March 3 was a significant day for University Campus Suffolk (UCS), for me as Police and Crime Commissioner and for Suffolk as a whole. It was the day we published a report into victims’ perception of the support they receive to help them recover from domestic abuse.
Nearly a year ago I commissioned an extensive piece of research to look into the experiences of survivors of domestic abuse in our county. The study was led by Dr Emma Bond of UCS and is one of the largest pieces of research ever undertaken on this subject in the UK.
The research, titled Understanding Domestic Abuse in Suffolk, collates the experiences of 69 victims and 40 professional practitioners in Suffolk; it involves more than 200 hours of transcripts. Sadly, it contains some appalling acts of barbarity and depravity, and includes several examples of extremely vicious behaviour. It is completely beyond my comprehension that people – male and female – can behave like this to each other in the 21st century. The reading of this work is certainly not for the faint hearted.
Since publication of the work, I have been humbled by the very positive comments made by individuals county-wide and by the number of people who want to help deliver a step change in confronting and dealing with domestic abuse so life improves for Suffolk victims and we do whatever is necessary to reduce the incidence of this brutal crime. It is really gratifying that the report has been described as far-reaching, frank and courageous and that there is a growing consensus that we all have a responsibility to help deal with domestic abuse.
I have funded several initiatives in the Bury St Edmunds area to support victims of domestic abuse and the children caught up in this dreadful crime. For example, Suffolk Rape Crisis has received more than £24,000 this year to help deliver counselling services to women who have been raped –sadly in many cases this is as a result of domestic abuse. The Women’s Refuge based in Bury has been supported to help victims rebuild their lives and I’ve also allocated nearly £50,000 to Anglia Care Trust to provide advice and guidance for male victims of domestic abuse. This involves an extensive programme of workshop sessions for young victims and for the running of financial drop-in services for victims as this can often be a particular difficulty when trying to recover from this crime. All this financial support has come through funding that I have been allocated, as PCC, to support victims in the county.
Whilst there is a good deal of excellent work being done to support victims of domestic abuse across Suffolk, there is still work to do to improve victims’ perceptions of the criminal justice system. For example, communication between the victims and agencies has to be improved. Much more must be done to help children to overcome the trauma, so lives are rebuilt quickly and they are not left thinking such behaviour in the home is normal. We know if children are brought up in this abusive environment sadly many become future offenders. There also seems to be a shortage of resources for victim counselling with far too much duplication of effort across agencies. I am, however, optimistic we can put things right in Suffolk.
Very often, reports such as this are left gathering dust on a shelf and recommendations are ignored. I am not prepared to allow this to happen for two main reasons. Many of the victims showed considerable courage to volunteer to provide evidence in such a candid manner and it would be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, which could be put to other uses. So what next?
There is a long list of recommended actions for Suffolk involving many agencies and voluntary sector organisations. This is an enormous challenge to deliver the best outcome as in all probability there will have to be different ways of working, pooling of resources while building on the good practice that currently exists. So to help put the recommendations into practice I have set aside some additional funding for an independent review of existing practices as suggested in Dr Bond’s report to develop an action plan with appropriate timescales. As soon as the review’s terms of reference are completed, we will get started as a matter of urgency.
I really hope that in 12 months’ time we will already have started to make a permanent difference for victims of domestic abuse in Suffolk and, better still, there will have been significant progress in eradicating this abysmal behaviour in the county. Dealing with domestic abuse is a top priority in my Police and Crime Plan and it will remain so until together we have made very significant progress in tackling this crime.
To view or download a copy of the report and the executive summary visit our website: www.suffolk-pcc.gov.uk.
Tim Passmore is Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk