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Jenny Smith was born in 1946 in a Derbyshire mining village. She was one of the first residents of the Chiswick Women's Refuge, when domestic violence forced her into hiding with her children. Jenny was a long-term foster carer, is now in her sixties and lives in London.
Until 1971, female victims of domestic violence were expected to 'kiss and make up' with their husbands, hide their black eyes and bruises, and bear the shame that somehow their partners' brutality was their fault. Chiswick Women's Aid was Europe's first ever refuge for what were then called 'battered women', and Jenny Smith was one of the first females who bravely made their way to this much-needed safe house. Desperate, and in fear for her life and the welfare of her two small children, Jenny had fled her dangerously schizophrenic partner, carrying only a few possessions. In the Chiswick shelter, founded by famous women's rights campaigner Erin Pizzey, Jenny found other women in the same position, all with harrowing, extraordinary stories to tell. Amenities were basic, but the respect, kindness and humanity of the community would help to give Jenny a new lease of life and strength. When the safe house came under threat of closure, she lobbied parliament and drove across Europe in a convoy of women in camper vans to raise awareness of their plight. Jenny's story is a slice of social history that begins in a Derbyshire mining village in the 1950s and takes the reader to inner city of Hackney in the 1960s, and Jenny's heart-breaking journey to the refuge. The house was the subject of a famous documentary, Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear, which, when first broadcast in 1974, sent shockwaves through the UK. Jenny was one of the first women to break a taboo by speaking publicly about domestic abuse. With the new start afforded her by the refuge, Jenny went on to find love, have another child and work as a foster carer.
Helen Edwards grew up in a pit village in Tyneside in the post-war years, with her gran, aunties and uncles living nearby. She felt safe with them, but they could not protect her from her neglectful mother and violent father. Behind closed doors, she suffered years of abuse. Sometimes she talked to an imaginary sister, the only one who understood her pain. Jenny was adopted at six weeks and grew up in Newcastle. An only child, she knew she was loved, and with the support of her parents she went on to become a golfing champion, but still she felt that something was missing. . . Neither woman knew of the other's existence until, in her fifties, Jenny went looking for her birth family and found her sister Helen. Together they searched for the truth about Jenny's birth - and uncovered a legacy of secrets that overturned everything Helen thought she knew about her family. Happily, they also discovered that they were not just sisters, they were twins. Inspirational and moving, My Secret Sister by Helen Edwards and Jenny Lee Smith, is the story of two women brave enough to confront their past, and strong enough to let love not bitterness define them.