Sarah Harding of Girls Aloud is caught up in a bitter war of words with her ex Theo de Vries. She says he attacked her. He says she attacked him, and he merely restrained her to protect himself.
It makes for a sordid tale. So, ‘right thinking people’ everywhere – that is, the kind of people who like to think that domestic violence either doesn’t happen much, or only happens to people who deserve it – can feel almost vindicated in their beliefs.
It’s actually an extremely instructive tale, for everyone.
Sarah Harding is a member of the hugely successful group Girls Aloud. She doesn’t fit the popular profile of a domestic violence victim. But all that tells you is that there is a high degree of naivete as regards what domestic violence is, and what a domestic victim looks like.
Domestic violence is no respecter of fame, success, beauty, money… or anything at all.
What we do know is that Sarah Harding suffered with depression; she also, had a drink problem. So, she was famous, successful, attractive, rich and – and this is the important thing – she was emotionally vulnerable, with fragile self-worth.
That’s one thing she had in common with all victims of domestic violence.
Sadly, there were a number of others, too.
- She entered into a relationship with someone who had an unresolved history of addictions – to alcohol and drugs.
- She did so when they were both in rehab; and rehab clinics expressly oppose it.
- She was on the rebound from another relationship at the time
- She got involved with Theo De Vries too fast
- She thought she knew him because of their shared experience in one specific circumstance – the rehab clinic
- She was way too trusting
The list goes on and on.
- They started drinking again, together.
- When she realized it wasn’t working she left, but then went back to the hotel and the room they’d shared. This made her much more vulnerable than before.
- Her own behaviour was less than exemplary. She swore at him and, by her own admission, threw a coffee cup at him.
De Vries claims she threw an ashtray at him, and that she was the violent partner.
Not having been privy to the event, we can but make an educated guess. My educated guess is that it was De Vries who was the violent partner.
Well, let’s put aside the statistical likelihood; even though there are more physically violent women around than there once were, there are still far, far more physically violent men.
Looking beyond that, after she returned to the hotel room they had shared, he launched into a verbally abusive attack on her. He attacked her self-worth (“You have no friends”), her professional status (“You’re nothing but a B-class singer”) and her alcohol abuse! Sure, she could have made it up. But it seems unlikely since she:
a) doesn’t even seem to be aware that what she experienced is domestic violence
b) probably could not have encapsulated the verbal and emotional abuse as neatly as she did, in 3 little sentences, if she’d tried.
Then there is the fact that her account of what happened doesn’t make her look good, at all. By her own admission, she sounds damaged, needy, and out of control. Whereas De Vries has fled to the moral high ground: “I’ve never hit anyone in my life. I just held her by the wrists.” Again, it is very typical of abused women, and women who are vulnerable to abusers, to acknowledge their own shortcomings very publicly. They tend to be the first to judge themselves harshly, and they frequently paint themselves as being much more to blame than they are. Whereas abusers have a habit of claiming that they are the innocent victims of the piece.
And then there is the little matter of trust. Sarah Harding says: “I just can’t believe that someone I trusted would do something like that to me.” That is, in a nutshell, the abused woman’s lament:
“I can’t believe that he could be so cruel to me because I trusted him.”
Trusting another person does not mean they are obligated towards you. (Try telling that to a conman, of any description.)
Just because you trust someone, it doesn’t mean they have a duty of care towards you.
What it actually means is that Sarah Harding, like every other victim of an abusive man, has a duty to think longer and harder about the whole issue of trust. She chose to put rather a lot of trust in a man struggling with drug and drink addictions, a man she hardly knew.
In short, she misplaced her trust.
Did she put her trust in herself to keep herself safe, at all times? Clearly not.
Did she put her trust in her own intuition? I very much doubt it.
There were a number of things that she knew, but chose to disregard: like the clinic’s position as regards relationships between inmates, like her own awareness that it wasn’t working ( so why, having left, go back into a shared hotel room with him?) and like not having got over her previous relationship.
Harding was a vulnerable woman who, like all abused women, has paid a high price for her naivete and emotional fragility. It’s truly sad that this has happened to her, as it is truly sad when domestic violence, whether emotional or physical, happens to any woman. Let’s hope she will do something useful with her experience, and use her voice to help educate her fans about the ugly reality of domestic violence… before some of them experience it, also.