Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton
Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton present a united front here - but allegations of spousal abuse have been levelled at former First Lady.REUTERS

It's official, Hillary Clinton is running for the Democratic presidential nomination and ultimately gunning for the White House. The Oval Office remains a distant goal, of course, but should she succeed she would become not only the first woman to hold the reins as the most powerful politician on Earth, but also the first grandmother, the only former First Lady and, if her biographies are to be believed, the first person with a known history of spouse-beating.

There is of course no shortage of malicious fiction and conspiracy theories surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton. As Lydia Smith noted this week, Clinton will need to stand not only against her political and ideological rivals, but against pervasive, undisguised misogyny. Her supporters would doubtless like to file allegations about her violent temper among the diverse smears, mudslinging and paranoid gossip. Sadly, that might not be possible.

The latest allegations come from Kate Andersen Brower, author of The Residence: Inside the White House. She describes how, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a maid entered the Clinton' bedroom to clean one morning to find the bed covered in blood. That day the President required stitches for a wound which he attributed to running into a door. Staff assumed Hillary had hit him with some kind of object – possibly a heavy book.

In isolation, this allegations could perhaps be dismissed as tittle-tattle. Unfortunately the anecdote is anything but isolated.

Similar accounts have featured in several biographies. In American Evita, Christopher Andersen claimed that Hillary reacted furiously to learning that Bill had invited Barbara Streisand to visit the White House while she was away, and the next day he was seen with 'claw-like wounds' on his neck and face. On another occasion he had 'a bump the size of a goose-egg' on his forehead. In that instance too, he claimed he had walked into a door.

'Male sex workers report that problems of stigma and discrimination can be greatly compounded by homophobia, sometimes of a violent nature. Other research has found that transgender people are disproportionately likely to turn to sex work due to widespread prejudice and discrimination in other workplaces.'

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Perhaps most damning of all are the allegations contained in Gail Sheehy's biography, Hillary's Choice. While other books might be considered hatchet-jobs or sensationalised tabloid gossip, Sheehy's book is widely considered the most sympathetic, even rose-tinted portrayal in press, and Sheehy herself is a liberal journalist of impeccable repute. She too records the Streisand incident, and adds another occasion on which President Clinton was seen with "a mean claw mark along his jawline." That wound was blamed initially on a "shaving accident" and then revised to an attack by Socks the cat. Neither explanation convinced observers at the time.

What should we expect in reaction to these reports? Almost any reaction would be preferable to the current practice in the liberal mainstream, which is to simply ignore them. If the allegations are untrue, then a firm denial must be forthcoming. If the allegations cannot be denied, there must be an acknowledgement that any violence that occurred was wrong and unacceptable, and is now remembered with remorse and regret.

What other responses could be acceptable? Many of Hillary's supporters might be quite happy to accept that she thumped Bill on several occasions and that he deserved every bit of it every time. To make this claim, however, would be to argue that relationship violence is fine if the victim has done something to deserve it, or perhaps fine if the victim is a man. Do we really want to go down either road?

Fight Against Domestic Violence
Domestic violence against women has rightly become a high-profile issue - but it's a two-way street.Million Women Rise 2011

This is a situation where to say nothing is not a neutral act. To say nothing is, paradoxically, to say something very loudly and clearly indeed. Saying nothing actually says that a woman beating her husband severely enough to leave scars, bruises, swellings and bloody stains is no big deal. Saying nothing actually says that domestic violence between partners, behind closed doors, is nobody's business but their own. Saying nothing actually says that we, as a society, do not disapprove of this violence, we tolerate and even condone it. Saying nothing simply cannot be an option.

Doubtless there will be those who would urge us to see these reports in their proper context. Bill Clinton was certainly no angel and while there is no suggestion he was ever violent in turn, one could argue his well-documented philandering is tantamount to the emotional abuse of his wife, and never stopped him from becoming President.

This is true, but it is also true that the American nation never shied away from a very public debate on that precise question. For better or worse it is well established that politicians are elected on their personal qualities as much as their policies and that is the proper context of these allegations.

Slow awakening

Over recent years there has been a slow, steady awakening to the situation and needs of male victims of domestic violence. Leaving aside the various well-trodden debates around prevalence statistics and ideology between feminists and family conflict theorists, it is fair to say there is now some broad agreement at least that male victims of partner violence are not unusual and they do sometimes need support, assistance or intervention.

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign presents a vivid test: when our society says we condemn all acts of domestic violence irrespective of circumstances and genders, do we really mean it?

Speaking purely personally, as a non-US voter, I do not want these allegations to disqualify Hillary Clinton from the Democratic nomination or the presidency. I would much prefer that they be confronted, discussed and addressed, and if the American people are then happy to move beyond that, so be it. A lot of good could emerge from a frank conversation that highlighted how relationship violence can explode in any household, from the humblest hovel to the White House itself.

On the other hand, if the allegations are not addressed and dispatched, one way or another, a deeply depressing message will be sent to all male victims of domestic violence, across the US and the world. It will be a message that says, quite simply, we do not care.

Ally Fogg is a freelance writer and journalist based in Manchester, UK, who comments and blogs widely on issues of social justice, politics and male gender issues. He has previously worked in community media as a project manager and as lead author of the Community Radio Toolkit, as an editor and staff writer for the Big Issue in the North, and as an academic researcher in clinical psychology and epidemiology.

He can usually be found arguing with people on his blog at http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/ or on Twitter @AllyFogg.