Skirting the Issue - Messing up on domestic violence

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I would like to think that Minder star Dennis Waterman knew he had messed up as soon as he opened his mouth to journalist Piers Morgan this week.

I would like to think that, as soon as he opened his mouth he realised that he dropped an absolute clanger that no amount of bowing and scraping would cover up. (Not that he has, at the time of writing this column, bowed and scraped to anyone).

The star, when talking to the former Daily Mirror editor, discussed his former marriage to the actress Rula Lenska. Basically being not at all that interested in Rula Lenska or indeed Dennis Waterman (apart from the parody David Wallaims did of him in Little Britain) I did not realise the pair had ever been married.

I had also never been aware that when they had split Rula had described him as a “wife-beater” - a claim Waterman strenuously denied at the time.

Except now he admitted he hit her. But, worse than that, his exact words were: “I must have punched her one time because she did have a black eye.

“She certainly wasn’t a beaten wife, she was hit and that’s different.”

I had to read those comments several times as the reality of what he had actually said, out loud, sank in. He didn’t apologise. He didn’t ask for those comments to be edited out before the show hit the TV screens. He clearly believed that a wife who was hit - who he had given a black eye - was not a victim of domestic abuse.

He didn’t go on to clarify just how it was different but as reports of the interview have been leaked out, it is clear that to him “different” does not mean wrong. It does not mean - although he now says he is ashamed of his behaviour, that he was absolutely sorry for his actions and his attitudes towards women had changed.

In fact, he tried to justify the abuse.

I was incredulous to read that he said: “The problem with strong, intelligent women is that they can argue, well. And if there is a time where you can’t get a word in … I lashed out.”

What Waterman is basically saying here is that it was Rula Lenska’s fault that she dared to argue with him in an intelligent fashion. The subtext being of course that she had pushed and pushed and he couldn’t help himself. The critter.

There was outrage at such a statement all over the twittersphere on Tuesday as the story broke - and rightly so. Because all of a sudden a giant can of worms was opened and it was out there.

That belief that exists among certain people that women who are subjected to acts of domestic abuse are treated in this way because they have pushed their partners into it.

The belief that women are shrewish nagging harridans who drive their poor defenceless menfolk to strike out. Who then go on to tell the women, who are cowed down by the acts of aggression towards them, that they brought it on themselves anyway.

And women start to believe that, because sometimes if you knock someone down enough times they start to believe they aren’t worth the lifting back up again.

I have no doubt Dennis Waterman believes what he did does qualify as “proper” domestic abuse. I’m quite confident that holding this belief probably helps him to sleep a little bit easier at night. But it saddens me. It saddens me that he didn’t put his hands up and say he was wrong. That he didn’t think to put the message out there that domestic violence is always wrong. That he didn’t just admit he was wrong and that he acted out of line.

He didn’t need to try and make excuses and he absolutely should not have even thought of pointing the finger of blame at his former wife.

Trying to justify his actions smacks of cowardice - of a failure to accept responsibility and indeed a failure to admit to himself that what he did was wrong. And to say this all so publicly will no doubt help an awful lot of men - who hit their partners because they argued - back feel justified in their actions. Sure if yer man Minder did it, it must be all right then?

As I said, Dennis Waterman was not really someone who registered on my radar before - but now he is there glaring at me - a sign of a deep rooted problem in the mindset of so many. The kind of man who believes, and puts it out there, that sometimes such behaviour is justified and can be excused.

It can never be justified. It can never be excused. There is no time, ever, when domestic abuse is justified. Only doing it once does not make it instantly forgiveable. Domestic abuse is not a three strikes and you are out kind of a thing.

If Dennis Waterman were a real man he would stand up and apologise publicly, not only to Ms Lenska, but to every woman he has offended with his sexist, mysogynist tripe.