Behind Closed Doors – The BBC tackles domestic violence

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by Annie Kaszina on March 15, 2016

Behind Closed Doors, the BBC’s expose of domestic violence aired last night – and I, for one, found a lot to dislike about it.  Of course, there is a lot to like and commend.  The police force involved was supportive and sensitive.  The absurdly lenient Court treatment of 2 of the 3 perpetrators was deplorable, but not unusual. The fact that it was made and shown on prime time television is reassuring.  And yet…

Portrayal of Domestic Abuse in Behind Closed Doors

Things I deplore about the BBC’s Behind Closed Doors include:

  • No representation of higher socio-economic groups. Domestic violence affects every section of society.  It would have been nice to shock viewers out of whatever prejudices they  may have about women most likely to be affected by Domestic Violence.  It can happen to anyone.  In fact, the absurdly lenient sentences often given to perpetrators of Domestic Violence make me wonder: Judges, just as much as any other social and professional group, can be guilty of Domestic Violence, and/or condone it.
  • The three women who featured were all white. The partner of one was black.  Or, to put it another way, one of the three perpetrators of Domestic Violence shown in Behind Closed Doors was black.  This could easily give rise to a misguided interpretation of the reality.  Domestic Violence is a social curse that affects all ethnicities more or less equally.  That needed to be brought out more.
  • The black perpetrator was the only perpetrator of the three to end up with a long – 7 years – custodial sentenceWhy?
  • Two of the three women continued to insist that they ‘still loved’ the partner who had behaved so violently towards them, throughout most of the program. One of the two even met up with her partner after getting a Protection Order against him.  The other, who had endured 6 hours of savage beating, went to Court to see him sentenced, and then felt so sorry for him she ‘just wanted to wrap her arms around him and tell him it would all be alright, and that she would wait for him’.  Nor would it have been a terribly long wait.  By the time he was sentenced, he only had another 2 months to do in prison.  The programme aired those time-hallowed phrases, “I still love him”, and “He’s like an addiction.”

“I still love him”

The bond between a perpetrator of Domestic Violence and their victim is as powerful as it is toxic.  But it’s not love.  It’s all about the loss of self-love on the part of the victim.  An emotionally abusive relationship is one in which you are systematically starved of love, so starved that you feel too weak to look for it anywhere other than from the person who is starving you.

Still, victims do NOT love their violent partner.  They love not who he is and what he does but the person they hope that he could be – and that he would need to be to compensate them for what they have been through.  With him, obviously.

You can’t blame a person who has been to hell and back, usually many times, for being half-way crazy; for not being able to think and feel clearly.  That goes with the territory.

Those women  desperately needed the kind of emotional support that would get them from the place of ‘still loving him’, and of shame and regret, to clear-sightedness.

The women I work with usually tell me that they ‘still love’ their partner.  But they do not.  It doesn’t take long for them to see that they absolutely do NOT.  At best, the love the man he never really was, and certainly never will be.  And they abhor the man whose monstrous behaviour they have suffered, repeatedly.

The women in Behind Closed Doors seemed remarkably uninformed about the tricks that their own emotions and traumas would play on them.

As I watched Sabrina walk towards the Court saying how much she wanted to see her ex-partner sentenced, I muttered to myself:  “Yeah, right!” fearing the worst.

And then, there it was, captured on prime time television for all to see: Sabrina emerged from the Court and collapsed into a small, tearful heap, uttering the predictable nonsense about  seeing that he was sorry, and ‘knowing they could still make it work”.

How effective could that be in confirming the suspicions and hopes of an audience who prefer to believe that Domestic Violence only happens to weak, silly women?

Yes, a few months further down the line, she didn’t want to have anything further to do with her ex-partner.  Just like Helen, who had earlier violated the Protection Order she applied for. Most women find their way through the emotional quicksand sooner or later.  But it shouldn’t have to be like that.  Not least because when women are vacillating and reconnecting with violent ex-partners they are even more at risk of being killed by them.

Not to mention the repeated trauma to the children who, inevitably, have to witness all of this incomprehensible adult behaviour.

Society has a duty to do far more to prevent Domestic Violence than it is currently doing.  It also has a duty to offer women the emotional support they need, so they don’t give a violent partner endless, life-threatening second chances, and thereby end up wasting police time and resources.  The children of domestic violence deserve far better.

Behind Closed Doors is a programme that served to shock, but without unravelling the dangerous, crazy-making complexity of Domestic Violence, and why the victims can still ‘love’ and be susceptible to the perpetrators.

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