Saturday, 24 November 2007

Police wear white ribbons to highlight domestic violence awareness week

VICTIMS of domestic violence are being urged to have the courage to come forward and report the abuse during a week-long campaign to highlight the improved support on offer as part of the regional Domestic Violence Awareness Week.
Across Somerset, more domestic violence offenders are being brought to justice thanks to the launch of specialist courts which increase the conviction rate, multi-agency risk assessment conferences to protect high-risk victims, and independent domestic violence advocates (IDVAs) to offer ongoing one-on-one support.
Last year, there were more than 14,500 recorded domestic violence incidents in the Avon and Somerset Constabulary area, of which 19 per cent of victims were male and 81 per cent were female.
Police Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Roberts, who is in charge of the force's response to domestic violence, said: “Our officers attend more than 180 domestic violence incidents a week.
“We do everything in our power to encourage these victims to accept the support we and our partners can offer and work with us to ensure the person subjecting them to violence or emotional abuse is brought to justice.
“Anybody can experience domestic violence, and it can happen in all kinds of relationships regardless of social group, class, age, race, or sexuality.
“The violence can take many forms from physical assault and sexual abuse to psychological abuse such as threats and criticism, or financial abuse.
“We know that there are many more women and men suffering at the hands of abusive partners or relatives who, for whatever reason, do not feel they can come forward.
“Our plea to them is to have the courage to take that first step, either by contacting the police direct, or seeking the advice and support of one of our partner agencies, and trust us to help them turn their lives around.”
To mark the week, police officers throughout the force will be wearing a white ribbon (pictured) to promote awareness of domestic violence and encourage people never to commit, condone, or remain silent about the crime.
ACC Roberts said: “While still supporting the victims of domestic violence 100 per cent, we are now much more focused on investigating the offence and getting the offenders charged and held to account for their actions.
“Positive action, taken early on, can save endless suffering and abuse and I believe in some cases can prevent what may otherwise lead to domestic murders.”
Avon and Somerset Police now has three specialist domestic violence courts located in Bridgwater, Yeovil, and South Gloucestershire.
The first, launched in Bridgwater in 2005, has already seen a 10 per cent increase in the number of offenders convicted, while the number of cases collapsing has reduced by half.
The specialist courts focus on bringing trials to a successful conclusion through providing a less traumatic experience for victims.
The magistrates and staff are trained especially to deal with domestic violence cases and the courts have separate entrances for victims and offenders and are policed by uniformed officers to increase victims’ feelings of safety.
IDVAs are now in the Somerset West police district, which takes in West Somerset, Taunton Deane, and Sedgemoor, as well as other parts of the force area.
They are totally independent, specialist professionals who work closely with victims to keep them and their families safe.
They offer professional advice on all aspects of victims’ lives, from safety planning and housing or benefits arrangements, to child protection issues and guidance on the criminal justice system.
The work of IDVAs nationally has been shown to decrease victimisation, increase notification of children at risk, and increase the number of victims willing to support a prosecution.
ACC Roberts said: “There is such a wide range of expert support out there to help victims with every aspect of their lives.
“We need victims to be aware of this so they have the confidence and courage to come forward so we can work together to end the suffering they and their families endure.”
Next May will also see the launch of Somerset’s first sexual assault referral centre, which will be located in Bristol.
The centre is designed to improve the willingness of victims to report incidents of sexual assault and rape, and the number of offenders caught and convicted, by combining skills and competence through the support of experts ranging from medical staff and police officers to counsellors.
Events and activities are taking place across Somerset during Domestic Abuse Awareness Week, organised by district domestic abuse forums.
In West Somerset, parish councils are being sent posters and leaflets to put on display to promote the week. For more information call 01984 635115.
In Sedgemoor, information displays will be mounted around the district, including Bridgwater Library and Bridgwater Arts Centre, by the Sedgemoor Survivors Group, The Daffodils, and the Safer Sedgemoor Partnership.
On Tuesday, November 27, supporters will release balloons acknowledging the victims of domestic abuse.
The public can show their support by joining them in Angel Place, Bridgwater, and at Bridgwater College. For more information call 01278 435216.
In Taunton Deane, an information stand will be at the ASDA supermarket all week and staffed between 8.30 am and 5.30 pm on the Tuesday, offering advice and literature. For more information call 01823 352247.
A 24-hour, free-of-charge national domestic violence helpline is available on 0808 2000 247. The national Men’s Advice Line is 0808 801 0327.

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