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Divas help police learn new lines

Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez has praised a ground-breaking training programme which has seen more than 100 police officers and staff undergo training to help improve their technique when interviewing victims with learning difficulties.

(Photo: Women's Centre Cornwall)

Women’s Centre Cornwall has delivered the training as part of its Speak Out Project and the day-long course has been designed and delivered by the Divas - a group of women who themselves have a learning disability or autism.

People with learning disabilities often find it difficult to explain what is happening to them when they are suffering from sexual and/or domestic abuse.  

Police officers, do not get the time in their basic training to cover how best they can help people with such disabilities, yet it is crucial in order to obtain enough information during an interview to support the prosecution of an offender.

“Sexual and domestic abuse can often be tolerated because the victims can’t speak up for themselves,” said commissioner Hernandez.

“So it is important that police officers have the skills they need to help victims tell their stories, to support them through the criminal justice process and are then enabled to bring their abusers to justice.

“It is great to see how the police in Cornwall are leading the way to tailor their service to help those in need.”

Dina Holder, community engagement manager at the Women’s Centre, said the Divas are central to the success of this course.

“We trained the Divas to become peer educators so they could work on and help develop the training programme.

“The police had identified they needed some support around working with women with learning disabilities, that they were very much at risk and how they needed to communicate better with them. They needed to recognise how, if somebody had come in with a complaint, and they were a victim, that they had a learning disability and to respond sensitively.

“We needed to help the police understand how to make women feel more comfortable, and that before thinking about how they got the information they needed they had to think about how the communicated differently.

“So far there have been six training sessions and one pilot which has seen over 100 officers and staff trained.

“They found the training life-changing in some instances and they really started to think about how to behave differently, how to speak differently, and they said they will now take that into everyday practice.

“But a really big change is that the women who have delivered the training have grown in confidence and they now feel more confident, respected and that they will be heard.

“They can now report to other women with learning disabilities and autism that they can go to the police because the police are better prepared to support them, which is a fantastic achievement.”

“I can’t say that the Divas on their own will make a change that will last forever but if they are part of future training then the knowledge of the police will grow which will make a really big difference."