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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 12:36 GMT
Tory spotlight on domestic violence
The Conservatives have launched a new campaign to highlight the "hidden" problem of domestic violence over Christmas.

The Tories plan to use their nationwide network of activists to distribute 10,000 posters advertising violence helplines.

Domestic violence
One-third of all murders in England and Wales are "domestic"
Two women in England and Wales killed by partner or ex-partner each week
Most are killed after repeated, escalating violence
Source: Home Office
Above the words "Boxing Day", the posters show a woman cowering before a clenched fist and say one in four women is a victim of violence a some point during their lives.

The Conservatives argue the campaign is not about scoring party points, but officials hope it will show the Tories tackling the problems of "real people" and not just their traditional supporters.

The campaign advertises the helplines of Women's Aid and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)

Christmas peak

Caroline Spelman, the party's shadow minister for women, says too many women are killed by their current or former partners.

Such problems get worse at Christmas when levels of stress, alcohol and debt increase, domestic violence reach a peak.

Mrs Spelman told a news conference in London, attended by MPs from other parties, that the campaign was not a party political issue, but about giving out helpline numbers to women in trouble.

For us as a party, this is not just a side show - this is serious

Iain Duncan Smith
"Christmas is a particularly difficult time in some families, even when everything is going well, if we are honest," said Mrs Spelman.

"But if you live in an abusive family, those tensions can reach fever pitch.

"Many women are making up their minds right about now whether to put themselves or their families through another Christmas like the last one."

'Life and death' issue

The posters, which have been produced "on a shoe-string" will be displayed in dentists' and doctors' surgeries, in hairdressers and "on the back of the loo door" - basically places where women go, said Mrs Spelman.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith insisted: "For us as a party, this is not just a side show - this is serious.

"We believe that where there are serious problems we have a duty as an Opposition to raise the profile of those problems and suggest ways in which we can deal with them."

Caroline Spelman
Spelman has said domestic violence is not a traditional Tory issue
Nicola Harwin, director of Womens Aid, said not enough could be done to raise awareness of violence in the home.

"Domestic violence is actually a life and death issue," she said.

"We know that one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. We know that two women are killed every week by current or former partners.

"Children are seriously affected by both witnessing and experiencing domestic violence themselves."

'A man's issue'

Ms Harwin said judges needed to be trained to deal with sentencing in cases of domestic violence along with more specialist support services, awareness and education.

Reporters heard extracts of women's real life experiences of domestic violence from a book by Barbara Gorna, a Tory prospective parliamentary candidate.

"Domestic violence is the only crime where the victim has to move home," said Ms Gorna.

"What we need in the UK is more effective legislation to get the man out of the home without the woman actually having to testify."

Robert Key, deputy shadow women's minister, said violence against women "is a man's issue because it's men that do it".

But he added: "Of course it's true that 3% of men are abused by women."

Deadly result

Mrs Spelman has pledged to work with the government to produce a Domestic Violence Bill which would make a real difference.

Solicitor General Harriet Harman has said crown prosecutors will be urged to press on with prosecutions in cases of domestic violence, even if the victim wants the case dropped.

Ms Harman told a recent conference: "It is about where the public interest lies when the victim is insisting the case be dropped."

"She might want to forgive him, but the next time he assaults her she could be killed.

"Even if she has left him... he is likely, unchecked, to just go on to assault his next partner and she might end up dead."

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