None of Us Can Afford to Ignore Domestic Violence

Article excerpt

So what goes on in the head of a man who is compelled to punch and slap and kick his pregnant wife or girlfriend, to risk the death of his unborn child? To turn on someone he pledged to love and cherish? And why do so many of us look away when we hear these stories?

Let me tell you Amanda's story. Six weeks into her pregnancy, Amanda's ex-partner began a vicious run of violence that was to last throughout her pregnancy, and beyond. "He would try to suffocate me by covering my mouth and nose until I begged him to get off. He would constantly torment me mentally too, and tell me that the baby I carried was worthless."

I, for one, was outraged when Refuge approached us at the Body Shop with a horrifying list of statistics about domestic violence in the UK. It affects women from every social background, religion and culture. It can occur at any stage in a woman's life. However, 25 per cent of women experiencing domestic violence are assaulted for the first time during pregnancy, often with tragic outcomes.

It's about power and control. When a woman is pregnant she's at her most vulnerable, and the abuser can feel threatened and pushed aside. He can becomes jealous of the unborn child - and so there are two victims. This further increases the imbalance of power in the relationship. Because the abuser is able to exploit her vulnerability, she is even more dependent on him than ever. She may be unable to take steps to leave.

One in nine women in the UK is severely beaten by a partner each year. Can you imagine the fear and intimidation that leads victims of abuse to be beaten an average of 35 times before they first work up the courage to leave call the police?

It is over three decades since Refuge opened the world's first women's refuge, but despite years of research and work on destigmatising the problem, prevention and intervention, domestic violence is still one of the biggest human-rights issues affecting women. Refuge is providing a desperately needed safety net, but the real work ahead is getting to the guts of the problem and putting stigma where it really belongs: on the abusers.

It also means examining what in our society allows a disease like this to bloom so unchallenged.That means facing some grim truths. Don't look away when I tell you this:

w Two women in England and Wales are killed every week by a current or former partner.

w One in four women are abused in their lifetime.

w Every minute, police in the UK receive a domestic assistance call, yet only 35 per cent of domestic violence incidents are reported to police.

w In 90 per cent of domestic abuse incidents, children were in the same or the next room, and in about 50 per cent of all cases of spousal abuse, children were also targeted. …