CROUCHED, terrified on a dank stairwell, cradling a crying child while her mother howled like a wounded animal from a floor above, is a memory that will never leave me or, I fear, her.
I was little more than a child myself; eighteen, a university student and a volunteer for Women’s Aid. I barely knew what it was like to fall in love, never mind feel the pain that one human being could inflict on another in a so-called relationship.
But there I was cowering, cold, in a dismal corner of a dismal housing scheme, having snatched a sleeping child from her raging father, fearing for my own life never mind for the woman whose screams from above were splintering the night.
That was the reality of domestic violence: a mother prepared to use her body as a shield so a stranger – a teenager – could escape with her child, all the time knowing the violence to come after they had fled to safety.
I couldn’t believe a man could do such harm. It was bloody, terrifying and a lesson in growing up that forced me to view life through a different lens.
Over the months there were other cases. Escapes that were less dramatic but had the same desperate struggle embedded in them. Women who had tried to make things work, to keep a family together, but then could take no more. And then we stepped in.
I learned that violence knows no boundaries; class, money, profession, age, home; there were no caveats, no differences, the bruises came up the same. As did the excuses.
‘She made me do it’. ‘I couldn’t help it’. ‘It won’t happen again’. All rubbish. Inadequate. Lame substitutes for where there should have been a spine.
More than 30 years later and while the problem is much the same – one in five women in Scotland will experience domestic abuse and an incident is reported roughly every 10 minutes – understanding and acceptance of the issue has changed.
However, reality programmes like Celebrity Big Brother normalise behavioural extremes. They encourage the concept of women as prizes and conflict and cruelty as a skill. But I watched in horror as the actress Roxanne Pallett accused a fellow CBB contestant, Ryan Thomas, of violence towards her that he clearly hadn’t committed. In this case the cameras didn’t lie.
Whispering that something awful had happened to her, she spun a web of lies and used it to draw in her housemates, to feel sorry for her, to turn against her alleged aggressor who was coincidently, odds on favourite to win and in doing so Pallett didn’t just play a game for money, she gambled with the lives of women.
There is nothing entertaining about women being battered. No excuses. Zero tolerance
Great strides have been made in understanding the wrongs of domestic violence. And Scotland has gone further than most. But it’s recent and it is fragile.
Men do not have a right to hit women and neither do women have a right to lie that they have.
Blaming a woman for their monstrous behaviour has long been an abuser’s first line of defence, the actress has just provided men with another, “she was doing a Pallett”. Unforgivable.