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Bruce Bucknell

Former British Deputy High Commissioner Kolkata

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Belarus

3rd December 2013


There is limited, reliable data on it. It takes many forms, and isn’t necessarily physical.  And it’s closer to us than we think. It’s also easy to talk about, but very difficult to deal with.

I’m referring to gender violence, or as we tend to know it in Britain:  domestic violence. This is the violence that is often between partners or spouses, and about which very few want to admit that it may occur. We sometimes describe it as “the violence behind closed doors”.


There may be differences between gender and domestic violence and in their definition. But the names don’t matter so much. This is about violence against the weaker by the (usually) stronger anywhere, any time.

There are various events to highlight the problems of violence against women. Monday, 25 November was the international day of Elimination of Violence against Women. It was also the start of 16 days of activism as part of the United Nations’ campaign “UNiTE to End Violence against Women”.

The British government has been active on the issue of violence against women. There have been some successes, and my own foreign minister, the Foreign Secretary has promoted an initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.

One of my first memories of watching a television documentary was to watch an angry woman. She had just given up her job (if I remember correctly) to set up a women’s refuge in Chiswick, West London, for women and children escaping domestic violence.

It was Erin Pizzey, a journalist and campaigner for women’s rights. She was very passionate and held strong views which she expressed forcefully. Her subsequent career was not straightforward. Some of the views she went on to express upset some of her early supporters.

The refuge was known as “Chiswick Women’s Aid” and grew to become Refuge, the leading charity for refuges to support victims of domestic violence. The other leading organisation in Britain is Women’s Aid, which looks to provide broader services in support of women. They suggest that there are nearly 400 specialist domestic violence organisations that provide refuge accommodation for women in the UK.

There is very limited reliable data on domestic violence, because it is a difficult crime to prove. Until very recently, it was up to victims to ask the police to press charges against their attackers. They were often unwilling to press charges even after calling police to their home. That has recently changed as police themselves can charge an abuser.

Then there is the awkward fact that men can sometimes be the subject of domestic or gender violence too. This may be difficult to accept, and there is much argument about the relative levels of violence by women against men. Ms Pizzey made herself unpopular with many feminist activists by suggesting that women could be “as vicious and irresponsible as men”.

I used to think that the issue was linked to alcohol or drug abuse. Indeed it may be in many cases, but I was shocked to discover an example of someone I knew well. They had been subject to continual verbal abuse. This was despite the fact that both they and their partner were well educated, were in good careers, and earning reasonable salaries.

Such a difficult issue is being dealt with in Belarus. I was honoured to be invited to attend the opening of the “week of action with gender violence” organised by Radislava, an NGO in Belarus. I was invited because a fellow Briton has been very involved in setting up a refuge in Belarus that Radislava is administering.

I said a few words at the event much as I’ve written about above. I’m sure Erin Pizzey would be delighted to hear that another refuge has been established, but I’m sure she would have spoken far more passionately about how difficult it is to deal with violence between loved ones.

3 comments on “Refuge

  1. Dear Bruce ,
    thanks a lot for yr. friendly words plus the useful link.
    Bw ‘s , Ingo-Steven

  2. “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can ‘t fool all the people all the time”.
    (A. Lincoln)

    Dear Bruce,
    there is 1 sentence that really hurts me : “..violence against the weaker by the usually stronger…” for I ‘m asking myself what kind of satisfaction, what kind of feelings ( if a “strong” person who builds-up self-confidence only by hurting others has any kind of healthy feelings at all !) have violence-willing persons ?
    To be honest: I ḿ still looking for the best answer. So I do agree to you that it’s really not so important if you call rape or abuse gender or domestic violence. But I hope that , e.g., “Chiswick Women ‘s Aid” will open the eyes of a lot of people in. re. of violence against women or children. So that they won ‘t get fooled again if it comes to justice & truth.
    Best wishes & a nice weekend , Ingo-Steven

    1. Dear Ingo-Steven: good to hear from you.
      Your comments made me pause. I didn’t equate gender or domestic violence with rape – that’s an even worse crime.
      But on reflection, I don’t think I was right to say “it’s easy to talk about” gender or domestic violence. Actually, it isn’t easy to talk about it at all. Rather: it’s easier to talk, than to do something, about the problem. So it’s all the more important that refuges exist.
      And I should have inserted this link: https://www.facebook.com/stopnasilie.by

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About Bruce Bucknell

Bruce was the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata from 2016 to 2019. Previously he was Ambassador in Minsk from July 2012 to January 2016. Bruce grew up on a…

Bruce was the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata from 2016 to 2019. Previously he was Ambassador in Minsk from July 2012 to January 2016.

Bruce grew up on a farm in southern England and enjoys walking in the countryside and visiting wild places.

He studied modern history at Durham University, and takes a keen interest in the history of the places he visits.

Bruce used to play cricket when he could see the ball. Now he enjoys watching cricket and many other sports in his spare time.

He has had a varied career in the Foreign Office. Between his postings to Amman (1988-91), Milan (1995-9) and Madrid (2003-7), he has spent much of his career in London mostly dealing with Europe and Africa.

He is married with two grown up sons.