I have debated all week about whether or not to write about domestic abuse. I wanted to, but then I prefer to blog about light hearted things, and this is not a light hearted topic. But then Nick Clegg said this:
‘I don’t know whether that was a fleeting moment so I’d rather not comment.’
And I decided that I would blog about domestic abuse after all. I’ve seen Clegg both criticised and vindicated for his response – and all parties missed something key, something fundamental. They missed the meaning of what Nick Clegg said, which was, in essence, I don’t want to get involved.
Domestic abuse is a sensitive subject for me, because I grew up with it. I lived with it until I was 17. I lived with the falllout for several years after that. Some days I am still living with it. It wasn’t the photo of Nigella with her husband’s hand on her throat which gave me nightmares this week. It was this one.
I cannot even look at this without feeling sick. A husband should never reduce his wife to a sobbing wreck through sheer vindictive cruelty. I never saw my father hit my mother, but I saw the bruises, and I heard the excuses, and I laid in bed listening to her begging him to stop and listening to her cry. I was there, on that trip to the lake district, when her vertigo got the better of her on top of a particularly windy hill and she had a panic attack and he calmly took me by the hand and led me back down the path to the bottom, leaving her to cope on her own. I was there when he stopped the car in the middle of the street and kicked her out of it, holding the seat down when I tried to get out of the car. When he broke her plate at the dinner table because he didn’t like the way she was eating. When he threw the hoover down the stairs because the house wasn’t clean enough, when he squashed her wedding ring flat with a pair of pliers because she wasn’t fit to wear it. I was at primary school when all these things happened, when I knew the words c*nt and ar*sehole and tw*t as names that husbands called their wives. I grew up thinking this was normal, that this was how marriage worked, and that parents had children, but didn’t like them.
As a teenager, I was there when he stopped the car on the hard shoulder of the motorway in blinding rage because he didn’t like the t-shirt I was wearing (green with an elephant on it, size extra large). My anxiety grew and my self-esteem died as it became apparent that I was so riddled with faults that I barely deserved to be alive. Too tall. Too fat. My hair was wrong, my grades weren’t good enough, my personality was flat, I didn’t like, do or say any of the right things. The real skill in all of this was not that he left me unable to work out what the right answer was, it’s that he convinced me there was a right answer in the first place. I had no privacy, because he would search my bedroom. He had always made it clear that he had never wanted children and being burdened with them had ruined his life. As a child the stress affected me physically – constant rashes and upset stomachs – as a teenager, I starved myself, self harmed and pulled out my own hair in a desperate attempt to cope. I used to leave school and not want to go home. I didn’t have aunties, or uncles, or cousins, or a friendly neighbour, or friends living nearby, or a boyfriend. I had nowhere else to go.
We have a responsibility to children who are living like this. We have a responsibility to not do as Nick Clegg did, to not dodge that bullet. It’s easy to say that domestic abuse is wrong. It’s not so easy to follow that through with action when we are faced with it, as Clegg was, when it’s not anonymous and far away, when it’s there in front of us and it’s easier to dismiss it than to take the step and speak to the people involved. It was horrifying to learn, after the marriage had broken down, how many people had known or at least suspected that something was wrong. I wonder what life would have been like had just one of those people decided that actually, they were going to interfere. They weren’t going to look the other way and not get involved.
If you know this is happening, interfere. It’s the least you can do.