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Domestic Abuse victims urged to keep seeking help during national lockdown

18 Nov 2020

The country’s policing lead on domestic abuse reaffirms that it remains a police priority throughout the lockdown period.

Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Domestic Abuse (DA), says people facing violence or controlling behaviour at home should report their experiences to police or seek advice and support from a domestic abuse services or charities. She reiterated that officers will attend calls for help, arrest perpetrators, and prosecute them, despite the additional pressures on the service due to Covid-19.

Earlier this year, as the country entered its first full period of lockdown, provisional crime statistics did not illustrate a significant rise in DA cases reported to police compared to the previous year. Crime in this area has since consistently stayed in line with 2019 levels, and currently stands at 2 per cent higher than in 2019.

Not all incidents reported to police are criminal matters, and can involve situations such as child custody and access issues, relationship tensions, or financial pressures.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Domestic Abuse, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said:

“Our message to victims of domestic abuse is to continue reporting to us. You are not alone. We will come when you ask for help, and can take steps to make sure you’re safe.

“Domestic Abuse is not just physical or sexual abuse, it can include verbal, psychological or financial abuse too. It can be committed anywhere, including online, and can sadly involve and seriously affect children. It causes misery regardless of where it happens.

“We fully recognise that it can sometimes take time for people to take the brave step to report their experiences, particularly during the periods of restriction which Covid-19 brings. Tackling domestic abuse and our response to vulnerable victims remains a priority. It has a devastating effect on people’s lives.

“For some victims, home will not be a safe place. Don’t worry about the restrictions on movement – seek help if you’re in danger.”

Forces protecting victims and catching perpetrators

Police have continued to respond to domestic incidents, and that has not changed due to Covid-19.

Forces have used tools at their disposal to protect victims and distance them from perpetrators:

  • Increasing the number of Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs). These groups encourage information sharing between agencies, with a focus on providing support to victims. High risk cases are considered, taking account of the risk of future harm to the victim and their children, and appropriate action plans are drawn up.
  • Increasing the use of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (also referred to as Clare’s Law) which allows members of the public as well as police officers to enquire about previous DA charges or convictions that a current partner may have.
  • Obtaining more Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) and Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) at Court, distancing perpetrators from victims after an incident.
  • Making best use of Multi-Agency Tasking and Coordination protocols (MATAC). MATAC develops and strengthens local partnership working between agencies, with the aim of preventing further domestic abuse related offending, improving victim safety, changing offender behaviour and improving partnership engagement.
  • Strengthening the well-established partnerships between forces and local authorities to ensure emergency accommodation is available for displaced perpetrators, and sustaining and bolstering refuge provisions too.

Assistant Commissioner Rolfe continued:

“Many forces have stepped up their response to domestic abuse and have been innovative in light of new national and regional lockdowns. For example, we know that victims and those in need of advice prefer reporting to us online, and targeted communications have been prioritised across the country to signpost online reporting tools, reminding victims that support is available.

“Domestic Abuse is not something that only the police can put an end to. We’re grateful for all the partnership working happening across the entire sector, and we will continue to take stock and learn from each other as we seek to improve the police response and referral process.”

“Our worst fears of seeing a significant spike in Domestic Abuse reports coming to police have not materialised. We planned for it regardless, and have continued to focus our attention on protecting victims from harm and catching perpetrators, working closely with all our partners to make sure victims get the support they need.”

Our response to Domestic Abuse during the pandemic

Examples of proactive force action in recent months include:

  • Working with partners across the country to provide safe spaces for victims in a variety of community locations, with West Mercia Police and others partnering with local retailers as part of the ‘UK Says No More’ scheme.
  • The Metropolitan Police developing an online function for the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, previously only available via a visit to a police station.
  • Nottinghamshire Police applying the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme in every DA occurrence, as part of their risk assessment process for victims.
  • Gloucestershire Police introducing a dedicated vulnerability car to their frontline response team, with a focus on responding to DA incidents.
  • Ramping up of rapid response through Operation Encompass across the country, which directly connects police with schools to ensure support for children living with DA in their homes.
  • Dyfed Powys Police piloting a DA perpetrator scheme, developed with academic support, in order to educate and divert non-convicted perpetrators away from DA.
  • Hertfordshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester Police enhancing their relationship with the National Probation Service, and improving their Integrated Offender Management work to hone in on known domestic abuse offenders of concern, visiting homes and doing welfare checks on victims and their children.
  • Northumbria Police have introduced DA specialist support advisors (DASSAs) in their control rooms to provide immediate advice and support, also gathering further information which informs police risk assessments.
  • Northamptonshire are running serial perpetrator programmes, visiting bailed offenders to ensure compliance with bail conditions. Their #CutItOut campaign to hair and beauty professionals, who are well placed to help victims, has been made digital during the pandemic and offers advice and guidance on how to spot the signs of abuse and how to refer people to get help.

National action on understanding Domestic Homicide

The NPCC Domestic Abuse, Vulnerability and Homicide portfolios have commissioned work to better understand homicide arising from Domestic Abuse.

In response to concerns at the beginning of the pandemic that homicide arising from Domestic Abuse could increase, an urgent pilot was commissioned to provide learning to forces for each individual Domestic Homicide incident.

There is currently no central repository of learning from domestic homicides, and national figures draw on a wide range of definitions of domestic homicides which includes deaths due to victim suicide following domestic abuse, unexplained deaths, deaths of under 16s, and deaths due to strangulation or asphyxiation.

The first stage of the research drew from force submissions which helped to identify and understand the number of cases being worked on, the number of deaths (as one case may relate to multiple victims), and insights about the profiles of victims and perpetrators such as their gender, age and ethnicity.

Assistant Commissioner Rolfe said:

“The rapid pilot showed it was possible to gather sufficient police information to allow valuable learning from each domestic homicide case. At this time there is no statistically significant increase in homicides related to domestic incidents.

“I am happy to report that a main project has now been commissioned by the Home Office, delivered through the Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme, which will run to March 2021.

“The project will continue to collect information on individual domestic homicide cases and allow us to draw more robust, comparable conclusions from analysis of 12 months’ worth of cases. The project will examine if the situation was different during Covid-19 lockdown compared to previous years and will help us shape preventative responses going forward.”

More information on the findings of this research will be released next year, upon conclusion of the main project’s work.