Policy blog

HMIC's report is encouraging, but there is still work to be done

Last year, the police in England and Wales received 900,000 calls about domestic abuse. That’s 100 an hour.

One in three of all recorded assaults are domestic abuse-related.

And these are the reported incidents. We all know there are a huge number of victims who remain hidden.

I founded SafeLives ten years ago; yet I am still not used to reading statistics like this. They remain stubbornly and depressingly static.

However, the report published today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) about the police response to domestic abuse is encouraging. HMIC found a 31% increase in the number of domestic abuse crimes being recorded across England and Wales in the last year – a marked shift in the response. By showing themselves to be increasingly committed to recording crimes properly, the police not only help to inform our understanding of the problem – they also reinforce the fact that domestic abuse is a crime and must be treated as such.

Attitudes have also improved, with frontline officers moving towards being more supportive and sympathetic to victims. Of course, this personal response is dependent on the area, dependent on the individual. Improvements are been found in forces where they have conducted extensive training – something we hope will be rolled out to every police force.

We welcome this progress. However, to better support victims, we must deal with the root of the problem: the perpetrator. It is clear that the police are still failing to challenge abusive behaviour. Victims must be supported, they must be made safe. But to deal with the problem sustainably, we must have fewer perpetrators.

Our data shows 55% of victims have experienced some form of abuse previously and that many perpetrators do it time and time again. The report reflects the national narrative – support the victim and get them away from the perpetrator. This is clearly the most immediate priority, but if we continue to fail to challenge perpetrators – we will never see a reduction in the number of victims. Today less than 1% of perpetrators get any specialist intervention to change their behaviour and prevent them from moving on to future abuse victims. A quarter (24%) of known perpetrators are thought to be repeat offenders; the cycle of abuse can only stop when we make perpetrators stop. We need the police to be at the forefront of this challenge.

The victim becomes safe, and yet the perpetrator is free to find another partner, another potential victim. We at SafeLives want to work with the police to see an increase in the number of perpetrators being prosecuted, the number of perpetrators being challenged to change.

This is not an either/or situation – holding the perpetrator accountable should happen in addition to, and never at the expense of, keeping a victim safe.

Perpetrators are the cause of domestic abuse. Without dealing with the root of the problem, we will continue to see more victims harmed, injured and murdered. We look forward to working with the police to make this happen. Holding perpetrators to account is a challenge, and not without its controversies, but we must be brave and face it head on. 

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Why we need everyone on board to stop domestic abuse

How would you respond if someone told you “I’m being abused”?

It’s a question that we should all reflect on – because as Citizens Advice’s new research shows, those who experience domestic abuse are much more likely to tell a friend or family member than anyone else. And even for those of us who work in the domestic abuse sector, it isn’t always an easy question to answer.

But we do all need to have that answer ready – because for the 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who experience domestic abuse at some point, it could be life-saving.

That’s why SafeLives welcomes Citizens Advice’s campaign to get people to talk about abuse. We know from our research that professionals in most cases will miss five opportunities to spot domestic abuse before the victim eventually gets the specialist help they need to stop it. This is a huge gap in the identification of abuse – one which we and other domestic abuse charities work hard to fill by helping organisations improve their response. But friends and family can help to bridge it as well, by knowing what constitutes abuse and having the confidence to talk about it.

Even in an ideal world where professionals got it right every time, there would still be room for friends and family to play their part – there are many victims of domestic abuse who simply aren’t visible to services. In situations like this, we need to think outside the box and engage whoever we can to spot the abuse and help stop it.

This is especially true when it comes to particular groups, such as BAME and older people, who are often in abusive relationships for longer and are less likely to be in contact with services. From research we know that the length of abuse is 50% greater for BAME victims at risk of serious injury or murder – compared with white British or Irish victims – and a quarter of victims aged over 60 have been in an abusive relationship for more than two decades.

These are frightening statistics which need to change. It is vital that we equip people with the knowledge of what to do and who to ask for help if they suspect someone is living with abuse, be it a neighbour, a friend or a relative. Anything which builds public understanding of domestic abuse, such as this online tool, is helpful in this regard.

Furthermore, by giving people the confidence and tools to spot abuse and do something about it in their personal interactions, we improve the odds that they will be able to transfer this awareness into their professional lives. For every person who Citizens Advice’s campaign reaches, it scores a double victory: one when they notice their friend acting oddly around her partner, another when they ask to see the domestic abuse policy at the hospital where they work.

The truth is, even though domestic abuse has been receiving more and more media coverage in recent months, there is still not enough public awareness of how we can intervene as individuals. Many of us would be paralysed with uncertainty about what we could do if a friend told us that she was being subjected to violence at home. Citizens Advice’s campaign to change that is therefore a welcome and timely addition to the fight against domestic abuse, one which we fully support.

On ‘healthy’ relationships

In a few weeks, I’m speaking at a conference on how we can better identify and support victims of domestic violence. Aimed at a range of professionals, the event explores, amongst other things, the new Nice quality standard for domestic violence, due to be published in February 2016. It’s vitally important that we bridge the gap between specialist domestic abuse professionals and health workers who come into contact with family members experiencing abuse, but perhaps aren’t sure how to respond.

Our Themis research highlights the central role that health professionals can play in identifying and referring victims of domestic abuse. Not only are these victims often hidden from other public services, like the police, they’re also more frequently from ‘hard to reach’ groups – those who are pregnant, the elderly, and people with complex needs such as mental health issues or substance misuse.

We also know that victims of domestic abuse use local health services much more than others. If you’re a health professional - whether you work in A&E, private practice or elsewhere - it’s almost certain that some of your patients are experiencing domestic abuse. That’s a daunting idea to come to terms with – that the biggest danger to your patient’s wellbeing could actually be someone at home. When confronted with the reality of abuse, it can be difficult to know what to do, especially when resources are stretched.

Empowering health professionals

For this reason, rather than creating new demands on services, we need to deal with the unspoken issue that's already there – by empowering health professionals to ‘ask the question’ and creating clear referral routes to specialist domestic abuse services to help them/you act quickly and easily.

With this in mind, SafeLives offers a simple checklist which can help all health professionals to feel more confident at identifying and referring domestic abuse. What’s more, we’ve recently collaborated with Bristol University on the Responds project to produce free training resources for clinicians. We also provide our own top tips sheets and videos to help you get to grips with the risk assessment process.

I hope the most important message health professionals attending the event take away is that they’re not on their own. There’s a whole network of domestic abuse experts out there, ready to support them, and events like this provide the ideal opportunity to start making those links.

Identifying and supporting victims of domestic violence and improving the effectiveness of Maracs takes place on Monday 16 November at the Hallam Conference Centre in London. To get 20% off, quote the code hcuk20safe when booking.

Domestic abuse, Delhi and digital doors

Reading this article brought back some of my less fond memories from my work in Delhi last year. You’d be right to read it and think that the whole approach sounds chaotic. In India the response to domestic abuse is desperately inadequate, including in a number of ways highlighted by this specific story. Charities like Breakthrough, who I worked for, campaign relentlessly for all of these gaps to be filled:

  • No national strategy
  • A police service which takes no interest or counterproductive interest in the issue
  • No sense of respective accountabilities between different agencies
  • No common agreement about what an effective response to domestic abuse looks like
  • No effective national scrutiny mechanisms to audit the response victims are getting

I’ve written before about the danger of us being complacent when we make comparisons with a country like India. It’s true that the prevalence of domestic abuse in the UK is undoubtedly lower. Domestic abuse is also viewed as unacceptable by the vast majority of the British population, whereas in India over 70% of both men and women consider issues like “not doing chores properly” to be reasonable grounds for a man to hit his wife. But despite those differences, we still have hard miles to do in the UK too.

Lost at sea

We had two calls to the office in quick succession this morning, almost identical, from women seeking help and desperately frustrated and anxious that they couldn’t access it. One had been asked to leave the refuge she was in and couldn’t get the council to help her move on. Another had just arrived in London with her six children and had managed to stay one night with a friend but now needed something more substantial, fast.

Both women had been told by a number of organisations that there was no help that could be offered, both were struggling to find the facts and contact details they needed from the veritable sea of unco-ordinated information that exists online.

A digital ‘front door’?

As the Home Office works on its new violence against women and girls strategy, all organisations in our sector should be thinking radical thoughts (and communicating them) about how we can keep improving this picture. Whether victims and survivors are staying or leaving, whether they do or don’t have children, support should be available to them when they need it. They should be able to find that help easily and know that they’ll get a responsive, high quality service.

The recent Citizens Advice report called, for example, for the government to put a thin ‘front door’ layer on all the information hosted online about support that victims and survivors can access. In a world where women (whether in Calcutta or Colchester) still find that responsive, high quality service too hard to find, this seems like an extremely sensible thing for the government to put into its new strategy.

Join our 2015 Idva survey and make your voice heard

Last August, we set about the somewhat unenviable task of counting the number of Idvas currently working in England and Wales. We’re now doing the count again – and we want to make sure your voice is heard.

Why count?

Good question! Last year we found that we only have half the number of Idvas we estimate are needed across the country to support all victims in England and Wales at high-risk of death or harm. 50% of Idvas is clearly not enough. We shared the findings with the Home Office. We also wrote to police and crime commissioners and local authorities. Many replied positively and we’ve seen some areas really rise to the challenge and secure more funding for Idvas.

What happens this year?

This year we’ll call every Idva service to find out about capacity, workload and more. We’ll want to know how many Idvas work at your service, who they support and if there’s anything you’d like to tell the Home Secretary or your local commissioners – like what could be done to make things better for victims and their families in your area. The survey will only take 5 minutes. Like last year, we will provide the Home Secretary and key commissioners with the data so that we can learn how provision has changed.

What do I need to do?

Please tell your team that we’ll be getting in touch over the coming weeks. If you don’t hear from us by 4 September, or you’re a new service we might not know about, or perhaps have changed your contact details, do drop us a line on idvacount@safelives.org.uk to make sure we include you.

And as a thank you

As a thank you for taking part in the survey, your service will be entered into a draw to win one free place on a one-day training course (NB – only available to voluntary organisations).

We’ve made real progress in the last 10 years. Idvas have transformed the landscape of domestic abuse services, working in partnership with local agencies to help families who wanted to feel – and be – safe in their own homes. Of course, remaining at home is not right for everyone, and in some situations people need to leave. But women experiencing domestic abuse should have choices – and getting help from an Idva equips them with those choices.

So, please answer our call. We want to hear how things are in your area, so that together we can continue to save lives. As victims tell us:

How many Idvas are there?

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