Vital support services funded by Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Lord Willy Bach are helping to turn around the lives of victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
As the 16 Day of Action against Domestic Violence draws to a close, Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Lord Willy Bach looks at how his office has helped to tackle the problem, especially since the onset of the pandemic.
He secured more than £700k in funding from the Home Office and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) this year to help support charities step up their services to meet demand during the pandemic. In addition, he has also allocated almost £104k from his own funds to expand service capacity and ensure specialist recovery services are available for vulnerable men and women who need them during 2020-21.
Victim First, the PCC’s core service for victims of crime which is run by charity Catch 22, has seen demand from victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence spiral since the start of the health crisis, with victims forced to spend more time at home alone with their abusers.
Among the brave victims it has supported since August is a woman who had been repeatedly raped by her partner over a significant time-period, causing her extensive physical injuries which required surgery.
The woman was physically and mentally traumatised by her experiences and had developed self-harming behaviours, depression, anxiety and difficulties coping with day-to-day activities including taking medication and managing her diet.
After being referred to a mental health nurse and receiving phone-based counselling, the woman has now relocated to a new area in a secure property with her emotional support dog and other pets to assist her mental health needs. She continues to receive counselling and uses the tools she has learnt to help manage anxiety and stress.
Willy Bach said: “Abuse of any kind leaves deep emotional scars whether it is psychological, physical or sexual and unravelling and healing from these wounds is a long and immensely difficult process.
“It is absolutely critical there are people there, when needed, to help victims take those initial steps to freedom and by freedom I mean not only escaping a violent partner but also freedom from their emotional distress and trauma.
“The pandemic has exacerbated existing abuse and sexual violence and created more opportunities for perpetrators to control their victims. Many survivors are coming forward for the first time and the help they receive from these funded organisations can mean the difference between life and death.
“Support providers are continually developing and adapting their services to reach victims and survivors throughout the health crisis. Supporting these individuals and their families is a priority and I will continue to fight for the funding and resources necessary to aid their recovery.”
Through the PCC’s funding, organisations have developed new ‘online’ platforms of support and engagement to ensure survivors and victims can continue to access emotional and practical help despite the national restrictions.
Earlier this year, Victim First launched a new online counselling and wellbeing service for adults in direct response to rising demand in the pandemic.
The service, provided by XenZone, a leading UK provider of digital mental health services, has seen referrals grow from 15 in August to 26 in November while demand for its support service for young people has also increased month on month.
Catch 22’s Head of Service Manjeeta Sunnar said the support from the PCC had been immensely important this year.
“Throughout the year, our numbers have been steadily increasing,” she said.
“We received funding earlier this year from the PCC to offer additional online counselling, specifically for domestic violence victims.
“Since that launched in August 2020, our referral numbers for online support have been steadily increasing by more than 30% each month. This is huge and, in order to respond appropriately, we must acknowledge that not every victim wants to receive support in the same way. For those who have taken the brave step to seek help, Catch22 wants to ensure all its victim services, including Victim First, are adapted to meet their needs.
“For Leicestershire’s victims of domestic and sexual violence, this online counselling can feel like a more discreet method, particularly for those who otherwise wouldn’t pick up the phone. We are so glad that we are able to offer this, meeting the concerning demand, while also still providing other one-to-one support as needed.”
Pamela Richardson, CEO of Women’s Aid Leicestershire, added: “Women’s Aid Leicestershire Ltd (WALL) is very grateful for the generous funding awarded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and on behalf of the many victims we support we wish to say thank you.
“Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. One in four women and one in six men will be affected in their lifetime, with on average two women being murdered each week.
“The COVID pandemic has escalated abuse and closed down routes to safety for victims to escape. Our services and support are more important than ever and this funding has allowed us to reach out to more victims to offer support and send out a message that they are not alone. We are here for them.”
The PCC funds a wide range of organisations working to help and protect victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence across the city and county.
One of these is charity Freeva, a service providing advice to women who have experienced rape or sexual assault and support through Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) who are trained to deliver independent, practical and emotional support to victims.
The charity operates a freephone helpline for members of the public who are or have experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence as well as a perpetrator service that provides interventions designed to stop people using abusive behaviour towards a partner and others.
Since the onset of Covid-19, the PCC has invested an additional £49,000 to help the organisation respond to rising demand for help including an additional telephone and IT infrastructure to facilitate home-working.
Freeva Service Manager Claire Weddle said “We offer a free, confidential helpline service from 8am to 8pm six days a week. We aim to ensure that victims of violence and abuse can engage quickly and effectively with support services. Offering an empathetic, non-judgemental response during the first call is vital.
“The OPCC funding enabled us to flex our operation in the face of the Covid challenge and maintain the service without interruption. There has been a marked change in needs since the spring. Many victims have been isolated with the perpetrator at home; they have been unable to communicate freely with our advisors.
“The additional equipment funded by the OPCC has helped us to react quickly to these changed circumstances and provide support to over 3,000 callers.”
Another organisation to receive PCC funding is Leicester-based charity New Dawn New Day which provides trauma-informed support for vulnerable women who have experienced sexual violence or domestic abuse.
So far this year, the service has supported more than 50 vulnerable women and the number is anticipated to grow further when social distancing restrictions ease.
Sara Swire, chief executive of New Dawn New Day, said: “Covid-19 had a significant impact on the way we work. We made a rapid switch to small online therapeutic groups, and I’m proud of the way that our team stepped up.
“I worry about the longer-term impact of the pandemic on vulnerable women, particularly those with fragile mental health as a consequence of poverty and abuse. OPCC funding has helped us to reconfigure our services. We are ready for the reopening of our premises once the health crisis has passed.
“Social contact is central to the recovery process. We’ve used the funds to maximise our capacity and capability to deliver a blended service. We purchased new teleconferencing equipment and furniture. We’ve also installed a smart entry phone system that will bring better protection to our clients and allow our staff to work more flexibly.”
Media Enquiries: Sallie Blair - 01283 821012 / 07702 541401
Posted on Thursday 10th December 2020