On my worst days, I am scared about the abuse I face – but mostly, I just feel numb

·4-min read
On my worst days, I am scared about the abuse I face – but mostly, I just feel numb

This week, I have had thousands of messages of love and solidarity, following the sentencing of Rakeem Malik, a man who was already in prison for threatening to kill me and my family, as well as other politicians and their loved ones. Malik decided to spend his time in prison continuing to perpetrate threats to my life. He has been sentenced to a further 10 years, five in custody, five on licence.

People ask me how I am and offer support and practical help and it is all so lovely, but the truth is, I am fine. After hearing the news, I simply filed away the information and then took my son to the cinema. I have learned to cope with this element of my job and find that a sort of shrugging numbness is my response these days.

When the brilliant and thoughtful officer from West Midlands Police emailed me to let me know how Rakeem Malik’s sentencing had played out, I had genuinely forgotten that it was happening that day. If I am honest, I don’t think I ever really registered the date. I have so many different cases running at any one time, they get confused in my head and I cannot remember which action is being taken or where on the timeline I am with each different perpetrator.

I think I have three different cases running at the moment, and I think, as of today, that there are two men incarcerated because of threats towards me. It might be three. I have a little folder for my restraining orders in my home, but I lose track, especially as time passes in a glacial justice system.

The case of Rakeem Malik led to the then secretary of state for justice, Robert Buckland, and one of his ministers having to call me up to apologise. I guess not all victims get that. The fact that this man was allowed to continue to abuse from within our prisons is a problem, no doubt, and I wasn’t the only victim of his behaviour in the time since his previous sentencing.

My case, like many cases, had to be postponed because of a lack of availability of courts, which is one thing I suppose if, like me, you are numb; less good for my constituent who has already waited years to give her testimony as a victim of child abuse. Her life is in stasis while she waits. Our justice system is hanging by the last thread of a very stretched shoestring and currently offers very little in the way of justice. My case is littered with examples of a crumbling justice department.

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I know that my numbness is a way of protecting myself from the terror that perpetrators want me to feel. I wish I could pretend that it was defiance rather than simply that it has become mundane. Sometimes I don’t feel numb sometimes I feel scared and anxious, and my husband hates that when I present to another set of police officers sat around our kitchen table taking my statements that I don’t present to them the reality of how I feel on my worst days. I act breezy and roll my eyes rather than bear my soul. I still feel as if I am wasting everyone’s time. I cannot advocate for myself as I would for any one of my constituents.

Through all of the numbness I feel incredibly sad; sad that I have got used to the abuse; sad and tired that so much of it is focused on my being a woman and, even worse, a women who speaks out against violent abusive men. I don’t want it to be “just one of those things”. The attacks are not just on me; they are on our democracy. Don’t like me, don’t vote for me. I am happy to be worked hard electorally and for my position to be threatened. My children, not so much. I don’t want these viscous perpetrators to leave me in a gilded cage, when so many of my constituents need so often to hold my hand.

For now I feel like the system is gearing up and taking this stuff seriously following the dreadful killing of the lovely David Amess. Our politics matters and it is on all of us to defend our democracy. Numbness and low expectations will not do.

Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

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