Commissioner unites partners to highlight role of abuse in homicide

Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey Lisa Townsend welcomed 390 participants to a sobering webinar on domestic abuse, homicide and victim support at the start of this month, as the United Nation’s 16 days of activism focused on violence against women and girls came to an end.

The webinar hosted by the Surrey against Domestic Abuse Partnership included talks from experts Prof Jane Monckton-Smith of the University of Gloucestershire who spoke about the ways that all agencies can recognise the links between domestic abuse, suicide and homicide, in order to improve the support provided to survivors of abuse and their families before harm escalates. Participants also heard from Dr Emma Katz of Liverpool Hope University whose ground-breaking work highlights the impact of perpetrators’ coercive and controlling behaviour on mothers and children.

Most importantly, they heard from a bereaved family who powerfully and painfully shared with participants the importance of embedding the work of Prof Monckton-Smith and Dr Katz into everyday practice in order to prevent more women from being killed and harmed. They challenged us to stop asking survivors why they don’t leave and focus on the importance of challenging victim blaming and holding perpetrators to account.

It featured an introduction from the Commissioner who has made reducing violence against women and girls a key priority for policing. The Commissioner’s office works closely with the partnership to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence in Surrey, including awarding over £1m to local services and projects that helped survivors in the last year.

The seminar is part of a series of events led by the Commissioner’s office alongside the partnership, focused on strengthening Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHR) that are carried out to identify learning to prevent new homicides or suicides in Surrey.

It complements the embedding of a new process for Reviews in Surrey, with the aim that every organisation understands the role they play and the recommendations on topics including controlling and coercive behaviour, the camouflaging of abuse, abuse against older people and how the perpetrators of abuse may use children as a way of targeting the parenting bond.

Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend said it was essential to raise awareness of the worrying link between the trauma resulting from abuse and the very real risk that it can lead to a fatality: “Reducing violence against women and girls is a key part of my Police and Crime Plan for Surrey, both by increasing the support available to survivors of abuse, but also by playing a key role in ensuring that we actively promote learning to prevent harm with our partners and in our communities.

“That’s why I am really pleased that the webinar was so well attended. It contained expert information that will have a direct impact on the ways in which professionals across the county can work with survivors of abuse to identify support earlier, ensuring there is a strong focus on children too.

“We know that abuse often follows a pattern and that it can be fatal if the behaviour of the perpetrator is not challenged. I want to thank all those involved in raising awareness of this issue, including a special recognition of the family member who so bravely shared their experiences to help raise awareness of this link.”

Professionals have a responsibility to call out victim blaming as the one of the most fatal flaws in our responses to perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Michelle Blunsom MBE, CEO of East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services and Chair of the Partnership in Surrey, said: “In 20 years I don’t think I have ever met a survivor of domestic abuse who has not been victim blamed. What this tells us is that we are collectively failing survivors and, even worse, trampling on the memory of those who did not survive.

“If we remain unconscious to, engage in and collude with victim blaming we make dangerous perpetrators even more invisible. Victim blaming means that their actions come secondary to what the victim or survivor should or shouldn’t have done. We exonerate perpetrators of the responsibility for abuse and for death by placing it firmly in the hands of victims themselves – we ask them why didn’t they disclose the abuse, why they didn’t they tell us sooner, why didn’t they leave, why didn’t they protect the children, why did they retaliate, why, why, why?

“Those who hold power, and by that, I mean most professionals regardless of rank or position, have a responsibility to not just acknowledge victim blaming but to call it out as the one of the most fatal flaws in our responses to perpetrators of domestic abuse. If we allow it to continue, we give the green light to current and future perpetrators; that there will be a ready-made set of excuses sitting on the shelf for them to use when they commit abuse and even murder.

“We have a choice to decide who we want to be as a person and as a professional. I compel everyone to consider how they want to contribute to ending perpetrators’ power and raising victims’ status.”

Anyone concerned about themselves or someone they know can access confidential advice and support from Surrey’s specialist domestic abuse services by contacting the Your Sanctuary helpline on 01483 776822 9am-9pm every day, or by visiting the Healthy Surrey website for a list of other support services.

Contact Surrey Police by calling 101, visiting or using the chat function on Surrey Police social media pages. Always dial 999 in an emergency.

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