'˜If I can't have you, nobody will' Meet the workers who help Northamptonshire domestic abuse victims

'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."

Tuesday, 4th April 2017, 8:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:11 pm
DART officer, Chloe Hegarty-Boatman with the Sunflower Centre team, who have outreach teams across Northamptonshire

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 is 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."

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Statistics for Northamptonshire Police show that between December 2016 and February 2017 there were 1792 domestic abuse crimes and 21.2 per cent of domestic abuse incidents were alcohol related.

Incidents reported while children were present reached 26.1 percent, and Chloe says this isn't uncommon as she has found herself checking on children's welfare while safeguarding vulnerable adults, and has taken the time to identify whether the child's home is dirty, or if there is a lack of food or toys in the house.

On asking whether she finds engaging with victims easier while wearing plain clothes, she said they see her as a person and not a uniform.

"I am an empathetic person, I have a lot of passion for this role and protecting victims of domestic violence and their children.

"My role being plain clothed works brilliantly because they almost forget what I do and it’s more of a friendly approach and they don’t always want officers in full uniform turning up at the door and in a marked car.

"It’s a very discrete approach, I’m not drawing attention to that family by attending on my own in a plain car."

The youngest victim, in terms of domestic violence, Chloe has helped is a 16-year-old girl, the oldest victims being women in their seventies.

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 most 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."

Chloe deals with hundreds of cases in Northampton ranging from standard risk, medium risk and high risk.

Victims are assessed by a 29-question 'domestic abuse risk assessment' and can be referred to the Sunflower Centre - a crisis intervention, risk assessment and individual safety planning support service - depending on how they rank according to the amount of 'yes' questions answered... 14 yes' justifies the case as high risk.

She is the only officer working with domestic abuse victims in the Northampton district but is supported by a multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) where she flags-up cases which need signposting to housing, Northampton Partnership Homes, the council, children's services, mental health services and Substance to Solution (S2S).

Some of her main roles are helping to take statements from victims, helping to find refuges, support domestic abuse witnesses in court, welfare checks in person and visiting perpetrators at home or on court bail.

Stephanie Challis, senior independent domestic violence advisor for the Northamptonshire Sunflower Centre said: "When people get older they become victims of different kinds of domestic abuse. The story which stuck in my mind is that ‘he used to assault me now he controls his medication’.

"It can alter 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."

Northamptonshire Police statistics show that there has been a 36.3 per cent arrest rate between December and February. Countywide statistics highlight that 73.6 percent of victims are women, 24.3 per cent are men and 2.1 per cent are 'gender non-stated victims'.

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' car and knows of perpetrators who have planted listening devices - disguised like a plug - in their ex-partners 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."

Nationally, each year Stephanie says around 2.1m people suffer some form of domestic abuse, this includes 1.4 million women (8.5 per cent of the population) and 700,000 men (4.5 per cent of the population). While 62 per cent of children living with domestic abuse are directly harmed by the perpetrator of the abuse, in addition to the harm caused by witnessing the abuse of others.

She adds on average victims experience 50 incidents of domestic abuse before getting effective help and most victims, 85 per cent, see on average 5 professionals in the year before they finally get effective support. This is information gathered by www.safelives.org.uk (2015).

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.