‘We were on our honeymoon when he first attacked me’ - domestic abuse reports in Suffolk soar
- Credit: Laura Dodsworth
Victims of domestic abuse are being turned away from shelters in Suffolk because of a surge in demand.
The refuges, for women who are fleeing abusive partners, have had funding cut at the same time the number of women seeking their help soars.
By every measure, reports of domestic violence in the county are increasing.
Charity Lighthouse Women’s Aid, which helps victims of domestic abuse, has seen the number of people coming to its centre in Ipswich grow from 400 in 2012 to 1,000 now.
Suffolk had the highest proportion of people experiencing domestic abuse in the country from 2013 to 2016, according to the Office of National Statistics. That included men and women.
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Reports to Suffolk police about domestic abuse have also increased by a quarter since 2013. It had 9,600 reports last year – more than one every hour.
But while the numbers have rocketed, council funding for refuges for women fleeing abusers has been cut.
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Suffolk County Council reduced its spending on women’s refuges by a quarter last year to £348,000, according to a Freedom of Information request by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Some of the funding cuts have been made up for by Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore putting more money into domestic abuse services.
Mr Passmore described it as a “barbaric crime”.
He added he was “horrified” at the way funding has been cut generally, but he said his office had put £150,000 this year in to supporting the county’s three women’s refugees in Lowestoft, Bury and Ipswich.
Suffolk councils were also awarded £500,000 by the government this year to fund more services for the next two years, meaning, the county council said, there should not be a loss in any services.
The council’s cabinet member for health, Tony Goldson said: “In the past these services may have been solely paid for by the council but this is not the case anymore as we work with charities and other funding partners to cover the cost of these services.
“There is no reduction in the level of service we provide, despite the perception that there may be if you simply look at these figures in isolation.”
But in a response to a survey from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, one refuge manager in Suffolk, said cuts from central and local government had meant their specialist services had been reduced.
Their budget had been slashed by 21pc in seven years and women had to be turned away because they didn’t have enough space at the refuge.
Meanwhile, Sally Winston, chief executive of charity Lighthouse, said their refugee was full most of the time.
They had a funding cut of 35pc from the Suffolk County Council from 2014 to 2016, meaning they had to close one refuge of eight beds but kept their larger one.
They have also run out of room at times for women fleeing abusers, meaning there is no space for those arriving and they have to find help for them at other shelters or in other accommodation. It is a picture repeated across the country.
Detective Superintendent Eamonn Bridger, from Suffolk Police, said work was being done across different groups in the county to tackle domestic abuse.
He put the rise in calls about domestic abuse to police down to people being more willing to come forward.
“Society is less accepting of behind-closed-doors crimes going unreported,” he said.
Changes in legislation have also helped police pursue cases. A new law was introduced in 2015 to prosecute those controlling or coercing their partners. That can come in the form of taking control of their bank accounts, stopping them seeing their friends, or dictating what they eat and wear.
Det Supt Bridger said the police were putting more resources into domestic abuse and sexual offences than ever before.
But despite the rise in reports about domestic abuse, the number of people being charged with an offence is not increasing.
Det Supt Bridger said this was because investigating the crimes was a “complex area” and not all victims wanted to go through with a charge.
Instead victims are given the support they need, he said. “We make sure the voice of the victim is at the forefront of decision making,” he added. “We’ve got really good support from the charitable sector (in Suffolk).”
•£500,000 to tackle domestic abuse
An extra £500,000 of funding will mean women fleeing domestic abuse in Suffolk are less likely to be turned away from the county’s packed shelters.
Suffolk County Council, backed by the district and borough councils, won £516,000 of funding from the government for two years to get more space in shelters for 69 women, particularly for those who can’t currently be housed.
They will also have specialist support workers and there will be more help for migrant women fleeing abusers.
In the application for the cash from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the county council said ethnic minority women “are especially vulnerable and become trapped in abusive relationships due to their limited English language skills, a lack of knowledge they have about the UK, no recourse to public funds, financial dependency upon male intimate partners and family members”.
There are refuges for women in Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich.
Sally Winston, chief executive of Suffolk domestic abuse charity Lighthouse, said in her eight years in the role domestic abuse was being better recognised by councils.
“The funding challenges are around sustainability of services,” she said.
Suffolk County Council currently funds refuge services but it is reviewing funding across the board.
“Our contract with them for the refuge only runs until September next year,” she said.
“We manage on a shoestring and manage to run the service but everything could change and this is where our concerns really lie.”
As well as Suffolk County Council, the Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore also funds services.
His office put £544,000 last year into funding domestic violence advisors provided by Lighthouse which support victims.
Another £60,350 was put into training 800 frontline police officers to better spot signs of domestic violence, including emotional abuse.
Mr Passmore said: “It affects all levels of society. The more I get to know about it the more I realise how prevalent it is.”
•If you need to talk to someone about domestic abuse contact Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247 or Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327
•If you are in danger call 999