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Our children are the key to breaking the cycle of abuse

IS domestic abuse Scotland's national pastime?

You think I'm joking, but I'm not. An incident of domestic abuse is reported every 10 minutes. That's a shocking figure and it's an official statistic.

How many more assaults go unreported?

One in five women in Scotland will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime. One in five means we see the victims every day. We work with them, socialise with them and stand alongside them at the school gate. Some of us will see them in the mirror.

Yet we don't see them at all. I could put my hand on my heart and tell you I have never met a woman (or man) whose partner abused them. And yet I must know many.

They inhabit a parallel universe just a hand's breadth away. But their verbal and physical beatings are delivered behind closed doors, in the privacy of their home. And the bruises are hidden.

They're hidden by the victim who, fearful, brow-beaten, humiliated and confused, covers up the crime.

It's crazy. It's an abomination. The abuser should be shamed from the rooftops. But the covering up and the secrecy is a common response which tells me that if any one of us was in the same position, we'd probably react in the same way.

Research conducted by Durham University and Scottish Women's Aid calls domestic abuse "everyday terrorism". It causes similar levels of fear and trauma but it has many more victims.

At last we're seeing an attempt to prevent this scourge tipping into another generation. Some of Scotland's schools are lifting the lid of the national cesspit. An initiative called Mentors in Violence Prevention has been piloted in one school in Strathclyde and another in Edinburgh. It covers issues from persistent texting to gender-based violence and is now being extended to Perth and Kinross, North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and the Borders.

The sooner it is rolled out right across the country the better. The more young people who enter adulthood knowing how unacceptable domestic abuse is, the healthier society will be.

With 50,000 cases reported a year, many children are arriving into school having witnessed – or experienced – violence at home. Now they will understand, possibly for the first time, that most families are strangers to it. They will get an objective measure on how warped their situation is.

They will learn, without anyone making a direct accusation, that it's not normal to experience tension when daddy comes home. The vast majority of families don't have to walk on eggshells for fear of an outburst.

They will learn that his behaviour (for abusers are mostly men) is not a pattern to carry forward into the next generation: nor is their mothers' seeming helplessness.

"Be the heroine of your life, not the victim", was Nora Ephron's advice to womankind. I'd have it painted on the walls of girls' classrooms. The American writer practised what she preached. She was pregnant with her second child when her husband's affair ended their marriage. She wrote a book about it and made her fortune.

She had guts, talent and healthy self-esteem. Of these three, self-esteem is key but it's what gets pulverised in abuse victims. Without self-belief, women lose the ability to walk away. Fear holds them.

We saw what can happen when the story of Tina Nash was televised last week. Tina will never see the documentary. She was blinded when her partner gouged out her eyes after beating her unconscious.

When she came round she was in agony yet he refused to call an ambulance. Instead he told her he knew he would go to prison for her injuries and that it was all her fault.

He kept her waiting for hours and she didn't cause a fuss because her children were in the house and she was afraid for them.

Despite this horror story, she told a Sunday newspaper that until a fortnight ago she still loved him. It beggars belief. She explained that abusive men are typically caring and attentive until a woman falls in love with them. Only then does the dark side emerge.

It starts with control. The victim's opinions are belittled. They're made to feel stupid and unattractive. What they wear is criticised. Any social interaction may trigger jealousy or foul moods. They lose touch with friends and family. They grow isolated.

Attacks can come out of the blue. Their random nature means the person on the receiving end second-guesses all their actions for fear of incurring wrath.

They live in fear yet are even more afraid of leaving. To do so means losing their home and tearing their family apart, if they have children. Many fear leaving will cost them their life and they have reason.

So the bully wins. The real weakling is the abuser who needs to crush his family to bolster his ego. However he retains control.

Growing up in so distorted an environment must skew the outlook of children. Let me give you an example.

A friend, a teacher, took a pupil home one day. The child was usually quiet and well behaved but had started to mix with a troublesome bunch. My friends thought a word with the parents would put the child back on the straight and narrow.

She arrived into a home of pristine neatness. The father was sitting reading a newspaper. This he continued to do while she explained the situation to the mother. He then stood up, assured the teacher that there would be no more trouble and punched his daughter in the face.

He did it without a second thought. He did it in front of a witness. Clearly he didn't even know that what he was doing was wrong. Suddenly the pristine house looked less like a good management and more like fearful perfectionism. But how could his daughter know her experience was unusual?

Thanks to the MVP initiative (the brainchild of Strathclyde Police's violence prevention unit) children like her will learn in school that their home is dysfunctional: that they are being terrorised. Instead of a conspiracy of silence, a strong, clear, dispassionate outside voice will enter their closeted world and expose the tin-pot tyrant for what he (or she) is.

It can't happen too soon.

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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