Belfast Telegraph

Let's listen to victims of domestic abuse

Editor's Viewpoint

It is often said that no outsider really knows what goes on behind the closed doors of a family home. This week this newspaper through its campaign for a revision of the laws on domestic violence has given readers a shocking glimpse of the brutality that is so often hidden from public view.

You just need to read the story today of Irene Wilson who was left bleeding to death after being mercilessly beaten by her then husband to realise why this newspaper is calling for change. Amazingly, although he left Irene just three minutes from death, he was given a suspended sentence when he appeared in court.

The attack on Irene may have been the most vicious incident in a 32-year marriage, but it was merely the culmination of years of physical and mental abuse. Her experience is not unique as our reports this week have revealed, yet victims feel little has been done to make it easier for them to get justice against their tormentors. We demand that this situation changes and quickly.

The Departments of Justice and Health say that work has begun on a new strategy to deal with domestic abuse and sexual violence. That is a welcome development, but given the glacial pace of legislative reform at Stormont it is imperative that the politicians take on board the wide-ranging issues raised by this newspaper this week. We have drawn up a list of reforms after listening to experts in the field and also, most importantly, to victims. Up until now they have felt helpless to find a way out of the domestic hell that so often confronts them and want easier ways of reporting crimes against them and specialised courts to deal with the consequences.

Of course many women - the vast majority of victims are females - often don't want to admit that they are trapped in a violent relationship and may even feel some share of the blame for what happens behind closed doors. Fear may prevent others from giving evidence against their partners.

That attitude has to change as well as the legislative framework. No one deserves to be brutalised by their partners. Instead they should be offered every protection including restraining orders against violent partners.

It also makes sense that the courts impose behavioural prohibitions on abusers such as banning them from taking alcohol. For too long domestic abuse has been a crime unseen by the public. It is a secret no more and we need to heed the pleas of victims for justice.

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