to individuals. Breaking the Silence drew around 40 people for the whole day, which was a start.
Fiona then asked me and Chris Boles to be on Scottish Women’s Aid’s Faith Groups Forum, which drew from all traditions, and we all seemed to encounter the same obstacle – the leadership did not view gender-based violence as a priority; for many they believed it was not a problem in their communities. Over the next 2 years we met regularly and assisted in the development of resources for Communities of Faith, copies are available from: Scottish Women’s Aid, 2nd Floor, 132 Rose Street, Edinburgh EH2 3JD.
In 2014, I wrote the draft for WITNESS, and sent it to a few publishers who were impressed by it, but it was not what they were looking for at that time. Later that year I received money from my divorce settlement, and wanted to do something to help the cause; I decided to pay for WITNESS to be self-published. I had no idea what I was doing in terms of publishing; I found an advertisement from Authorhouse.com, and signed up with them. Unfortunately, my health has become very challenging, and the physical effort required to promote the book is beyond my scope at present, however, you can order the book from www.authorhouse.co.uk , from Waterstone’s, and from www.amazon.co.uk . You can also read my blog at firstname.lastname@example.org. The book was launched in February this year at New College in Edinburgh, thanks to the support of Lesley Orr, who has supported this project from the beginning, and kindly wrote the introduction to WITNESS.
Although my health has been an obstacle, I was happy to be able to give my thoughts on the material being developed for clergy in the Church of Scotland, which was being presented at this year’s General Assembly. I am also happy to be a resource for women who would like to be able to discuss their experiences of abuse in a spiritual context. I trained in Spiritual Conversation at Garden Cottage Retreat Centre in 2014 -2016.
Kitty Nolan has been involved in women’s organisations and faith groups for many years. She lives on the East Coast of Scotland with her family and cats. When she is not writing she enjoys watching the wild life in her garden, and sitting on the beach.