Domestic violence is not a heart warming issue to read about. But this post attempts find some “good news” at a time when we could all use something to smile about. There has been a 25% increase in domestic violence related calls due to lockdowns for coronavirus. Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, reported a 700% spike in calls to its helpline in a single day. So now is the time to look at better solutions for how to handle domestic violence that prioritises the victims. So here goes, some good news about domestic violence.
I recently read an article about an innovation that shocked me in its simplicity, logic and effectiveness in solving a known problem. This post is not about the latest tech giant, challenger bank or funky new startup. This is about a student on work placement, and a Detective Inspector in Cheshire, who decided to try something new.
Understanding the Problem of Domestic Violence
I’m sure we’ve all heard the statistics on domestic violence – and they’re chilling. According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the year to March 2019, 2.4 million adults in England and Wales were victims of domestic violence. This represents 786,000 men and 1.6 million women. This is likely an under-estimate, but due to chronic under-reporting, it’s hard to say what the real numbers are. Women killed due to domestic violence is at a five-year high, with an average of two women killed every week. And that was before the coronavirus lockdown.
Everyone has heard a version of this story. The victim may have been suffering from violence and abuse for years. The police may have been aware of the family. The abuse may have been hidden from friends and family. The victim may have been isolated. And even when the victim calls the police, they may not press charges and may even withdraw statements. So things continue to escalate until the worst occurs. We can throw up our hands at the rates of call outs where the victim doesn’t press charges, or where the victim doesn’t seek help from the police at all. But two people recently found a way to change this problem. By (drum roll…) thinking about the victim.
A Simple Solution That Prioritises the Victim
What happens when a victim calls the police about her abuser? The police come to their home, and take the abuser away for a few hours. When they come back (importantly: hours later), she (statistically about twice as many victims are women) has been left to her own devices to think about what to do. Generally, she has made up her mind not to press charges.
So what to do about this? Simple. Have someone turn up when the police are called, who is there for the victim. The police take the abuser off, and someone stays to support the victim; to help them talk through their options, to understand their problem and talk to them about it.
Sounds crazy, right? Make sure the victim knows they have options? Help them see pressing charges not as something to fear, but as a way out? Help the victim? Insanity!
This solution was proposed by Detective Inspector Claire Jesson of Cheshire Police and a student from Cheshire University working with her on placement. It then became a pilot program in Crewe that successfully increased the number of cases resulting in a charge or resolution. It also reduced the average investigation time by more than 30%! That is, saving significant police resources. You can read more about this here.
It turns out Claire Jesson is not a one-hit wonder either. She has also set up a specialist “Exploitation Unit” for victims of exploitation including those forced into modern slavery, drug trafficking and the sex trade. Read more here. Turns out, thinking about the victims of crime – particularly those who are especially vulnerable – makes for more effective policing. It’s not exciting car chases or dramatic shoot-outs. It’s thinking about humans, their needs and psychology. And it’s brilliant in its simplicity and effectiveness.
Some Good News
Having read about this, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate a woman innovating to help save lives. And in an area not typically known for innovation (or for being particularly female-friendly). But this is also, for me, another in a long list of examples of problems that disproportionally affect women. Problems that are generally seen as too “complicated” or “irrational” (read: female) to solve. If you haven’t read Invisible Women (read: shameless plug for a brilliant piece of work by Caroline Criado Perez), go and buy a copy immediately. You can learn a lot more about the implications of a world not designed for half the population.
But this example also shows how, by thinking about the person most affected, by taking time to understand the problem (instead of literal victim-blaming), and by designing a solution for that, lives can be changed – and in the case of Jesson’s solution, saved. It’s also worthy of note that having more diversity in all areas of society (including female, queer and BAME perspectives), can help us find more effective solutions to problems and understand the problems more completely.
What can we do to help?
For those who are concerned about the safety of victims of domestic violence under lockdown, now seems like a good time for Government, MPs and our public services to be thinking more about solutions. Contact your MP. Contribute to a Domestic Violence charity like Refuge. And take a moment to think what a better place the world can be when people like Detective Inspector Claire Jesson have the resources and support to try something new to save lives.
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