As professionals we are all too familiar with the recent changes that have taken place within Family Courts and Criminal Courts in terms of Legal Aid funding as well as more broadly with regard to services and agencies involved with domestic abuse working with both victims and perpetrators alike. Yet whilst cutbacks are being made sadly the problem still exists with fewer and fewer services available to help those in need. So, is domestic abuse another postcode lottery?
Recent figures released and discussed on the BBC News website indicated the significant variation in terms of the reporting of incidents relating to domestic abuse. We must never underestimate the challenges faced by a victim and in some cases a perpetrator who seeks to come forward and ask for help. When that person finally summons the courage to take that first step the experience they then encounter varies quite dramatically from an extremely positive response from well trained, informed and motivated professionals through to a far less effective and ultimately unhelpful one. Figures published and discussed by the BBC reveal how different that experience of speaking out can be, depending on where a victim lives, and the attitude and performance of their local police force as one component of the overall response to this issue.
The recent statistics display significant variations in how different police forces and local Crown Prosecution Service prosecutors respond to cases and whether they are referred to the courts at all.
As well as the new figures for domestic violence, existing statistics for rape offences again show Cheshire police with high rates of referral – 65%; police in Durham pass nearly 57% of cases on to the CPS. But again in Warwickshire the figure is low, just 3.65%, and in Devon and Cornwall the statistic is 18%.
|Domestic violence incidents 2012/13|
|Police force||Reported cases||Referred to CPS|
|North Wales||13,745||721 (5.25%)|
|South Yorkshire||28,697||1,793 (6.25%)|
|North Yorkshire||9,513||2,753 (28.94%)|
|Dyfed Powys||2,264||486 (21.47%)|
|West Midlands||27,853||4,638 (16.65%)|
The figures detailing the number of recorded incidents of domestic abuse are startling. If one considers Lancashire Constabulary their recorded figures suggest that on average in Lancashire they are recording 83 separate cases of domestic abuse each day of the year. Extending this further across the ten police forces detailed in the table they have recorded a total of nearly 165,000 domestic abuse incidents in the period 2012/13. This represents an average of nearly 450 domestic abuse incidents each day within the area of those ten police forces and approximately 19 such incidents every hour of the day and night.
It is interesting that whilst much of the focus from the police is upon recognising the complex nature of investigating offences of this nature and different perspective is put forward by Professor Liz Kelly, of London Metropolitan University who is an expert in the study of sexual violence. In her comments to the BBC she suggests variations in some cases can be explained by local police priorities. She developed her position suggesting that the variation in response rates for different police forces is not a product of the profile of the cases but rather the profile of the issue of domestic abuse within the local area, the importance placed upon the issue by the chief constable, the position assumed by police sergeants and the stance taken by police constables and whether they perceive it as their responsibility to protect victims who are most often women and children from such abuse.
Perhaps the most worrying statistic currently available is the one put forward by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper who commented to the BBC that nationally only 6% of all recorded domestic abuse cases reached a conviction. She has expanded upon this statistic noting that there has been a 14% fall in prosecutions despite there actually being an 11% increase in the number of recorded incidents. This is an important statistic particularly against a backdrop of a general reduction in the number of recorded violent crimes.
Foresight Clinical Services have first-hand experience of working with the issues arising from domestic abuse. Our Clinical Director, Gary Hughes has been involved in the development and delivery of a programme to help perpetrators of domestic abuse, change their behaviour for the better. He is also currently engaged in research through the University of Birmingham looking at the process perpetrators go through when trying to seek help for their abusive behaviour. FCS also has a number of highly experienced experts who have provided expert opinion in both civil and criminal cases involving domestic abuse and violence more broadly.
There is no doubt that the current climate is seeing an eroding of services and the provision of high quality services essential to keep people safe from harm. FCS would be delighted to discuss the services we can provide and explore the opportunities of working with a wide variety of different individuals, agencies and organisations to ensure that assessment and high quality treatment remains available for those who need it.