Not just a number

Domestic violence levels can be reduced by early intervention approaches but existing funding for services must not be jeopardised

by Nov 19, 2012 No Comments

It is a figure that has come to represent the number of people likely to suffer from a mental health disorder during their lifetime. But it is perhaps not as widely known that the same statistic applies to women who, at some point, will become the victims of domestic violence.

According to both Home Office and US research, one in four women will be the victim of a violent assault at the hands of their partner.

Michele Corcoran is all too aware of that sobering fact. She runs Edinburgh Women’s Aid, a service that provides emergency accommodation for victims of domestic abuse and marks its 40th anniversary next year.

She welcomes recent moves in government policy, which recognise upfront investment and early years intervention may deliver better outcomes in bringing violence levels down. But she warns there is precious little money around to actually achieve that aim and says existing services, which help women in crisis, must not be jeopardised.

She tells Holyrood: “The funding that’s around at the moment doesn’t allow us to do prevention work. It’s something that we’re committed to; we’ve done a lot of work with the “bystander” [project] at Portobello High School; we’ve been involved in that. We’ve been involved in various initiatives, like working with young girls in Canongate Youth Project and various other sources. However, it’s very difficult to fit that in because of the demands on the service and we don’t have the funding to allow us to take on another worker, which is needed to do that.

“But it’s essential to go and work in schools and work with children from an early age so that they understand what a healthy relationship is so that they understand and learn to respect each other.

When you’re trying to change society, you actually need to start with the younger generation.” Corcoran also emphasises the fact the preventative approach must be delivered alongside services that react to the needs of women in crisis.

To put that in context, her current funding cycle lasts until 2015 and such approaches require a long-term commitment.

She explains: “I think that can go a long way to building the future but we’re not going to see the results of that for 20/30 years and it needs to be done alongside existing support services for women and families. I think there’s a danger that we focus on that, forgetting that there are still people around who will continue to need the services.” But Edinburgh Women’s Aid has been innovative in one key area: it now works alongside a specialist court specifically set up in the capital to deal with domestic abuse cases.

The EDDACS (Edinburgh Domestic Abuse Court Service) has only been running for the last 12 months and evaluation results are expected soon. It is based on the larger Assist advocacy service in Glasgow, which supports women through the often traumatic process of appearing in court.

Under the Edinburgh system, when an abuser is held in custody following an incident, police ask the woman involved if she wants to be contacted by Corcoran’s team.

If she agrees, the call is made the very next morning and the process of support begins.

Corcoran explains: “It’s only in the south and east of Edinburgh but what happens is when there’s an incident and there’s a custody from that, the woman is offered a referral to the advocacy service and we contact the woman in the morning after the incident and offer her support and safety planning to take her through the process of the court.

“It gives her a voice within the court to make sure that her side of events is heard.” She adds: “That’s a new development for us because we’re contacting women; but the good thing is we’re getting people in the first 24 hours and that’s the most crucial point because that’s when they’re most likely to be honest about the situation and even if they change what their intention is during the court process, hopefully the fact that they’ve had that information in the first instance, maybe the next time there’s an incident – if there is another incident – then they’ll get help quicker and they may make different decisions.” So far 142 women have come to Corcoran’s service via the advocacy service, who otherwise might have slipped through the net. Corcoran insists it has been a really good example of partnership working – between the service, the police and the Procurator Fiscal. She says the four sheriffs – two men and two women – involved all “understand” the issues and 80 per cent of women asked have actively taken up the referral.

“It’s a pilot but hopefully it will be rolled out. I think the advocacy service is an integral part of the process,” she says.

Notwithstanding the court cases, the Stockbridge-based service has also dealt with 726 cases through its normal phone line and office channels in the last 18 months.

And it has also pioneered an outreach service – set up in 2007 – to get to women who find it difficult to travel in from more outlying areas of the city.

That has dealt with 102 women in the same period but is constrained by having just one full-time member of staff, and one part-time, who Corcoran has just taken on.

The service has 29 refuge accommodation places, plus eight more for women with additional needs.

Women with additional needs include those with physical, mental health and alcohol or drug dependency problems, and who get 24/7 staff support.

The one thing that Corcoran – who has had experience of domestic abuse in her own life – does make clear is that it will always be a problem for society. Despite new services, new approaches and promises for greater funding, she is realistic about perpetrators who use ‘power and control’ to dominate their relationships.

“I think, like everything, you’re never going to eliminate it totally, services will be continued. But hopefully there will be a reduction in the need for the level of services but you’re not going to see immediate results.” Scotland’s new top policeman – Chief Constable Steve House – has also made domestic violence one of his top priorities.

House mentioned ‘domestic’ violence and abuse 20 times in his first public speech last month and even mooted the idea of a national task force to tackle the problem.

He recently told delegates at the Scotland and Violence Prevention conference at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan: “We will never tackle, truly tackle, violent crime in Scotland until we tackle domestic abuse because what happens in the home doesn’t just stay in the home, it goes onto the streets and most perniciously, it aff ects the next generation.” Figures released by the Scottish Government at the end of last month suggest more women are reporting domestic violence than ever before.

Based on details supplied by Scotland’s eight police forces, the data showed there were 59,847 domestic abuse incidents in 2011-12, a rise of 7 per cent.

Whilst at fi rst glance it might be counterintuitive to say an increase in incidents reported to police can be a good thing, House is among many senior offi cers who believe that is the case. He told conference delegates it was a “positive sign” and that forces throughout Scotland are taking the issue increasingly seriously.

He explained: “We measure what we do and we know that offi cers are taking domestic abuse far, far more seriously. How we know that is we look at the number of incidents we get called to and we look at the number of those incidents that convert into crime reports and are investigated.

“Th at percentage has increased dramatically in the last fi ve years, up from 55 per cent up towards mid-70s. So, police are taking it seriously. We think that’s why people come forward more; we certainly have much more productive relationships, in the main, with victims support agencies.” House’s commitment is testimony to the work done by his old force Strathclyde Police along with partners including Assist and Glasgow Housing Association.

He also said the domestic abuse task force he created at Strathclyde – using experienced detectives – could be rolled out as a “blueprint” across Scotland.

Better training of police offi cers – as well as specialist new domestic abuse courts – has undoubtedly assisted those perhaps previously unwilling to testify in cases.

When asked about its commitment to domestic violence, a Scottish Government spokesperson insisted funding has increased by 60 per cent in the last fi ve years.

Th e spokesperson said: “We are committing £34.5m in total to Violence Against Women work over the next three years, 2012-15. As part of this funding, Rape and Abuse Support continue to receive Rape Crisis Specifi c funding of £50k each year, which is intended to ensure that a service can be provided for victims of rape and sexual assault.

“Since 2007, funding for Violence Against Women work, including domestic abuse, has increased by more than 60 per cent and the Scottish Government has demonstrated its commitment, despite budget constraints, to maintaining spending in this crucial area of work.

“Th e current economic climate means that we have to ensure we get the maximum benefi t possible and that the best outcomes for women and children are delivered with the resources that we have available.

“We are therefore refocusing our funding to focus on prevention and early intervention over the next three years to deliver on these aims whilst maintaining our support of frontline services for women and children.”

Kevin O'Sullivan Kevin O'Sullivan

“Kevin has had a varied career in journalism having worked for many of Fleet Street’s finest including the Sun and the Daily Express. He completed his NCTJ in 2004 and began working for his local paper in Chatham, Kent, before moving to a national news agency. Kevin relocated to Edinburgh in 2010 and had stints with Scottish national papers as well as the Aberdeen Evening Express. He joined Holyrood magazine as Social Affairs Correspondent in September 2012 and has already becoming an avid committee watcher at the Scottish Parliament. Kevin has been slow on social media but now accepts Twitter can be used for work after previously thinking it was for moaning about the Olympics closing...

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