Gina Davidson: Words can leave as big a scar as violence

Nicola Borthwick can testify that psychological abuse is just as damaging as kicks and punches. Picture: Neil Hanna

Nicola Borthwick can testify that psychological abuse is just as damaging as kicks and punches. Picture: Neil Hanna

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SUBTLE, off-hand remarks, the kind of comment which makes you wonder if you heard correctly, which is explained away as just a joke . . . that’s how it begins.

There’s no big row. No sudden change in temperament which signals something wrong. It’s a far more pernicious manipulation; a slow undermining of opinion, of self-belief, of independence of thought.

And soon you’re second-guessing everything, reading moods, becoming anxious at the sound of a key in the door, trying to figure out from the footsteps in the hall what awaits, what you’ve done wrong today, what words will be wielded to reinforce your worthlessness.

Domestic abuse comes in many forms. All too often we see it on our screens as horrifying, physical assault. Bruises and black eyes the go-to image for newspapers hoping to paint an immediate picture of what abuse is behind closed doors.

But it’s not always about punches and kicks. Ask Nicola Borthwick, the Edinburgh mum who has spoken of her years of living in fear with her former husband. Answering the phone in the “wrong tone”, the constant criticism of how she looked, the put-downs about her abilities to do anything, the refusal to let her spend money . . . the fear that the rage he would take out on a wall might be turned on her . . .

It never was, and she ultimately fled that marriage her body intact. Her mind, though, is still scarred and she admits to feeling that she’ll never be able to truly relax again.

Being told repeatedly that she was worthless was, she has said, all about control. And that is where all abuse stems from.

Which is why the new Domestic Abuse Bill going through the Scottish Parliament is so important. For the first time it will criminalise psychological abuse, putting Scotland at the forefront of challenging such behaviour.

Psychological abuse has always been harder to deal with than its physical twin. It’s far more difficult to explain feeling isolated, being controlled, told what to wear, who to see, that you’re worthless, being verbally degraded than it it to point to physical wounds. It’s far harder for supportive families and friends to understand why you want to leave; more complicated for police to lay charges against the perpetrator.

Not surprisingly then in consultation for this Bill, more than 90 per cent of people said they didn’t believe current laws provided police and the legal system with the powers to bring such abusers to justice.

The new law will criminalise domestic abuse for the first time – previously police have used other laws to bring charges such as assault – and will put the focus firmly on emotional and mental abuse. And let’s not forget that bearing witness to this kind of abuse can also emotionally and psychologically scar any children in a relationship – potentially even creating an expectation in their minds that abuse is an ordinary part of “love”.

While studies have shown that psychological abuse does not always lead to physical abuse in most cases of the latter, the former has long been present. It is this, repeated, continuous use of psychological abuse which will finally, thankfully, be criminalised.

The Scottish Parliament may have many faults, but this legislation will change the lives of many, many women and children.

Golden memories denied to so many

TIMING is everything. So who decided that 3pm on a Wednesday was the best time to host a celebration of Scotland’s Olympians and Paralympians?

They were on stage in Festival Square reliving their medal-winning moments at Rio. It was probably a great event for the guests of the Sheraton Hotel and banking staff lucky enough to have windows overlooking the public square.

But the vast majority of people who’d have liked to have shown their support would not have been able to do so. Especially kids still in school.

A real missed opportunity.

Pedal power not easy to maintain in pouring rain

GIVEN how vocal the cycling lobby is – certainly in Edinburgh – and how many people appear to travel on two wheels these days, it’s seems odd that the official statistics on the proportion of journeys taken by bike show a decline

Cyclists will say it’s because the road infrastructure is so poor it puts people off and more investment is required. Might have something more to do with the weather.

Better together at the weekend

SCOTRAIL’S idea that Edinburgh and Glasgow should work together to market their attractions to each others’ residents is great.

But why target those who already do that rail commute Monday to Friday for work? Speaking from experience the idea of willingly doing it again at the weekend is a real non-starter.

Citrus is appealing

THE Citrus Club used to be a regular haunt – especially on Friday evenings. The idea that it might close is all wrong. Anyone fancy babysitting this weekend?