Trial and terror of domestic abuse

DOMESTIC violence has this week been the subject of a conference in Ipswich in which a new public awareness campaign was launched. NICK RICHARDS looks behind the myths of violence in the home.

By Nick Richards

DOMESTIC violence has this week been the subject of a conference in Ipswich in which a new public awareness campaign was launched. NICK RICHARDS looks behind the myths of violence in the home.

VIOLENCE and rage are part of every day life in the early twenty-first century. Just turn on the television, go for a drive or have a night out on the town and the chances are you will encounter violence of some sort.

But violence within the home is particularly frightening – years of abuse and day to day suffering can stack up leaving life unbearable for its victims.


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This week's conference called 'Break The Pattern: Stop Domestic Violence' is part of a national campaign organised by Suffolk County Council in conjunction with the police.

Its main aims are to highlight how agencies involved in helping victims can work together to tackle the problem.

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Public awareness in domestic violence has increased in recent years, not only through a growing number of support agencies, but also through a number of high profile cases.

Soap fans have followed the recent Eastenders domestic violence story line involving Mo and her husband Trevor.

In real life, in June 1998, TV star Ulrika Jonsson ended her relationship with the former Aston Villa and England footballer Stan Collymore after an incident in a Paris bar in which he allegedly attacked her by dragging her to the floor and kicking her to the head.

More recently and closer to home was the far more serious abuse suffered by Felixstowe woman Zena Burton.

In May this year, Burton escaped a jail sentence after admitting she had committed the manslaughter of her partner John Westgate on grounds of reasonable provocation.

Judge David Mellor handed Burton, who has a long history of being physically and mentally abused, a three year community rehabilitation order, despite the fact that she admitted strangling her partner with a television flex during an argument in September 2001.

He said that Burton was a victim of "battered woman syndrome" in which women suffer continued abuse, but find it hard to leave a partner.

Coverage of this kind of story in the press raises the profile and awareness of domestic violence, but it is of scant consolation to the victims.

Behind the headlines and published cases there are hundreds of un-catalogued incidents that take place.

And this stereotype of man beating woman against a background of stress, alcoholism or poverty does not necessarily ring 100 per cent true in 2002.

Linda Howes from Victim Support in Ipswich said that violence within the home can take many different forms.

She said: "Most of the people we deal with are referred to us through the police. Domestic violence awareness has been on the increase in the last five to ten years and there are now various forums aimed at addressing the problem.

"There are no typical cases, though. Domestic violence can touch any person and can have an enormous effect on mothers and their children."

But physical violence is not the whole story – mental abuse, such as that suffered by Zena Burton is also common.

"Physical domestic violence is only one side of it. Mental abuse can be just as damaging and it is much harder to prove.

"Bruises and cuts are visible signs, but proving mental abuse and the impact is much harder, and it can have been occurring for many years."

And it's not just women that are victims of domestic violence.

"We do have more women cases than men, but domestic violence does occur when men are the victims.

"We treat any man in the same way we would treat a woman and they have the chance to speak to another man if they prefer.

"Violence also occurs in same-sex relationships but there isn't the same awareness of this or violence to men.

"Our main aim is to get people to talk openly about domestic violence whatever their background. There is no typical domestic violence sufferer."

Indeed, a recent report by the Home Affairs Select Committee noted that, in most cases, the abuser was male and the victim female. This is not, however, to deny the existence of other forms of violence within households.

Some of the most physically violent, incidents are those committed by men on their female partners, but there are also attacks by women on men, and within same-sex relationships.

Domestic violence clearly comes in various forms, but there are helplines specifically designed to aid those who are victims.

They offer confidential advice and can be contacted as follows:

CONTACT NUMBERS:

The Samaritans: (national helpline) 0845 790 9090.

Victim Support local helpline numbers: Ipswich 01473 231964, Bury St. Edmunds 01359 233035, North Suffolk 01502 584105

Womens Aid Federation – a voluntary agency providing support and temporary refuge for people threatened by violence or abuse: 0845 702 3468 (national helpline).

WEBLINK

www.niwaf.org - Womens Aid Online

TO GO IN SEPARATE BOX IF POSS:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE FACTS (source Womens Aid)

Almost half (44%) of all incidents reported by women to the British Crime Survey were domestic violence incidents.

Since 1981, the largest increase in violent crimes has been in incidents of domestic violence.

A number of local surveys in the UK show between one in three and one in four women report having suffered domestic violence at some time in their adult lives.

As many as one in three marriages that end in divorce involve domestic violence

Repeat victimisation is common. Half of all victims of domestic violence are involved in incidents more than once

Weapons are less likely to be used in assaults but victims of domestic violence are more likely to be injured.

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