Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Thoughts on Abuse

I caught an advert the other day which shocked me. It said that 1 in 4 women suffered from domestic abuse. I immediately scoffed at this. 1 in 4? Are they expecting me to believe that 25% of women are abused by their partner? There are 6 of us in the Cheeseboard. That means that, statistically, one of us is being abused. It's not me. It's not Fisher. So which of Spartan, Pro, Wheeler and Badger is domestically violent?

Obviously, this thought was preposterous to me, but I couldn't get that statistic out of my head. 1 in 4?? It couldn't be right. So I did some digging on t'internet and discovered that it's not true ... not in the sense I'd taken it, anyway. It's not 25% of women. However, according to womens aid, it is 1 in 4 women - over the course of their lifetime. 6-10% of women in any one year. My immediate reaction was "thank God." Remember, I was going from the hideous thought that 25% was the claimed number. It only took a second, though, before the horror of this situation hit me. 6-10% in one year?? Let me try and put that in some kind of rough perspective.

Population in the UK is 61 million. Let's say half of those are women - so 30.5 million.

1 in 5 people in the UK are under 16, which makes 12,200000 - divided by 2, making 6,100000 females under 16. So, we're talking about 24,400000 women. Except we're not, because domestic abuse drops sharply as women get older. Let's say we're talking about 20 million women in the UK. I'm probably hideously wrong. 20 million out of 30.5 million of an age to have a domestic relationship? Well ... it sounds ok.

So - 6-10% in any one year. At best, that makes 1.2 million women affected. At worst, it's 2 million.

2 million women being abused by their partners in a year. And there's worse to come.

Over 2 women a week are killed by their partner, or ex-partner. I think the advert I watched said domestic abuse is the primary cause of death in women between the ages of 15 and 55 - but don't quote me on that.

Domestic abuse worsens during a woman's pregnancy, and if there are children in the house.

I could go on. I could mention that most domestic abuse goes unreported. I could also mention that it's not only women, that men suffer domestic abuse as well - but that the numbers are considerably smaller. I could go on and on. I won't, because there's just too much. But I will say:

Of all female homicide victims, 42% are killed by current or former partners. 4% of male homicides are due to their partners. However, I'd ask how many more men are victims of homicide than women in general? I know that men are around 3 times more likely to be victims of assault, so I'd imagine that the numbers of male homicide victims are much larger than female - but I don't know.

I'd also like to point out that domestic abuse isn't just physical. According to the government, it's defined as:

"Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality." This includes issues of concern to black and minority ethnic (BME) communities such as so called 'honour killings'."

Domestic abuse, in other words, can be compltely non violent. Here are a list of the signs of domestic abuse, according to women's aid:

  • Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening
  • Pressure tactics: sulking, threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children, lying to your friends and family about you, telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
  • Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people, not listening or responding when you talk, interrupting your telephone calls, taking money from your purse without asking, refusing to help with childcare or housework.
  • Breaking trust: lying to you, withholding information from you, being jealous, having other relationships, breaking promises and shared agreements.
  • Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls, telling you where you can and cannot go, preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
  • Harassment: following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public.
  • Threats: making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
  • Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, having sex with you when you don't want to have sex, any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
  • Physical violence: punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, shoving, burning, strangling.
  • Denial: saying the abuse doesn't happen, saying you caused the abusive behaviour, being publicly gentle and patient, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again.
The thing is - I'm pretty sure everyone I know has experienced one of these at some point, and not one of us would consider it domestic abuse. I know I've been on the end of one of Fisher's rages, and the same is true for her. And "sulking"? Heck ...

So, the question is: are the reports of domestic abuse always justified? Is a woman going to have a blazing row with her partner and decide to call it in as a method of punishment? And if this is the case, do those statistics get recorded? I'm not saying that screaming abuse at someone is ever acceptable, but there is a level of rage that's forgiveable as human nature. Surely? I mean, as part of living. It's ridiculous to suggest that everyone treat their partner with respect every second of every day - even if it's what we should all attempt. There's a massive difference between having the occasional screaming match, where names are called and plates are smashed - and a consistent level of daily abuse. I do wonder how many times the police are called as a tactic in 'winning' an argument. Don't get me wrong - I'm not belittling the numbers here, but I do think there might be a couple of issues that are overlooked.

Personally, I think whatever can be done to help victims of abuse - male, female, domestic or public - should be done. However, I'm not sure people are getting to the bottom of things. Violence seems to be viewed in a very strange light. In my opinion, all types of violence are unacceptable. The only time it's appropriate to raise your hands to someone is in self-defence - and if everyone accepts that violence is taboo, self-defence shouldn't be necessary. I don't care if you're a man hitting a woman, a woman hitting a man, a man hitting a man, a woman a woman - all are utterly, totally despicable. It's the imposing of will by a physically stronger person over a weaker. It's nature's greatest mistake. Being able to control a situation simply because you can batter people into submission is a way to total destruction. But time and time again you see the glorification of violence. Instead of moving away from the idea that solving problems by having a good punch up, the popular media - especially in the US - now seems to be suggesting that women should be karate kicking, wielding guns and fist-fighting with the best of them.

One of the generalisations about the sexes is that women are less violent. This is a GOOD thing. Nowadays we're supposed to cheer Lara Croft, Temperance Brennan, Miss Jupiter - all the butt-kicking, wise-cracking heroines being churned out by the entertainment industry. Frankly, I'd take iron-willed, sharply intelligent Florence Nightingale over that lot any day.

Violence begets violence. We've known that ever since humanity was able to think introspectively. But what do we do? Continue to show it as aspirational, as escapist fantasy. And now you can show men and women in fist fights (where women almost always win) on prime time television. It's a bit sick, if you think about it. I know, I know - you're not really supposed to think about it. It's just entertainment ... right?

Except entertainment tends to reflect those situations the population deem socially desirable - and a new breed of superhero women who kick the living bollox out of men is just fiiiine.

Not to me. I believe the only thing that's going to reduce abuse of all kinds is education, and as so many people take their social education from the TV, I don't think it's wise to continue to portray violence as second nature - and 'cool' to boot. Personally, I think a man beating up a man is as despicable as a man beating up a woman. It's still a stronger person dominating a weaker one for their own sense of power. However, there is a difference between two people looking for a fight and battering each other in some ridiculous primeval power-struggle. Two twats make a fair fight, I suppose.

We don't live in Utopia, so there are a couple of things that need to be done. Firstly, I think every girl over the age of 13 should be given every opportunity to build her confidence. Something happens to girls around that age; often they go from being happy, secure queens of their own lives to blushing every time they're called on in class, never making a wise-crack, believing they're somehow not good enough. At the same time, boys start developing their own brand of confidence, which can be even more intimidating to girls. So: girls need to be encouraged to perform; to show off their intellectual or physical skills (and if your mind immediately turned to a dirty joke then, just ponder what that means for women - that their physicality is almost instantly related to sex) and to be able to hold their own in mixed groups.

I'd like to give a shout out, at this minute, to the world of horses. In this area, girls undertake a very physical, very difficult task and compete in mixed society, excelling as often as their male counterparts. Horses are an area where men and women take part equally, with neither party thinking they're a 'guest' in the other sex's arena. The women I've met who are wholly involved in this area tend to be brimming with confidence. Trouble is, it's also a class issue. It does tend to be moneyed children who get involved - and that means it's difficult to know whether it's class that helps confidence as well. I think it does - but I also think there are more moneyed girls out there with a lack of confidence than assurance. Put 'em all on ponys! In fact, there should be a government initiative, right now, that puts every girl and boy on a pony.

This is a big fat ramble, ain't it? Bascially, to sum up, what I'm trying to say is that women lose their confidence at a very young age, making them susceptible to patterns of abuse. If we can create an uber-race of strong, confident women, it will go some distance to combatting domestic abuse. I'm NOT saying that abused women just need to stand up for themselves - I'm saying that if they learn from a young age that they're worth more than a violent partner gives them, it should help cut the numbers of people in abusive relationships. They may well be able to cope with verbal abuse without letting it dominate them, too, which would nip the start of a bad pattern in the bud.

This is an unfinished, unpolished thought stream. There are issues here too delicate for my clumsy thoughts - but the nutshell is: give a sense of strength and power back to the abused, and teach those who may be vulnerable from a young age that they have worth.

Now I must go and massage someone.