David Sidwick’s blog – supporting victims of crime
It’s important to remember that for victims, sometimes a crime is never really ‘over’.
The emotional scars can last long after the police and criminal justice system have dealt with the matter.
When I took up the office of Police and Crime Commissioner, I said I would put victims at the heart of everything I do. Central to this is to cut crime to reduce the overall number of victims. For those who are victims – I also want to bring about change – and providing the best possible support for them will be a major theme of the Police and Crime Plan I am currently developing.
Last week, I had the humbling experience of visiting the Sexual Trauma and Recovery Service (STARS) at their centre in Dorchester to hear about their work.
The work that CEO Helen Stevens and her team do is so important, providing emotional and practical help to people who have been through some of the worst experiences imaginable.
This includes a one to one counselling service, a confidential helpline, an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) service and – perhaps most importantly – a service specifically for children and young people.
Nobody is able to undo what these people have experienced, but Helen and her team are able to provide the support that is needed to empower them to work with the trauma and gain the health they need to live their lives in the way they want.
The service, which receives funding from my office, now covers the whole of the county, employs more than 20 full time members of staff and has more than 80 volunteers.
Badly needed service
While I was shocked to hear quite how busy they are, and it is incredibly sad that so many people need their support, there is no doubt about how badly needed their service is.
Later the same day, I met Tonia Redvers and Katie Bielec from You Trust, a charity which supports vulnerable people across Dorset, Somerset, the Isle of Wight and West Sussex.
They told me about their You First project, which aims to create a world free of stalking, domestic abuse and sexual violence, by providing services to help the survivors of these crimes gain the confidence they need to begin to move on in their life.
Stalking and harassment are particularly destructive crimes which have increased cases nationally over the past five years, and I’ve listened to some horrific accounts from victims about the impact it has had on them.
I have committed to ensuring the immediate future of the Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworker (ISAC) service that You Trust provide – an important role that delivers support to victims of stalking by guiding them through the criminal justice system and providing advice. I look forward to providing more details on this shortly.
More can certainly be done to help victims of this crime, and I’m working very closely with Dorset Police as well as other agencies to make sure they receive the best outcomes possible.
Help for domestic abuse victims
We also heard from the Force this week about improvements they’ve put in place to transform the way they respond to and support victims of domestic abuse. Reports of this crime increased nationally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw victims forced to remain at home with perpetrators, and a 25% increase was recorded in Dorset compared with the same year.
Safelives, a UK wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, has worked closely with the Force to help it understand what it does well and what it can do better, and the Force has adopted the Domestic Abuse Matters training programme, now being delivered to officers and frontline staff.
The DRIVE programme, which launched in March and was partly funded through my office, works with high risk serial offenders to challenge their behaviour.
And Operation Encompass, introduced early this year, is a way of sharing information between the Force and schools where there have been instances of domestic abuse involving a child so the right support can be put in place to help some of the most vulnerable people in society.
More needs to be done
I’m glad to see these schemes being introduced, but there is far more that needs to be done to support victims of a wide range of crimes.
The support provided by the organisations I’ve talked about here isn’t just an afterthought – it’s essential, and it’s something I want to see far more of in our county. I’ll be working closely with the Force and other agencies to introduce other innovations and ensure victims receive the best support possible.
In an emergency, always call 999.