REPORTS of domestic abuse in Worcestershire have surged by 79 per cent in the last 12 months, but too many are still suffering in silence.
And according to Martin Lakeman, strategic co-ordinator for domestic abuse and sexual violence in Worcestershire, most victims do not speak out until about the 30th or 35th occasion.
The rise does not necessarily mean the problem is escalting but is a sign more people feel confident about coming forward, although generally domestic abuse remains under reported.
Mr Lakeman said the help and support available across the county was crucial in helping the vulnerable feel more confident about speaking out.
“It’s really important to understand tackling domestic abuse is a priority for all of the agencies in Worcestershire,” he said.
“It’s a shared goal, we’re trying to reach out and say you don’t have to suffer in silence, to please tell somebody and we will try and help you.”
As part of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Domestic Abuse in Focus week, organisations working together to protect victims allowed media access – for the first time – to a confidential and ‘ficticious’ Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) last Tuesday (February 25).
They bring together a range of professionals from a variety of agencies to discuss the high risk abuse cases.
The scenario presented to the media was based on an historic true life case and was used to explain how the process works to help victims.
The domestic abuse co-ordinator for Worcestershire, probation service, NHS, midwives, education safeguarding, children’s services, domestic abuse police unit, housing providers, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue service and an independent domestic violence advisor.
Over the past 12 months in Worcestershire 40 per cent of the cases which go to MARAC result in no further need for police call-outs with a 67 per cent drop in police visits when agencies visit victims homes.
“The principle of these conferences is to have the victim at the very heart of the meeting, for all agencies to share the information,” Mr Lakeman added.
“It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. If you have 20 people from 20 agencies in the same room they all have different pieces of information which represent risk and how we can collectively develop a risk management plan to protect that person.
“It may be a man, it may be a female, but invariably it will impact on children as well. It’s to discuss that case, look what the risk factors are and try and mitigate those risks.”
Statistics show one in four women are domestically abused, with one in six men suffering as well, and although one of the toughest things would be to speak up Det Supt Steve Cullen, head of protecting vulnerable people for West Mercia, urged people that even if they don’t contact police there are other support methods out there.
“We have confidence that if people don’t feel they wish to come to the police, for whatever reason, there are lots of other agencies that can provide the support,” he said.
“Ultimately it’s got to be what’s right for the victim, it isn’t always about the criminal justice outcome, it’s what’s actually right for them in terms of rebuilding their lives.
“As with all violent crime, we know that it is under reported, but we know that as an increasing awareness society people are gradually gaining the confidence to come forward.”
A large part of a MARAC, which was formed in November 2008, is the ability to give the victim a voice when they have previously struggled to have one.
Witnessing the conference made it clear the key link between those suffering and the agencies providing the help was the independent domestic violence advisor, who are available to speak to the victim in complete confidence.
In this case, Lisa Peplaw is independent from many of the statutory organisations and puts together a ‘safety plan’ and, with the permission of the victim, shares this information so their wishes can be heard.
“A lot of the time, they’ve never been able or not allowed to have a voice, so to now have that voice it is really important for that to be heard,” she said.
“They’re in such a difficult position, for any victim it’s a huge risk, it’s a leap of faith to come to somebody and tell them when they’ve not been able to tell anybody maybe for years.
“Everybody has a role to play, everybody has something they can offer for the safety of the victim.”
Anyone suffering from domestic abuse can get help by calling West Mercia Women’s Aid 24 hour helpline on 0800 980 3331.