Domestic violence must not become just another fashion for the famous

'To suggest such a thing is to tread into a nest of crocodiles, worse still when I call myself a feminist'

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It's taken a long time for domestic violence to become front-page national news, and the horror of a woman somewhere in Britain being raped, stabbed or beaten by the man she lives with, every six seconds, should shock us all profoundly. It gives the lie to the idea that marriage
per se is the key to happiness and that women should stiffen their quivering upper lips and stay put for the sake of everyone but themselves.

It's taken a long time for domestic violence to become front-page national news, and the horror of a woman somewhere in Britain being raped, stabbed or beaten by the man she lives with, every six seconds, should shock us all profoundly. It gives the lie to the idea that marriage per se is the key to happiness and that women should stiffen their quivering upper lips and stay put for the sake of everyone but themselves.

And not before time. The first recorded campaign against male abusiveness was led by Mary Wollstonecraft in the late 18th century, although administering punishment to disobedient wives was sanctioned in the Old Testament. But it has taken until the year 2000 for Scotland Yard to consider what for years has been shuffled aside as a private matter, "a domestic", the unfortunate fall-out of women getting at men until they snap, an important enough matter to commission a large-scale study based on police reports nationwide and information from various charities on calls they receive about domestic violence.

Given how many smaller but significant reports there have been - pleas, from the underfunded and oversubscribed refuges that offer women a way out, for us to understand the scale of the problem - it is scandalous that it has taken until now for it to be thought necessary to have a proper police strategy, or for the head honchos at Scotland Yard to say, as Detective Superintendant John Goodsave did, that "It is time this problem was properly addressed. The aggressors have to learn it is not acceptable."

Indeed. And it is precisely because the physical and emotional abuse of women by men seeking to subjugate and control them must, unwaveringly, be judged unacceptable so that women who are victims know they will be given support and help, that women should not seize upon this latest fashionable theme and use it for their own ends. I know to even suggest such a thing is to tread in a nest of crocodiles, and worse still when I call myself a feminist.

But we live in distorted times, with the media desperate for sensation and stories that tie in with whatever subject is blowing hard. In a time of heightened awareness, there is a particular interest in, and sympathy for, the person who has suffered. And, as many of us know, people can be persuaded to make more of something than they might otherwise have done.

This is brought to mind by Anthea Turner's allegations that her former boyfriend, DJ Bruno Brookes, was emotionally abusive and physically violent towards her. He denies it, she insists it is true. But what raises worrying questions about expediency is the fact that Turner's revelations were brought to prominence this week in a national newspaper to coincide with publication of Scotland Yard's report, and at a time when she has a book to sell and a somewhat battered public image to resurrect. In my jaundiced mind, the things we have learned about Turner in the past few years, which suggest that sensitivity to people's feelings is disposable in the promotion of her own interests, do not help.

We may never know the truth of what happened in that youthful relationship between Turner and Brookes, but I think it is very important that the truth of domestic violence in the very ordinary lives of women across the social scale, cowed into shameful silence, should not get muddled up with showbiz spin. The arguments about high-profile names bringing attention to a subject are well rehearsed, but there is a way in which their lives can also seem so different from those of women of all social classes who are victims of violence. Several times, interviewing women who have run from the most dreadful situations, I have listened to them saying that they aren't interesting like those people you read about.

That is one point; another is that, if we are to truly support and help voiceless women who are victims of domestic violence, it is vital that we are scrupulous about separating nasty incidents of male bad temper, for example, within an equal relationship and not different from what we are capable of ourselves, from abuse that strips women of all strength, confidence and sense that they are entitled to stand up for themselves.

Because surely there is a difference between what Adam Jukes, the psychotherapist and author of Men Who Batter Women and Why Men Hate Women (Free Association Books), sees as a profound hatred of women that consumes abusive men and drives them to find ways to ensure that they control women, and the occasional - or even isolated - outburst of frustrated rage which may result in a slap, a push, or a mouthful of nastiness.

I am thinking here of a relationship I had years back with a man who in no way intimidated me, but there was an occasion when he found me so infuriating that he slapped my face. Just as, on another occasion when he provoked wildly angry feelings in me, I kicked his shins - and harder than he slapped me.

This is not to be frivolous about such a serious subject, but I have heard women in situations like mine being told that if a man slaps you he is abusive, and no way must you remain with him - it's that simple. But it isn't. Relationships are complex, complicated, tormenting, rewarding, disturbing places to be, and the important thing is not to have absolute rules that mean a woman may feel she has to see herself as abused when she had seen herself as an equal participant.

Equally it is very important that women do not use accusations of domestic violence to punish a man who she feels has done her wrong. This is not an idle thought: unless we believe that every acquittal of a man accused of rape, sexual harassment or brutality is wrong, then, for whatever reasons, women do sometimes lie about these things.

All of this matters because, if we do dig up long-buried tales to aggrandise ourselves, make accusations to punish a man who has hurt or humiliated us, then we push the cause of women who are genuine victims of domestic violence backwards. Women have had to fight so hard to have their harrowing tales believed that we must think carefully about how we protect the progress that at last is being made.

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