On Sat 7 Oct we welcomed more than 30 Members from across our Region to the Soroptimist International London Chilterns Region AGM/Conference
Our inspirational speaker was Roxie Chambers from Survivors Against Domestic Abuse (SADA)
Roxie is a survivor herself and her life story (so far) is both moving and inspiring in equal measures.
Pam Robertson, the Region’s Programme Action Officer, invited Roxie to speak to us after meeting her at an International Women’s Day event in March this year organised by SI Hertford Club Member Kate Belinis.
Roxie told us that she was only 17 when she found herself in an abusive relationship – at that age she knows that she was easily coerced and controlled, although back then she didn’t have the terminology to understand what was happening to her. Her abuser took her away from Stevenage creating a distance between Roxie and her family and friends. He was violent, he was on the run from a robbery he had committed and she found out that she was pregnant. He was in prison until the week before her son was born. Roxie’s parents were not impressed when she went back to them, pregnant and with her partner in prison. When he was out of prison she went back to living with him but she escaped when her son was 6 weeks old – she was desperate for her family to meet the baby and he was violent in trying to obstruct her. Her ex-partner went to live with his father, and she went to live with her parents. Roxie said “my journey started then”.
She is in a very different place now, she has been in a 16 year relationship with someone she was at school with and they have a daughter together and she has a fulfilling career too.
Roxie described the appalling court processes she went through while trying to stop her son’s father having access right to him. He wasn’t really interested in his son and was using court to gain control over Roxie. She said the court system was scary – it allowed him to sit with her when she was waiting and there was no way to keep them separate and the lawyer set about making Roxie appear as an irrational female (this is meant to have changed since then, and Soroptimists observed specialist domestic abuse courts in 2022 resulting in a report and recommendations https://sigbi.org/2023/specialist-domestic-abuse-courts/ ). At this time coercive control was not a criminal offence. Roxie’s ex had a new violent and abusive relationship and now had twin babies too – but nothing was reported.
In spite of Roxie’s protestations, the judge permitted 10 supervised contact sessions with their son who was 2.5 years old by then – and he was so distressed he stopped eating. Her ex started stalking her at this time too but the police took no action and Roxie didn’t even know the term “domestic abuse” so no orders were applied and she received no advice. Roxie moved house to get away. The Court processes ended when her son was 4.5. Cafcass was involved by then and they said that with her ex’s behaviour he should not be allowed any contact until the boy was 18 – but the judge said he must keep having contact. He refused to pay for the contact and went to court again – this time he was aggressive and violent towards Roxie and the Judge and tried to smash up the courtroom. Roxie then got a non-molestation order to protect her and the children – but he was never charged for his behaviour. She was angry that it had taken so long to get help. He broke his order a few times, and Roxie had to carry an alarm. He is a known dangerous predator.
Roxie is pleased that things have changed since then – she started working for SADA in Stevenage and now feels she can speak out. She is honoured to be able to help and advise people.
Everyone who heard Roxie speak was moved, some to tears.
As usual there were some good questions from Soroptimists:
Questions for the speaker:
Q How difficult was it for your current partner to go through it with you? How are the children – have they been affected?
A Roxie says she keeps her life with her current partner separate. She thinks her children have been affected by her behaviour – she has tried really hard to protect them. She thinks her partner motivated her to take the role by saying he felt embarrassed about her speaking out – and she said “why should I feel embarrassed about something that was not my fault, inflicted by someone else?”
Q Is SADA only liked to Stevenage Council or are you linked to other councils.
A It was Stevenage against Domestic Abuse and now “Survivors Against Domestic Abuse” because the support now extends across the county and beyond.
Q Schools are impacted by domestic abuse and safeguarding. Do you have school staff approaching you?
A We are currently working on a depravation project in N Herts, supporting primary schools by providing training in domestic abuse signs and support. They have a training programme called “You and me Mum” which has had great feedback.
Q Do you know about the conference the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes High Sheriff is organising in November hearing the journey of women through the court system where she has invited judges/lawyers, Dame Vera Baird, Dame Helena Kennedy etc including a presentation of the Soroptimist DV research . She is trying to make change in the legal process ….
A No – I’d love to attend if I can.
These were sentiments everyone agreed with. Soroptimists observed specialist domestic abuse courts in 2022 resulting in a report and recommendations – click here to download the report https://sigbi.org/2023/specialist-domestic-abuse-courts/
Roxie ended by thanking us for all that we do – what an inspiring woman she is!
After we had caught our breath Rita Beaumont led us through the Regional Business & the 2023 Annual General Meeting. This was an opportunity to reflect on the year just past – a shared Presidency with the theme “The Future is Ours to Challenge”. Reports had been sent directly to Clubs ahead of the meeting.
A reminder that if anyone wants to buy any silk scarves for “Orange the World” (see pic with Jane Slatter wearing one) please visit the website https://sigbi.org/london-chilterns/shop/. Other colours are available.
After coffee we discussed the SIGBI Modernisation Proposals. Lots of thoughts were shared and explored with one another. The survey is to be completed by Regions, Clubs and individuals and the group was animated in trying to get thoughts together to feedback.
Kate Belinis was installed as our new President – her theme is “Celebrating Inspirational Women” so we can expect some great meetings in the year ahead! Kate is pictured here, ahead of the meeting accepting the chain of Office from Helen Byrne (SILC President 2020-21).
Jane Slatter, the Region’s Communications Officer introduced Kate. Kate is a Member of SI Hertford and District Club and we are fortunate to have her time just as she has retired as CEO of the charity CDA Herts after 17 years of reaching out to communities across Hertfordshire! Kate is also one of the Deputy Lieutenants of Hertfordshire.
Kate started by reflecting that our speaker today was on point for the new theme – and it was the word “resilience” that sprang to mind when thinking about Roxie Chambers. Kate explained some of her motivation is from her mother who is her hero! Kate’s mum left Singapore with three children to start a new life in the UK. She was a nurse and a single mother so faced many challenges. Kate told us that the way her mum dealt with racism was “this is the way it is and we have to manage it”, which she did with grace and dignity, something that Kate has tried to follow. Kate has been inspired by attending Region meetings because she is curious and hungry to learn. She is passionate about improving the lives of women and girls and loves the way that Soroptimism meshes with the UN Development Goals. Kate also wants us all to celebrate and be inspired by our own Members. She intends to visit all the Clubs in the Region and be inspired even more. She reflected that the SIGBI Modernisation changes are a big thing and it’s important that we take our Members with us though the period of change ahead. Kate is humble and loves working with other people, she said she is still learning and asks that everyone help her if they can.
Some of us were lucky enough to hear from Kate back in June when she spoke at the Region Meeting of Northern Clubs in London Chilterns https://sigbi.org/london-chilterns/2023/06/04/northjun23/
Please click here to read the “President’s Message” from Kate https://sigbi.org/london-chilterns/president/
It looks like we have a celebratory and inspiring year ahead of us with Kate at the helm – watch this space!