Streethands Against Domestic Violence

Streethands is an organization, which was started in 2012, that helps support vulnerable children affected by domestic violence. Soleha Khawar started this organization after her personal encounters with children who have witnessed domestic violence at home. It is said that over 750,000 children witness domestic violence, left feeling scared, helpless and guilty.

I have interviewed Soleha, the founder, regarding Streethands:

Rumki Chowdhury:  Streethands.org.uk is a non-profit organization against domestic violence. Can you please explain more about what it is that you do? What inspired you to create this non-profit organization?

S: At the time, I was working as an IDVA  (Independent Domestic Violence Advocate) and had been doing so since 2010. Prior to that, I had worked as a Housing Officer based in the homeless persons´ unit. These experiences gave me a unique insight into the correlation of domestic violence, homelessness and mental health. Whilst working as an IDVA,  I came across a case that has stayed with me and is the reason behind setting up Streethands. I have changed their names for privacy reasons, but here is one case:

Ali was eight years old and his sister, Asha, was six; their mother had experienced horrific physical abuse from her husband (the children´s biological father). One incident involved the mother being hit against the wall and another incident involved her being threatened with a knife. All incidents were witnessed by her children. The physical and emotional impacts on these two were completely different.

Ali was like the adult, taking care of his mom, made sure she ate, accompanied her to court/police stations/meetings and interpreted for her, tidied up the house and looked after his six year old sister. If I described him to you without telling you his age, you would think of him as much older than his real age.  The mother let the son act as a protector and took great pride in telling me that her son had quickly grown into a man and would take care of them. She was not able to see how witnessing abuse had impacted her children.

Asha was the complete opposite. She was teary, cowered and hid behind her brother at all times. She would not speak but instead would look at her brother to answer for her. Loud noises scared her. She had nightmares, feared men, and feared strangers. She constantly wet the bed and cried all the time.

From an intervention point of view, there was nothing more we could do for them. We had safeguarded the mother and children and made a referral to social services. Social services had closed the case as the children were deemed to be free from risk.

But, what about the emotional impacts, the mental health implications for when the children grew older? How will they cope? Will the cycle of abuse continue?

I tried to find somewhere to refer them, but there was no such safe haven. So, I started doing informal sessions with these children and the mom.  A few months later, I set up Streethands.

Streethands offers a holistic and soft emotional support-led approach in response to vulnerable children witnessing/experiencing domestic violence. It works in partnership with other voluntary and statutory organisations as an enhancement to their existing provisions.

Through my line of work, I became aware that much more needs to be done and that there is a real lack of specific emotional support available for children experiencing/witnessing domestic violence.

RC: How can we contribute to this organization?

S: I set up Streethands to inspire responsibility in people and to become active citizens. I am currently looking for ambassadors and coordinators to run projects across London. They can get in touch by emailing soleha@streethands.com

RC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

S: I am a gender violence advocate, and I run Streethands alongside my day job. I am from North London, a politics graduate and an alumni of the faith and beliefs forum where I am also an interfaith ambassador. I am also passionate about animal activism. I hate food waste, and I have a rescue cat. I am also an aunty to an amazing niece who is my world! Most recently, I have been blessed with a nephew too!

To find out more on how YOU can help, visit http://www.streethands.org.uk

Rumki Chowdhury
Rumki Chowdhury

ONLINE ASSISTANT EDITOR FOR HAYATI MAGAZINE, PUBLISHED AUTHOR, POET AND JOURNALIST WITH AN MA IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. BORN IN BANGLADESH, RAISED IN USA, LIVED AND STUDIED IN UK AND NOW, AN ENGLISH TEACHER IN SWEDEN. ALSO, MARRIED AND MOTHER OF TWO DAUGHTERS.

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