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White Ribbon Day 2002

“Stepping forward across Sussex”
Pan Sussex Multi-Agency Domestic Violence Reception
25 November 2002

Today is a day when we remember the problems of domestic violence.  The two women a week who are murdered by their partners or ex-partners.  The fact that there is a call to the police every so many seconds.  These horrifying statistics remain to spur us on.

There are particular messages for us in the South East.  We may have felt relatively smug about the position of this region.  The number of recorded crimes of domestic violence have, after all, historically been much higher in the North than here.

Until this year that is, when for the first time we had regional figures from the British Crime Survey.  This does not rely on whether an offence has been reported to the police. Table 6.06, Crime in England and Wales 2001/2002, shows that, whilst the North East and the North West have 92 and 97 acts of domestic violence per 10,000 adults, and London has 174, the South East has an astonishing 296.

This region is by far and away the national centre for domestic violence.  This is the most privileged part of England. It is disgraceful that it is here that women are abused most.

But today is also a day of hope, when we reflect on what has been achieved and what is being achieved.  Ministers across several Government departments are leading a number of initiatives on domestic violence:

  • To increase safe accommodation choices for women and children, particularly through Supporting People which takes effect from next April.
  • To develop better healthcare interventions.  There’s some exciting A&E work.
  • To improve the interface between the criminal and civil law, particularly following the Gina McCarthy case. The harm a child may suffer as a result of witnessing the ill-treatment of another person is now recognised in law and that may be crucial, for instance, in custody proceedings.
  • To ensure a more consistent approach across the country by the police and the CPS, with the promotion of a pro-arrest policy; clearer, stronger prosecuting guidelines.  The Government is consulting on proposals for anonymity for victims in court; strengthening non-molestation orders; and putting murder reviews on a statutory footing.
  • To promote awareness and education.  The Home Office has funded 48 violence against women projects which are currently being evaluated.

All this is to the good and this is work which is actively engaging the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Department of Health, the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the Home Office in working together and that’s welcome.

And in Sussex we have, of course, the pioneering work of the Anti-Victimisation Initiative in Brighton.  This project was never going to be without problems but, as it develops and becomes mainstreamed into Brighton & Hove, it may well become an example of how to make public access available to all victims of personal violence.

Like everyone here, I would like there to be no slackening of the effort over the coming year.  There are three things which would have significant impact:

  1. First, I want us to find more ways of exposing domestic violence.  This year has seen astonishing revelations of serial domestic violence by famous people like George Carman and John Junor, exposed in courageous biographies by their children. And one of Myra Hindley’s more commendable acts was to cling to her father’s leg begging him not to hit her mother: what a trail of destruction that man contributed to!

    I am sure that if more domestic violence were in the open, then more would stop. That is why the pro-arrest policy is so right.  That is why it is wholly worthwhile giving abusers a formal police warning – known technically as a caution. Cautions are known to reduce offending. How I wish George Carman QC had been given a caution!  What thundering editorial would John Junor have given the readers of the Express the day after he had been cautioned as a violent offender? We need this business out in the open.

    Home should be a place of safety.  Violence in the home involves a shameful breach of trust.  This should cause all of us to see it as that much more serious and that much more damaging than many other forms of violence.  We have to get that message across.

  2. Secondly, we must generate a much greater awareness of the real danger that a woman is in when she decides to leave an abusive partnership. I want everyone to recognise that that is so often the moment when women are killed.  I want that awareness first and foremost amongst those who are being abused so that they lay their plans for a safe exit long before they tell their abuser that they are ending the relationship.  I want that awareness amongst parents, relatives and friends; amongst helping professions, including healthcare, legal, educational and the police – anyone who may be giving help or advice. That would prevent so much serious harm.
  3. Thirdly, I would like to get some of the best work here in the South East recognised. A high proportion of crime and disorder partnerships in the South East have domestic violence high on their priorities. Some of you will know that this year we had a regional competition for the best crime and disorder strategy (won by Portsmouth) and the best drugs plan (won by Medway).

    Today I am announcing that there will be a £2000 award next year to recognise and celebrate the most significant contribution to reducing domestic violence in the South East. This award can be for individuals, organisations, or public bodies.  The details are on these sheets. The closing date is 1 October 2003 – so we will be able to congratulate the winner on White Ribbon Day next year.

I come from the position that domestic violence, like all crime, can be tackled only by active co-operation and information sharing between partners across criminal justice, health, education, housing, social services and the voluntary sector.  Real co-operation.  Sometimes difficult co-operation.

The necessary goodwill and trust should exist in Sussex to make that co-operation a reality.  I can celebrate that and am delighted to be here tonight to pay tribute to it and wish you well.

Address given by Hugh Marriage OBE
Crime Reduction Director, Government Office for the South East