Michelle Cunningham, Thurrock Community Safety Partnership Manager, presented the report that provided an update on the areas of work associated with the Thurrock Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy 2017-2020. Despite the title, the strategy recognised and responded to the fact that men could also be victims in crimes of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. Areas included in this strategy were:
· Domestic violence and abuse;
· Sexual violence;
· Child sexual abuse;
· So-called ‘honour based’ violence including forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM);
· Gang related violence; and
· Human trafficking.
Project MAYA was aimed at tackling FGM issues and the service worked with Barnados who was embedded in the multi-agency service hub (MASH).
VAWG remains widespread and has a devastating impact on victims and families. Thurrock Community Safety Partnership remains committed to tackle these violent crimes and work in tandem with local and Essex wide multi-agency groups on the VAWG Strategy. With the appointment of a VAWG Co-ordinator from October 2018, this demonstrates the service’s commitment to raising awareness of VAWG and delivery of the strategy.
Giving praise to the service’s proactivity, Councillor Fletcher asked if there was evidence to show if the strategy was working so far. Michelle Cunningham answered that domestic abuse reports were not currently available and the service was working with the police on this. Success of approaches had been measured around repeat victims but this information was no longer available. Work was also carried out with perpetrators but again data wasn’t always forthcoming.
Councillor Abbas arrived at 19.12.
The Chair questioned why the service no longer received the data on the work undertaken with perpetrators and the success of approaches with repeat victims. In answer, Michelle Cunningham said this was due to the lack of resources available to gather and send the data. This had been raised at the Southend, Essex and Thurrock Domestic Abuse Board meeting and would raise again. Information was available from the perpetrator project in children’s services. Councillor Fletcher commented that information was needed to measure the success of the work undertaken within the strategy.
Referring to the ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ Strategy title, the Vice-Chair felt this was better titled as ‘Violence Against Persons’ as men and boys were recognised as victims of these crimes too. Bringing up police stations, the Vice-Chair went on to say there were too many numbers given which could be frustrating for victims trying to find help and support and to be told they had called the wrong organisation. There should be one phone number to call, similar to Childline which was easy to access. Continuing on, the Vice-Chair felt police officers needed training in dealing with crimes of domestic and sexual violence because many did not know how to handle these in a sensitive manner. The Vice-Chair would send a private email to Michelle Cunningham with a list of concerns and issues regarding VAWG.
Councillor Rigby queried if extra support was provided during peak periods. Confirming this was the case, Michelle Cunningham went on to say peak periods were usually after the Christmas period due to the money issues and bills. Specialist cars had been deployed in the past during peak periods and the service undertook more reporting campaigns. Picking up on the Vice-Chair’s earlier point on the amount of phone numbers given to victims at police stations, Michelle Cunningham said the service was looking into arranging a ‘one stop shop’, which would include other services such as Citizens Advice Bureau.
Councillor Abbas questioned if there were plans to work with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Michelle Cunningham confirmed that Project Maya worked with BAME communities and would share this report if not restricted.
Based on the figures given within appendix 1, Councillor Fletcher commented that the hotspots seemed to be around Aveley and asked Officers if Members could provide support to the service in some way. In answer, Michelle Cunningham said the statistics represented areas where there was a concentration of local authority housing although the housing safeguarding officers worked across all tenures. The new community liaison officers and ‘one stop shop’ were in development and utilising community resources which would be the aim, similar to the one in Ockendon. The new health centres may also be a point of access and this was where Members could give their support. Agreeing that the Ockendon hub was an excellent start, Councillor Fletcher went on to comment that Ockendon was ‘not quite there yet’ with health services.
The Chair mentioned she had been on the South Essex Rape Incest Crisis Centre (SERICC) Board a couple of years ago and at the time, there had been a commitment from the Housing Team to provide a secure flat. She went on to ask if this flat had been acquired for victims. Confirming the flat had been acquired, Michelle Cunningham said the flat was not utilised well. The process was that the flat would be occupied for a week or so and then the occupants would be moved on once suitable accommodation was acquired.
Referring to the figures provided on page 31, the Chair asked if these figures included the same set of families as the figures appeared consistent. Michelle Cunningham was unsure what the figures consisted of but the police would inform the service of high risk repeat victims. Information on this would be provided by an Officer within the service. Expressing further concern, the Chair felt that if it was the same set of families, the service would need to look into how the cycle could be broken and went on to ask if prosecution could be made without the support of victims.. Agreeing with the Chair, Michelle Cunningham explained that body worn video evidence could be used to progress domestic abuse cases.
The Vice-Chair suggested the service speak with people who reported crimes of domestic and sexual violence for their opinion of the service to check if there were areas of improvement needed within the service. Michelle Cunningham would check with the Housing and Safeguarding Team on whether this survey was undertaken. She was aware the police gathered this information but was uncertain if this was available by crime type.
The Committee agreed on the recommendations provided but wished to add another recommendation on. Councillor Fletcher also asked the service to let Members know of how Members could help, particularly on recommendation 1.2.
1.1 That the Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee champion the VAWG agenda and raised the profile of the services that are available to Thurrock residents.
1.2 That the Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee ensured that services are resourced adequately to help all victims of these crimes. In doing so Thurrock Council are addressing and preventing domestic and sexual violence and reducing demand on services.
1.3 That the Cleaner, Greener and Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee commended Thurrock Community Safety Partnership on the good work undertaken and be provided with an update on the VAWG Strategy.