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Isn’t it about time we got serious about domestic violence? [May. 3rd, 2009|10:20 am]
The Mabiblogion

Sometimes people display such breathtaking stupidity that it’s quite hard to maintain your composure. I have lost mine this week, and that’s why I am breaking my rules and blogging about a UK national issue.

Last week Clearcast, the advertising approval body, decided that an advert due to be shown on British television was too violent and demanded cuts be made. The advert in question is about domestic violence.

‘The Cut’, featuring British actress Kiera Knightley, was made for the charity Women’s Aid. In it Knightley plays an actress who is punched and kicked by her boyfriend after he accuses her of cheating on him.

Directed by Joe Wright, the advert is unnerving and shocking. The advert ends with the information that every week in England and Wales two women die from domestic violence.

Charities campaigning against domestic violence have quite rightly branded the Clearcast decision as ‘pathetic’.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, underlined the importance of such adverts,

‘Many women who are victims of domestic violence are isolated by their partner and in these situations TV is very helpful. It is also a great way to reach the public and raise awareness of the issue.’

Unbelievably, two complaints have already been received by the Advertising Standards Agency about the unedited version which appeared on the Women’s Aid website.

Back in 2007 Women’s Aid was also subject to criticism over a stunning campaign which featured celebrities being shown with battered faces. They were making the point that one in four women gets attacked by loved ones and that two are killed every week. Although no formal complaints were received by the ASA regarding this advert, there was a lot of grumbling about the celebrities featured.

I’m as cynical as anybody about celebrities doing campaigns, but I also agree with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on this one. If celebrities want to do some good by appearing in these adverts what harm can it do? Doubtless some are chronic publicity seekers and will do campaigns like this to promote themselves as much as the cause – but does it really matter if it gets the point across?

Criticism of Kiera Knightley for doing this advert has taken a similar form, with some suggesting that because the advert features her, it is not realistic enough – this of course completely disregards the fact that female celebrities can be the victims of domestic violence as much as ‘ordinary’ people.  

This new advert has come in for a lot of stick. Whether it has been complaints about using Knightley in the ad or the level of violence, it has all distracted from what is surely an important point. Domestic violence is a serious problem in Britain and women die every day as a consequence of it.

The discussions should be about how we tackle the issue, not the nature of the adverts. I happen to believe that the more shocking an advert about domestic violence is the better.

It is about time we started getting a bit more serious about this subject. It disturbs me that organisations such as Women’s Aid face this barrage of nonsense when they try to highlight their cause. It annoys me that celebrities who feature in the adverts are also criticised.

Perhaps this tells us something unpalatable about our attitude to domestic violence. Perhaps we as a nation would rather not face the issue and would rather brush it under the carpet. Perhaps we don’t really treat it with the same degree of seriousness as other types of assault. Maybe our society is ambivalent about violence in the home.

In a previous life I worked in a Social Services department in North Wales. There we regularly encountered domestic violence issues. I remember with admiration the skills of social workers who went above and beyond the call of duty to help women in these situations. With little support and limited time they sometimes managed to rescue people. Sadly, more often they didn’t. The system fails people daily.

Last week in the block of flats in North West London where I live a twenty eight year old woman was found dead. She had been subjected, over a number of years, to physical and psychological abuse by her partner, who is a chronic alcoholic. The police had been called repeatedly to the property. Neighbours had tried to convince her to leave him, but whenever he was kicked out she would always let him back in. The police arrested him a number of times, but despite covering her in bruises he was not jailed.

We are often reluctant to get involved in other people’s abusive relationships, I know I was. The guilt you carry when something bad happens is only mitigated by the knowledge that the police take little action.

We are, in our social attitudes, our social policies and policing too ambivalent about domestic violence and that needs to change.

This latest advert did not depict the most common reality facing victims of domestic violence. What happened to my neighbour was that. But it was at least an honest attempt to make us take the issue seriously.

That is why every single painful punch and kick should stay in the advert and why anyone who says otherwise needs to take a long hard look at their attitude to violence against women.
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