Some of the “worst attitudes ever” towards women are to be found among the region’s schoolboys, an expert has warned.

West Mercia Women's Aid chief executive Sue Coleman said after nearly 40 years working in the field, “although the services have got better, the statistics have not, with two women a week killed by a partner or former partner”.

“We need to prevent domestic abuse, not just respond to it,” she told Herefordshire councillors.

“We work in schools to encourage young people to think about respect and consent in relationships, and we are seeing increasingly some of the most misogynistic and antagonistic attitudes we have ever seen towards women among boys.

“There is a lot work to be done here, because those attitudes are far from healthy, and a heck of a lot worse than they used to be.”

Asked by adults and wellbeing scrutiny committee chair Coun Ellissa Swinglehurst what she thought the cause of this worsening was, Ms Coleman replied: “There is a backlash, not just among young people, against women making sure violence against them remains high on the agenda.

“The availability of toxic online content, including pornography, is incredibly unhealthy and unhelpful, along with the opportunities that social media give young people to engage in remote abuse.

“That escalated enormously during lockdown, with young people taking the opportunity to become particularly abusive online, which the technology makes possible. It’s a dangerous cocktail that’s very evident in our schools, which are not able to combat it.”

The committee agreed a new draft five-year domestic abuse strategy in light of the new Domestic Abuse Act, enacted in April.

“One of the shortcomings of the Act is the focus on safe accommodation – as though as long as you have enough refuge spaces, you have everything covered,” Ms Coleman said.

“That’s fundamentally important, and with the refuge in Hereford and the nine satellite flats across the county, we have enough bed spaces, and keep emergency rooms for those who need them overnight.

“But many women do not want or need this. Those who have been living with domestic abuse, sometimes for years, need support for their mental and emotional well-being. We hope Herefordshire and other local authorities recognise the importance of this.”

West Mercia Women’s Aid covers Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire and provides a 24-hour helpline.