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The Advertising Standards Authority has labelled Women's Refuge claims that a third of women live in fear as "exaggerated".

The body upheld two complaints about fundraising print and television advertisements that ran in July. In the newspaper version the Saatchi & Saatchi ads said: "One in three New Zealand women need your help. Because living in fear isn't living."

The television version repeated the statistic and asked viewers to "stop the abuse before it starts".

Two complainants questioned the credibility of the statistic and one said the adverts discriminated against men, breaching required standards.

In its response, Women's Refuge said the statistic came from sources including 2004 research which found 33 to 39 per cent of women experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.

Further, a World Health Organisation study in Auckland and Waikato found one in three women experience physical or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.

The ASA complaints board said there was nothing in the print advertisement - which depicted two women sitting at a cafe table surrounded by other patrons all of whom had the same male's face - to indicate that it reached the threshold to cause serious and widespread offence by its portrayal of men.

However, the use of the WHO study was more problematic.

"While the majority of the complaints board acknowledged the veracity of the statistics, it was concerned that a study restricted to women living in Waikato and Auckland was used as the basis for national statistics."

Similarly, it was concerned with the 2004 lifetime violence finding, which was based on an episode of violence becoming the "basis for fear".

"In the majority view, it was inappropriate to extrapolate the claim 'one in three women ... are living in fear ...' from the research.

"It also made the point that a strong claim specifically used to encourage donations from the public, in turn required robust research to substantiate it.

"In the majority view, this had not been provided. Therefore ... in this context, the claim was exaggerated ..."

The refuge was found to be in breach of the ASA's basic code of ethics in that its adverts were not prepared with a due sense of social responsibility.

Truthful presentation was also compromised.

A minority view disagreed and said the refuge had the right to use "provocative, robust opinion" and, given the nature of the claim, the right to extrapolate statistics from the research.

At the time of the campaign's launch, Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said the adverts were highlighting psychological as well as physical abuse.

"People recognise physical abuse because there is something to see. Psychological abuse is far more sinister and far more prevalent."

Ms Henare did not return calls yesterday.