Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Done.

WHORE. Slag. Sex addict.

Just words, right? They're written on a computer screen by someone you don't know, who's a long way away, and whether they are directed at you personally or just fired out at random you can ignore them if you want.

You can also cry yourself to sleep over it if you want, because sometimes words can really hit home and have a far greater impact than ever intended.

But they are, at the root, just words. When they are written by a troll from whom you are divided by keyboards, screens and servers they can have a powerful effect but they can also be avoided.

Then there are words you cannot escape, because they come from the mouth of a person you share your life with. The person who knows your flaws, your secrets, and the inside of your heart.

When a partner uses the same words as a faceless no-mark on the internet, they have a more devastating impact for the simple reason that you see the anger in their eyes, the spittle flying from their mouth, and know these things are coming from a person you love and trust more than anyone else.

Because you love them, you try to calm them down and stop doing whatever it was they got angry about. Because you trust them, you believe what they tell you - or at least that they have a good reason for thinking it. You might be a little frightened, but you change your behaviour, promise not to repeat it, and try to see this strangely virulent argument from their point of view. Things return to normal.

The next time it happens, you have learned how to take the sting out of the words so you change a little more. Perhaps it doesn't work quite as well, so you hunch your shoulders a bit and avoid eye contact with your partner in an effort to reduce the conflict. Things return to normal.

The next time it happens perhaps you've decided this is just getting silly and you're not putting up with it. You say so. Their response is the sort of stratospheric rage you've never witnessed; they put their face right up against yours and scream. Worried, terrified, and simply unable to know what else to do, you slap them in the face.

Your partner picks you up and shakes you like a rag doll, hurls you against a wall, and leaves you to cry in a crumpled heap. You think that things return to normal, but your idea of normal is whatever it takes to avoid a repeat of that. You get quieter, and you don't mention it to a soul because this is all out of character and you don't want anyone to think the worse of your loved one.

Perhaps it's never anything more than words. Perhaps it's never anything more than a bruise. Perhaps your partner never did that before or since.

Bruises heal in a few days and words can be forgotten, but the tone and the intent behind them lingers for years.

I have long forgotten whatever it was I argued about with the lover who who shook me and threw me into walls. I cannot remember what he said precisely, but I have a perfectly-clear memory of how terrified I was - not just for my safety but for what was happening to him, and to us.

I can clearly recall the times he kicked down locked doors, dragged me around by an ankle, and told me I had to apologise to him for it. I am no longer angry with him nor with myself for putting up with it, and I have long got past the point of fearing every subsequent man I meet might do the same to me, although that took me a while.

But it is still there and reminds me from time to time, like a scar that hurts when it's cold. It has been years now, and I don't imagine it will ever fully go away.

Part of the reason for that is because every time domestic abuse is in the news it is belittled, excused, and waved away in precisely the way internet trolls should be and are not.

Yesterday a man who called his lover a whore, a slag, a promiscuous woman "riddled with STDs", was found guilty and given 140 hours of community service. Had Justin Lee Collins' crime been just using those words - however deep their ability to wound a girlfriend - that would be a reasonable punishment.

But they were just part of his offence, because he wasn't found guilty of using nasty words. He was found guilty of two counts of putting another person in fear of violence, even though there was probably enough evidence to charge him with assault.

He slapped her. He hit her private parts. He spat on her. He threatened to kill her. He boxed her ears. He bruised her arms. He pulled her hair. He threw a sat-nav at her.

And that was probably not the worst of it, because the more serious long-term problems will probably come from the times he criticised her sexual history, complained she slept with a black man, questioned her morality, banned her from social media, wrote down a list of her lovers, threw away her DVDs, told her to sleep facing him, and bullied her for not moisturising his back.

Anna Larke told the court: "It destroyed my life, everything I had. I had no ­confidence. I didn’t want to go out. I don’t want someone else to go through what I did."

But they do, and they will, because despite Anna's courage in not only complaining and enduring a trial, and doing so while facing a millionaire celebrity's lawyers, and knowing they would tell the nation her sexual history and problems with alcohol, the court dismissed her.

Oh, the jury found in her favour and the judge delivered a sentence. But in every important respect they dismissed her as a person to whom it should not have happened. Judge John Plumstead described Anna as "a woman with many difficulties", and accepted Collins' defence that he had merely lost his self-control while trying to "deal with the difficulties".

It is not all right to hit someone because they're a recovering alcoholic. It's not all right to hit the most sensitive part of their body, to spit on them, pull their hair or threaten to kill them. Other people live with recovering alcoholics and manage not to do those things.

Collins' wife gave evidence saying he had never been violent to her and was kind and generous. She did not make much mention of the three affairs he had while their children were babies, which does not seem every kind to me, but each to their own.

The fact someone is not violent to one partner, and is violent to another, does not make it all right. Violence is not something a certain kind of woman entices out of a man, it is not something that can be blamed on 'chemistry', and however rarely it manifests it would not do so if it were not in that person to start with.

I sincerely hope the man who mistreated me is better to his current partner, but if he is I would not presume him to be cured. I would simply sit and wait, and wish her luck.

"This is not a run-of-the-mill case of domestic violence," Judge Plumstead told Collins. "This was genuinely out of character."

Which is funny, really, because that's what the victims of domestic violence tell themselves too. They tell themselves it when they are shouted at, when the screams begin, when the children cry and when the bruises appear and then fade.

They tell themselves it is out of character because they also know a side of their attacker which they fell in love with and occasionally still glimpse. They do not notice as the glimpses get rarer, and that's why they stay when they should go, and it's why two women are killed every week by their partners or former partners.

Judges know the power of words. They know that hearing "140 hours community service" is not as frightening as "six months' jail", and they also know that stealing a case of mineral water in a riot is not as serious as assaulting your partner over a period of seven months.

They also know, because the High Court ruled on this in July, that only words which contain a genuine and intended threat can be considered criminal. The judge in that case said people "are free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel".

So idiots who write unfunny jokes about murdered five-year-old April Jones, set up silly Facebook pages mocking the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, complain about British soldiers in Afghanistan or upset the grieving by writing about having sex with the dead are - and this is important - not criminals. They're idiots, they're offensive, but they cannot in law reasonably be thrown in jail.

But they were.

A man, famous or otherwise, who reduces his partner to a constant state of fear, who assaults her, bullies her and admits only the part of her story she was canny enough to catch on tape IS a criminal. Justin Lee Collins is a thug, a bully, and a liar. He CAN be reasonably jailed.

But he wasn't.

I don't think that was because he was famous, or because he could afford a good lawyer. I think it was because a change in the law recognising that words said by a partner are part of domestic abuse, and just as or more damaging than a punch or a smack, will not be in force until next March so it was impossible to prosecute this little toad as he should have been.

And it's also because we get incredibly angry about the words we see written down, forgetting that means we can tear them up, delete them or burn them, and not about the words we hear which wriggle into our heads and stay there until we are able to shake them out.

The most important words in your whole life are not the ones you see but what you hear - hello, goodbye, I do, I'm pregnant, it's bad news I'm afraid. You might forget precisely what was said, but they change your life one way or the other and you never forget where you were, and what you were doing when you heard them.

If only judges heard what everyone else does.

You're a dickhead, mate.