Women's Aid AGM 2012

25 October, 2012

Police focus on investigating Domestic Violence

Women’s Aid Conference October 2012

I want to thank Rosemary for inviting me along here today to talk briefly to you about the police focus in investigating domestic abuse.

Firstly an introduction, I am Inspector Bob Blemmings of the Public Protection Unit, the PPU, in H District, within the PPU we investigate domestic abuse, child abuse, missing persons, vulnerable adults and offender management.

The departments that I work in are challenging areas and the officers, and police staff, that choose to work in these areas do so because of a range of reasons, but the major one I suggest is because we feel strongly that the victims we see are some of the most vulnerable in our societies, town, streets and families.

Vulnerable because of their age, there physical or mental condition or vulnerable because the person who is offending against them should actually be the person who they should be able to trust or who should be protecting them. The person who has to walk into their home knowing that this is where they will be abused, to close their front door knowing that their risk has just increased, to get into bed with the person who they fear the most, this must be a terrible thing to have to do, and to have to do this everyday, it is something that I struggle come to terms with.
The police role is one of prevention, protection and prosecution:
Prevention of further violence,
Protection of the victim, children and other vulnerable persons,
And prosecution of the alleged perpetrator.
The only way that we can hope to complete this is with the victim at the heart of our investigations, our thoughts and considerations.
Do we get it right all the time, no we don’t, the victims we deal with need support from organisations such as yourselves, this year you made 30,546 support calls. You had 1,202 women access services, you had 1,092 women access community or floating support and you supported 4,711 children and young people.
The offenders in these instances must have in their minds the perfect victims, what happens behind the front door stays there!
They have knowingly or not, power and control over their victims, they have groomed them in some instances to accept the abuse, they normalise it and they threaten worse to come to the victim or the people that they care for the most.
Domestic abuse is a crime and must not be tolerated.
We are committed to the principle that domestic abuse is totally unacceptable behaviour in any shape or form, and that everyone has a right to live free from fear and abuse.
So how do we support victims? There are many threats to a victim of domestic abuse and one that we try to avoid is the risk of secondary victimisation through the criminal justice system, we can make a victim of abuse feel that the priority for us is just a job, just a prosecution of the offender, collecting evidence, carrying out interviews, preparing a file, reporting to the public prosecution system and turning up for court to give evidence.
Yes these are all important tasks, but what they are all about is keeping the victim safe now and in the future. We need to support women from the minute they make the 999 call or ask for help, I think we are better now that we were yesterday and I know we are learning every day and we want to be better tomorrow. We do not live in a static society, we are always evolving and police is evolving to, to meet the needs of victims and overcome the restrictions of those persons who would offend against women and children today.
One of the tools we use to support victims is MARAC:

The Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences is recognised nationally as best practice for addressing cases of domestic abuse that have been assessed as HIGH RISK.

Referrals may be by police officers who attend incidents of domestic abuse or by practitioners in other agencies who become aware of domestic abuse.

The MARAC combines up to date risk information with a timely assessment of a victim’s needs and links those directly to the provision of services and support for all those involved in a domestic abuse case. This year so far in Northern Ireland 1,222 victims have been brought to a MARAC.

The MARAC outcomes are designed to reduce the risk they are exposed to, where a victim has been assessed as being ‘high risk’, she should be provided with a full and detailed explanation of the MARAC. Consent must be requested and freely given after a full and detailed explanation has been given to the person from whom consent is being sought.

If informed consent has not been sought, or sought and withheld, the officers must consider whether they have a legal power to disclose. The victim’s details may still be discussed if there is an Article 2, threat to life, or Article 3 prevention of torture issue.

What safety planning can come for the MARAC?

Target hardening with crime prevention
Panic Alarms
Mobile phones
Alarms/Sanctuary Schemes
Police Watch/Sector Officers
Cocoon Watch
Escape plan
Specialist Refuge Service Provider
Warning flags on systems for call outs to address
Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP) /Alleged Perpetrator Tracking
Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs)
Support groups
Forced Marriage Civil Protection Bill, 2007
Court Liaison
Breaches of conditions
Bail Objections
Child access
Victim Log
The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

Personal policing in H district

Last month we had 9 referrals of high risk victims to MARAC meetings in H district. We had 23 referrals in August.

This is out of an estimated relevant population of 109 thousand people in the area.

9 women in H district in September, 23 in August, does that sound a lot?

Let’s put this into perspective. Last month women answered yes to some of these questions:

- What are you afraid of? Is it further injury or violence?  Please give an indication of what you think he might do and to whom:
Kill you / Your Children / another person
Further injury and violence to you / your children / another person.

-Do you feel isolated from family/ friends i.e. he try to stop you from seeing friends/family/Dr or others?

-Are you feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts?

-Has he ever hurt the children/dependants?

-Has he ever threatened to hurt or kill the children/dependants?

-Is the abuse happening more often?

-Is the abuse getting worse?

-Has he ever used weapons or objects to hurt you?

-Has he ever attempted to strangle/choke/suffocate/drown you?

-Does he do or say things of a sexual nature that makes you feel bad or that physically hurt you or someone else?

These are not questions that just pop up in conversations; we ask these questions because evidence has shown that these are some of the greatest risk factors in domestic abuse.

It is important to listen carefully to the victim’s perception of their safety and what it is the alleged perpetrator may actually do.
If the victim does express significant concern about their safety this should be taken seriously. When victims are very frightened; when they report being afraid of further injury or violence; when they are afraid of being killed; and when they are afraid of their children being harmed, they are significantly more likely to experience additional violence, threats and emotional abuse.

The victim will have intimate knowledge of the alleged perpetrator’s capacity to harm them and significant others.  However, minimising the abuse and blaming the abuse on themselves is common among victims of domestic abuse and practitioners should be aware that sometimes victims may not acknowledge current threats or actions as giving them cause for concern.  It is important we use our professional judgement, register our concerns with the victim and note this on the risk checklist.

It is also important to note whether the children have witnessed or heard the abuse. There is compelling evidence that both domestic violence and child abuse can occur in the same family. Child abuse can therefore act as an indicator of domestic violence in the family and vice versa.

In a recent analysis of serious review cases of child deaths, one of the commonly reoccurring features was the existence of domestic violence; the presence of children increases the risk of domestic violence for women.

Alleged perpetrators do not tend to discriminate in terms of who they are abusive towards. Research shows that it tends to be part of a perpetrator’s pattern of repeated aggression toward other persons persisting over the life course, with a series of victims including siblings, schoolmates, dating partners, strangers, partner and/or work colleagues. Links have been proved between those who rape in the home (domestic) and outside the home (stranger).

Many rapists ‘practice’ at home.
For October so far we have 13 referrals so far, does that still sound a lot?
I am a son, a husband, a father, a brother, a neighbour and a friend.
I know that those that I love could today be victims of abuse and I don’t know of it.
We need to shine a light into the corners of our homes and workplaces to show domestic abuse for what it is, we need to be beacons of light for victims to come to for help and not perpetuate the cycles of abuse in our lives.
I will continue to work for victims of abuse in all it’s forms; I pray that you do also.
The next woman killed could be your friend, your sister or your mother; will you stand by quietly and allow these to happen?
 I won’t.                           

Bob Blemmings.