by Les MayI GAVE up listening to ‘The Archers’ in 2002, so I have absolutely no knowledge of the ‘Trial’. I don’t much like fictional series which take it upon themselves to tackle ‘issues’ not least because it is difficult to present any complex and controversial issue in a sufficiently nuanced way which will not leave some listener or viewer from feeling that their ‘side’ has been misrepresented. Far from changing minds it seems more likely that it will reinforce prejudice.
So last Tuesday I found myself wondering was it prejudice or oversight which led the ‘i’ newspaper to devote half the space of its letters column to the fictional ‘Helen’ but could not find space for a story about a real life Helen who had been involved in a ‘domestic’ which resulted in her death. The Metro managed just over half a page on the story and the Daily Mail almost a whole page.
Helen Nicholl hanged herself on the June 4 last year. Not unreasonably the police arrested her husband Stephen Nicoll on suspicion of her murder. But after two interviews the Detective Chief Inspector who led the investigation released him without charge and went on to say 'I believe that Stephen Nicoll was probably of a victim of domestic violence.'
But the picture which emerged at the coroner’s inquest was not simply one of a wife assaulting her husband, but of a woman who also tried to control her grown up daughters, assaulting one of them leading to a police investigation and becoming estranged from the other, and of a family in which during rows with their mother, her daughters referred to her as ‘council estate scum' and 'Liverpool scum'.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article for Northern Voices, ‘Danczuk, Feminism & Family Violence’, in which I referred to the work of Erin Pizzey. Pizzey distinguished between 'genuine battered women' and 'violence-prone women'. The former she defined as 'the unwilling and innocent victim of his or her partner's violence' and the latter she defined as 'the unwilling victim of his or her own violence.' Helen Nicholl was such a woman and in hanging herself was the victim of her own violence. But whilst she may have been the one who used physical violence towards her daughters and her husband, what for want of a better word I will call verbal violence, does not seem to have been far below the surface.
It appears in this case that physical abuse by the mother was reciprocated by the daughters in the form of verbal abuse; a kind of mutuality of domestic violence such as Erin Pizzey had identified.
Feminist campaigners seek to persuade us that because men are more likely than women to resort to violence outside the home that this is also the case within the home. But the empirical evidence suggests that this assumption is untrue.
About one in eight of adults, i.e. both men and women, in an intimate relationship admit to low level physical violence towards their partner. As about 50% of inter-partner violence is reciprocal it is possible these people somehow attract each other or learn and later reciprocate the behaviour. At higher levels of physical violence where significant injury is caused, men are about six times more likely to be the perpetrator, i.e. about one in seven cases of significant injury during a violent domestic dispute are caused by women.
Conflict is a part of life. We all have some desire to pursue our own self interest even in intimate relationships. What matters Is how we resolve that conflict of interests. Conflict becomes pathological when one or both of the parties resort to coercion, whether that coercion is applied emotionally, verbally or physically. All too often coercion continues to be applied even after the relationship breaks down and the parties separate, though in such cases it is usually given a gloss of respectability through the courts in the form of so called ‘contact’ orders.
As the Helen Nicholl case shows simply equating ‘domestic’ violence with ‘male’ violence is misleading and in the long run counterproductive because it offers no opportunity to think how the existing level of abuse in intimate relationships can be reduced or how conflict situations can be prevented from escalating to the point where one of the people involved suffers significant injury. As noted above this is more likely to be the woman than the man. Nor does it take into account that abuse can and does take place in intimate same sex relationships.
It is perhaps understandable that feminists who see domestic violence being synonymous with male violence will ignore the empirical evidence that women are just as likely as men to resort to low level assault in conflict situations but focus entirely on escalated conflicts where the woman is injured, and ignore the work of Erin Pizzey and tragic women like Helen Nicholl who was the victim of her own violence. To do otherwise would undermine their world view.
But I find it inconceivable that the women who usually have so much to say about ‘male violence’ have failed to comment upon what some four weeks ago happened to Karen Danczuk as a result of the actions of her ex-husband Simon. Are we perhaps seeing middle class snobbery at work here?
We are already beginning to see this incident the subject of ‘spin’ seemingly intended to minimise the severity of the incident. Whilst a month ago Karen was happy to tell the world, ‘I feared he was going to kill me’ and ‘Violent row left me paralysed with fear’ and have Simon’s behaviour described as ‘Wild MP yelled and kicked in glass door’, a recent Daily Mail article included the line that ‘Karen was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where she was treated for the cut which officers said she sustained in a fall’. Perhaps she ‘walked into a floor’ because it must have been some fall if it required 40 stitches.
A month ago the story was that she was standing behind a thick glass door when an enraged Simon kicked at it until it came crashing down on her knocking her to the floor.
According to the Daily Mirror her story now is:
'What happened is, he kicked a door in and it hit me - it wasn't anything Simon physically did to me' and "I have some scars now on my hand but I didn't press charges because it wasn't an intentional act.
'Unfortunately, yes, the foot hit me but it wasn't intentional and so it doesn't seem right to press charges." No mention here of it being a glass door or the 40 stitches for the wound in her chest and upper right breast.
And what was Danczuk’s response to all this? He told the Sunday Times that there had been absolutely no physical violence, adding: 'Karen didn't report any violence. The police made assumptions.'
It seems some Rochdale MPs lead charmed lives. In 1979 Rochdale’s Alternative Paper (RAP)revealed details of then MP Cyril Smith’s antics at Cambridge House. The lack of interest by the mainstream media meant that ‘he got away with it’. This subtly different retelling of the story of what recently happened in Spain between the Danczuk’s and the silence of the usually very vocal feminists will lead some people once again to think ‘he got away with it’.
I can hardly say that I am disappointed by the response of feminists to this incident between the Danczuks as I have never thought much of them anyhow. But the saddest thing about this episode is the complete lack of self-awareness on Simon Danczuk’s part.
At the end of January this year, his website was crowing that he welcomed a £115,500 grant from Comic Relief to a local charity enabling it to run a ‘dedicated male perpetrator programme’ to tackle domestic violence in Rochdale (my emphasis).
His exact words were: 'Domestic violence is a serious problem in every community and I have seen from my weekly surgeries what a devastating impact it can have on families’. and “I am delighted they have received this funding which will be used to tackle domestic violence by challenging the perpetrators on their behaviour giving them the support the need to reform.'
Now contrary to Mr D. I do consider kicking in a glass door is an act of violence and especially so if we are to believe Karen’s original story together with the need for hospital treatment. A few inches higher and the glass which caused the injuries to Karen’s chest and upper right breast could have severed a major blood vessel. A bit of contrition (and a quiet prayer of thanks for a narrow escape from potentially much more serious injury) would seem to be in order here.
As a well known MP, Simon could have used this experience to draw attention to what can happen in a domestic situation when a row is allowed to escalate into violence, even when that violence is not deliberately directed at a partner, and the importance of making sure that disagreements do not reach this stage. He failed to do so which in my view makes him doubly culpable.