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29 July 2014

What David Ruffley’s resignation tells us about attitudes in power to domestic violence

The Conservative MP will stand down at the 2015 election after accepting a police caution for a common assault on his former partner earlier this year.

By Frances Ryan

At the start of this year, David Ruffley MP accepted a police caution for common assault on his then partner. Last night he resigned. (Or rather, he promised to resign in 2015 – after taking another ten months of wages from the taxpayer.)  

Reading Ruffley’s resignation letter – much like his “apology” last week, you would be excused for thinking this was a man who had been forced to quit over nothing. An assault that left his then girlfriend “wincing in obvious pain” was, according to Ruffley, a “very regrettable incident”.  Objections to him being allowed to continue to be a member of Parliament was, to the Conservative MP, “a protracted media debate” on his “private life”.

What has had the biggest stench in this has been the way all – both Ruffley and the ones rushing to brush it under the carpet – have strained to say they would never “condone domestic violence under any circumstances”. What was this, then? What Ruffley was cautioned for doesn’t “in any way qualify as domestic abuse”, according to his local association chairman. Ruffley accepted a caution for common assault – the incident took place in his home with a woman he was in a relationship with. It’s not clear which part of that doesn’t qualify as domestic abuse. Perhaps the part where he is a wealthy, elite, white man.  

This week, David Cameron vowed to consider making domestic violence a specific crime. The same David Cameron who has overseen the slashing of services for victims of domestic violence – and who did nothing when Ruffley accepted the caution months ago. Just left Chief Whip Michael Gove to say how “sorry” he was that Ruffley will be standing down at the next election and that he “fully respect[s] his reasons”. All they need is to chip in for a leaving present at this point; perhaps a commiserating bottle of whisky and a card signed “Chin up, from the boys”.

If it feels like the Ruffley events tell us something about what male-dominated powers think of domestic violence, it’s because it does. It tells us they wish to call it “an incident”. That they prefer to excuse abuse as “regrettable”. That they believe a man leaving his girlfriend in visible pain should be “private”.

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“All these things happen behind closed doors,” Ruffley’s local Conservative chairman told the BBC. “It was a private matter, and as in most domestic issues, I suggest it was six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. Nobody really knows what went on.”  

Every week in this country, two women die at the hands of their partners or exes. Thousands of others, in every street, are controlled, raped, hit, scarred. Around 90 per cent of abusers are not even prosecuted by police. We know what goes on. And worst of all, we know the men in power don’t really care.