This week, from the 24 to 28 June, is Safeguarding week where police, local councils, agencies and charities come together to raise awareness around abuse, how to recognise and report it and where to access help and support.
As part of the week of action, we’re looking behind the scenes and seeing what the roles of those who work at the very forefront of safeguarding involves.
Today’s blog comes from Rebecca Cobby, who works as a Domestic Abuse Coordinator here at North Yorkshire Police:
“My day starts with a review of the domestic abuse incidents that have happened overnight. We assess the risk, and decide what plans need to be put in place to safeguard that victim and the family.
“One of the first things we do is ask the victim what they want to happen. Domestic abuse can take many forms, but most of the time the abuse comes from a partner. So we need to establish, does the victim want to stay with that partner, and if that’s their choice, we try to help them manage that relationship and move it from being an abusive relationship to a healthy one. If they want it to end the relationship, we help the victim to manage that safely. Domestic abuse is not about anger, it’s about control. And if you end a relationship, the perpetrator is losing control, so we help people to think about how to end the relationship without putting themselves in danger.
“When it is a high-risk victim we might have to arrange a place in a refuge, or link with social services if there are children involved. Or if the victim is going to stay in the home, we may need to look at the security of the property – the locks on windows and doors – to make sure the abuser won’t be able to get back in.
“It may sound strange, but we even consider what arrangements can be made for any pets in the household – particularly dogs. Domestic abuse victims they can become very isolated, because perpetrators like to isolate their victim, and the family dog might be the only friend they’ve got. Being worried about a pet, and not wanting to leave them behind, can be a big consideration for some people, and if we want to help, we have to take all these practicalities into account.
“The police have more tools these days to tackle domestic abuse. For example we have the Domestic Violence Protection Notice and the Domestic Violence Protection Order. Using these tools, we can give victims some breathing space by preventing the abuser from molesting the victim or entering the property where they live for a certain period of time – usually 28 days. During this time, the victim can access support services without interference, and we may also make use of Clare’s Law.
“Clare’s Law is another name for the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. It was introduced by the family of Clare Woods, who was murdered by a partner with a record of violence against women. Under Clare’s Law you can ask the police whether your partner has been violent in the past, so you can decide whether or not you want to move forward with that relationship, or end it.
“Clare’s Law also allows for the police to let a person know if they are associating with someone who has previously been violent, so they can make an informed decision about what to do. It isn’t about splitting people up, it’s about providing information and options. In the end, people have a right to make their own decisions.
“We have done more than 100 Clare’s Law disclosures in the last two months. Clare’s Law applies to both women and men, but all the cases I have worked on have involved informing women about the offending history of their male partner. It is difficult, because if you’ve got a new boyfriend, and you’re in the honeymoon period, you may not want to hear that your partner has been in prison for violence, and that he punched his last girlfriend whilst she was holding their baby and broke her jaw. We don’t give names obviously, but we do give details of past behaviour, and it can come as a big shock. Sometimes people deny that their partner could ever behave that way, or believe it must have been the previous girlfriend’s fault. Sometimes they just tell us to get lost. But in other cases people decide it’s a risk they don’t want to take and they end the relationship.
“There are times when you know that there is abuse going on in a household, but the victim insists that no one is hurting them, or that they can handle it. It is really frustrating because you want to help, but people have the right to make their own decisions. We just try to make sure we give them every support and help when they need it.
“Working with other agencies is a big part of safeguarding work, and there is a huge amount of effort goes into tackling domestic abuse, from the police and from others. We have a Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference two or three times a week which involves a lot of different organisations including the police, adult social care, children’s social care, the Independent Domestic Abuse Services charity and representatives from the mental health team, the prevention team, the early help team, education and housing. It’s very comprehensive, but it has to be, because keeping people safe isn’t just the responsibility of the police. It’s all of us. We all need to understand the risks in a particular case, what safeguarding plans are in place, and what each agency will be doing to help that victim and that family.
“There’s a lot more openness about domestic abuse now, and I think that’s a really good thing. TV has helped. If you look at recent story lines in Coronation Street and the Archers for example, they have covered different aspects of domestic abuse and it brings the issue out in the open. People watch these programmes and say, “That happened to me. I’m being controlled like that.” Or sometimes they see their own situation reflected on TV and realize that that things don’t have to be that way. They can do something about it. Years ago society swept domestic abuse under the carpet. People knew about it, but it wasn’t spoken about. Now if you know your neighbour or your friend is in a domestic abuse situation, you are much more likely to tell somebody or take action.
“I talk to hundreds of victims about bad relationships and if it happens to you, you can feel very isolated and alone. You don’t know who you can trust and how you are going to get out of it. It’s important to remember that domestic abuse is not acceptable and we can stop it. But we do need you to tell us. You just need to give us the word.
“Domestic abuse is a challenging area of policing. You have to be compassionate, friendly, and earn people’s trust. You can’t judge and you can’t be shocked. You’ve got to be prepared to have difficult, direct, even intimate, conversations. It isn’t for everyone and it can be hard. It’s a heavy workload but very important and at times you do feel responsible for the actions people take.
“I really enjoy what I do. It can be very frustrating, but it can also be very satisfying. I feel very honoured because people let me into their lives at a really difficult time, and they trust me, and they talk to me. You can’t dictate to people what to do, but you can give them information, options and support. And when you see someone you’ve worked with going into a new relationship, and it’s a positive relationship, you think, yeah. I’ve played a little tiny part in making that relationship good. That’s very rewarding.”
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