Domestic violence is a deadly, insidious crime which affects thousands of people up and down the country. One woman in four will experience abuse at some point in her lifetime. Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a former or current partner.
And yet, despite these horrific statistics, domestic violence is still very hidden. Victims often feel too ashamed or afraid to speak out: research undertaken by Refuge in 2009 revealed that 65% of women who had experienced abuse did not tell anyone about it. All too often, people turn a blind eye when they know or suspect that abuse is taking place - even when the victim is a loved one. We still think of domestic violence as a "private matter", to be dealt with "behind closed doors". Within this cocoon of silence, abuse is allowed to flourish.
That's why Refuge today launched a hard-hitting video campaign with makeup artist Lauren Luke. In the video, Lauren applies makeup to cover what look like fresh cuts and bruises on her face. Her injuries are, in fact, fake, but for thousands of women up and down the country, this is the reality of their everyday lives. Refuge's message for these women is: there is support available. Reach out to Refuge and find out about your options. You don't have to cover it up.
Of course, not all women who experience domestic violence are beaten black and blue. You don't have to be hit to be abused. Refuge supports over 1,600 women and children on any given day, and many of these women tell us that the effects of emotional and psychological abuse are equally, if not more, devastating than kicks and punches. The scars they leave are deeper, and take longer to heal.
Whatever form it takes, domestic violence is unacceptable. Victims of abuse do not have to suffer in silence. It is heartening to read some of the comments from people viewing the video who have broken through that silence themselves. One woman wrote: "I finally stopped covering it up in 1993 - one of the best moves I ever made for me and my children".
Specialist organisations like Refuge can help women and children escape abuse and rebuild their lives. We run a national network of services, from refuges and community outreach schemes to teams of advocates who support women going through the courts. It is no exaggeration to say that our services change lives and save lives.
The first step to escaping abuse is to break down the wall of silence which hides it. If you watch Lauren's video and recognise yourself - or a loved one - remember that you are not alone. Tell someone you trust about the abuse, or contact Refuge. Don't cover it up.
To find out more about our work, and about the 'Don't Cover It Up' campaign, go to www.refuge.org.uk/lauren.
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