Serious violence starts at home

By Caroline Henry, Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner

It is a sad fact that domestic abuse represents a large proportion of violent crime across the country. As well as this, it is also widely recognised as a crime with a high incidence of repeat victimisation, where people experience domestic abuse more than once in their lifetime.

As Chair of the Violence Reduction Unit in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire I support the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s recommendation to amend the Serious Violence Prevention Duty to include domestic abuse, sexual violence and domestic homicide.

We are one of 8 VRUs with domestic abuse within our scope of serious violence. Domestic abuse is a pervasive and enduring problem in and of itself, but also because children living in households where domestic abuse occurs have an increased risk of developing acute and long term physical, emotional health problems and trauma, which may perpetuate the cycle of violence.

In Nottinghamshire we are seeking to build the local and national evidence base to better understand the impact of experiencing or witnessing violence on the beliefs and behaviours of boys in relation to violence against women and girls, but also the protective factors that provide greater resilience.

It is important to say that the relationship between witnessing abuse as a child and become a perpetrator or victim later in life is not causal – protective factors such as trusted adult relationships can reduce the risk. Nevertheless, the risk exists, and we need to do more to identify the causes, so we are better equipped to provide early intervention.

By including domestic abuse, sexual violence and domestic homicide within the definition of serious violence for the purpose of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill we have a critical opportunity to legislate for a multi-agency approach to domestic abuse. The Bill will help create the conditions for collaboration, to share data and intelligence, broaden our understanding and tackle root causes.

Furthermore, bringing together specialist services with an in-depth understanding of the issues relating to different expressions of violence can help us mitigate risk factors, and to build the protective factors not only against domestic abuse but across multiple forms of violence, including knife crime, county lines and sexual exploitation.

The VRU in Nottinghamshire are committed to addressing and to effectively break the cycle of violence by co-commissioning, with our local authorities, targeted interventions to support children and young people at risk.

We are well embedded into multi-agency structures enabling collaborative decision making which is informed by qualitative research with survivors to understand what works to tackle domestic abuse in the context of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.

The Trauma Informed Prevention programme provides trauma informed support for 5 year olds and upwards growing up in a home impacted by domestic abuse.

Earlier this year our delivery partners received a referral regarding a young boy who we shall call Milo. The school reported that Milo had threatened ‘another student with a knife’. 

Milo had previously had some support through the provider at a younger age around domestic abuse. Milo had witnessed and overheard physical and emotional abuse from Dad to Mum. Dad no longer had contact with the family but had accessed Milo’s Facebook account to make death threats to Mum. Milo was aware of this and because of his experiences suffered from panic attacks and symptoms of PTSD when he sees or makes links with his Dad. He was also struggling to calm himself and manage his emotions.

The programme has had a positive influence on Milo’s life, allowing him a safe place to explore his emotions and experiences and to reflect on how he deals with his relationships. He has been given the freedom to speak about things when he wants to without any pressure to disclose any information he did not want to. As a result, he is now on a positive trajectory.

In 2020, the VRU commissioned the Choices project to work with young men who were predominantly ‘excluded’ from mainstream school, were abusing alcohol and substances, had family members known to be involved or associated with gangs and had been known to carry a weapon. There was one common factor – nearly all the young men had experienced or been exposed to domestic abuse in their childhoods.

Over 10 weeks they were given a safe space to explore issues which affect them including knife carrying, criminal exploitation, sexual exploitation and healthy relationships, which are imperative to violence prevention.

The intervention has shown promising results. Following participation in the intervention, a student fed back – “I learnt that choices control your life and your actions – if I’m angry I can stop and think…I learnt that violence is never the right choice”.

Serious violence cannot be tackled in isolation. We must address multiple risk factors, including domestic abuse, that cause and perpetuate violence and promote the protective factors that mitigate against perpetration and victimisation.

We must work not as single agencies or individuals but as whole systems to prioritise preventing and tackling domestic abuse as both a form of serious violence and a cause of trauma for the children and young people who witness it.