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We must do more to stop these abusive hit men

THE most popular excuse for giving the wife a good thump at New Year is the stress of surviving Christmas.

Yes, during the festive period, during this season of so-called merry-making, Scottish Women's Aid is on red alert.

An abusive male only needs the most meagre of excuses to erupt and he will find one, no matter what. He may come home, bang a few doors and object to something his wife has said or done. She will know the triggers and learn how to cope. If she doesn't, she may die.

There is no acceptable excuse for beating up a woman. The average man is bigger and stronger so, it is always a no-contest. Violence can be mental, physical, sexual or emotional, or all four. Violence does not always take the form of blows. A word can terrify. So can a look.

Never make the mistake of thinking that domestic violence is the sole preserve of those who exist on the margins of society. It is no respecter of class. Remember the appalling pictures of Nigella Lawson arguing with her former husband Charles Saatchi, his hand clutching her throat? Behind the most polite doors are successful women with cut-glass accents, trying to conceal bruises inflicted by the accountant, the lawyer, the doctor. Think Bill Walker, the MSP jailed for beating several women.

This is no feminist anti-male rant and, yes, there are women who abuse men, but the problem is nowhere near as great.

Abusers tend to deny their own violence, playing down the extent of their brutality, claiming "she asked for it". Sadly, like the men who thump them, many battered women live in denial, fearing reprisals if they take action.

The real culprit is our society: the way we look the other way when we see a woman with a black eye or believe a victim's excuses of having walked into a door or fallen downstairs - just so we can mind our own business.

We fail to fund enough refuges for abused women. Then, when tethers finally reach their end and a woman kills her abuser, we shut her up in prison just to see if we can draw a little bit more blood.

Nothing much happens to the perpetrators. Most of them get off Scot-free. If a man attacks someone in the street, the system ensures he is punished. In this country, you cannot just lash out - unless you can prove in court you were forced to retaliate. Odd how there are no similar rules governing the abuse of women.

The statistics are downright scary: two women killed every week in the UK by a partner or ex-partner. In 90% of incidents, children are in the next room.

In England and Wales, some action is afoot. Abusive men could be jailed for a maximum of 14 years, thanks to a Bill being introduced to Parliament.

People never tire of asking abused women why they don't leave their partners. The answer? Because most relationships are hard to leave; because an abusive man won't let his victim out of his sight; because most mothers do not want to remove children from their father, disrupting their lives and schooling; because a woman may still love her partner when he is not being violent; because her home is the only one she has and she does not want to be homeless; because she has no job to go to and no prospect of getting one; because she hurts all over, not just the bruises on her body but those on her mind as well; because starting over is tough and years of physical and mental abuse have taken their toll. Running away may be hard, but staying takes courage too.

Battered women and their children are paying for our inaction with their health, their happiness, homes and sanity - in some cases, their lives.

Shocking Government adverts only go so far. Remember the woman in the original Zero Tolerance campaign, who stared out at us from billboards, with her face bruised and bloodied? In fact, few abused women look that cliched.

We need to do more than threaten abusers with lengthy prison sentences. We need to change the behaviour of violent men, because, until they take responsibility, women will continue to suffer and die.

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