Domestic violence is a complex issue which affects every one of us. With one woman in four physically abused by her partner at some point in her life, the likelihood is we all know someone who lives with the terrifying threat of abuse.
Domestic violence - physical or emotional abuse - reaches every corner of our society. It does not respect class, race, religion, culture or wealth. A working class mother on a run-down estate is just as likely to be abused as a professional woman used to managing teams of staff and making million-pound decisions.
Overwhelmingly domestic violence is experienced by women and the perpetrator is male. Yet although in the vast majority of cases it is male to female, we should recognize that men, children and the elderly can be abused, and that domestic violence also occurs in gay and lesbian relationships.
The cost to society is staggering. In London a minimum of £278m is spent each year responding to domestic violence, without even taking into account medical and legal costs. And then there are the lost days at work, the increase in truancy levels, the rise in juvenile crime.
Confusion over the causes of domestic violence only serves to divert attention from the severity of the problem. The myths abound but the reality is that domestic violence is not caused by alcohol, drugs, unemployment or stress. It is the result of a complex interplay of psychological and social factors which have created an imbalance of power between the sexes. Where there is an imbalance of power, it may be abused, and it is this, coupled with society's tolerance, which has allowed domestic violence to flourish.
Every time the police fail to charge an abuser, every time a case is dropped by the crown prosecution service, every time we turn a blind eye to our neighbor's bruises, we make it easier for the abuser to get away with it. We must remember that domestic violence is a serious crime which should be treated as such. It should be at least as unacceptable as drink-driving.
The last few years have seen an increase in the government's efforts to tackle abuse. A number of guidelines have been published, research has been commissioned, awareness is being raised. Yet this can only ever be a first step and the danger is that it will not translate into action. Any effective response to domestic violence has to take the form of a truly integrated central strategy which crosses government departments, the police, health and housing departments and every agency which can play a key role in tackling the problem.
To date the response to domestic violence has been piecemeal and patchy. The key element to achieving a consistent approach is funding. Domestic violence is an issue which has been woefully under-funded
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