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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Domestic violence hits home
By Jon Silverman
Home affairs analyst

A 999 call about domestic violence is made each minute. Now moves are afoot to stop those who use violence against their partners.

Domestic violence
Couples often get back together...
Domestic violence is on the policy agenda, with the disclosure that the government plans a register of men who have been convicted of assaulting their partners. It is also thinking of making the breach of some civil court orders a criminal offence.

There is no dispute that violence in the home is a crime which is all too prevalent. The latest Home Office figures show that the police in England and Wales receive a 999 call about it every minute of the day. One woman in four will be attacked by a partner or ex-partner during her lifetime.

But given that, on average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before she reports it to the police, will a response rooted in the criminal justice process do anything more than scratch the surface of the problem?

Marilyn Stowe, of the Law Society's Family Law Panel which is holding its first national conference in July, thinks the only long-term solution is education.

"I saw a recent survey of 1,300 school children in which one in three boys said violence against women was acceptable. It is time that children were taught in school how to control anger in the same way that sex education is now routine. We need to tackle the issue in the classroom not the police interview room."

Tainted love

It's a particular feature of domestic violence cases that, however swift the response by the police or the courts, the couple will frequently get back together, thus placing the woman - and, though men are battered too, it is almost always the woman who is the victim - in further danger.

Woman cowering in her home
... but attackers typically reoffend
In one Leeds case, a husband assaulted his wife so badly that both her cheekbones were fractured. An eviction order was obtained with remarkable speed but, by the time of the criminal prosecution for grievous bodily harm, the couple had reconciled and the wife actually gave evidence for the defence. Since domestic violence has one of the highest reoffending rates of any crime, the prognosis for her safety is not good.

The police response to violence in the home has improved out of all recognition. The days when a callout to a "domestic" would not even to lead to a file being processed - let alone a prosecution - are long gone.

Now women known to be at risk are allocated a designated contact officer in a domestic violence or community safety unit. That's fine if the officer is on duty or readily contactable, but an assault or threatening situation may well develop late at night or at a weekend - and then what?

Safe from harm

One Saturday lunchtime, June rang her local police station in a panic when her estranged partner made violent threats against her. Her contact officer was not on duty but she was told someone would call round to see her urgently. After five hours, fearing for her safety, she left for another address.

Man behind bars
A register of abusers is planned
Even when she went to the police station the following morning, only one civilian officer was on duty and unable to process her complaint. Unsurprisingly, she is sceptical about the ability of law enforcement to protect her.

An inter-ministerial group has been working on plans to combat domestic violence for the best part of two years, and the government's sincerity is not in doubt. But a report to the Lord Chancellor in February 2002 from an advisory committee on issues relating to parental contact in cases of domestic violence still has not elicited a response.

And by talking up initiatives like registers of convicted abusers - when, at the most generous estimate, fewer than one in three cases is reported to the police - there's a risk the victims will again be let down, sometimes with fatal consequences.

One in six women abused
06 Mar 03  |  Health
School 'zero tolerance' campaign
31 Jan 01  |  Scotland


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