Time to change unjust system

DOMESTIC abuse is no rare crime. In fact, one in four women will suffer from it at some point in their lifetime.Today, as the Evening Star continues to report on a court case in which Zena Burton killed her partner after years of abuse, one campaigner talks frankly about this type of crime, and adamantly calls for a change in Britain's law.

By Debbie Watson

DOMESTIC abuse is no rare crime. In fact, one in four women will suffer from it at some point in their lifetime.

Today, as the Evening Star continues to report on a court case in which Zena Burton killed her partner after years of abuse, one campaigner talks frankly about this type of crime, and adamantly calls for a change in Britain's law.

BEHIND millions of doors the world over, a tragic number of abused men and women are silently succumbing to the horror of domestic violence.


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Trapped in a vicious cycle of fear, of pain, and of an unwarranted sense of guilt, these victims are all-but hiding their abusers from the rightful punishment they so deserve.

Indeed, for many, that ultimate fear will help resign them – willingly – to a lifetime of cruel suffering at the mercy of their violent tormentor.

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It is little wonder that, by comparison with the number of those in abusive relationships, there is still only a very small minority which actually make it as far as the police station, let alone the courtroom.

Perhaps realistically, victims are held back by the sheer fear of reproach; of yet more violence and of more undeserved heartache.

"The disturbing truth is that most women will experience domestic violence on some 35 occasions before they even go so far as to report the crime," said National Treasurer for the Campaign Against Domestic Violence, Teresa Mackay.

"Fear is uppermost in the mind of victims, and very often, it will be the thought of the threat to children – not to herself – which prompts a battered woman to actually report her partner."

From Ipswich, and a fervent crusader against domestic abuse, Teresa is insistent that the law still needs to take greater note of 'cumulative violence', when women like Zena Burton come before British courts.

She is keen to emphasise the need for more awareness about such violence, and says a huge number of women are still far too frightened to speak of the horror they are subjected to….inside their own four walls.

"A lot of the abusers are very good at turning the charm on and off," commented Teresa. "They act a bit like Jekyll and Hyde and it scares the victim.

"It encourages the victim to keep believing that their partner has just made one mistake; that they will change; that they do still love them despite the harm they cause."

Equally, for many victims, economic reasons can prevent them from leaving their abusive partner. Fearful of being left with nothing, it may be one further issue to tie them into their terrifying relationship.

In the light of court revelations about Zena Burton – a Felixstowe woman who yesterday admitted manslaughter after an alleged string of abusive incidents – Teresa's comments are particularly poignant.

They clearly paint a picture of just how easy it is for women to become trapped in a cycle of abuse, and how it can, in extreme circumstances, push a woman to act violently by return.

"As an organisation, the Campaign Against Domestic Violence has been involved in all kinds of very public cases, some where an abuser has killed their partner, but also others where a victim has killed their abuser," said Teresa.

"We want to see a change in the law on provocation and self-defence, to bring in cumulative violence and abuse."

She insisted: "There is still a need for several legal changes in respect of this crime. Women are often viewed as having premeditated a murder because their typical size and weight makes it seem less likely for them to have killed impulsively.

"There is a big difference in how women are viewed in this respect, and we believe very strongly that something in the law still needs changing to take greater account of what a fearful victim can be driven to."

The tragic culmination of years of domestic violence has been shown in a number of legal cases over recent decades, and on the television screen it has also been capturing the awareness of the public far more than it ever had done.

Brookside famously launched the Jordache storyline nine years ago, depicting Mandy Jordache as the battered wife who, together with her daughter Beth, was then driven to kill husband and abuser, Trevor.

And last week Eastenders sensationally concluded its latest dramatic plot in which Mo Morgan (one of the programme's Slater sisters) was jailed for killing her husband after years of torment.

It is a matter which has made the small screen, not simply because of the entertainment factor, but because, in real-life, sadly this kind of abuse is still deeply prevalent.

Here in Ipswich a purpose-built Women's Refuge – completed in September 2000 - actively continues to provide accommodation for desperate women and children.

In its presence, it clearly bears testament to the fact that dozens of victims will still be forced to flee their homes by unrelenting abusers.

"Domestic abuse is something that it is all too easy to associate with a certain class, or a certain personality of person," said Teresa.

"It's just not the reality, because abusers and victims exist in all kinds of households, from all age groups and all professions.

"Thankfully, people are slowly starting to learn that message, and with the continued championing efforts of various charities, we can only hope that it will gradually reduce the vast number of victims that we here about every year."

Weblink:

www.sprs.org.uk/cadv.html

www.womensaid.org.uk

Contact Women's Aid (Ipswich) on 01473 745111

Facts:

One in four women will suffer from domestic violence at some point in their lives.

Every week, two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner.

Women will typically experience 35 acts of abuse before reporting their abuser.

Domestic violence is the least likely violent crime to be reported to the police. The British Crime Survey 2000 found that just under 1/3 of incidents were reported

Every minute in the UK, the police receive a call from the public for assistance for domestic violence. This leads to police receiving an estimated 1,300 calls each day or over 570,000 each year.

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