From Girl Power to campaigner – why I made a film highlighting the trauma of domestic abuse
Why would a woman who had lived through a 10-year abusive relationship want to relive that trauma for a YouTube video?
That was a question many asked me when I told them I had decided to work on a project for Women’s Aid to depict the hidden reality of living with a vile abuser – while trying to put on a happy front to the outside world.
I am one-fifth of the Spice Girls who shouted “Girl Power” from the rooftops and encouraged everyone to stand up for who they are and what they believe in. I am also a woman who lost herself and became isolated and powerless because of a coercive relationship with a man I believed loved me, yet who stripped me of my confidence, money and sense of self.
I know what it’s like to lose my power and voice and – with the help of my family, good friends and Women’s Aid – to feel them return. It’s taken me four years but – as a proud patron of Women’s Aid – my mission is now to use my voice for millions of voiceless, powerless women out there. I want them to know they are not alone and they can get support.
All this was behind my decision to collaborate with classical musician Fabio D’Andrea and choreographer Ashley Wallen to produce a dance and music video, Love Should Not Hurt, to shine a light on domestic abuse.
When I looked at my face in the mirror made up to look battered, I cried
When I wrote my book Brutally Honest, many publishers didn’t want to publish it because they felt my story was too distressing. I was terrified how people would react. I was breaking the silence on something people still look away from. But that book liberated me and took me along a path with Women’s Aid that changed my life.
We started working on this project during lockdown when so many were trapped in their homes and we knew from listening to women surveyed by Women’s Aid that existing abuse was escalating. Everyone involved – from the producers to the runners – had in some way been affected by this subject. One of the team had worked with a beautiful, talented woman called Laureline who had been killed by a former partner in 2019. That only steeled my determination.
“Will you be OK?” I was asked every step of the way but, strangely, I felt empowered by having control of this film. We were lent a house, we borrowed clothes, professionals gave their time for nothing, because we were all on a mission to create something that would make headlines for all the right reasons.
The film could not be better timed, as we launched it as the Domestic Abuse Act became law. While the Act is by no means perfect – we will carry on campaigning for migrant women to be protected in law – it is still a massive achievement. It took nearly four years of campaigning, but now survivors will have a law that offers better protection.
However, the law on its own is not enough. Police and judges need training to ensure the new law is understood and properly used.
Domestic abuse costs our society an estimated £66bn a year. I am not a politician, I don’t make the laws (although I’d like to) but if I can make people think and get them talking so that organisations dealing with domestic abuse get more funding to help survivors, and prevent abuse, I am doing something a working-class girl from Leeds can be proud of.
When I looked at my face in the mirror made up to look battered, I cried. Not because I was traumatised but because I knew this is what so many women go through. I was doing this for them.
Melanie Brown is a singer, television presenter and patron of Women’s Aid