The awareness campaign is based on posters and leaflets that feature not the usual picture of a battered wife, but a chain with a broken link.
Yesterday women's groups said the "gender-neutral" imagery of the "Break the Chain" campaign was a denial that women were overwhelmingly the victims of domestic violence. They said 95 per cent of domestic-violence calls to police were by women.
But the Home Office minister Paul Boateng said the initiative was an effort to tackle domestic violence.
"It is a criminal offence. It is not to be regarded as some sort of social phenomenon we can regard with some detachment. It's a law-and-order issue and those breaking the law must understand they will be subject to the full rigour of the law," Mr Boateng said.
He released Home Office research based on questionnaires completed for the 1996 British Crime Survey, showing men and women were equally likely to suffer domestic assaults. The researchers reported that 4.2 per cent of women and 4.2 per cent of men said they had been physically assaulted by a current or former partner in the past year.
They also found women were twice as likely as men to have been injured by a partner in the past year and three times as likely to have suffered frightening threats.
Women were also more likely to have been assaulted three or more times.
The research provoked an angry response from women working with domestic- violence victims. Davina James- Hanman, co-ordinator of the Greater London Domestic Violence Project, said the British Crime Survey traditionally under-reported domestic violence and that other recent studies had showed that as many as one in nine women had been victims of such attacks in the past year.
"There's nowhere near as many men experiencing domestic violence as women," she said.Reuse content