Posted on 5th November 2018
By Steve Tucker and Mary Morrissey
Article published in The MJ, October 2018
The figures for those experiencing domestic abuse are shocking enough. Around 1.9 million people in England and Wales aged between 16 and 59 years old experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2017.
In the London borough of Sutton, domestic violence accounted for 38% of incidents of violence with injury in 2017. Yet the number of people experiencing domestic abuse is undoubtedly much higher. It is often a hidden crime that goes unreported. In Sutton, we want people affected by domestic abuse to feel empowered to come forward early, knowing there is safe and effective support in place. Perpetrators need to be held to account, but also supported to make lasting change.
Last year we launched the Sutton Plan, bringing together the council, our public sector partners, businesses and the voluntary and community sector as we believe local collaboration is vital as all of us work within reduced budgets. One of the top priorities for the Sutton Plan is to tackle persistent domestic violence and abuse, so we launched the domestic abuse transformation programme, a partnership involving Sutton Council, Sutton Housing Partnership (the council’s arm’s-length housing management provider), the NHS, police, schools, the London Fire Brigade and the voluntary sector.
Between 2017/20 £1.25m is being invested by Sutton Council to improve services relating to domestic abuse, including early intervention and prevention initiatives. The aim is to significantly reduce levels of domestic abuse in Sutton in the long-term and ensure that the voices of those affected by domestic abuse are heard in the planning and delivery of local services.
An example from housing
All key partners are supporting this campaign. Key frontline staff from across all partners speak to residents every day, often visiting them in their homes. This privileged access can enable early identification of signs of abuse, which are often not obvious. That is why we are training our frontline staff to identify and respond to things which may indicate abuse may be happening. For example, at Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP), where there are repeat complaints of anti-social behaviour relating to noise nuisance and domestic arguments, housing managers will respond sensitively by raising concerns with potential victims in a safe environment, away from the home.
At SHP we are also working to identify patterns which might indicate abuse. For example, if we keep being asked to replace locks on bathroom doors, could this mean someone is locking themselves in for protection? Identifying patterns like this will help us spot abuse more quickly and help victims to get the support they need.
Working in partnership, we are identifying and mitigating risk and ensuring victims are supported to remain in their homes – with additional security measures if needed. We will also work with perpetrators by referring them to a support programme to change negative cycles of behaviour.
A specific example of the work we are doing is the setting up of a domestic abuse housing operational group, to share knowledge across all housing professionals in the borough and cascade best practice. With support from the nationally-recognised Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA), we will ensure a consistent and effective housing response to domestic abuse in Sutton – with SHP and other housing providers working towards DAHA accreditation in the near future. We recently welcomed Alison Inman, president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, to the group’s first meeting and are supporting the Make A Stand campaign alongside more than 200 other organisations in the UK housing sector.
Raising awareness within the partnership
As part of the domestic abuse transformation programme, we surveyed 270 Sutton residents in December 2017, which revealed that more than half would not know where to go if they needed help and a similar number would be reluctant to reach out through fear of making things worse. We also recently conducted a survey among staff within the partner organisations to gauge the level of awareness of domestic abuse. This has given us further valuable insight into what needs to be done next.
We have launched an internal awareness campaign within partnership organisations, called Not Alone in Sutton. It provides a communications toolkit for staff to raise awareness of the issues and the assistance already available and includes a specially filmed interview with a survivor of domestic abuse which movingly highlights the ongoing personal costs of this devastating crime. We will be launching a large-scale external campaign next year.
Over the next two years, we will continue to work together with our Sutton Plan partners to deliver our joint domestic abuse strategy. In line with the model now being piloted in the housing sector, we will work collaboratively with colleagues across all sectors – from education, to health, to criminal justice – to develop, share and standardise best practice and ensure that together we are meeting the needs of victims, survivors and their children. In line with aims of the Sutton Plan, we want to break down organisational boundaries and work together to put our residents first – making Sutton a safer place for everyone.
Mary Morrissey is strategic director at Sutton LBC and Steve Tucker is managing director of Sutton Housing Partnership