Violence in the home to be reviewed

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The Independent Online
A Government review of action to combat domestic violence is being carried out across Whitehall departments following fears that there could be substantial under-reporting of attacks on women in the home.

Joan Ruddock, the Minister for Women, has taken charge of the review covering all the key Government departments to establish whether the Government could do more to tackle domestic violence, and bring offenders to trial.

It follows a meeting with Home Office minister Alun Michael, who is reviewing police guidelines and the collection of statistics on the extent of violence in the family.

Domestic violence is not a legally defined offence, and the police are not currently required to identify domestic violence incidents in their statistical returns to the Home Office, or to record the relationship between the victim and the offender.

Mr Michael told Paul Flynn, the Labour MP, that the Government was committed to tackling domestic violence on every front. "We are currently examining the policies operating in this area, with a view to ensuring that we have an effective strategy against domestic and sexual violence."

Mr Flynn last night called for domestic violence to be made a legally defined offence. He also said ministers should review the provision of battered women's refuges.

Domestic violence is seen by Shelter as one of the main reasons for homelessness among young people and women. But ministers admit that it is "difficult to assess exactly how many cases of domestic violence occur in England and Wales."

Ms Ruddock's review will cover the action taken in 1995 by the Tory Government to coordinate measures across Whitehall with an inter-departmental committee on domestic violence.

The Home Affairs Select Committee found in 1993 that the police response to domestic violence had improved, and called for a national campaign against domestic violence.

The Home Office issued a circular in 1995 which said that domestic violence was difficult to report "due to the emotional relationship between the victim and the perpetrator"; there was a fear of reprisals and a tendency among the victims to minimise rather than exaggerate the violence to hide it from families and friends. Often victims were pressured by their family to remain in the relationship, or were financially dependent on the offenders.

The circular said: "Repeated abuse may undermine a woman's confidence in her ability to take decisions and act."

The Government said its approach was based on the premise that domestic violence was "a serious crime which must not be tolerated. The priority must be to stop the violence occurring."

The 1994 British Crime Survey said there were around 1.1million incidents in 1993, making domestic violence the most common form of assault, but only around one quarter of the incidents of domestic violence were reported.