by MAUREEN VINCENT
Violence is one of the greatest ills of modern society. You have only to open any newspaper to confirm that. 'Muggings, beating up defenceless people in order to steal — or, more horrifyingly, just for "kicks" — are now so commonplace that they scarcely ever rate a front page he4line.
It is, perhaps. invidious to try to compare one form of brutality with another. But if there is a form of violence which can be described as more revolting than other forms it is surely domestic violence.
We have a special word to categorise it now. "Battered" wives and "battered" babies have become a colloquialism. In a recent television documentary. "Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear," viewers were given an indication of what life can be like for a battered wife. The programme described the work of Women's Aid, brainchild of Erin Pizzey.
I have written about Mrs Pizzey before. hut make no excuse for bringing her to your attention again. For the Women's Aid Centre at Chiswick is just about the only place where a terrified wife with no money and nowhere to go can bring her children and be sure of finding help and reassurance.
' "Nemesis," W.A.'s monthly newsletter, has been launched this month. Erin intends that it should look at all aspects of violence as it affects women, trying to establish the root
causes of the problem, to provide answers where it can, and to see that the legislative and administrative process is made simpler and fairer.
W.A. has only been going for two and a half years. At the centre arc a group of mothers with children. Every inch of space is utilised to help shelter the desperate women who have come to W.A. for help. When I visited the centre mattresses covered every floor except that of the office. There was no room to step between them.
Families shared the two aucient cooking stoves, washed in
cold water and lived in appallingly overcrowded conditions. Many of the women had left comfortable homes to bring their children here. Can there be any more positive indication of what their sufferings must have been?
Astonishingly, W.A. survives on charitable contributions and a small weekly payment made by the mothers. It exists because one woman saw misery and determined that she would do something about it. W.A. estimate that possibly 200,000 women and children suffer from battering by husbands and fathers each year. They are the first to admit that what they can do at the moment can be only a drop in a very large bucket.
However, W.A. is now registered as a charity. Publicity has brought offers of financial help. even of accommodation, sonic of it on a short term basis.
Four basic types of acipmmodation are required: cenTres like Chiswick to provide short and medium-term accommodation, long-term community centres to provide virtually permanent residence for women with insoluble matrimonial problems, short-stay hostels and temporary accommodation — probably caravans — to provide short-stay rest and holiday
"Women's Aid and the Problem of Battered Women," which costs fl, is the latest report brought out by W.A. In the report W.A. defines battering as persistent maltreatment, distinguishing it from occasional marital rows. even where these involve violence. Almost in
variably. physical cruelty extends beyond the wife to her children, and many of those children show signs of resultant disturbance.
"Husbands who batter their wives," it says, "are often either mentally sick or alcoholic. Most wife-batterers have themselves come from broken homes or have experienced childhood violence. and a pattern is starting to emerge indicating that where there is no specialist treatment or other resolution to the problem, wife-battering can be a repetitive process, continuing from one generation to the next."
Erin Pizzey told me that a large proportion of the women who come to her for help are Catholics. She explained that the Catholic view on divorce and contraception aggravated a tendency to battering, where it existed. Catholic wives are more strongly motivated to keep the home going however had the situation may be. „so they sometimes put up with bullying beyond a point where other women might have walked out.
• It would appear that among Catholic organisations there is none which takes on the kind of job done by W.A. But there is a crying need for more places to which these pathetic women can go.
"For the f.rst time since we started we have a waiting list of battered women — some in the moil acute distress — wanting to get into the centre," says Frill. "I fear for the lives of some of these women if help and refuge is not provided soon."