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School lessons to tackle domestic violence outlined

25 November 09 14:04 GMT

Every school pupil in England is to be taught that domestic violence against women and girls is unacceptable, as part of a new government strategy.

Under the plans, from 2011 children will be taught from the age of five how to prevent violent relationships.

And next year, two helplines will be set up to deal with sexual violence and stalking and harassment.

The charity Refuge has welcomed the move but parents' groups questioned the government's interference.

More than £13m is being provided to help support male and female victims of sexual and domestic violence in a range of actions by the police, local authorities, NHS and government.

From 2011, lessons in gender equality and preventing violence in relationships will be compulsory in the personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education curriculum.

Before qualifying, trainee teachers will have to learn about teaching gender awareness and domestic violence.

Schools minister Vernon Coaker said lessons would be age appropriate.

"The appropriateness of what you do with someone who is five years old is totally different in terms of content and how you will be taught to someone who is 15 or 16," he said.

Younger children could be taught to prevent bullying and learn how names could hurt people, he added.

But critics have accused the government of interfering in how parents bring up their children.

Margaret Morrissey, of the Parents Outloud campaign group, said schools should focus on teaching children to read and write.

"This political correctness is turning our children into confused mini-adults from the age of five to nine," she said.

Strangling and slapping

Recent research by the children's charity NSPCC found one in four girls, some as young as 13, had been slapped or hit by their boyfriends.

It also found one in nine had been beaten up, hit by objects or strangled.

Christine Barter, NSPCC senior research fellow at Bristol University, said it was a significant problem that had not been addressed.

She suggested the problem arose from teenage girls' "unequal power relationships" with boyfriends - a feature of violent adult relationships too.

She said it was particularly disconcerting that these girls were not telling anyone about the violence.

Plans will also see the piloting of domestic violence protection orders - or "Go" orders - which could see perpetrators excluded from their homes and give victims space to apply for longer-term protection.

A health taskforce set up to examine the role of the NHS in response to female victims of violence will publish recommendations in 2010.

There were 293,000 incidents of domestic violence in 2008/09, with 77% of the victims women, according to the British Crime Survey.

However, the government estimates up to one million women experience at least one incident of domestic abuse every year.

Home Office minister Alan Campbell said domestic violence against men was also a problem but women and girls were the focus of this latest strategy because 80% of domestic violence victims were female.

The strategy coincides with the launch of the Four Ways to Speak Out campaign by domestic violence charity Refuge, fronted by famous faces such as Dame Helen Mirren and Sheryl Gascoigne.

It wants people to sign a petition urging the government to put an end to "the postcode lottery of domestic violence services".

Lisa King, director of communications at Refuge, welcomed the government's plans but said one in three authorities still did not provide such services.

She believes councils should be required by law to provide services for victims of domestic violence and the government should help fund them.

She added that the "particular needs" of abused women from ethnic minority backgrounds also needed to be properly served.

It is a view echoed by Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council.

"We know that refugee women are disproportionately likely to be affected by rape and sexual violence... it is therefore of great concern that women fleeing violence find it difficult to access appropriate services in the UK, and there is nothing in this strategy to address this," she said.

Harriet Harman, minister for women and equality, said tackling violence against women and girls was one of the government's top priorities and prevention was critical to long-term change.

"We have to work to change attitudes in order to eliminate violence against women and girls and to make it clear beyond doubt that any form of violence against women is unacceptable," she said.

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