Amanda Platell: A slap is not a marriage breaker

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The Independent Online

This week I stepped into the minefield of the domestic violence debate - and nearly had my leg blown off. As I discovered through a week of radio and television discussions and the numerous people who just stopped me on the street to comment, there is precious little real debate over this most sensitive of issues.

This week I stepped into the minefield of the domestic violence debate - and nearly had my leg blown off. As I discovered through a week of radio and television discussions and the numerous people who just stopped me on the street to comment, there is precious little real debate over this most sensitive of issues.

Even to countenance the question I raised in my London Evening Standard column on Tuesday - whether some violence was ultimately forgivable within a relationship - became an act of sisterly heresy, a betrayal of women everywhere, which I find most curious. Surely there is a difference between the man who gets drunk each night, or every week, or every month, comes home and uses his wife/partner and his children as a punchbag and the man who loses control very occasionally and hits his partner.

Yes, I do understand why some women choose to stay with a partner who has hit them. It is horrible but it happens. And I do not mean by that a man who has beaten up a woman and left her in hospital. But I believe there is a huge difference.

If we are able to differentiate between different kinds of homicide, from manslaughter to premeditated murder, then why can we not draw a distinction between a man who ritually brutalises his partner and one who rarely hits out? And why is society's condemnation the same in both cases?

Domestic violence is no more a black-and-white issue than it is a black-and-blue one. And yet we as a society still cling to the "one strike and you're out" policy, as I discovered this week.

The trigger for my piece was the rather nasty episode - not the first - involving Leslie Ash and Lee Chapman. Ms Ash spent five days in hospital with a punctured lung and cracked rib after purportedly rough sex during which she fell out of bed. Mr Chapman sounds pretty unpleasant, but for the purposes of this argument I ask you to put aside any feelings of loathing you might have for him. This debate is not about him, nor about violent abusers; it is about domestic situations in which there is an occasional slap.

It emerged from discussions on Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 show and on Woman's Hour that the received wisdom is that one cannot and should not differentiate between types or degrees of domestic violence. I disagree. The research is based mostly on the extremes, where the violence is habitual. But at the other end of the scale, there are women who find the occasional lapse of control in their partner a price they can live with, if the rest of the relationship works. It is still an appalling thing to happen in a relationship - the red mark on a woman's face may fade, but the black mark against his character does not.

I have a friend who is in such a relationship and has been for 21 years, during which she has happily raised three children. She calls it a 95 per cent marriage. If she can live with her partner hitting her in anger once every five years, then who are we to say she should have left? She hates him and he hates himself for doing it, but she can forgive him.

These women - who tell no one about the occasional shaming loss of control - never form a part of research into domestic violence. But again and again, and especially when I did ITV1's This Morning and argued the toss with their agony aunt Denise Robertson, I felt as though some people believed that even raising this issue was a most heinous crime against all women. As though I were some terrible enabler, an apologist for brutal men, which I am not.

And the double standards applied to men and women are still breathtaking. A man slapping a woman is grounds for divorce, yet how many people seriously apply the same rule to women? And I ask you, how many women reading this have hit their partners and considered it to be an act of domestic violence?

If my column achieves nothing more than to have made one woman who feels pilloried by society for making her own 95 per cent deal with a less than perfect man feel OK about that deal, then the minefield was worth it.

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