Supporting victims of domestic abuse during the pandemic
The Coronavirus pandemic has affected every one of us, but for victims of domestic abuse it’s had a particularly corrosive impact.
The national lockdown and various other restrictions we have faced throughout 2020, vital though they were, left victims much more isolated as they were forced to stay at home with the very people who were carrying out the abuse.
New figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for Dorset Police show a 10.8% rise in domestic abuse crimes for the year ending March 2020, compared with the same period in 2018/19.
Much of this increase comes from Dorset Police and partners working hard to encourage everyone to speak up. But, as restrictions continue and thousands of people continue to work from home, it also shows that we must redouble our efforts to help victims come forward.
Today is International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women, marking the start of 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence. The Force, alongside Public Health England (PHE) is supporting a national campaign – calling on employers across the region to play their part in tackling this issue.
Fear of stigma is often something that stops victims speaking out. And home working means victims don’t have access to workplaces, which can sometimes be their only refuge and a place where signs of abuse can be spotted.
PHE has created a toolkit for employers, helping them support their staff and offering advice on how they can create a working environment that makes it easy for people to take the first step and talk about their experience.
Domestic abuse in all its forms is incredibly damaging and has a lasting impact on its victims, so it’s vital that all of us – including employers – play their part and make it easier for people to talk about their problems.
Although people often associate domestic abuse with horrific violent attacks, it’s important we recognise they’re only a small part of the picture. Domestic abuse can be more subtle and insidious, from the man who makes his wife hand over her wages so he can control her finances, to the woman who stops her husband seeing his family and friends.
Coercive and controlling behaviour was made an offence under legislation introduced in 2015 but is sadly still not known about as widely as it should be.
The Cut Your Strings campaign, organised by colleagues across Dorset and featuring powerful animations created by Bournemouth University students, was aimed at raising awareness about these forms of domestic abuse.
My office has also funded various programmes to tackle domestic abuse by working with the perpetrators themselves.
This includes the Cautions and Relationship Abuse (CARA) programme, in which lower risk offenders attend workshops as part of a conditional caution issued by the police. This intervention is designed to deal with domestic crimes at a much earlier stage, before it reaches the courts and prevent more people getting caught in cycles of domestic abuse.
The system had been introduced in other parts of the country earlier, and a study by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology looking at first time offenders who attended these workshops discovered they reduced re-offending rates by a third.
And the Drive Programme, working with those deemed as being the county’s high risk domestic abusers, will be introduced in Dorset next year after my office successfully bid for more than £90,000 of Home Office funding.
This programme, which also has a successful track record in other parts of the country, will see case managers working with abusers on interventions that will help them change their behaviour, such as supporting with substance abuse and mental health problems.
We need to keep on driving the message home that nobody should tolerate domestic abuse of any kind. I would like to ask anyone who is suffering, or knows someone who is suffering, to report it online here, or to call 101 if you need to speak with someone – and of course to phone 999 in an emergency.
For more support and advice, including how to contact support agencies, please visit www.dorset.police.uk/da
To support the 16 Days of Action campaign visit the website https://16daysofaction.co.uk/the-campaign/
To download the PHE toolkit visit the website https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-advice-to-help-employers-deal-with-domestic-abuse-and-stigma