‘If I can’t have you, nobody will’ : Meet the workers who help Northamptonshire domestic abuse victims

DART officer, Chloe Hegarty-Boatman with the Sunflower Centre team, who have outreach teams across Northamptonshire.
DART officer, Chloe Hegarty-Boatman with the Sunflower Centre team, who have outreach teams across Northamptonshire.

“It was a long case of mental and physical abuse, we are talking bruises, concussions and incidents that involved medical treatments and they were extremely serious."

This is just one case police officer Chloe Hegarty-Boatman, domestic abuse response officer (DART) for Northamptonshire Police, has had to deal with.

"Sometimes the perpetrators are the abusers, but on the other hand, after that has taken place and there are physical injuries, they also become the carer and the victim becomes dependent on the carer to go out because they are afraid or scared.

"One woman said to me ‘I was ashamed to go out'. I said, 'there's no shame, you are a vulnerable victim'. But these perpetrators act like the carer, they’ll go out, they’ll get the plasters and the medication and they’ll come back and care for that person and rebuild that trust and it will start again. It’s very much a cycle of abuse."

Figures from Northamptonshire Police show that between December 2016 and February 2017 there were 1,792 domestic abuse crimes and 21.2 per cent of domestic abuse incidents were alcohol-related.

And incidents reported while children were present reached 26.1 per cent. Chloe says that in her experience, this particular figure is very true and she has found herself checking on children's welfare while safeguarding vulnerable adults; whether the child's home is dirty, or even if there's a lack of food or toys in the house.

Stephanie said that she has seen a rise in cyber stalking in recent years as well as revenge porn, which is revealing sexually explicit images of an ex-partner posted on the internet.

She has also dealt with incidents where a former partner has planted tracking devices on an ex's car and knows of perpetrators who have planted listening devices - disguised like a plug adapter- in their ex-partner's home if they have had a chance to pop in to visit their children.

From her experience, she believes women are more likely to be victims because they naturally "want to be loved. It's a grooming process, some women can stay longer because they give some men another chance. It's the hardest thing for a victim to understand that it's not about love, it's about power and control."

On average victims experience 50 incidents of domestic abuse before getting effective help and most victims, 85 per cent, see on average five professionals in the year before they finally get effective support.

Following a rubber-stamp on new legislation regarding controlling or coercive behaviour, Chloe said it has given police more powers to prosecute.

Referring to the guidelines, Chloe explained what the charge means. She said: “It’s not only who the perpetrators' abuse, but it’s the dangerous pattern of behaviour. It seeks to take their liberty and freedom to strip them away from their sense of self.

"Controlling is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate or dependent on them and coercive is a pattern of acts which is used to harm or frighten the victim, involving humiliation and threats."

Domestic abuse respects few boundaries and age is no exception. The youngest victim Chloe has helped is a 16-year-old girl, the oldest a women in her seventies.

Stephanie Challis, a senior independent domestic violence advisor for the Northamptonshire Sunflower Centre said her cases are surprisingly wide-ranging : "When people get older they become victims of different kinds of domestic abuse. The story which stuck in my mind is the woman who told me, ‘He used to assault me, now he controls my medication’.

"It can alter over time a bit. I worked with a 76-year-old lady, who had been married for over 40 years and she had a child who emigrated. The physical violence had stopped some years ago, but on this particular occasion, he pushed her and she fell over a piece of furniture and broke her wrist, but she’s 76 so she’s frailer than 30 years ago.

"He stepped over her and left her. She went to bed, and managed to get herself in her bedroom and had a prearranged phone call with her child. She said 'I think I’m hurt'. The child rang the police. I picked up the phone that day and spoke to the child.

"I visited her in the hospital and asked 'what are we going to do', she said 'we can’t go back now', just really matter of fact. I got her a visa so she could live with her daughter. She died last year of cancer, but she lived those years happy."

All crimes should be reported to 101 or 999. For help and support contact: The Sunflower Centre – 01604 888211 (high risk only), Voice – 0300 303 1965 (standard and medium risk), Northampton Women’s Aid – 0845 123 2311 or Eve – 01604 230311.