SUSSEX Police have successfully introduced new initiatives to encourage the reporting of domestic abuse and to support victims.
The issue remains a priority for the force at this crucial time of further lockdown.
Since a new specialist unit was set up in March more than half of people reporting cases that are not immediately urgent have opted for a special video appointment service that can be used when conversations can’t take place face to face for any reason.
The 30-strong Local Resolution Team of specially trained officers are dedicated to dealing with reports of domestic abuse which are not immediately urgent. They discuss the incident with the caller, carry out an initial investigation and provide safeguarding advice, to leave the victim feeling safer than before and to explore available investigative opportunities to prosecute and prevent domestic abuse.
Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Rayland, Head of the force’s Public Protection Command said; “Our preference is to see someone face to face in private at a police station. However, in March we recognised that restrictions such as vulnerable categories, self-isolation, or travel, might make people less able to attend so the force introduced new video conferencing technology.
“The officers obtain a safe contact number and send a one time text message to the caller’s smartphone. Activating this link puts the caller in to a virtual waiting room where one of our officers will be able to see and talk to them so that an investigation can take place.”
Between March and the end of October over 3200 video appointments took place.
Part of the safeguarding advice includes referrals to independent local support agencies such as Rise and Worth Services.
Afterwards, the caller is told to delete the text, which is disguised in the first place to hide any links with the police.
Steve Rayland added; “We have adapted to ensure we can support people at risk and find them a safe space.
“It’s really important people know that alongside this new initiative we also continue to respond to domestic abuse as normal in emergency situations, arresting perpetrators and protecting vulnerable people.
“In fact, even when the first lockdown restrictions were relaxed during the summer, we found that the number of victims opting for the remote video meeting remained the same, equal to the numbers opting to visit a police station.
“No matter what is going on around us there is no excuse for domestic abuse it simply isn’t acceptable. The police priority hasn’t changed if you are victim of domestic abuse I would urge you to make contact with us so that we can help.
“We have also enhanced awareness raising during the lockdown period and beyond over the White Ribbon Campaign period (25 November and 16 Days of Action), with social media signposting to support services and further information on our website, newspaper adverts and community engagement in essential locations to reach out to those not online.
“We are including more targeted messaging in our awareness campaigns for the LGBTQI community following engagement with the LGBT External Reference Group, which we plan to develop in the New Year. Recent victim surveys indicate that reporting of domestic abuse amongst the LGBTQI community may be lower than heteronormative relationships. We know that DA can happen in any adult relationship, and we want the LGBTQIA+ community to feel confident to come forward and report instances of abuse.
“But our message remains the same throughout Covid restrictions and beyond – If you are experiencing domestic abuse, you are not alone. We can help break the cycle of abuse. We take all allegations of domestic abuse seriously and our staff and officers understand the complexities of domestic abuse. We want to help support victims to move forward with their lives.”
Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner said; “We know that cases of domestic abuse and violence spiked in the first lockdown.
“As we find ourselves in a similar situation it is just as important as the first time to reach out to particularly vulnerable people and make sure they know there is someone who will listen and help them.
“I’m pleased that, following the extra investment into Sussex Police this year, we have been able to put in place innovative measures to safeguard victims at a time when it can be incredibly difficult for them to safely reach out for help.
“Police and PCCs are going the extra mile during this crisis to ensure that people do not feel they have to suffer in silence.
“We may be in lockdown but we must not feel locked out.”
If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is, and there’s an emergency that’s ongoing or life is in danger, call police on 999.
If you can’t talk because the perpetrator is nearby, you can then press the numbers ‘55’ into your mobile phone which will alert the operator to your situation.
The Sussex Safe Space website also provides a valuable directory of help and support from all agencies, available near you.
For further information and advice from Sussex Police see the force website.
The numbers of domestic abuse reports to Sussex Police have remained broadly constant over the year so far. There were just over 2000 in February, rising before and during the first lockdown period to some 2750 per month by August, and at levels just over 2000 again by the end of October.
About 50% of the reports result in criminal investigation, but even where that is not the case officers are able to provide advice and access to sources of specialist support to people reporting incidents.