Huge rise in disclosures of partner’s abusive history to women at risk of domestic violence

PUBLISHED: 20:15 13 May 2018 | UPDATED: 20:16 13 May 2018

Domestic Abuse - The Reality, by Laura Dodsworth, commissioned by Scottish Womens Aid. Copyright Laura Dodsworth

Domestic Abuse - The Reality, by Laura Dodsworth, commissioned by Scottish Womens Aid. Copyright Laura Dodsworth

Laura Dodsworth

Hundreds of women in Norfolk at risk of domestic violence were given details of their partner’s abusive history last year.

Under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, commonly known as Clare’s Law, 232 disclosures were made in 2017 of the 328 requests made.

The number has exploded in the last two years, from just 27 disclosures made in 2015, and charities and safeguarding officers say their workload has tripled.

“We know what can be disclosed can often be really serious information,” said Margaret Hill, community services manager at charity Leeway, whcih supports victims of domestic violence in Norfolk and Waveney.

“Once it comes to the attention of authorities ideally we would hope it is made quite quickly and timely manner.

“Staff have gone to bizarre lengths to get disclosures to people because they felt so concerned about somebody. You can’t write anything down or share anything so it all has to be done verbally.

“We go along to hopefully get some safety measures in place.”

But when women need to flee there are increasingly fewer beds available in refuges. An investigation by this newspaper last year found council funding for refuges had fallen by around a quarter in Norfolk and Suffolk.

And the police inspectorate HMICFRS has urged Norfolk Constabulary to extend its use of Domestic Violence Protection Notices, which can put restrictions on an abuser and are currently used only in the most extreme cases.

Detective chief inspector Pete Hornby, safeguarding lead for Norfolk Constabulary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDetective chief inspector Pete Hornby, safeguarding lead for Norfolk Constabulary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Inspectors said: “The restriction on the use of DVPNs to high-risk cases only might mean that a vulnerable victim of a medium or standard-risk domestic abuse offence could be exposed to harm.”

They added despite a high disclosure rate, “the force is still taking a significant amount of time to give this information to individuals”.

Safeguarding lead for Norfolk, DCI Pete Hornby, said an “encouraging” new consultation on a Domestic Abuse Bill could widen the scope of Clare’s Law to protect more victims with Domestic Abuse Protection Notices.

He said: “Domestic abuse incorporates so many different elements including sexual and financial. Domestic violence really does narrow it down, but abuse is much more than violence.

“There are all those other elements that potentially will enable police and other agencies so seek a notice.”

He added the rise in disclosures has come from a “growing understanding” of a victim’s “right to ask”.

“The whole process is trying to help someone vulnerable by nature of their relationship, but without increasing the risk of that individual,” he said.

“People are becoming more and more aware of their ability to contact police and seek that information. It is a growing understanding of what they can do and how they can do it. It is a process that enables concerned relatives or friends to get in touch as well. 
“With DVDS there is a right to know and a right to ask. The right to know is about the efficacy of the multi-agency team coming together to identify individuals potentially moving to a point of harm. What that provides is a really strong platform for early identification of new victims. This is not all about the police, it is a multi agency decision.”

Mandy Proctor, chief executive of Leeway, the charity providing support to those experiencing domestic abuse.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYMandy Proctor, chief executive of Leeway, the charity providing support to those experiencing domestic abuse. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Police regularly work alongside agencies such as domestic abuse charity Leeway, whose chief executive Mandy Proctor said the issue cannot be solved through the criminal justice system alone.

“There needs to be a sustainable model of refuge funding to ensure there are places of safety,” she said. “Victims might not always report to the police and that is really key at the moment.

“Some people are afraid to report. They want support but might not want to involve the police. It can come to a situation where they just want to remove themselves and their children and start a new life somewhere.

“We have got seven refuges and they are always full. If a room becomes available it is generally refilled within a couple of days, usually on the same day. If we do not have space we would talk to the housing departments at local authorities to see if they can emergency accommodate.

“[Disclosure] is such a lengthy process and people’s lives can change and move in that time so they decide not to progress with it. It doesn’t mean the risk has gone away necessarily.”

This year Leeway will also benefit from a newly funded dedicated worker for Clare’s Law, paid for by Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, who will work alongside victims post-disclosure.

Domestic Abuse Bill

A government consultation on a new Domestic Abuse Bill closes on May 31.

It includes new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders which would enable courts to impose a range of conditions on abusers.

It could enshrine Clare’s Law into new legislation and give domestic abuse victims a new status in court proceedings.

Suzanne Jacob OBE, chief executive of national domestic abuse charity SafeLives, said:

“This is a true opportunity to have a national conversation about how to end domestic abuse, for good. The time for piecemeal sticking plasters is over, we need radical change, and we will stand side-by-side with survivors to make this happen.”

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “We want to see the Bill encompass and go beyond changes to the criminal justice system to include policies on housing, education, health, immigration and the welfare system to name but a few, to ensure that every survivor and her child can safely escape domestic abuse.”

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