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Domestic Abuse in the Spotlight

Anyone who has tuned in to The Archers recently will no doubt have been gripped and appalled by the coercive control and marital rape storylines. It has put domestic violence and abuse in the spotlight and succeeded where some other campaigns haven’t. Listeners have donated thousands of pounds to domestic violence and abuse charities and there has been a 17% rise in calls to the National Domestic Violence Helpline – all thanks to ‘The Archers Effect’.

But how do we keep the national conversation going when this storyline comes to an end and the Archers returns to escaping pigs, mischievous ferrets and the price of milk, beef and silage?

In case we need reminding, the grim statistics speak for themselves:

  • Domestic abuse affects one in four women in their lifetime;
  • Domestic abuse has more repeat victims than any other crime. On average a victim is assaulted 35 times before their first call to the police;
  • Two women are murdered each week and 30 men per year;
  • Domestic abuse accounts for 16% of all violent crime; however it is the crime least likely to be reported to the police.

But what is less well known is that:

  • Domestic abuse is the single most quoted reason for being homeless;
  • 20% of children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse;
  • 62% of children in households where domestic violence is happening are also directly harmed.

And then there’s the cost of domestic abuse which is estimated at £23bn per year to the public sector alone. These are all stark facts that deserve to remain in the spotlight long after The Archers has moved on to a new storyline.

In March, as part of a drive to tackle violence against women and girls, Theresa May (the then Home Secretary) announced an £80m strategy which included training for housing officers, health workers and other professionals to help them spot victims of domestic abuse. New schemes would also be introduced to rehabilitate perpetrators in an attempt to reduce the number of female survivors suffering repeated abuse.

During Prime Minister’s Question Time last week, Theresa May promoted this strategy further and highlighted that the government should be doing all that it can to stop these terrible crimes taking place and to provide support to the victims and survivors. They have also been working on exempting refuges from the new Housing Benefit cap and yesterday it was announced that supported accomodation, including refuges would be exempt from the Local Housing Allowance cap until 2019 at which point a new funding model will be introduced.

It is so important that we are all committed to maintaining existing specialist domestic and sexual violence services in our local areas. Survivors and children often don’t recognise boundaries and may have to move into different areas to escape the abuse. So we need to maintain a national network of support services.

In Nottingham, our specialist services balance a risk and needs-led approach with survivors. We work to embed our specialist services alongside statutory and universal partners to build their domestic abuse knowledge and capability including: Independent Domestic Violence Advisors with the police, Identification and Referral to Improve Safety with GPs and our new STRIDE (Strengthening Interventions to Reduce Domestic Abuse) Project with our children’s services teams.

We are in the second year of STRIDE, through which we have two specialist workers; a survivor expert (employed through Women’s Aid); and a perpetrator expert (employed through Equation). These workers are embedded within our children’s services teams to provide Family Support Workers and Social Workers with professional development/training, case-specific advice and empower workers to have confidence in the work that they do with families experiencing domestic abuse. As part of this project we are also developing toolkits that are similar to the ‘safe and together’ approach, encouraging workers to resist seeing the survivor of abuse as failing to protect their children but as a victim who needs support from social care and more of a focus for children’s services on holding perpetrators to account.

It is also important that we promote evidence-based initiatives, ensuring that we get academic evaluation to contribute to the UK evidence base on sexual and domestic violence and developing improved approaches and outcomes for survivors and children.

In partnership with Nottinghamshire, Nottingham is also one of three areas running a pilot project through Women’s Aid England and Safe Lives called ‘Change that Lasts’, which is a new strengths-based, needs-led approach that supports domestic abuse survivors and their children to build resilience, and leads to independence.

A lot of the work that we are doing in Nottingham is not just about reducing risk and increasing safety, but about increasing survivors ‘space for action’ which is the purpose of the new coercive control law. We want survivors and children to live the life everyone is entitled to and to survive and thrive, not always living as victims of the abuse for the rest of their lives.

The focus on children living with domestic abuse in the current cycle of Ofsted’s Joint Targeted Area Inspections will ensure a renewed and ongoing focus on this significant area of work and a chance to learn from best practice within the sector.

I look forward to endorsing this important theme further at the upcoming National Children and Adult Services Conference in November, where I am participating in a Panel Session on Grooming, Controlling and Coercive behaviour.

And finally, for those who are not glued to Radio 4 at 7pm each evening to follow the latest twists and turns in the everyday lives of farming folk in Ambridge, (CAUTION: SPOILER ALERT if you only manage to listen to the Sunday Omnibus) Helen Titchner has rightly been found not guilty on all charges, however the ghastly Rob Titchner managed a final twist in the tale…Dum de dum de dum de dum, dum de dum de dah dah…

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