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Havering: Domestic violence cases double in five years prompting calls to stem tide of abuse

PUBLISHED: 12:57 27 October 2017

Havering Women's Aid CEO Vicki Nicholson says the charity is working hard to support victims of domestic abuse. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

Havering Women's Aid CEO Vicki Nicholson says the charity is working hard to support victims of domestic abuse. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

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Crime figures show a huge rise in domestic violence in Havering. Investigations journalist EMMA YOULE learns how Havering Women’s Aid and the council are trying to support women - and men - living with abusive partners as pressure on services grows

Victims of domestic violence are struggling to access services. Picture: Laura Dodsworth Victims of domestic violence are struggling to access services. Picture: Laura Dodsworth

Cases of domestic violence in Havering have almost doubled in five years - leading MPs to call for action to tackle the “pernicious” scourge of abuse.

Today a Recorder investigation, in partnership with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, can reveal soaring need has impacted on services for abuse victims in Havering.

Charities working with survivors in the borough say battered men and parents assaulted by their own children, who have historically not reported abuse, could account for some of the rise in crime figures.

Police data shows there were 2,283 domestic abuse offences in Havering in the last year, a rise of 82 per cent compared to 2012.

The number of high-risk domestic abuse victims contacting Havering Council for help has also doubled since 2010.

Romford MP Andrew Rosindell told the Recorder: “During MP surgeries I have seen the unbelievable damage caused to victims and the resulting family breakdown first-hand.

Havering Women's Aid launched a dedicated men's domestic abuse helpline in 2015 from its office in Hornchurch. Picture: Ellie Hoskins Havering Women's Aid launched a dedicated men's domestic abuse helpline in 2015 from its office in Hornchurch. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

“There is still more to be done following the increases in reporting, police referrals, prosecution and convictions.”

Support services in Havering are under pressure, with Solace Women’s Aid’s counselling sessions currently closed to new inquiries due to a waiting list of more than six months.

Our research found Havering Council’s funding for domestic violence refuges has fallen by 20 per cent since 2010, a trend echoed by the national figures which show funding reduced by a quarter over the same time frame.

But Havering Council said the drop in budget had been replaced by new funding streams for domestic abuse services from City Hall, resulting in an increase in provision.

The money has enabled the number of Independent Domestic Violence Advocates who provide advice in Havering to be increased by 3.5.

“I think we are one of the fortunate boroughs if anything,” said Vicki Nicholson, CEO of Havering Women’s Aid, adding that other local authorities have closed services.

The number of domestic violence cases handled by police in London has doubled in a decade. Picture: Laura Dodsworth The number of domestic violence cases handled by police in London has doubled in a decade. Picture: Laura Dodsworth

The women’s charity runs two domestic violence refuges in Havering providing 23 beds, as well as floating support, group workshops and one-to-one counselling sessions.

The charity says, perhaps unsurprisingly given the crime figures, that demand for places in refuges is high.

“On average we’re turning away three or four women a day,” said Ms Nicholson. “There is not enough refuge provision throughout the country for the many women and children that need to escape violent situations.”

But the council said reducing risk to victims did not always mean placing them in a refuge.

A range of other options are also available, including obtaining a Domestic Violence Protection Order to ban the violent partner from the home, and providing extra security and safety planning for the victim.

Havering Women’s Aid has been a trailblazer for new services and launched London’s only dedicated domestic violence helpline for men, Mendas, in 2015.

It has since seen a big increase in men accessing its services.

Although not every woman wants or needs the safe haven of a refuge, sometimes it can be vital.

“Two women a week are killed through domestic abuse and so obviously coming out of a relationship and getting safe is a matter of life and death,” said Ms Nicholson.

“When we see women coming in, their self esteem is bad, they are down-trodden, they’re feeling that they’re worthless, and that’s why we put in so much support with empowerment and counselling.”

Council leader Cllr Roger Ramsey said Havering was working hard to support victims.

“Havering has seen an increase in domestic violence incidents and this is a priority in our borough, which is why we provide London’s only helpline exclusively for men,” he said.

“Havering Council also provides counselling and support groups. Anyone who has concerns relating to domestic violence can find advice on the council’s webpage.”

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A stay in a domestic violence refuge can transform lives

Earlier this year, the CEO of Havering Women’s Aid received an email from a man who had come to one of the charity’s refuges 10 years ago with his mother.

It said: “I have no doubt that if the refuge and the staff wasn’t there for us I would not be in the position I am now, and I may not be here today.

“The kindness and compassion from staff went a long way and has stayed with me.

“I now work in the domestic abuse world within police, and I regularly think back on my experience and try and reflect the care and the compassion the staff gave me to the victims and families I work with now.”

On the flip side of the coin, another Romford woman who has suffered emotional and physical abuse for years at the hands of a violent partner with drug and mental health problems, says she has struggled to access help.

“If women need to flee their houses and they say they’ve got no hostel, then they are you going to stay with that partner,” she said. “I don’t know how they can say every woman doesn’t need a refuge bed, because then that makes her think, ‘Well, maybe I should just stay with my partner’. Who can afford to move out of their house and privately rent?

“You go to the council and say ‘I am suffering from domestic violence’ and they will not move you unless your house has been shot up or something. Obviously their hands are tied, but that’s not sending out the right message. It’s really not.”

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What did Havering’s MPs say?

Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, said: “To tackle domestic violence and its pernicious effects, the government has already committed £40million for domestic abuse services between 2016 and 2020, and provided a £2million grant to Women’s Aid and SafeLives to support a new domestic abuse early intervention project.

“Sadly, this type of violence remains a hidden crime for many, who don’t know they are experiencing domestic abuse for a long time.”

He added: “Violence against women is a national scandal and more must be done so that more women are kept safe and more perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Julia Lopez, MP for Hornchurch and Upminster, said: “Havering has unfortunately seen an increase in domestic violence incidents and the council is working to ensure that victims are properly supported.

“This includes counselling services, women’s aid provided through children’s centres, London’s only helpline exclusively for men, and bed spaces across two refuges.

“When space is not available in refuges, other housing options are offered, and domestic violence advocates are able to provide advice on that.”

She added: “We also need to help give women the confidence and support to extricate themselves from toxic relationships, and try to instil faith in their own strength to live without a violent or abusive partner.”

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Anyone in need of help or advice can contact Havering Women’s Aid on 01708 728 759.

Men seeking support can call Mendas on 01708 397 974.

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