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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 12:14 GMT
Domestic violence 'not recognised'
Women often don't realise they're not to blame

Much more needs to be done to break the taboo of domestic violence in the UK, according to women's charities.

The Women's Aid Federation, which runs refuges for abused women and their children as well as a helpline, says that domestic violence is still not recognised as a "serious crime" in this country.

A total of 22,000 women called the helpline last year, and many more tried to get through.

Home office figures show that a quarter of all reported crime relates to domestic violence.

Sheryl Gascoigne spoke out about the violence she suffered at the hands of her footballer husband
WAF has published information which it hopes will promote greater acceptance of the criminality of domestic violence. It is intended for the friends and neighbours of women who are being abused.

WAF spokeswoman Myra Johnson said: "It takes a great deal of courage to walk out of an abusive relationship and go through the courts - and many women don't have the energy to do that."

She said that was why the community needed to be more aware of the issues and take more responsibility for reporting them.

Police forces were becoming more sympathetic to women, she said, and many now have domestic violence units. But she said there were still cases reported where women had been "treated appallingly" and asked if they "could't go home and make it up".

'Every day ... I would be frightened'

WAF's campaign is set to be boosted on Thursday when actress Amanda Redmond will speak at a conference to mark the International Day Against Violence Towards Women.

The star of BBC's Close Relations and Hope and Glory is due to talk about her own experiences of violence in the home.

She said that her partner took care to beat her in a way that avoided damaging her well-known face.

She said: "He was icy cold when he did it. Everyday I would hear the key in the lock and be frightened, thinking what have I done today?"

Actress Andrea Redman, pictured in BBC drama Close Relations, said her partner was "icy" as he hit her
Womankind Worldwide, which is organising the conference for the UK's second White Ribbon day on Thursday - an international day is focusing on rape, and speakers also include the BBC's Kate Adie.

As well staging the London conference, the charity has distributed white ribbons to schools and refuges around the country.

Save the Children is also lauching a publication aimed at countering violence in the family, to tie in with the international day.

It highlights disturbing statistics including:

  • Babies under one year old are four times more likely to be murder victims than any other age group, almost all are killed by their parents
  • A substantial minority of children suffer "sever physical punishment".
  • Each week at least one child dies as a result of cruelty.

    Marilyn Thompson, Gender Advisor at Save the Children, said: "Too many children are deeply scarred, physically, and mentally, not just by what is done to them but by what they see done to others in the very place that is supposed to offer them security and sanctuary - their home."

    Ms Johnson said: "Many women are living in fear - walking on eggshells because they do not know what will provoke the violence or when it will come."

    And she said that women experiencing violence often did not realise that their partner's behaviour was not normal.

    She said: "When you are told day in, day out that the violence is your own fault because you are a bad mother and a bad wife, you can come to accept it.

    "People often say, well if it's so bad, why doesn't she just walk out? Well, many women don't realise that they are not to blame, and others are totally financially dependent on the situation."

    She said that more resources were needed to tackle the problem - as well as a national advertising campaign.

    She said: "This government published a report called Living Without Fear which outlined a strategy against violence - but we don't yet know what resources are going to be put aside.

    "As a country we are well behind places like Australia and New Zealand where domestic violence is treated as a crime, and there are high profile media campaigns against it."

    The Women's Aid Foundation helpline is open Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm and can be reached on 0345 023468.

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