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Confronting Abuse At Home

Domestic violence victims and activists are participating in a federally sponsored conference aimed at resolving a problem that kills thousands and injures millions more each year.

The Next Millennium Conference was organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice. Officials call it the first national conference on the subject sponsored by federal agencies.

"We'd like to see the next millennium be completely free of violence against women," Wanda Jones, deputy assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said at Sunday's opening session.

The conference opened with a recorded address by Hillary Clinton.

"Citizens and governments around the world will recognize that domestic violence is not a custom, it is a crime," Mrs. Clinton said, speaking in a video displayed on a large screen TV before the audience of 2,000 people.

Domestic violence kills 18,000 people and causes an estimated 4 million to 6 million injuries a year, Jones said.

But she said it is notoriously difficult to track, one problem conference organizers hope to address.

From 1992 to 1996, 21 percent of violence against women was by a partner, according to a Justice Department study. In the same four-year period, 2 percent of violence against men was from domestic situations, the study said.

Officials scheduled to speak this week include U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala on Monday and California congresswoman Maxine Waters on Wednesday.

Others attending the event include Anna Belle Burleson of Austin, Tex., who was the victim of ten years of domestic violence to a husband she eventually divorced.

"I finally left the relationship the night I looked death in the face," Burleson said. "The last time I was assaulted it was very severe and I realized that if I did not get out of this relationship, I was going to be murdered."

Burleson has since helped arrange retreats for women recovering from domestic violence.

Resources for victims of domestic abuse include a national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, where battered women can talk to counselors. Officials say this number can be used by women too scared to tell a friend or family member, who might tell the batterer and make the situation worse.

"There is hope and there is help," Jones said.

The meeting at a hotel near O'Hare International Airport runs through Wednesday.

Written By Alex Lyda

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