Man whose mother killed his abusive father now works to tackle domestic abuse

It’s a year since Sarah Everard was murdered in London by Wayne Couzens, a male police officer. Positive News spoke with five men to discuss the history of gender-based violence, including David Challen, a campaigner.

David Challen led an effort to free his mother Sally from prison. She had killed David’s father, after he subjected her to years of coercive control. Challen currently campaigns against domestic abuse 

“Some call me a snowflake. Others accuse me of defending a cold-blooded killer.” David Challen has faced a volley of insults from other men in his five years of campaigning against male violence towards women. It began as a personal crusade for justice for his mother, Sally Challen, who was then serving a life sentence for the murder of her husband – David’s father – Richard Challen. 

After decades of abuse from Richard throughout their marriage, Sally had murdered Richard in 2010. He bullied, humiliated, isolated, controlled her finances, and even raped her once. The original murder trial “felt like we were in the dark ages”, David says. “We weren’t able to convey what my mother had experienced, because [most of] it wasn’t physical violence.” 

At the end of 2015, the form of abuse Sally had experienced – coercive control – finally became a criminal offence, which offered a gateway to appeal her conviction. 

“Finally, we had the vocabulary for what my mum had suffered, and I felt it was my duty to speak out as much as I could,” David says. “She was not a jealous, callous or vengeful woman. She was a woman who suffered a loss of control for decades.” 

After her murder conviction was reduced by the Court of Appeal to manslaughter, Sally was released from prison in 2019. It was a landmark case which recognized the negative effects of coercive controls on Sally’s mental state. In David’s mind, there was never any question that he would continue fighting to help other women and domestic violence survivors. 

David Challen has tirelessly worked to raise awareness about coercive control. Credit: Sam Bush

“To down tools or put down a loudspeaker or abandon a social media account would have felt wrong. Having met so many incredible people over the years who helped me give voice to my mother’s campaign, I saw what a real-world effect they have in helping victims of domestic abuse. 

“If it wasn’t for the campaigners who made the law recognise coercive control as domestic abuse, my mother wouldn’t have had an opportunity to appeal her conviction.” 

David has been active in raising awareness about coercive control and boosting funding for domestic violence services through speaking out on radio and writing media articles. On TwitterHe regularly invites more 26,000 followers and friends to support campaigns or sign petitions. He joined calls to add post-separation abuse to the government’s domestic abuse bill, recounting how his father had wielded financial and psychological control over his mother – even after the couple had parted ways. The campaign was successful. The government accepted the amendment to bill, which was passed into law in April 2021. 

Finally, we had the vocabulary to describe what my mum had endured. I felt it was my responsibility to speak up as much as possible.

David, who has often been the only man present in campaigning discussions is adamant that other men must step up to effect change. “Men have to engage [with ending] male violence, because it is committed by men,” he says. “That’s not to say all men are guilty of violence. But if you’re not speaking out against misogyny when it happens in your workplace or among your friends, then you’re complicit in it. 

“Women face a day-to-day threat and it’s exasperating that campaigning always falls on their shoulders – while decisions taken by police or government all too often involve curbing women’s freedoms.” 

In the days following Sarah Everard’s disappearance in March 2021, the Metropolitan police force was criticised for warning women in south London not to go out alone. David attended the Clapham Common vigil for Everard, and he found hope in the large number of men there. “Men were finally asking: ‘What can I do to help?’ 

“Since I began campaigning, I’ve seen what can be achieved – new legislation has been passed when women have acted together. And it really begs the question: how much more can be achieved if men act too and support women’s voices?”

This is the third part of a series that was published last week and this weeks about men who are standing up for women’s rights.  

Main image: Sam Bush