THE BLOG

We Need to Talk About Domestic Violence

24/06/2013 13:29 BST | Updated 21/08/2013 10:12 BST

The World Health Organisation (WHO)'s findings that more than a third of women worldwide will suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime is shocking. The fact that it is more likely to happen at the hands of a male partner is, regrettably, less so. The recent photographs of Charles Saatchi holding his wife, Nigella Lawson, by the throat is an all too clear reminder that domestic violence is a widespread and indiscriminate problem.

And yet, in the UK welfare cuts are threatening the already pressured lifelines that are available to abused women. Women's shelters are being forced to turn victims away as they simply can't afford the facilities at a time when their importance is soaring. Not only that, but the cuts are affecting victims directly, cutting off vital benefits when they are most vulnerable. Sandra Horley, chief executive of women's charity Refuge, outlined the issues posed by welfare reform in a recent article for the Guardian. The WHO's new policy recommends training healthcare professionals to recognise the signs of domestic and sexual violence. Perhaps another recommendation would be to advise local governments to prioritise it.

However, it must not be assumed that financial independence makes it any easier to walk out of a volatile relationship. Many responded to the photographs of Nigella Lawson with the hashtag "getthehellout". But taking the steps to walk out can be incredibly difficult, either through fear of reprisals, or concerns over what will happen if there are children involved. More worryingly, many women believe that they will not be taken seriously if they do tell someone, thinking they may be seen as overreacting. Systematic abuse steadily and completely wears away at victim's self-esteem.

Domestic violence may have long been seen as a private issue, that what happens in the home stays behind closed doors. But in a world where two women a week are killed by their partner the private has to become public. The initial dismissal of the photographs of Nigella and Saatchi by some as being over-blown are a clear example of this.

Many have criticised the photographer for not intervening in the row, rather than waiting to get the best shot. However, had he not published the pictures the issue would not have been raised, and the problem of abuse would not now be being discussed on a national level. Experts advise that the best thing to do if you witness suspected abuse is to call the police. Creating a public dialogue about domestic violence is key to understanding and helping abused women. The more widespread the discussion, the more people will understand the complexity of the issue and ultimately the more women that might be helped.

A recent survey by Avon UK and charities Refuge and Women's Aid found that many women were unsure of what constitutes domestic violence, despite over half stating that they know or suspect that someone they know had experienced abuse. The percentage of those who said that they would seek help dropped as the age groups got lower, highlighting the particular vulnerability of young girls in abusive relationships. Awareness of abuse - by men and women - is a vital factor in getting to the root of preventing domestic violence. Misunderstanding leaves many women in fear. Creating a public dialogue about the subject will not only raise public consciousness to the problem but also help those in need to reach out. It has to start with us changing the way we think about it to ensure that we can give abused women a voice.

The WHO's declaration of a worldwide 'epidemic' of violence against women shows we must start working towards eradicating it. If an epidemic of a vicious, debilitating disease were announced, I am sure that our research would be concentrated on finding a cure. So why now are the charities and refuges aimed to help victims of abuse being threatened by government welfare reforms and cuts? Antibiotics cannot cure domestic violence and it has no social or economic boundaries. It is an epidemic that needs time and attention, and if it is not given these then these shocking statistics will only continue to grow.