Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

BLOG: “We’re making a difference in Northumbria” – Violence Against Women and Girls

When I was elected Police & Crime Commissioner back in 2012, I consulted wide and far about what the priorities of Northumbria Police should be – more than 5000 people took part in face to face surveys or on-line surveys.  The results showed that tackling Violence Against Women and Girls was something that local residents wanted to see addressed head on, it was Northumbria’s most popular priority. 

The three North East Police & Crime Commissioners for the North East joined together to ensure an effective regional strategy was put in place.  We looked at the work of the Council of Europe between 2008 and 2011 which revealed not only the magnitude of the problem of Violence Against Women and Girls in Europe but also how much national responses to it can vary across the continent.  This gave rise to the Istanbul Convention of April 2012 which seeks to haromise legal standards so that all victims benefit from the same level of protection.  We wanted Northumbria, Cleveland and Durham to reflect the convention as it has a strong focus on prevention, the protection of victims and ensuring the prosecution of perpetrators.  It is important that all partners work together to implement a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach.  As three PCCs we worked with the North East Women’s Network to link in to many organisations to develop the North East Regional Strategy.

Myself and my colleagues set our policing priorities to ensure Violence Against Women and Girls is taken seriously, we work closely with our Community Safety Partners, we spread good practice and we also look for good practice in other areas to develop in our region.

Prevention and intervention are the words we focus on and both are given enhanced prominence by the need of the economy.  By preventing Violence Against Women and Girls we can save more than £15.7b (2008) and more importantly we are protecting people.

In our combined regions between April 2012 and March 2013 there were nearly 53,500 domestic violence reports, it’s important to remember that these are only the reported ones.  DV is a heavily underreported crime, women don’t want to report the person who is supposed to love them the most to the police – the problem is big.  It extends to families, often children see domestic violence in action, this makes the child fearful, often disengaged from the activities that young people do and needing extra support. 

Below is an overview of our progress to date, we have achieved a lot – but there is more to do and we are up for the challenge with our partners to deliver lasting change.

Progress to date

Among the priorities in Northumbria, is a strategy for employers – ‘Domestic and Sexual Abuse and the Workplace’ – to make sure anyone affected can find confidential support at work and be helped to safety. The impact of domestic and sexual violence and abuse on an individual can have far reaching consequences in the workplace, such as undermining the employee’s ability to work. The OPCC plays an active part in promoting a model domestic violence policy to employers, particularly within the private sector and over 120 organisations have been engaged in this process.    

The strategy also encourages organisations to have trained Domestic and Sexual Violence Champions in as many employment, public and private arenas as possible so there is safe access to confidential help and support in a wide range of locations.

To date, 165 champions have been trained with a further three training sessions to be delivered before February 2015. The champions will not just be in the workplace, but also in libraries, swimming pools, members clubs and groups of all kinds. They will have an important role in being available for survivors and leading people towards help and guidance, as well as raising awareness in the organisation.  

Since January this year three Champions’ Networks have been set up across the Northumbria area with the aim of improving community and organisational responses to domestic and sexual violence. These networks are in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland and are supported by a steering group including the Local Authority Domestic Violence Leads in each area and other relevant partners from both the statutory and voluntary sectors. Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland are currently setting up their networks following the North of Tyne success and hosting their Champion events in October 2014.

My office is committed to driving the domestic violence policy and the role of the Champion within the voluntary and community sector and recently appointed a ‘Violence against Women and Girls Project Officer’ to drive this through the voluntary sector. The Officer will help to establish the Champions scheme within the sector to widen the support and intervention work with victims.

As an extension of this work a partnership between the Northern TUC, 12 Regional Local Authorities and the NHS has led to the inclusion of the Workplace Policy as a key criteria in their North East Better Health at Work Awards from 2015 onwards.

  1. The OPCC has been successful in securing £262,488 funding for an innovative pilot project to provide a dedicated response unit consisting of a Police Officer and a Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse (DVSA) worker available for deployment in an unmarked police vehicle. The expected outcome is that victims will, through the one to one contact made at the time of the incident by an experienced support worker will be more inclined to seek further support in the future. The service focuses on peak demand times within the Newcastle and Sunderland area command.  The early pilot results from work done with Wearside Women In Need (WWiN) are extremely positive and have resulted in some measurable outcomes.
  • ·  Apart from one individual, WWIN had no previous contact with any of the victims, which meant that a group of victims of domestic violence, have had personal contact with a specialist support service, which is unlikely to have happened without this work.
  • ·  From previous analysis of WINN’s domestic violence helpline calls it would appear only 1% of victims given a helpline number in a crisis situation by the police, go onto make contact with an agency. In the pilot 55% of victims maintained contact with the service.

Actions resulting from this contact with WWIN included women:

  • ·  having security measures installed in their homes
  • ·  having a MARAC referral where appropriate
  • ·  women attending groupwork, one to one appointments or telephone support
  • ·  a safeguarding referral being made for a man
  • ·  victims planning for WWIN staff accompanying them to court

Added value of this pilot is the ‘on the job’ training provided to police officers as the time spent in the car together is often used to share learning from both organisation perspectives and ultimately improve partnership working .  Other proposals to strengthen the programme include IDVAs in A & E and support from workers to police officers who ‘revisit’ victims during the day, offering more support. .

2.    Targeted campaigns took place this year to raise awareness of the introduction of Claire’s Law, Forced marriage legislation and the introduction of Domestic Violence Protection Orders.  Police officers received training and local voluntary agencies worked with the police to promote these issues including a slot on Spice FM, a local Asian radio station based in Newcastle to coincide with new legislation around forced marriage.  

3.    A new evidence led protocol has been signed by the three Chief Constables and the Chief Crown Prosecutor to increase the number of victimless prosecutions using bodycam evidence to prosecute perpetrators of domestic abuse.   

4.    Recruitment is now complete and training has started for the two volunteer panels that will support delivery of the strategy.  The Rape Scrutiny Panel will provide independent oversight of rape investigations to identify best practice and opportunities for improved working practices, add transparency to the investigation process and ultimately improve conviction rates.  The Court Observers Panel volunteers will attend rape trials in Newcastle Crown Court and observe how the cases are tried with the aim of improving process where necessary and building confidence in reporting. 

5.    There is recognition that children and young people are also victims of domestic abuse, we are aware of evidence that those who live in or suffer domestic abuse go on to become victims or abusers themselves. We are working with schools in Sunderland to deliver educational packages to support young people to understand healthy relationships – tackling culture change at a young age.   A local school, Farringdon, produced a DVD called \’I have the right\’ addressing healthy relationships in domestic abuse and working jointly with a consultant, Sunderland City Council and Northumbria Police have produced a training package for delivery in schools across Sunderland around healthy relationships, there is also a package that focuses on alcohol and consent in sexual relationships. Meetings with head teachers in the area have been arranged to encourage take up of these packages.

6.    Through the Home Office innovation fund Northumbria Police successfully bid for funding for a pilot to run Respect accredited Domestic Violence Perpetrators programmes which will be delivered in partnership with a local housing provider and the local council.  Risk assessment will be used to identify serial perpetrators, specifically those suitable for inclusion on programmes. The work will identify perpetrators suitable for GPS based electronic monitoring in the community either on a voluntary or statutory basis.