Friday, November 04, 2005

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS NO JOKE – WHOEVER DOES IT

No charges have been brought, so none of us except the individuals involved can be certain exactly what happened between the actor Ross Kemp and his wife, Sun editor Rebekah Wade, or between his onscreen “brother” Steve McFadden and ex-partner Angela Bostock. But we can be certain that jokes which trivialise domestic violence, or worse, make fun of those who are on the receiving end of it, are as intolerable as the violence itself, not least because they make more violence likely.

For that reason, I am horrified by the irresponsible front page of the Mirror newspaper today (4th November). The paper suggests in language more appropriate to a “Batman” comic than a newspaper for grown ups, that both Eastenders actors had been physically attacked by their wife and ex-partner respectively, and then asked if, unlike the “hard-man” characters they portray, the actors were really “Big girl’s blouses.” The attitudes portrayed on that front page are an insult to both men and women.

In the past few decades, domestic violence against women and children has rightly come to be treated as unacceptable. No man who deliberately harms a woman, and no adult of either sex who harms a child, should expect to get away with it. Domestic attacks on men appear to be less common than attacks on women, but they do happen, and far too many people, including victims, some police officers, and some parts of the press, have difficulty in dealing with this. In fact, responses to domestic assaults on men, from sniggering or “he must have deserved it” to flat refusal to believe it has happened are as bad or worse as used to be the case many years ago with attacks on women.

And the Mirror’s front page – not that they were the only ones to deal with this news in a foolish way, just the most tasteless – exemplifies the worst possible way to deal with violence against men. To suggest that a man who is attacked by a woman can’t be a real man is both grossly unfair to the victim but also promotes attitudes that are likely to cause injury or worse to women.

What do the people who make such comments expect a man who has been hit by a woman to do to prove his virility – put her in hospital? Does it not occur to the Mirror that the attitudes embedded in their front page may make some men more likely to do precisely that ?

I would give a man who has been the victim of domestic violence the same advice I would give a woman – don’t hit back but don’t put up with it either.

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