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Supporting a joined-up approach to tackling domestic abuse

In her latest blog, Alison talks about domestic abuse and Operation Encompass.

Outwardly Paul was a ‘charming, smiley, happy guy who could sell ice to Eskimos’. But behind the scenes he was a manipulative and controlling man with a violent temper. That temper ultimately resulted in him killing his partner.

Thanks to evidence given by his children Paul is now serving a 20-year-jail term for murder. This week (Tuesday, December 4) his victim’s sister will be joining royalty in Cornwall to recognise a scheme that has helped thousands of children who have experienced domestic violence.

This brave woman, who is now looking after her niece, is the latest patron of Operation Encompass. The brainchild of a former Devon and Cornwall police officer and his head teacher wife, the scheme puts officers in touch with trusted members of staff at their school. If a child witnesses domestic violence Encompass enables police to share this information with educators before the school day starts.

I wrote about this simple yet effective project back in April, and since then it has gone from strength to strength. The latest figures show that in the last academic year for which data is available 46,591 children were supported by Operation Encompass across the 33 police forces that have adopted it. In Devon and Cornwall 2,952 child victims have been supported since January.

Because Encompass works with school staff who are defined as safeguarding leads, they are trusted to act responsibly with the information that is shared with them. Support could take a formal approach or be as simple as allowing a young child who has been exposed to violence to bring a teddy to school with them for the day.

Importantly Encompass treats children who are experiencing domestic violence in the home as victims. They might not have been physically hurt by an incident but the emotional turmoil of being exposed to sometimes extreme acts of violence run deep and have long-lasting consequences.

On Tuesday, HRH Sophie, Countess of Wessex, will unveil a plaque paying tribute to this Westountry-born success story at Bodmin police station. Present at the ceremony will be charity founders Elisabeth and David Carney-Haworth, academics from around the country, police officers who see at first hand the damage that domestic violence causes and Dame Esther Rantzen, one of the charity’s patrons.

This event will take place during a United Nations campaign to highlight gender based violence. Running since 1991, the campaign has highlighted the plight suffered by women and girls the world over.

Here in the UK there is growing recognition for the harm caused by domestic abuse, with the Government indicating that it is considering creating partnerships between organisations such as Public Health England and police forces so that the warning signs can be spotted earlier and action taken sooner.

I am a huge advocate of the joined-up approach taken by Operation Encompass and the Government’s direction, indicated by police minister Nick Hurd last week.

As with most crime, this is not an issue that can be tackled by police alone. And as with other types of crime, it has been shown that early intervention gives police and other agencies the chance to take enforcement action or provide support before a situation escalates and serious harm is caused.

It’s also an area where increased public awareness can help. It’s important to remember that domestic abuse can take many forms and affect people from all walks of life. It’s not confined to gender and emotional, as well as physical, harm is classified as domestic offending. The signs that someone might be a victim of domestic abuse include missing work or social events; references to a partner’s temper, personality changes and evidence of injury.

Fortunately the misconception that police do not want to help or are less than keen to intervene or help is now well and truly a thing of the past. Here in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly specialist officers are available who can deal with complaints sensitively and effectively. Some are also trained to spot patterns of offending and obsessive behaviour that could be classified as stalking – a crime which can have the most terrible consequences.

The support available for victims has also improved hugely in recent years. My office commissions the Victim Care Unit, which co-ordinated victims’ services in Devon and Cornwall. It can direct victims of domestic abuse to a multitude of services and can be contacted on 01392 475900 (for those who have reported crimes to the police) or 0300 3030554 (for those who don’t want to report the crime but who still want support) or via the website at www.victimcaredevonandcornwall.org.uk.

If you need help or advice the Devon domestic abuse helpline can point you in the right direction 0345 1551074. The Rape Crisis helpline is 0808 802999.

Help and advice for those who are worried about their own behaviour is also available. The Respect Phoneline is a confidential helpline for domestic violence perpetrators and can help them to stop their violent or abusive behaviour. It can be reached on 0808 8024040.

Alison Hernandez