One in six men will be the victim of domestic violence at some time in his life, the most senior female judge in England and Wales told an audience of law reformers at 10 Downing Street.
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division of the High Court, said she was concerned that 10 per cent of young women "thought it was acceptable to hit their partner''. The equivalent figure for young men is 20 per cent. Dame Elizabeth said it was "crucial'' that such attitudes for both men and women were reversed.
The judge acknowledged that the majority of victims of domestic violence were women, but added: "It must be said there is significant violence committed by a minority of women against men.''
She said: "The term domestic violence covers a wide range of unacceptable behaviour within the family and may take many forms. Violence can take the form of emotional or psychological abuse as well as physical assault. Indirect violence (threats, verbal abuse and denigration) may, in certain cases, be as detrimental as actual violence.''
Although one in four women, Dame Elizabeth said, would be a victim of domestic violence, and 120 women were killed by a current or former partner every year, 30 men were killed each year in similar circumstances.
In an unprecedented speech by a senior judge, she said: "Clearly whilst social awareness of this issue may have been on the rise, offending rates are still far too high.''
Her speech, supported by Cherie Blair and Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General, was given to a selected group of judges, lawyers and social reformers early this month, but was only made public by Downing Street yesterday. It was the latest in a series of addresses at Downing Street titled the "millennium lecture series''.
Dame Elizabeth said tackling domestic violence was the responsibility of everybody in the community. "Domestic violence is a social evil with implications for society as a whole. We must acknowledge that serious domestic violence causes harm to the wider community."
She said it affected grandparents and neighbours as well as the community at large. "The fact that these crimes occur in the home does not make them any less serious; if anything, it makes them more serious by virtue of the abuse of trust involved. We must be absolutely clear in the message the public hears: we cannot shut the door on the home and say it is not 'our business'; violence is violence wherever it takes place.''
Dame Elizabeth said that her office was working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to find ways of sharing information between criminal and civil proceedings concerning cases of domestic violence.
She concluded that she supported many of the Government's proposals to reduce domestic violence, adding: "Ultimately, domestic violence is a problem with complex causes. Whilst we should continue to punish and deter the crime, we must also be looking to its causes if we are to move forward. This problem belongs to society as a whole.''