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Helping victims of domestic abuse – why I wrote the Freedom Programme

PAT CRAVEN describes her work assisting abused women to understand what they have been subjected to amid the confusion caused by a victim-blaming culture

IN 1996, as a probation officer, I walked into a probation group of “perpetrators” and really listened to what they were saying. 

My colleagues did not seem to hear what I heard. I heard a group of “normal” men expressing opinions about women that I had heard all my life but until then I had not realised how much hatred they felt. 

Now, all these years later I have learned that most of the women I have met have never realised that either.

I learned a great deal about men who abuse women and decided to pass this information to the women who were involved with these characters. 

I realised that most of us who are abused by men have no idea what is happening to us. It feels like a big confusing mess and most of us believe it is our fault. 

So I wrote the Freedom Programme for women, which was basically a copy of the men’s programme.  

The Freedom Programme is not therapy or counselling. It is simply a way of helping people to understand the society in which they live and in so doing learn to understand themselves and others. It is if anything a form of sociology.

At first, I ran it for women on probation and then widened it to any woman who wanted it. 

The probation service then decided that women offending had nothing to do with being a survivor of male violence and forbade me to use the programme anywhere. 

They said that because I wrote it when I worked for them, they owned the intellectual property. 

Fortunately, I had met a brilliant judge who actually cared about abused women and she helped me to get some good legal advice. 

I left the service with no money and a much-reduced pension, but at least I still owned the Freedom Programme.

Over the next few years I made a living by training people from the social care and health sector to facilitate the programme. 

It gradually became more popular. In 2008 I put the content of the programme into a book called Living with the Dominator. 

I paid to publish it myself and was able to commission the wonderful cartoonist Jacky Fleming to illustrate it.

A couple of years later I wrote and self-published the Freedom Programme Home Study Course to go with Living with the Dominator for women who did not want to attend a group. 

Both books are for sale on Amazon and have been consistently popular.

I then wrote a version of the Home Study Course for men who want to stop abusing women. 

It is in the same format as the women’s programme but with a few subtle differences. That is called How Hard Can it Be…?. 

I also published that on Amazon as a companion to Living with the Dominator.

Shortly after the publication of the home study I combined both books to create an online version of the Freedom Programme. 

I did the same for How Hard Can it Be…? and created an online programme for men. 

The online courses are particularly popular at the moment when the country is in lockdown. 

They cost £12 and some of this is needed to maintain the website.

All my publications are also distributed by a wholesaler who supplies most of the country’s bookshops. 

They have currently shut down and are not only not buying our books but have not paid for outstanding invoices.

So we now have three different forms of the programme. At the time of writing I know of about 300 different group work courses where women can go for around 12 weeks. 

Many of those have closed at the moment and are being run by Zoom.

The course is available in book form and I donate copies of the Home Study Course and Living with the Dominator to any woman in prison who wants one. 

I have just sent 50 postal courses for men and around 70 for women. I am happy to pay for these donations personally as I know that there is a great need for them.

I now employ three excellent trainers Clare, Cathy and Chris. I pay them for training and they use their fees both to live and to support themselves as programme providers in their own right. 

Chris provides the Freedom Programme helpline. She is also potentially able to provide instructions and help by telephone to women who want to take legal steps to protect themselves by taking out non-molestation orders. 

Chris needs more funding to do this properly and I am starting to be able to help her by using any excess fees from the online courses and Amazon. She has called her charity EndAbuse.

For more information about the Freedom Programme visit www.freedomprogramme.co.uk.

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