Drive to cut violent abuse of women

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT launched a campaign yesterday to tackle the huge, mostly hidden problem of violence against women. It is the first drive of its kind from any British government, despite the extent of the problem. One woman in four will be attacked in her home at some point and every week two women are killed, by men who supposedly love them.

"We must stop seeing domestic violence as a family secret and see it as something that the whole nation has to focus on," said Baroness Jay of Paddington, the Minister for Women. She said a battered woman who calls her local authority for help can be passed on to as many as 10 different agencies. "We must change that," she said, though authorities will be given five years to do so.

Some pounds 6m will be given over the next two to three years to projects to reduce such violence or help victims. Victim Support will have its grant increased by pounds 6.3m and there is a proposal, though no firm commitment, to a 24-hour helpline. Paul Boateng, the Home Office minister who attended the launch,said there was much to be done in terms of words and deeds. The legal definition of rape, trapped for so long in the 19th century, is in the process of being modernised.

The number of reported rapes in England and Wales has increased by 165 per cent over the past decade - the steepest rise of any crime - but the conviction rate has dropped over the same period from 24 per cent to 9 per cent.

Young men and their attitudes were alarming, he said, drawing attention to a survey that found that one in six young men would force a woman to have sex if she were his wife. "This is a very real cause for concern," Mr Boateng said.

The campaign, called Living Without Fear and backed by a 75-page document, is the work of the Women's Unit and the Home Office. It was launched yesterday at a press conference that began at the Cabinet Office but then continued al fresco in St James's Park.

There Lady Jay joined two other women: Sally Whittaker who plays a victim of domestic violence in Coronation Street, and Karen Newman, from Norfolk, whose brother-in-law stabbed her 59 times and left her for dead in 1997. After the minister and the soap star left, the "real life victim", as she was referred to yesterday, told her story.

Her sister Margaret had been married for 25 years to a man who didn't hit her but conducted a mental reign of terror. The husband, Tommy Elden, demanded cups of tea, his dinner cooked a certain way, things to be done immediately.

Then one night in 1997 he decided he did not like his dinner and so he threw his wife out into the back garden. This time Margaret left.

"I had gone to his house with my niece Laura to pick up my sister's stuff. He asked us where Margaret was and then he locked us in," said Ms Newman. Elden turned and Ms Newman realised he was holding a knife.

He stabbed his daughter and sister-in-law for almost half an hour, retreating only when they played dead. Karen's mobile phone saved her life. She had had the foresight to ring 999 while being attacked but couldn't give the address. Her brother-in-law went up to the attic but she knew he had machetes up there - "he would have had my head off". She managed to call her husband then and raise the alarm.

Elden was convicted of attempted murder and committed suicide in prison in April.

"I was lucky," says Ms Newman, who had her lungs punctured 12 times and needed 14 pints of blood. She knows Elden would have killed her sister if he could have found her. Karen, who was 18, has recovered too.

At 37, Ms Newman is training to be a counsellor. The first step is to realise that you could be a victim. "My sister didn't realise that she was being abused," she says. "So many women don't realise that they are the victims of anything."