Lancashire's domestic violence victims need to see a 'dramatic' improvement in response from criminal justice agencies - warning during campaign
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But some people feel more attention should be focused on tackling systemic problems encountered by victims once they make a report.
The newly formed Lancashire Resilience Forum, made up of different organisations, is hoping the No Excuse For Abuse campaign will reassure victims help is available.
Rachel Horman, domestic abuse lawyer, said a “dramatic” improvement in the response of criminal justice agencies is needed too.
She says: “I think it’s well intentioned and any public conversation about domestic abuse and where victims can get help is a good thing, however in reality they are empty words, as the serious issue of the police and CPS falling to take cases seriously is still not being tackled.
“The rate of women being murdered by their partners has sky rocked during lockdown as have domestic abuse incidents, however I am still being contacted on a daily basis by dozens of victims who have not had a good experience when they have reported to the police.”
A Preston mum, whose abuser was jailed, echoed the concerns as she described her experiences.
She explains: “Leaving is the easy part, it’s having no home, no money, no hope, no help in the weeks after.
“ I spoke with a young officer during lockdown - not on an official basis. He said they were dealing with a lot of new cases, not the ‘normal regulars’ and how it was hard work because he ‘wouldn’t appreciate the police turning up if he was having a row with his Mrs’.
“An abuser is ignorant - a trained officer should not be. To me it means they are clearly not improving their training around domestic abuse.
She adds: “After his prison release my abuser requested the restraining order to be dropped so he could enter an area to visit a poorly relative.
“The police came to consult me, but I was effectively told I could not stand in his way, and maybe he should be given the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately the court refused his request.”
The mum also had to face her abuser in Preston’s family court four times, on her own, with no legal representative - not even a friend.
She says: “ Cafcass (a public body set up to promote the welfare of families in family court) failed to protect me in anyway, they failed to respond to messages, calls or texts.
“My abuser is now seeing the children and I have to drop them off because there are no supervised contact centres anymore.”
She says she also faced pressure to quit her NHS job to obtain support, adding: “The authorities need to focus on making more legal help available to people on a lower income, not just the unemployed.
“I was told many times by various professionals to ‘give up working, you will get more help’, but work was the mask that saved me - the only thing I had left that reminded me who I was.
“There are no weekend or evening help groups, only ones in working hours which I couldn’t attend.
“If there is no ongoing support victims will go back, they will give up. A mum will suffer endless abuse if it means her children are fed, clean and have a roof over their heads.”
Det Chief Insp Mike Gladwin, of Lancashire’s Public Protection Unit, said the force was focusing on improving the quality of investigations in terms of evidence and timeliness, and stressed victims’ experiences were taken seriously, and that officers were keen to learn from their feedback.
He adds: “ We proactively seek feedback regularly, and a recent commissioned report - which includes victims’ experiences of the police, judicial system and support services - is helping us learn and improve.
“This includes improving our response in cases where victims have great concern about supporting a prosecution.
“We also recognise that a criminal justice solution is not always the most appropriate or achievable option for some people and it is important for us to support victims in achieving a positive outcome to keep them safe.”
Lancashire Police says her previous experience is not entirely representative of their approach to domestic abuse in 2020.
DCI Mike Gladwin from Lancashire’s Public Protection Unit (PPU) said: “We always take the experiences of domestic abuse seriously are continuously keen to learn from their comments and improve our service through our training programmes and directed feedback where necessary.
"We proactively seek this feedback regularly, and a recent commissioned report - which includes victims’ experiences of the police, judicial system and support services - is now helping us learn and improve.
“We are not complacent and realise there is much work for us to do to improve our response. We have focused heavily on developing our officers to identify vulnerability at the earliest stage and work to safeguard people from harm, conduct thorough investigations, and work with our partners to prevent further risk of harm occurring.
"This includes improving our response in those cases where victims have great concern about supporting a prosecution. We also recognise however, that a criminal justice solution is not always the most appropriate or achievable option for some people and it is important for us to support victims in achieving a positive outcome to keep them safe.
“Where a criminal justice route is taken, we are focusing on improving the quality of those investigations to ensure timeliness and the expectations of victims of domestic abuse are met, and we meet the evidential requirements needed to succeed.”
For more information about the #noexcuseforabuse campaign and details of the help and support agencies in Lancashire, visit: www.noexcuseforabuse.co.uk or in an emergency call 999.