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Big Little Lies: 'No woman just lets domestic violence happen. But maybe we do'

HBO’s Big Little Lies has quietly evolved into something more resonant and harrowing, writes Lorraine Courtney.

Lorraine Courtney Journalist

IT STARTED OUT as a show about rich, bitchy moms, trying to score points against each other by manipulating play dates and the like. But HBO’s Big Little Lies has quietly evolved into something more resonant and harrowing, as the story arc of Celeste’s (played by Nicole Kidman) abuse becomes the main narrative engine.

Her husband Perry’s attacks become ever-more disturbing. Celeste’s sessions with her therapist slowly break down the walls of her own denial. We watch through our fingers as Perry tries to show remorse, promises to change his violent ways and then reverts straight back to them.

It’s strange, isn’t it, that we’re shocked that domestic violence can happen to a woman like Celeste. This shock is because we don’t think that good-looking, successful men are violent towards their partners, or that beautiful, smart women put up with it.

Surely, abuse is the grubby problem of weak, vulnerable women, and definitely not a woman who has a law degree. We imagine that the typical victim is a meek mouse of a woman who somehow brought those purple bruises on herself by being a pushover.

This isn’t true. A quick Google will bring up the likes of Ulrika Johnson, Nigella Lawson, Rihanna and most recently Mel B.

The statistics

It’s all backed up by the staggering facts too. An EU-wide survey by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) reported that 14% of women in Ireland have experienced physical violence by a partner.

6% of Irish women have experienced sexual violence by a current or former partner, and 31% of women have experienced psychological violence by a partner. 12% of Irish respondents in the FRA study had experienced stalking (including cyberstalking).

According to Women’s Aid one in five women in Ireland who have been in a relationship have been abused by a current or former partner. In 2015, there were 16,375 incidents of domestic violence against women disclosed during 12,041 contacts with Women’s Aid services.

There were 10,876 incidents of emotional abuse, 3,281 incidents of physical abuse and 1,602 incidents of financial abuse disclosed. In the same year, 616 incidents of sexual abuse were disclosed to their services including 212 rapes.

It can happen to any woman

The easiest way to deal with a crime so ugly is to fall back on the age-old argument that it doesn’t happen to people like us. Even if a friend starts rejecting our social invitations, or a colleague comes to work bruised, many of us will ignore the fugly truth. After all, how could it ever happen to someone so educated, so together?

Class or status is irrelevant, but still we persist in our naivety. It’s a defense mechanism, of course. We’re desperate to find a cast-iron reason that will distance us from the miserable fate suffered by someone unnervingly similar to our comfortable little selves because we don’t want to believe that it could happen to us.

And from this way of thinking, it’s a short, shameful step to blaming the victim. Why does she stay with him? Why does she put up with it?

Seeing domestic violence covered on a television show creates a conversation that’s not intimidating. The only way we going to eventually end domestic violence is when we’re having conversations and taking away the stigma of talking about it. So, let’s talk about it.

One glance at Celeste with Perry’s hands gripped around her throat, and I think we can safely consign our prejudices to the dustbin of denial. Domestic violence can happen to any woman. No woman just lets it happen. But maybe we do.

Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist and columnist.

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Lorraine Courtney  / Journalist

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