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The Duchess of Cornwall urges people 'pull back the shroud of silence' that surrounds domestic violence

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The Duchess of Cornwall has urged people to "pull back the shroud of silence" that surrounds domestic violence.

Camilla spoke out as she was joined by celebrity campaigners Sir Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters, Alesha Dixon and Jamelia Davis at a reception for survivors of domestic abuse at Clarence House.

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Sir Patrick Stewart witnessed his father's violence against his mother and is now Patron of the charity Refuge

She told guests, including politicians and police representatives: "Domestic abuse remains a hidden problem in our society. It is characterised by silence – silence from those who suffer, silence from those around them and silence from those who perpetrate abuse. This silence is corrosive: it leaves women, children – and men - carrying the burden of shame, it prevents them from speaking out about their abuse and it prevents them from getting help. And at its worst, it can be fatal."

She described survivors of the crime as "some of the bravest women I have been privileged to meet," saying of a meeting with them earlier this year: "I spoke to courageous women who had survived abuse as well as to mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends of those who had been killed.

"Their silence was broken - but only after a tragedy. I hope very much that today might mark a moment when we start to pull back that shroud of silence.

duchess of cornwall© Photo: Twitter

The Duchess of Cornwall met Louiza Patikas from BBC show The Archers

"I hope we can talk about what is happening behind closed doors across the country and I hope that these brave people have the courage to speak out and to be, in the words of one of our guests, 'victors not victims'." Camilla praised the BBC Radio 4 soap The Archers for portraying the problem through the relationship of characters Helen and Rob Titchener – actress Louiza Patikas, who plays Helen, was among the guests.

And she spoke of the danger of "coercive control", which is often the forerunner to domestic violence, and her hope that together, "we can make sure that the voices of those who are living with abuse today are not silenced, but clearly heard."

Sir Patrick Stewart, who witnessed his father's violence against his mother and is now Patron of the charity Refuge, said: "To hear the Duchess speak and to hear of her support for what Refuge and other groups are doing will have such an impact – that she has spoken out.

"People believe – they have the mistaken sense that domestic violence only happens in rundown council flats or in bad estates somewhere – it’s a working-class problem – angry, drunken, violent men. Not at all. It is across all society. No matter education, income, environment, quality of life, class, the work that you do, it is everywhere. But it is the great unspoken problem, which the Duchess mentioned."

Alesha Dixon, who also witnessed domestic violence as a child and now works with Refuse and Women's Aid, said: “It’s not the most glamorous subject, people don't really want to talk about it. "Like Camilla so eloquently said silence is the word that surrounds it and so we’re trying to encourage people to speak out more because that’s the only way that women and men are going to feel confident to come forward and not suffer alone.

"It's really important having the Duchess adding her voice to raise awareness – it's just constantly reminding people that there are people in high places who care, there are people working to help."

Actress Julie Walters, who has been Patron of Women's Aid for around 10 years, said: "How great that Camilla is doing this, it’s really important. Bringing all these people together to educate people about domestic abuse and support victims."

Also at the reception was Rachel Williams, who suffered 18 years of violence from husband Darren and, when she filed for divorce, he shot and beat her before committing suicide. Their devastated 16-year-old son Jack took his own life six weeks later.

She said: "It's massively important for the Duchess to speak out and be a voice for us. It's incredible. It's raising awareness.

"The problem is not going away until the government addresses the problem. They should listen to the voices of the victors (ie victims). There should be tougher sentences.

Also present was Diana Parkes, the mother of Joanna Simpson, who was killed by her violently manipulative husband, Robert Brown, a British Airways captain, in 2010. He bludgeoned his estranged wife to death with a claw hammer within yards of their children. He was found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Mrs Parkes, who set up the domestic abuse campaigning group the Joanna Simpson Fund in her daughter's memory, said: "It's fantastic that she (Camilla) is telling people about what’s been hidden behind closed doors for years and years."

Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: "The Duchess talked about what is often hidden and that can only help to raise awareness.

"It's about people feeling confident in coming forward and reporting abuse. It's also about making sure the police, prosecutors and courts all understand the issues."

She added that "the laws are all there" to deal with the problem, and new legislation which came into force earlier this year regarding coercive and controlling behaviour had resulted in around 12 prosecutions.

After the reception Camilla joined Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Scotland at the Commonwealth Women's Leaders Summit on violence against women and girls in nearby Marlborough House.

Camilla told delegates: "I feel very privileged to meet people like you and you just hope that with all this going on, one of these days there will be an end to it."

She said she was "thrilled" to be involved in raising awareness, adding: "I just hope I have done some good."

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