Turning on my radio this morning I heard a trailer for Radio Gloucestershire’s “Breaking the silence” campaign. One in three women, I heard, is affected by domestic violence.


Every woman is affected by domestic violence. One in three directly suffer violence: including physical assaults, rape, threats, emotional cruelty and psychological abuse. And we are all affected.

None of us is immune from domestic violence. Nobody gave anyone a free pass. (You may think you are feisty enough, clever enough, wise enough to avoid it. But in reality, you’re just lucky.) But even if you personally don’t get abused by your own partner – don’t think that you are unaffected by domestic violence.

Your sisters are affected, your friends, your cousins, your neighbours, your colleagues.

We are all affected by the mindset that makes domestic violence possible – the indoctrination of women into a position of passivity, submission and need; the indoctrination of men into a position of aggressiveness, control and power. That mindset, that power dynamic is what makes domestic violence not only possible but inevitable. It is self-perpetuating and it has an impact on all of us, whether we get beaten or not. We are all affected by the DV culture in the same way that we are all affected by the rape culture. They are just two sides of the same coin.

There is also a spectrum in marital relations*, just as there is in sexual relations.

(*By which I mean relations between spouses or other life partners, with husband-wife relations being the paradigm case. I just couldn’t think of a good phrase to cover all possibilities. Sorry.)

At the one end are the cases we all hear about, and imagine as the paradigm of DV – the women with black eyes and broken bones. But violence and power play between partners (“partners”!) covers a very broad range, and includes the everyday cruelty that most of us have suffered at one time or another.

Who hasn’t felt the sting of hearing a lover shout cruel, baseless taunts specifically to hurt us in the midst of an argument? Or the casually double-edged compliment used even at a time of intimacy to highlight imperfections? What stay-at-home mother hasn’t felt the crushing injustice of being made to practically beg the father whose children she cares for to let her have a little “pocket-money”? Who hasn’t been humilated by a partner for the perceived inadequacy of her domestic work, with the taunt: “I pay the bills, the least you could do is…”? Who hasn’t been guilt-tripped or manipulated into agreeing to some sexual act or other that they do not really want to do? Who hasn’t been left out of account in some key family decision on the ground that: “it’s my life I’ll make my own decision,” or “I’m the one who’s paying for it, so I’m the one who gets to decide”?

These everyday cruelties and bitter humilations are the stuff of everyday relationships.

And they are at one end of a spectrum with black eyes and broken bones at the other. Men who profess to have nothing but scorn for “real” abusers and say that they “cannot understand how someone could beat a women senseless” themselves treat their partners as little more than slaves. Yes, slaves: people whose labour is worth nothing, whose desires and preferences are irrelevant, and who exist only for their owner’s benefit.

Somebody once said “All sex is rape“.

Literally speaking, she was wrong, but she also had a point. The point was, as I broadly understand it, that what we think of as “rape” is at only one end of a spectrum of power play and abuse in sexual relations; and that the spectrum of abusive sexual relations takes in a whole range of threatening, manipulative, dishonest and unconscionable behaviour. The point was that it is hard in our patriarchal culture – where men feel entitled to have sex and women feel obligated to refuse sex, where men are expected to want sex and women are expect not to like it much – to even understand what full and free consent would look like.

And if I said “All marriage is violence” then literally speaking, I would be wrong too.

But I would have a point.