How the borough supports domestic abuse victims

Steve Martlew
Steve Martlew
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It is often kept behind close doors, but domestic abuse is a huge problem in Wigan.

Reported incidents are four times higher than the national average, with around 7,500 attacks a year across the borough.

Citizens Advice member Joyce John and volunteer Joanne Jones, right.

Citizens Advice member Joyce John and volunteer Joanne Jones, right.

Now a skilled multi-agency hub has been set up to support victims while also getting to the root cause of the abuse to prevent it happening again.

The team includes police officers, independent domestic abuse advisors, Citizens Advice workers and volunteers as well as Victim Support officers.

The hub launched in September, based at Wigan police station, and has so far dealt with an average of 570 cases per month.

Steve Martlew, business manager for domestic abuse and sexual violence for Wigan Council, said: “Wigan has the highest number of reported incidents in Greater Manchester and four times higher than the national average. We could say people in Wigan report more than other areas or Wigan has a bigger problem, but we don’t know that. Either way we have high numbers and have to deal with that.”

In the past victims classed as being at low risk would not have received a response from the police.

But now all victims receive support thanks to the new team, no matter how serious their issue is judged to be.

Mr Martlew said: “This ensures that anybody who phones police and asks for help due to domestic abuse gets a face-to-face response.

“That’s about offering support, signposting to other services. It might be as simple as giving advice about where to go for help or safety advice, or it could be that the perpetrator is locked up, you go to court for a non-molestation order, you move someone, you get them in a hostel.

“It could be anything from those extremes to anything in between.”

PC Janine Smith said: “It’s the police that put the risk level on, not the victim. We have procedures and protocols and for our systems we have to designate what that risk level is.

“A victim doesn’t care what they are, they are a victim. Whether it’s a slap across the face or they are in hospital, they are a victim, so that service should be available to anybody and that support should be available to anybody. The hub is a massive leap forward.”

She initially got involved in an initiative in 2015, when it was found that most homicides in Wigan came from domestic incidents deemed as low risk.

Speculating why there are more incidents in the borough than elsewhere, she said: “I think the fact that we are the second largest division across the force makes a massive impact because we have a lot more people living here. The highest division is Manchester city centre, but a lot of people don’t live there, they go there to drink, have a domestic incident there and go home.

“The size of our borough is part of it. The fact we have issues with mental health, drugs and alcohol - they’re all aggravating factors.”

She is confident that the new team is already making a difference, just months after they started working together.

Victims are offered immediate support to ensure they, and their families, are safe, and will then be supported to resolve wider family issues such as debt, mental health, and drug and alcohol issues.

Perpetrators of domestic abuse will also receive interventions and support. This could include criminal convictions, restraining orders from the court and behaviour change programmes.

Wider issues such as drug and alcohol problems, mental health, housing and debt will also be addressed.

Steve Gerrard, victim services co-ordinator for the police, said: “The offer we are trying to make to victims of crime is that we will find some support for them, whatever it may be and whatever their needs may be.

“That’s regardless of crime type, regardless of when it occurred, regardless of the age of the person who is the victim and regardless of whether any action is being pursued to prosecute the alleged offenders.

“Some people are of the opinion that if they are not pursuing something to court then they won’t get support, but that’s wrong.”

Domestic abuse does not just involve partners, but is often family members, such as parents and children, siblings, or grandparents and grandchildren.

The hub brings together representatives from the police, Wigan Council and other organisations such as Citizens Advice and Victim Support.

By working together, they can offer appropriate support for the victims, whatever their circumstances.

Joyce John, domestic abuse project officer for Citizens Advice, said: “We often find that in the community people don’t know where to turn. My role is about getting out and talking to the community, raising awareness of what is domestic abuse. It’s not just physical, it’s controlling, coercive and psychological.

“We link in to the services so they don’t feel they are on their own and there are people to talk to.

The Citizens Advice team visits people in their homes and sometimes find people are more willing to speak to them than representatives of statutory agencies. They talk about what has happened and the help that is available. Victim Support is also involved to provide whatever help people need.

Caran Hill, independent victims advocate for Victim Support, said: “It can be anything. It can be having a chat, offering face-to-face visits, telephone support, even support by email, all individual to that person.

“We can provide advocacy with other partner agencies and get updates from the police if need be. We do try to empower victims but sometimes it’s giving them options because it’s not something they have thought of.”

It is early days for the new hub, but the members of the team are passionate and determined to make a difference for victims of domestic abuse. Working together means they are able to share information and do what they can to help people, whatever their needs.

Anyone wishing to report domestic abuse and seek support can call police on 101.