Westminster domestic violence champion receives national ‘survivor’ award
A woman who overcame her own domestic violence ordeal to spend her days helping other victims in Westminster has been recognised with a national award.
Sharon Bryan, who has worked as a domestic violence consultant for Westminster City Council since 2009, was named Woman Survivor of the Year at the annual Empowering Women Awards in the same week as the UN’s international day for eliminating violence against women, known as White Ribbon Day.
Her award also came as Westminster Council unveiled a new dedicated domestic violence court, which will fast-track and exclusively hear such cases - something for which Mrs Bryan has actively lobbied for the past eight years.
She was abused by her ex-husband for four years before finding the courage to leave and forge a new life for herself and her daughter.
She told the Wood & Vale that a domestic violence court would have made a “massive” difference in her case.
“I actually left my former husband and he was sent to prison for two months initially for breaking an injunction,” she said, “but that was a civil court. When he came out he broke into my home and he hid in the cupboard, and when I came back he jumped out and stabbed me.”
Mrs Bryan has worked in the domestic violence support sector ever since, driven by a desire to spare other women from the same cycles of abuse. She has used her personal experience to drive her work, saying: “I never want another woman to feel as lonely as I did.”
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But Mrs Bryan’s experiences are far from rare.
“It is very much more common than people think, especially in places like Westminster,” she said. “I have had people say to me, ‘Surely you are not very busy?’ People don’t think of Westminster as the kind of place where this happens. They have a stereotypical woman in mind who lives in a council house and is on benefits, but it is not like that.
“It is very much under-reported. What we do know is that one in three women will experience domestic violence. Two women per week are killed by their husbands or partners in England.”
Saying she was “honoured” at receiving the award, Mrs Bryan said: “The abuse and feelings of loneliness I experienced will stay with me as long as I live, and when you’re in that situation it’s incredibly difficult to see a way out.
“From the moment I left that relationship and broke the cycle of abuse, I was determined to help other women in a similar situation to find the courage to leave, and to realise they deserve a better life for themselves and their children. It has been incredibly rewarding to turn my experiences around and use them to help other people.”
Cllr Nickie Aiken, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for children, young people and community protection, called Mrs Bryan “a true inspiration to our family recovery and domestic abuse teams” who has “made a huge impact on our domestic abuse support work”.