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BBC's Karen Allen
"Guideline to CPS is controversial"
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BBC's Karen Allen
"Services for victims remain patchy"
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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 12:06 GMT
Crackdown on wife-beaters

One woman in four is a victim of domestic violence
Men who beat their wives could face court even if the victim withdraws her complaint, under new guidelines.

The move comes as part of new Home Office advice aiming to crack down on violence in the home, which official figures suggest affects one woman in four at some point in their lives.

The guidelines urge the Crown Prosecution Service to consider pursuing domestic violence cases even if the complaint is withdrawn.

Home Office Minister Paul Boateng has drawn up a 10-point action plan to help victims.

It recommends a greater awareness of domestic violence and better co-operation between the various agencies tackling the problem.

Public interest

Mr Boateng said: "We want to make it clear that those who perpetrate these crimes face the full rigour and punishment that the law can impose - and that includes prison.

"As a result of domestic violence, around 63,000 women and children spend at least one night in a refuge and one woman is dying every three days.

"We have a duty to make sure we make serious inroads in tackling this horrendous problem."

The guidelines say the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales must make sure a woman who withdraws her evidence against a partner is acting freely.

But even then, prosecutors should still consider whether it is in the wider public interest to pursue the case, even to the point of forcing the woman to give evidence against her will in court.

'Step forward'

The Home Office document makes clear it is a sensitive decision which has to take account of the woman's wishes, her relationship with the accused, how serious the attack was, the effect on any children and the likelihood of repeat attacks.

Local authorities are also being urged to use their powers to evict tenants whose partners have fled the home to escape violence.

Meanwhile, employers are told they should show support to victims and make it plain to abusers their behaviour is unacceptable.

Harriet Wishtrich from campaign group Justice for Women told the BBC the measures were "a step forward" in taking domestic violence seriously.

'No average victim'

The new guidelines also recommend the police and social services work more closely to encourage better reporting of domestic violence.

The 37-page document, launched to coincide with International Women's Day, was unveiled at Paddington police station in London.

Detective Inspector Glenn Gavin said part of the problem for police was identifying the women who were vulnerable.

"We know which streets or which houses are more likely to be burgled and we know you are more likely to be robbed on some streets than others, but I'd challenge anyone to predict the likely victim of domestic violence," he said.

He said victims ranged from refugees who had no money and nobody to turn to, to some of the wealthiest women in the country who were completely financially independent and still lived with partners who beat them up.

The government has set aside 6m for groups working with domestic violence victims.

Mr Boateng also launched a Women's Aid Federation Directory which includes the details of 300 support groups for domestic violence victims.

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