Police try to measure scale of domestic abuse

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The Independent Online

Police across the United Kingdom made a confidential audit of domestic violence yesterday to assess its scale and calculate how much it coststhe taxpayer.

Police across the United Kingdom made a confidential audit of domestic violence yesterday to assess its scale and calculate how much it coststhe taxpayer.

The exercise - in which the 43 forces in England and Wales, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and Strathclyde Police in Scotland logged all reports about physical and emotional violence in the home- was kept secret to avoid the risk of distorting the findings. Incidents reported to Victim Support offices, Relate and women's refuges and aid agencies were also included.

Previous estimates of the scale of the problem have suggested that there are 6 million incidents of domestic violence in the UK every year, costing police and other agencies about £2bn. But yesterday's auditis expected to give a much truer picture of what has historically been a hidden problem.

Scotland Yard set up the operation - the biggest of its kind in the world - after finding that an average of 211 domestic violence incidents a day were reported to its community safety units.

Detective Constable Kevin Shapland, co-ordinator of the Metropolitan Police's community safety units, said domestic violence had only recently been regarded as a matter for police. He said: "Traditionally police officers saw it as 'just another domestic', but we are trying to change the mindset of the public and police officers to see it as crime."

Det Con Shapland said the incidents logged in yesterday's study would include physical and emotional attacks on women by their partners, attacks on men by women, attacks within same-sex relationships and abuse of the elderly.

The findings will be analysed by Professor Elizabeth Stanko, of Royal Holloway College, University of London, who said: "This is the first attempt in the world to get a handle on the daily impact of domestic violence. By focusing on one ordinary day we will highlight the extent of a problem which has become routine in many people's lives."

The results will be presented next month at an international conference, "Domestic Violence: Enough is Enough", to be hosted by Scotland Yard.

One particularly disturbing feature to emerge from recent research is that many women are assaulted by their partners during pregnancy. One in 14 women attending ante-natal clinics at St Thomas' Hospital in London said they had suffered violence while pregnant.

Stacey Cooper, from Hartlepool, Cleveland, said she was attacked by her partner shortly after giving birth at the age of 17. "He would hit me for no reason," she said. "I tried to leave him loads of times but I was so ground down that I had no confidence and didn't feel strong enough to press charges."

After more than two years of abuse, she fled to a women's refuge. She said: "Women who have never experienced this think women remain in these relationships because they like the violence. But they stay because of the fear of what will happen to them if they leave."

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