Action at last on domestic violence

The US government spends millions on combating
domestic violence. The UK spends nothing. But change is in the

On Sunday, Methodist churches reverberated to
the sound of smashing china as a symbol of the extent of domestic
violence within the church community. Within the Church, it affects
one in four women and a smaller minority of men; figures which,
according to research, reflects the proportion of those battered in
society as a whole.

A few days earlier, footballer Paul Gascoigne
and his ex-wife Sheryl, were pictured in the tabloids emerging from
a plush hotel after a night spent together – on this occasion, with
no blood spilt. Gascoigne has been dry for months after counselling
in Arizona. Sheryl has also been the beneficiary of therapy. Both
were smiling.

Recognition of the extent and consequences of
domestic violence have improved but resources remain dire and the
response of some institutions is still uneven. Many police forces
fail to impose injunctions while the Crown Prosecution Service has
also often refused to prosecute, or has downgraded the crime. This
week, however, it announced a new policy of acting tougher.

The new approach is welcome but, as Sandra
Horley, chief executive of Refuge, which supports more than 60,000
women and children a year, points out, what’s desperately lacking
is a strong co-ordinated government strategy linking all civil and
criminal initiatives.

Last year, the US federal government allocated
$1.3bn dollars to tackle violence in the home. Here, government
gives nothing. Refuge struggles financially and only one in three
women who call its help line for emergency housing can be found a
place. Woman’s Trust, a London charity that offers free counselling
and workshops to more than 200 women a year affected by domestic
violence, is in danger of closing in January because it can’t raise
the £90,000 annually required to stay in operation. It
received a small grant from the National Lottery Charities Board in
1998 but has been told that it can have no more funding. Yet, a
rare breed pet owners’ help line is allocated £600,000.

Domestic violence is now the remit of the
newly appointed women’s minister, Barbara Roche. She sits on a
newly created inter-ministerial committee on domestic violence
which includes Harriet Harman, solicitor general, responsible for
the new CPS approach. The committee’s first task is to open the
Cabinet’s eyes to the reality of what happens when one individual
beats another in the name of “love”. And argue for hard cash and
more action.  

– Woman’s Trust Counselling and Support
Services on 020 7352 7775, Refuge helpline 0870 5995443

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