Thursday, February 08, 2007

A hard hitting issue

IT’S NO secret that I’m a big fan of Fern Britton. I think the ‘This Morning’ presenter is just so damn likeable that I would love to meet her for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine and good old fashioned girlie chat.
She seems to be quite genuinely happy and content in her own skin and she isn’t one of these celebs who constantly professes to being content with their size and appearance before half killing themselves on a crash diet every six months.
As a television presenter she has a natural warmth and grace which make her very watchable and I can’t help but double over in kinks when she takes a giggling fit with co-presenter Philip Schofield. (My one time obsession with Philip will no doubt merit a column of its own one of these fine days.)
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m her celebrity stalker, but if I see her on the telly or in a magazine I’ll most probably make a point of checking it out.
It was precisely because she seems a genuinely happy and positive person that it was a bit of a shock to uncover a picture of her displaying domestic violence injuries while surfing the internet this week. The picture made me sit up and take notice- which was exactly what it was meant to do. Thankfully for Fern the images weren’t real.
They were created by very clever make up artists working on the new campaign by Women’s Aid to highlight the fact that domestic violence can happen to any woman, any time and any where. Fern is just one of a number of a celebrities who have agreed to endorse the campaign and raise awareness of domestic violence by allowing themselves to be portrayed with graphic injuries.
Of course the campaign has its begrudgers and complainers. There are those who say Fern and co are concerned primarily with raising their own profiles and that people who are truly affected by domestic violence will not draw any benefit from campaigns such as these. I have to say I think that is a cynical and unwarranted attitude.
Yes, research shows that if a woman (or indeed a man) is a victim of domestic violence it is rare that any amount of prodding from well meaning celebrities or anyone else will encourage them to leave a relationship unless they are ready to walk out themselves. But those facts don’t mean we should brush it under the carpet or steer clear of awareness raining campaigns.
I don’t think Fern Britton clattering herself in make up to look as though she has had the life battered out of her will make an abused woman sit up and take notice, but it might just make the rest of us realise that real and horrifying acts of cruelty are happening right under our noses on a daily basis. I know people who have been subjected to domestic violence. They aren’t always the quiet wee mouse cowering in the corner. Some of these women are beautiful, successful and seemingly confident women who to the casual observer would look as though they had it all.
But domestic violence has a way of seeping into your consciousness or zapping you of the strength to walk out the door and admit that something is very, very wrong. Some women sadly will see the acts of violence meeted out to them by their partners as somehow reflecting a weakness on their part.
For those women admitting that they are being subjected to physical, emotional and mental abuse is admiting a weakness on their part and so it is hushed up. Others, of course, may have become so used to the abuse that dare I say they are almost immune to it.
Sadly abuse can be so sustained and intense that it no longer seems abnormal. Some women will even feel they deserve to be treated that way. Despite figures which were released this week revealing that domestic violence rates have dropped considerably in the Derry area, Marie Brown of Foyle Women’s Aid has said that the majority of women subjected to violence in the home will never report the crimes against them.
We have to wonder why then the issue remains such a taboo that it takes such a hard hitting (no pun intended) campaign to bring it back into the public consciousness. It’s only right that issues such as these are forced upon us- that we have our eyes opened to the reality of life in this city, this country and throughout the world for some women.
We may like to think we live in an era of gender equality and in a place where sisters are always doing it for themselves but the reality is that even in your own street some woman- somebody’s mother, sister, friend, cousin, aunt or granny- is living in a state of fear.
So I applaud Fern Britton and everyone involved in the campaign. If it makes just one person sit up and think about domestic violence, and if it makes just one person say enough is enough then that’s good enough for me.

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