Early intervention would save lives

Throughout her childhood, Joanne watched as her father beat up her mother before he turned his fists and weapons on her, her brother and sister. If the authorities had got involved a lot earlier, she believes, a lot of that could have been prevented.

She – like many others – now wants to see a legal duty placed on public authorities to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence as part of the Policing Bill’s Serious Violence Prevention Duty. At the moment, the definition does not explicitly include these kinds of seriously violent crimes.

Joanne firmly believes including domestic abuse and sexual violence into early intervention and prevention strategies could and would have made all the difference to her and her siblings.

Today Joanne is speaking at an event for Peers calling for an amendment to the definition of serious violence in the Policing Bill’s Serious Violence Prevention Duty to include domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual violence in the definition.

Joanne believes that in her case the school knew or certainly had an inkling about what was happening at home. The dinner ladies would sit with her while she ate because she had an eating disorder, but no one joined the dots or took any action.

As it was Joanne (then 9) and 12-year-old sister found their mum unconscious in bed, after she tried to take her own life.

The impact of the abuse has also continued over the years long after her mother left her father. Joanne’s mum still suffers with depression, Joanne’s sister started to self-harm in her teens due to all the violence she had endured and later was subjected to abuse herself. Joanne’s brother suffers with severe mental health issues and from his teens to his 30 took drugs and became an alcoholic. 

Joanne started to go out with ‘bad boys’ (as she describes them) and started to go off the rails with her friends who had also experienced domestic abuse, had backgrounds of neglect and through this they formed a bond.

She and her friends were left vulnerable by their experiences which meant they could be exploited by people and in Joanne’s case, she herself became a victim of domestic abuse by boyfriends. She was held hostage and raped throughout the night by one and was sexually abused by others.

When she was 21, she was sexually abused for six months by a priest and went to the police. She says the ‘appalling treatment’ she received by one police officer led her to join the force so she could start to change what had gone wrong for her.

She used her experience to turn her life around.

Joanne is now speaking out about what happened to her and is calling for changes to help other victims and survivors and their children.

At today’s event she is joining the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, the Deputy Mayor for Policing, Sophie Linden, MOPAC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire, Caroline Henry to share her story.

They will be supporting an amendment in the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which places duties on public authorities to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence.

The proposed Serious Violence Prevention Duty will require this range of public bodies to work together to prevent and tackle serious violence, with the aim of reducing the numbers of victims and perpetrators of crime. But currently, the definition of ‘serious violence’ does not include domestic abuse or sexual violence, and it is critical that it does. As Joanne’s story tells us, too often local agencies and the police fail to take domestic abuse and sexual violence seriously – and this is an opportunity to clearly show that it does constitute ‘serious violence’.

These public bodies subject to the duty include the police, youth offending teams, probation and health commissioners. This represents a critical opportunity to implement an early intervention, public health focused approach to tackling serious violent crime, rather than relying solely on the criminal justice system, which only come into play after an offence.

For her part, Joanne, says she would like to see early intervention starting at school; she would like more training for health and education professionals about domestic abuse and sexual violence and more focus in the national curriculum for young people. She would also like to see more specialist counselling and more enhanced training for frontline officers and staff in the police to deal with domestic abuse.

Joanne did manage to break free of the abuse. She is now a police officer, married with her own child and she’s on a mission to stop others being abused physically and mentally so they don’t endure what she and her family went through.

She says their experience will stay with them for life as they will have to keep reliving the trauma. She hopes this amendment to the Policing Bill will stop other survivors from having to suffer in silence for so long.