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Domestic violence hits five-year high as abuse commission begins work in Barking and Dagenham

PUBLISHED: 07:00 30 September 2019

Members of the Domestic Abuse Commission and council members at the project's launch at Eastbury Manor House on September 25, 2019. Picture: LBBD.

Members of the Domestic Abuse Commission and council members at the project's launch at Eastbury Manor House on September 25, 2019. Picture: LBBD.

LBBD

As rates of domestic violence reach a five-year in high in Barking and Dagenham, a commission looking into the causes of abuse in the borough has begun its work.

Shelter CEO Polly Neate is chairing the commission. Picture: LBBD.Shelter CEO Polly Neate is chairing the commission. Picture: LBBD.

The Domestic Abuse Commission had its first meeting on Wednesday, September 25, after it was announced in January in response to the borough's spot as London's domestic violence capital.

In the past 12 months, there have been 13.6 offences for every 1,000 people, according to the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (Mopac). The next worse borough is Greenwich with a rate of 13.1.

Barking and Dagenham has taken that status to new heights recently, with 313 offences recorded in July, up almost 30 per cent from August 2015. Abbey, Becontree and Heath wards are the hotspots. Each has seen around 200 incidents in the past 12 months.

With the first meeting of the commission, the council is hoping to find the root causes of the crisis and turn it around. It said it currently focuses on the symptoms of abuse.

Commissioners and council officers at the project's first meeting. Picture: LBBD.Commissioners and council officers at the project's first meeting. Picture: LBBD.

Polly Neate is the CEO of the national housing charity Shelter. She's heading up the 11 commissioners.

"We have people who have worked in housing and mental health, as well as domestic violence," she said.

"Those issues intersect with domestic violence, but we can learn from those approaches.

"I don't want to take a normal approach."

Council leader Darren Rodwell speaking to Shelter CEO and commission chair Polly Neate. Picture: LBBD.Council leader Darren Rodwell speaking to Shelter CEO and commission chair Polly Neate. Picture: LBBD.

The commission will work for a year on the problem. Its report is due in October 2020. There are two full-time staff helping it do its job, but it's not yet clear how much money it has received.

Ms Neate told a crowd at the launch event that she doesn't know of anywhere else in the country this is happening.

"I want to take a positive approach," she told The Post. "I want to be saying, what does a good relationship look like to women? How can we be empowered to make sure we have a good relationship?

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"What can we be doing in this community to make an impact on the problem?

"Success for the commission will be that we have got to the point of some really practical, implementable ideas that will make an important difference in the borough."

But not only for the borough. She wants the commission to create a blueprint for tackling domestic violence that can be copied across the UK.

It is focusing on "intimate partner violence", where violence occurs in a relationship where one or both of the people involved define it as a partnership. It'll also consider victims and perpetrators of all genders, though statistically offenders are mostly men (93pc according to Mopac data) and victims are mostly women (78pc).

Commissioner Nicki Norman. Ms Norman has worked for Women's Aid Federation England since 2007and is acting co-CEO of the charity. Picture: LBBD.Commissioner Nicki Norman. Ms Norman has worked for Women's Aid Federation England since 2007and is acting co-CEO of the charity. Picture: LBBD.

Among the commission's work is gaining the trust of communities in the borough and making sure the recommendations actually get implemented. Ms Neate said council officers were positive in their meeting, but that it's always a challenge to implement change in a large organisation like the council.

Council cabinet member and Valence councillor Maureen Worby sponsored the project.

"What I want this commission to look at is the normalisation of domestic violence," she said. "What can we do to challenge that acceptance?"

Cllr Worby reported a survey of the borough's 14-year-olds showed a worrying 26pc said it was OK to smack their partners. That was both girls and boys.

Commissioner Simon Blake OBE. Mr Blake is chief executive of Mental Health First Aid and won his OBE in 2011 for his work in the voluntary sector and with young people. Picture: LBBD.Commissioner Simon Blake OBE. Mr Blake is chief executive of Mental Health First Aid and won his OBE in 2011 for his work in the voluntary sector and with young people. Picture: LBBD.

"We need to address what's going on here," she added. "It's not going to be comfortable.

"What can we do differently? Is there anything we're not offering the community to come forwards and talk to us?

"I want more for my community."

She also said she wants the country to know how seriously the borough takes domestic violence.

"I want the commission to look at why communities accept domestic abuse, why they don't challenge it, why they don't stop it, banging the door down and saying: why is this happening in this day and age?"

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can call Refuge's 24-hour hotline on 0808 2000 247 or visit nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk.

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