Domestic Violence has always been with us; so long as groups of two or more people have lived in the same place in fact. Whilst I was growing up, it was very much a subject that wasn't discussed. I remember hearing the term 'Battered Women' or 'Battered Wives' as a youngster. How patronising do those words sound now?
'Polite Society' in our very middle-class town on the Lancashire coast didn't discuss such issues like this, or divorce, mental illness or alcoholism. Going comprehensive was enough of a shock for a town with two reputable grammar schools. Sociology wasn't even an A-level option at my sixth form.
It was only when I was about to leave home for University that I found the truth about why my mother's two sisters had divorced their first husbands. Abuse had begun for both on their honeymoons; one verbally abused and belittled, the other beaten on a regular basis. This was my first realisation of the way that some men could conduct themselves. My father would never have done this to my mother; 52 years together attests to this. Now I knew why I wasn't allowed to meet my uncles again.
When I met my wonderful wife, she told me of how her father had treated her and her mother. Again this was something unspoken and unchallenged. His behaviour was not faced up to other than by social exclusion. Though driven by alcohol, gambling and what would probably be diagnosed now as a form of autism, the patriarchal nature of society meant that my mother-in-law was unable to leave him until after nearly 30 years of marriage when the divorce laws changed, and to allow my wife to prepare to take her O-levels without fear of what might happen next.
I have never directly experienced or even seen or overheard any form of Domestic Violence, but the experience of loved ones has made be realise over the years the extent of what takes place behind closed doors. The perennial 'I walked into a wardrobe door' or 'I slipped on the stairs' is sadly a real life experience for many women. In my first real job, one young woman came into the office each Monday morning with obviously thickly applied make-up, covering bruises on her face. Her partner met all the stereotypes; thuggish, muscly from the gym, never accepting that anything he did or said was wrong. Her brave actions in eventually going to the police, together with a diary of her injuries that, unknown to the rest of us, had been kept by a very quiet and sensitive lady colleague, eventually saw a court order barring him from the house they shared and the area around our offices.
We cannot stereotype abusers. Many are of the thuggish mentality. I have heard 'I gave the missus a good slapping to sort her out' in the pub in the past. However DVA is not a white working class issue. Abuse transcends class boundaries. There are apocryphal stories of doctors knowing where to hit so the bruises don't show, of lawyers using their professional links to protect themselves. How true these are, we can only speculate, but it happens in every town, in every social group, and it crosses cultural boundaries too. In some cultures it is indeed regarded as acceptable and in the case of the UAE legal to do so.
If anyone was in any doubt about the nature of Domestic Violence, a viewing of Paddy Considine's wonderful 'Tyrranosaur' is advised. My wife found it painful viewing at times, but it is a portrayal of Domestic Violence and the possible eventual consequences of it. I won't spoil the plot for you, but next time it is on Film 4 or Channel 4, set your box to record.
It blows apart the stereotypes too. Peter Mullan's portrayal of the angered, raging, possibly mentally unsettled social misfit Joseph is not the abusive character that his initial behaviour suggests. Olivia Colman, always marvellous and often underrated, plays the timid Hannah who suffers at the hands of James (Eddie Marsan). They live on the nice middle class estate, where one might believe this wouldn't happen, whilst Joseph inhabits the council estate where street justice seems to hold sway.
Nor is Domestic Violence purely a male issue. Female to male violence occurs too, the recent Coronation Street storyline telling this very sensitively. Also it affects same-sex relationships too. A dear gay friend of ours recounts a tale of being beaten by a former partner, a bit part actor in Science Fiction programmes in the 70s and 80s. 'I regularly had the shit kicked out of me by a gay Cyberman!'
The vast majority of Domestic Violence is however committed by men against women, often with injurious or fatal results. And it isn't just physical violence too. As the nature of society changes, so do the tools of abuse. Psychological abuse, 'You're not good enough' repeated belittling in private and in public. Economic abuse through deprivation of money, comments about clothes, size, hair style. The abuser may deny that this is the case, but continual wearing down is symptomatic of bullying. In these days of social media too, when we all seemingly have access to a range of devices, Twitter and Facebook, including the use of fake accounts, the use of snooping devices and the hacking of emails is a frighteningly real occurrence.
The issue isn't one of violence necessarily. It is about control, which may lead to violence as the only way to exert it. Many men are emotionally incapable of dealing with other men finding their partner attractive, or of facing the consequences of a break up. The beautiful young woman who was scarred for life and blinded in an acid attack is the most shocking example of that. Sadly there are others.
Men clearly don't reveal themselves as abusers in the early days of relationships, and warning signs might not be easy to spot. What makes a man a perpetrator? That is not easy to answer, but challenging the issue before it emerges is surely one way of ensuring that the incidence of DVA is addressed.
In my role as a primary school teacher, if we see signs of problems at home we have child protection procedures to follow. For obvious reasons I won't discuss those here. But we also have a duty to challenge behaviours that we see. I always deal firmly with boys showing aggressive behaviour to girls, and I know from teachers in other schools that on occasion sexual language is used by children as young as 5 or 6 towards the opposite sex. Our PSHE lessons address issues such as bullying and inappropriate language and conduct. Recently, in Black History Week, a child expressed admiration for Chris Brown. A reminder of his conduct towards Rihanna rather balanced out that argument.
Whilst men are responsible for the majority of the issues of abusive behaviour, and whilst figures of the percentage of women being abused is frighteningly high, it needs to be remembered that there are plenty of decent men out there. Most are passive, and wouldn't take part in DVA but probably wouldn't challenge it. Some of us however do speak out!
We aren't knights on white chargers, or even outrageously chivalrous, but believe quite simply that DVA is wrong and shouldn't happen. We would just like to be heard more often!
Some come on Gentlemen! This is your chance. Challenge abusive behaviour when you see it. And to really make a difference ensure that DVA is not brushed under the carpet by the politicians. Sign the e-petition so it is discussed in parliament. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/36837 should take you there.
So there we are! I hope this isn't patronising. It won't get my daughter her A-Level Sociology if she copies this. But this is heartfelt by someone who cares and wants to make a difference.