TO MARK Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Advertiser is running a series of four articles examining an issue which a Croydon police chief recently branded 'an epidemic'. TOM MATTHEWS begins by examining the borough's DV statistics...
IT CAN be a devastating crime, leaving victims fearful of those they love and even stripping them of a safe home and without somewhere safe, even in their own homes.
While many other types of crime in Croydon have fallen over the last two years, there has been a sharp rise in domestic violence.
In July, both council leader Tony Newman and borough commander Andy Tarrant singled out the issue as one that requires special attention, from both the Metropolitan Police and the council.
In September last year, former borough commander David Musker said domestic violence was at "epidemic" levels – and it has risen since, according to the latest crime stats. The figures show that 3,095 domestic crimes took place in the 12 months up to August, a rise of 23 per cent rise on the year before. previous period.
According to estimates in a recent report by Croydon's Health and Wellbeing Board published earlier this year, there are around 22,500 victims of domestic violence a year.
The report concluded there was "massive under-reporting" in the borough, and Detective Chief Inspector Sian Thomas, who leads the Met's Croydon community safety unit,, tasked with dealing with domestic crime, agrees. "Even though there has been a rise, I would still suggest that it's massively under-reported, as is any crime type where victims are vulnerable and feel nervous coming to us," she said.
"The rise in the stats is hopefully a sign that there is more confidence in being able to come and speak to us. At least the rise means more people are coming forward and receiving help."
DCI Thomas said there was a wide range of reasons why sufferers of domestic violence or abuse are reluctant to seek help.
She said: "Often you're talking about a family member, very often someone you live with, very often you have financial reliance upon them. You may have children together, there may be a feeling of embarrassment, of vulnerability, the thought that if you come in and make that report your life may change forever.
"It may be due to the nature of the relationship, it's very often very coercive, very controlling, and very often people feel that they just can't make that decision to ask for help. And so part of the work that we're trying to do is to give people that bit of confidence for to come forward and ask for assistance, because it is a big decision to come and say 'I need your help'."
DCI Thomas added that over last two years there has been a change in how the problem is approached by police and other bodies.
Rather than take an individual approach, organisations now aim to work in conjunction with other agencies, such as through the Safer Croydon Partnership. Such work allows the police to refer people to the appropriate services where criminal action may not be appropriate.
DCI Thomas said: "A positive intervention in a case of domestic abuse doesn't always mean a positive conviction, because different people need different interventions. Prosecutions in court are always what we want where there has been a crime, but in many cases, intervention, like a referral to the Family Justice Centre (FJC) where someone can help, is what we need to look at."
The approach has seen a large rise in the number of people using the FJC. Just two years ago, the centre averaged around 12 visitors a week. Advocates based there now see around twice that figure every day.
Asked how she will know if the approach is working, DCI Thomas said it won't be a fall in the figures.
"I'd be more worried if there was a massive decrease, because we would know, as all the research shows, that it is still going on. One of the things we look with these sorts of cases are repeat offenders, who work and try to successfully break that cycle.
"Another thing is simply the number of referrals to the FJC. Also, simply the feedback we get from victims if they say we've made a positive difference in their lives."
IN 2013/14, 68 people from Broad Green sought help at the Family Justice centre for domestic abuse or sexual violence for the first time, more than in any other ward.
In the same year overall, 2,159 people used services at Croydon's Family Justice Centre.
In the year to August 2014, police recorded 3,095 domestic crimes, up 22.5% from the previous year, compared to a rise of 19% across the Met as a whole.
The majority of victims are aged 40 and under. 92% of those seeking help at the Family Justice Centre were women, while 88% of recorded perpetrators were male. When it comes to sexuality, 98% of people using the FJC identified at heterosexual, with the other 2% saying they identified as homosexual or bisexual.
A report by Croydon Health and Wellbeing Board estimated the issue costs the borough £37 million, with £65 million in human and emotional costs.
'Body cameras will help police make more progress'
WHEN police officers in Croydon began attaching video cameras to their uniforms in August, it was hailed by borough commander Andy Tarrant as something which could help deal with domestic violence cases.
A couple of months on, DCI Sian Thomas says it's already had an impact. "We've had some really positive cases where the officers first turn up and the video is there to film that scene which makes much more of an impact then a couple of days later when you got to CPS or the court because its captured."
She added the evidence could prove especially useful in cases where victims were unwilling or unlikely to assist police in a prosecution.
"I've no doubt over the next few months to a year, when every officer has them, that we'll be able to use them in victimless prosecutions and say, this is what we actually turned up to."