Saturday, 6 September 2014

A world where everyone feels valued, equal and safe - free of domestic violence

Our country is justly proud of its record of supporting the rights of women around the world – whether it’s their fight for rights we take for granted or eradicating abusive practices – slavery, forced marriages, FGM.

So consider for a moment these statistics: 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; every 6 seconds a woman is assaulted in her own home; every minute an incident of domestic violence is reported to the police – though a victim is likely to have been assaulted 35 times before she seeks help for the first time. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.

So from which illiberal backward, authoritarian part of the globe do these shameful statistics come? In fact, they come from Great Britain. Look again at those statistics – can you believe they come from Britain in the 21st century?

Make no mistake, domestic violence knows no social, economic or class boundaries – it is seen in every walk of life. Wherever it occurs, the victims are many: the women –sometimes the men – who suffer not only visible physical scars, but invisible mental scars that may take far longer to heal – loss of confidence, sense of worth, of being valued; children who are forced to witness the hurt of those they love, who may themselves become conditioned to accept abuse as the norm; parents and friends of victims, who feel helpless and guilty, seeing their loved ones so diminished and cowed.

The authorities – police, social services, judicial system – have become far better at tackling the issues of domestic abuse. They more often see the signs, are less likely to believe what happens between partners – a ‘mere domestic’ – is something to steer clear of. If what happens behind closed doors remains there it will not only be allowed to continue, but will become commonplace and the norm within families and communities. But even now, especially now, the will may be there, but the resources are lacking.

While the authorities have become better at tackling instances of abuse, and while the networks to support the victims are slowly being put in place – allowing victims to become survivors, and once more to take control of their lives – there is still a long way to go. And we shall never eradicate this malaise at the heart of our society until we have tackled the root causes – our attitudes as a society to the role of women within it. Changing attitudes takes time and it takes resources.

For this reason I was delighted to be invited to attend the launch of a new charity, the SupportWorks Foundation. The Foundation does invaluable work supporting survivors of abuse through its various educational recovery programmes – free of charge and designed to empower them and help rebuild their lives. The highest quality training is also being delivered to professionals who themselves deal with victims of domestic abuse.

But to eradicate this malaise once and for all we must start by educating our young. The Foundation delivers courses designed to prevent teenage relationship abuse, sexual assault and bullying and activate student leadership in promoting healthy and respectful relationships. These courses allow those in schools and other establishments to deliver the Coaching Healthy and Respectful Masculinity (CHARM) programme to boys and young men and the We Are Valued, Equal and Safe (WAVES) programme for girls and young women. To find out more, to offer your support, email

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