New domestic abuse strategy for Northamptonshire as incidents make up a third of county's violent crime

Latest figures show that children were present in 90 percent of domestic abuse incidents recorded in the county.
Latest figures show that children were present in 90 percent of domestic abuse incidents recorded in the county.

More than a third of all violent crime happening in Northamptonshire is domestic abuse-related.

In a bid to tackle the problem a new domestic abuse strategy is being developed that will pull together a large number of public agencies including the police, who have a statutory duty to protect domestic abuse victims from harm.

The draft document outlines some shocking statistics including that a child was present in 90 per cent of the 16,139 incidents recorded in Northamptonshire in the 12 months up to September 2018.

The report says there has been a growing trend of repeat victimisation within the past year, with repeat victims predominantly white females aged between 25 and 34.

Analysis from May this year found that 36 per cent of all recorded violent crimes were domestic abuse incidents.

In August 822 domestic abuse incidents were reported to Northamptonshire police by men and women abused by someone they were living with.

The strategy, which will be discussed at Thursday’s (Oct 10) police and crime panel meeting, says domestic abuse is a ‘major concern’ in the county and there has been an increasing trend in repeat victimisation in the past 12 months.

The strategy says it will: “bring together the efforts of statutory, non-statutory and specialist agencies in the county under one framework enabling access to specialist support, greater accountability and the opportunity to join together efforts to educate and support Northamptonshire residents to be free of fear. It will look to enable the delivery of the new powers set out in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill published in January 2019, designed to offer greater support to victims and their families and deal more swiftly with offenders.”

The strategy will look at commissioning new services and aim to raise awareness so that more agencies become actively involved in protecting domestic abuse victims.

However, it comes at a time when funding is being pulled from domestic abuse charities and organisations in the county.

Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Services (NDAS) saw its £200,000 annual grant from Northamptonshire County Council end in April and now receives just £35,000 local funding from Northampton Borough Council and East Northamptonshire Council to help pay for its refuges.

The other Northamptonshire local authorities do not fund the service and NDAS does not receive any police funding and is relying on its charitable reserves to keep its six refuges across the county running. Last year it spent £250,000 from reserves to keep its core services operating.

Chief executive Rachel Duncan is hopeful the new strategy can have an impact but said it has been a long time coming.

She said: “We have had an input into the strategy and are hopeful that it will work, but it has been a long time coming as we have been waiting for about 14 months.

“We don’t seem to be able to access local funding at the moment, which is a bit of a nightmare and long term it is not sustainable. We are relying on our reserves and the local funding we receive covers the cost of about one full-time member of staff.

“The sector is becoming leaner and all providers are having to look at alternative ways to fund services, which then means so much effort is being spent trying to find funding from other sources which can impact on the time given for services.

“The average client stays with us for six months, but we have had one woman with us for 18 months with a six-year-old child. She was ready to move on but we could not get her housed because of the lack of accommodation available.”

She added: “What we want to do is get to a position where we are more self-sufficient and we have ambitious plans to do that.”

Public Health, which sits within Northamptonshire County Council, does fund a specific drug and alcohol programme run by NDAS.

The police and crime commissioner’s office funds the victim support service Voice which earlier this month announced it would be incorporating domestic abuse specialist The Sunflower Centre into its structure, with staff transferring to Voice.

The recent PEEL report into Northamptonshire Police despite being critical in a number of areas was complimentary of the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) which has regular meetings about local domestic abuse issues.

Northamptonshire Police is also currently piloting a scheme called the Preventing Intimate Partners Abuse (PIPA) which gives conditional cautions to ‘low harm’ offenders who must agree to a series of sessions to help them understand and change their behaviour.

The issue of domestic abuse is also rising up the national agenda with the second reading of the domestic abuse Bill going through Parliament.

The Bill will give the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse and introduce measures such as banning abusers from cross-examining their victims in court and launching new protection orders to restrict abusers.