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Some Families Shouldn't be Kept Together 'No Matter What'

19/08/2014 13:17 BST | Updated 19/10/2014 10:59 BST

David Cameron told us yesterday why, for him, "nothing matters more than family". And he told us what he plans to do about it. But while many commentators, including some from his own party, made it all about the institution of marriage and couples staying together no matter what, the Prime Minister said in the same speech that in cases of domestic violence, "what matters is making sure people are safe, rather than keeping the family together".

If only we could be confident that those implementing the changes announced today, at both national and local level, will share his understanding of domestic violence, as well as his belief in the importance of family relationships.

Will the health visitors who will now be offering "relationship support" to new parents be able to spot the signs of a dangerously controlling relationship? Will those leading antenatal classes, who will now be giving "relationship advice", understand the terrible fear and isolation faced by pregnant women who experience domestic violence? And if they do, will they know the signs, what to ask, and what to do with the answer?

What about the counsellors, funded by government at £7.5 million a year to provide "support for couple relationships". Will they know when making sure people are safe, in the Prime Minister's own words, is more important than supporting the relationship: the purpose for which they've been funded?

At the event where Cameron made his speech, Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of Relate, spoke of society as a "giant web" of relationships, and of the terrible isolation and disadvantage experienced by those without supportive relationships in their lives. This is precisely the horror lived by victims of dangerous coercive control. They are cut off from family and friends, living in constant fear and under threat, disoriented and feeling as lost as an isolated older person might be.

Cameron's new relationship support army might be a huge opportunity to break into the fortress of coercive control and start to free its thousands of victims. This will only happen if the government takes a strong and highly visible stand against domestic violence. Not only does coercive control, which is at the heart of all abusive relationships, need to be made a crime, but we need to ensure that everyone offering relationship advice fully understands it.

This means in-depth domestic violence awareness training for all the health visitors, counsellors, and all of the other professionals Cameron mentioned today. And it means sustaining the life-saving network of specialist support services for victims and survivors of domestic violence.

Without this, the "relationship support" promised today could be deeply dangerous for victims of domestic violence. It could add to the pressures tying them to a dangerous partner. It could reinforce the message that they are in some way to blame. It could say to them: "keeping the family together" is more important than keeping you safe.