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April 15th 2020

Abuse

Police and other agencies must make domestic violence a priority and protect most vulnerable throughout lockdown

Vicky Richardson

Vicky Richardson

Manager, Civil Liberties

Police and other agencies must make domestic violence a priority and protect most vulnerable throughout lockdown

It was certainly positive to hear Home Secretary Priti Patel recently announce a new campaign to tackle domestic abuse, particularly given there has been a huge surge in calls to helplines since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.

It was certainly positive to hear Home Secretary Priti Patel recently announce a new campaign to tackle domestic abuse, particularly given there has been a huge surge in calls to helplines since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.

It is feared that the ongoing situation is leaving many victims trapped indoors with their abusers, and at greater risk of harm.

Concerns are such that the Government has pledged £2million to enhance online and telephone support for those in need. A new communications campaign has also been launched to spread the word as to where help can be found.

Adverts detailing helpline numbers are now appearing widely across social media (and can be found at the bottom of this article), with organisations from police forces to charities and supermarkets collectively playing their part and sharing the information.

It is all much welcome help, but victims of domestic violence, and those most at risk, need much more than helplines and online support. They need our support agencies to fully understand and correctly judge their individual situation when they call out for help, removing them from harm’s way before it is too late.

For that to happen, there needs to be clear communication, understanding, planning and action across all relevant bodies and agencies, at all times.

Police must meet Government’s pledge to ensure victims are not left alone

The Government’s two campaign messages are ‘At home shouldn’t mean at risk’, and ‘You Are Not Alone’.

Sadly, as our Civil Liberties team at Hudgell Solicitors have seen in too many cases, at home does too often leave many people at serious risk. Too often, many people find themselves feeling like they are battling for survival alone.

Our department currently has four ongoing legal cases relating to the actions of police forces and female domestic homicide victims, each of whom had some form of contact with the police prior to their deaths.

These women each reached out for help and protection – and needed it – but not enough was done to prevent them from harm. In some cases, their pleas for help were totally ignored and dismissed.

It is with that in mind that we believe police forces across the county currently have a greater responsibility than ever to place potential victims of domestic violence and abuse at the top of their priority list, and for as long as the lockdown remains in place.

Someone making a first cry for help could be in a desperate situation. No case should be dismissed as not being serious without full investigation.

There have already been a number of suspected domestic abuse deaths reported across the country since the lockdown started – a number which is sadly highly likely to increase over the coming weeks.

Victims of domestic abuse currently need the police, and other agencies responsible for the protection of the public, more than ever.

Collective approach needed to identify and protect people most at risk

In each authority area, Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) are held, usually once or twice a month, where information is shared between different statutory and voluntary sector agencies on the highest risk cases of domestic violence and abuse.

These victim-focused meetings are usually attended by bodies such as the local police force, the local authority, child protection and social workers, amongst others.

It is a collective approach to ensure the sharing of the latest, relevant information between all parties.

Responsibility to take appropriate action then rests with the individual agencies, and in the current circumstances, there can be no confusion or miscommunication over risks and responsibilities.

Those people who are already known to police forces and other agencies as potentially being at any level of risk must surely have already been identified and highlighted across all relevant bodies, with plans in place to try and ensure their safety.

The situation surely also calls for much more regular assessment across all relevant parties.
Sadly, in many cases our teams have been involved with in recent years, basic oversights have been made with regards to sharing information about the most vulnerable in society.
These communication failings have led to lack of investigation, and failure to act upon clear danger signs. Those basic failings have cost lives.

Such failings must not be repeated now. The campaign slogan of ‘You Are Not Alone’ has to be made true.

Useful Domestic Abuse helpline numbers and websites:

24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247
Women’s Aid Online Chat
The Men’s Advice Line – 0808 801 0327
Mankind Initiative – 01823 334 244
Childline – 0800 11 11
Respect – Help for offenders – 0845 122 8609
Samaritans – 116 123

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