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East London Humanist Chair Paul Kaufman on progress made and changes needed to deal with abuse against women

PUBLISHED: 11:03 11 June 2014

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The news has recently been full of horror stories about the abusive treatment of women, with accounts of mass abduction, stoning to death and other atrocities.

Many of the stories concern events far away. But we have our own dark history, and should never forget the scourge we still face in this country.

It has been said that the ‘‘rule of thumb’’ dates back to the right of a husband to beat his wife with a stick of a certain size.

Whether true or not, the expression reflects the long history of mistreatment of women in the West.

As recently as 1984 our Criminal Law Revision Committee argued against interfering with the law which gave a man the right to rape his wife, and marital rape was not finally made illegal until 1991. Even now one in four women is a victim of domestic violence.

On average two women a week are murdered in this country by a current, or former, partner.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by doom and gloom in the face of so much misery and human cruelty. However, we should take a crumb of comfort from the fact that, while there has always been dreadful abuse of women, there have been real changes in the way it is reported and responded to.

The internet and globalisation make it possible to receive news almost instantly from even the most remote corners of the world that in the past we may never have heard from. The headlining of the news reflects the importance it is given and the repugnance felt towards it.

The response has been encouraging, with petitions, demonstrations and intervention by governments.

In our own backyard, there is increasing understanding of the extent of abuse and the need to address this. There is now a welcome policy of zero tolerance with special courts and procedures to put it into action.

All of this gives hope that, slowly but surely, the forces for enlightenment are making progress, and through our actions we can change the world and make it a better place for all to live in.


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