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Valentine sweet-talk could mask a violent monster, abuse charity warns

Women hoping to be swept off their feet by a slick Romeo on Valentine's Day are being warned that their heart-throb could be a violent monster.

Domestic abuse charity Refuge says the smooth-talking charmer is just as likely to hand out a beating as any man, after a survey found most people still believe that wife beaters are working-class drunkards.

Welfare workers warn that seductive chat and a raffish smile could simply be the early stages of a power game played by men who isolate and manipulate women before subjecting them to violence.

The nationwide survey, carried out last month, shows seven out of 10 think domestic abuse is much more likely in poorer homes and nine out of 10 believe it is caused by alcohol. Stress in the workplace is also cited as a major cause. Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: "It's a myth that the macho man who drinks heavily and is under stress at work is more likely to abuse his partner. The charming man who wines and dines you is just as likely to abuse women. Domestic abuse knows no social, cultural or racial barriers and this survey shows us that society is out of touch."

With millions hoping a secret admirer will be unveiled on February, women are being told to watch out for the tell-tale signs of men who use attentiveness and charm to manipulate and control.

The survey has also unveiled an "inaccurate" picture of abuse victims - 40 per cent of the 975 people interviewed believe women enjoy being beaten. Seven out of 10 also think some women provoke domestic violence.

Attitudes to punishment for wife beaters also remain out of kilter, according to Refuge. Some 68 per cent of men believe a drink-driver should be automatically sent to prison, whereas only 45 per cent think an abuser deserves the same punishment. The charity says that while many women are unable to leave their homes, it takes great strength to live with an abusive man. Refuge estimates that one in nine women are severely beaten by their male partners Sandra Horley said: "While people continue to believe these myths and ignore the problem, they continue to endanger women's lives on a daily basis."