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16 days and beyond

This weeks blog marks the start of 16 Days of Action and White Ribbon Day.

The 25th of November 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Global 16 Days Campaign, which focuses on raising awareness about violence against women. The same date also sees the launch of White Ribbon Day, where men are asked to make the ‘White Ribbon Promise’ to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women and so to reflect the work of these important campaigns and my blog this week centres specifically on the work that is going on across Dorset to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).

Over the past few years, I have spoken frequently and unequivocally about my desire to address violence against women and girls. I have pledged to do all that I can, as Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner, to ensure that this county is the safest in England and Wales – there is no doubt that this means that women of any age must be safe, and feel safe, whether on a night out, walking home or in their own homes.

The first thing I would like to place on record, is that it is not up to women to find inventive ways to ‘stay safe’. There is a deep attitudinal, behavioural, change that is required across our society. And, nationwide, we need to understand and then tackle the reasons behind why so many young men – and it is, typically, younger men – commit terrible crimes against women.

Since being elected in May, I have been working on implementing my Police and Crime Plan, which has at its heart priorities on tackling violence, domestic abuse, stalking and other high harm areas such as VAWG. Further, the Plan makes clear my expectations for those serving in the Force to have the highest professional standards and, for Dorset Police to demonstrate legitimacy in all its work.

The list of work that has gone on since becoming PCC is both extensive and important and begins with the Force reviewing its VAWG strategy and working with partners to implement a refreshed delivery plan.

I am really pleased to say that there have been some significant developments when it comes to partnership working in this space. I alongside my fellow PCCs in Wiltshire and Hampshire, have commissioned an external, independent, review into reports of rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) to drive forward improvements in the criminal justice system, in victims’ services and to bring in better training for professionals and thereby it is hoped, better outcomes for victims.

Since taking up office, I have met with Women’s Aid, You First, STARS, the Water Lilly Project, and the Chair of the Dorset Domestic Abuse Forum. At such meetings, I have been able to hear first-hand from victims about their experience, as well as draw upon the considerable experience and insight that these organisations have offered on behalf of the victims and communities they represent.

But real action is needed alongside partnership working and strategic planning and so I have funded an Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworker and the Force has increased its numbers of vulnerability lawyers, so that further legal measures can be put in place to prevent domestic abuse, sexual offences, and stalking.

I was particularly pleased to see the Operation Vigilant initiative take place in Weymouth and Bournemouth over the summer. The operation aimed to reduce the risk to vulnerable people enjoying a night out and identify and deter sexual offenders. Officers interacted with vulnerable people and looked out for individuals demonstrating signs of predatory sexual behaviour, loitering or sexual harassment.

I will continue to support Op Vigilant over the coming months as it grows and develops as a practical prevention mechanism.

Funding is also vital when it comes to tackling VAWG and my office has submitted and supported bids to the Safer Streets Fund and Safety of Women at Night Fund (SWaN) and you may have seen that Dorset Council was awarded £380,000 for projects to help women and girls feel safer on our streets. The funding will pay for CCTV, and fund intervention workshops to help increase awareness, change societal attitudes, and empower women and girls to feel safer.

Although the OPCC had success with securing over £200,000 to tackle Domestic Abuse earlier this month, unfortunately the SWaN bid was not selected by the Home Office. The Home Office has explained that the bids received from all forces were far in excess of the total funding available.

Nevertheless, I am determined to find other sources of funding in order to deliver a range of initiatives from the bid. While this work is ongoing, I am delighted to announce that one vital element of the bid can be supported. This week, I funded the purchase of over 1000 drink spiking testing kits, which will be made available in key locations, including hospitals, police stations and nightclubs across Dorset as well as almost 14,000 ‘stop-tops’ and ‘bottle-top spikes’, to help prevent drinks from being ‘spiked’.

Both I and Dorset Police take the publics’ concern over drink spiking seriously and are committed to getting to the root cause and the provision the testing kits just one, very practical way in which this issue is being addressed in Dorset.

However, beyond strategy and action there is a deeper-rooted problem to address – one of attitude. There is a need to address issues around misogyny and respect. That’s why there is a thread in my Police and Crime Plan called ‘fixing the future’ and that is where we will start talking to our young people about respect for themselves and respect for each other.

That goes across a whole spectrum. It goes across trying to stop drug addiction, trying to stop the idea of violence, anti-social behaviour and having respect for everyone – no matter their gender.

I’m hoping that I will be able to get the support of educational establishments, youth clubs, local groups and charities to do what just that and try to 'fix the future'.

The national picture is just as busy as we are here in Dorset - a national taskforce has been launched to drive cross-government action on tackling violence against women and girls to help maintain public confidence in policing. It will consider recommendations from the Inspectorate’s review of the police’s response to Violence Against Women and Girls, led by Zoe Billingham, as well as the Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, the End-to-End Rape Review, and the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Strategy. It will also look at how the police currently assess risk, threat and harm to the general public when responding to and investigating non-contact sexual offences (e.g. flashing), which we know may lead to more serious or repeat offending.

For all of this work, I will hold the Chief Constable to account for ensuring that Dorset takes on board the national learning as soon as it is identified.

To make women and girls safer, all agencies, up and down the country, must work together to deliver the significant changes that are required. I will do all I can, alongside the Chief Constable, to make sure that Dorset Police plays its part.

David Sidwick

Police and Crime Commissioner

 

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