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Team is turning abuse tide.

Byline: By Beth Neil

Last week we reported that two women are killed by their partner every week. But how are Northumbria Police dealing with domestic violence? Beth Neil investigates.

The little boy sitting on his mummy's lap started grunting, lashing out with his feet and hitting himself.

The mother said she didn't know why he did it, but it was becoming a regular habit.

However, violence in the relationship between the two-year-old's parents was commonplace and the youngster was simply imitating the savage behaviour he witnessed.

According to Northumbria Police's Domestic Violence Liaison Officer, Det Con Julie Morren, it is easy for victims of domestic violence to either ignore or become oblivious to the affect the abuse has on their children.

"A lot of women say to me that the children don't know what goes on as they are upstairs sleeping. So I ask them if they honestly think the kids slept through dad smashing up the telly or up-turning the table. That's when it starts to home in that the children must be aware. They might be in bed, but often they are awake, listening to everything.

"The children are always affected in some way. A lot of the children I have been involved with might fake some sort of illness so they can stay off school and protect mum. Bed-wetting or problems sleeping are also common.

"But sometimes the effects can take a long time to develop and might not be evident until a couple of years down the line."

Thankfully, the toddler mentioned before is now away and safe from the abuse. With the support of Julie and her team, the mother has shown amazing courage and finally left her violent partner. She is now preparing for a new life away from the area.

"I have so much admiration for the women who are brave enough to do that. They love their partner, but they don't love the violence.

"It's not an easy decision to make. But we will be there for them, helping and supporting them through the whole process," said Julie.

"It's always sad when a couple split as children are caught in the middle. But if it means the woman and her children are going to be free from violence and abuse then maybe it's for the best."

Julie is a full-time DVLO in North Tyneside where a pilot scheme, partnering domestic violence with child protection, was set up two years ago. DVLOs, the child protection unit and social services all work together from the same offices in Whitley Bay. They offer support and guidance to victims and perpetrators of abuse, as well as aiming to ensure the children in the family are safe.

The project has been so successful there are plans to extend it to other Northumbria Police force areas.

"It would be a great idea to extend the service," says Julie. "The feedback we have had has been very positive. I'd like to see it set up in every area command."

Julie, a police officer for 19 years, deals with domestic violence day in day out, but her job is not to push people into anything they don't want to do.

"A lot of women don't want to go through the criminal procedure which is up to them. We would never try and persuade them otherwise as that is their decision and they have their own reasons.

"But I've taken measures to try and make the court process as comfortable as possible. At North Tyneside magistrates, the woman involved in a domestic violence case no longer has to go through the front door where she might bump into her partner. She goes through a side door and waits in the witness room before she goes into court.

"Another factor that can put people off pressing charges is the length of time it can take for a case to come to court. One court in the South has a designated domestic violence court which speeds up prosecutions. I'd like to look into bringing a similar system in up here."

If a victim decides not to go ahead with a prosecution, the unit can help them in several other ways.

"We can help them to get an injunction, for instance," says Julie. "Even when the relationship is over, the torment can continue. Over the last couple of years abusive text messages have become more and more common. People don't realise that they don't have to put up with it, there are measures we can take to stop it happening."

Julie is proud of what the unit has achieved over the last couple of years, but would like to see greater support for the perpetrators of domestic violence.

"As things stand, there are anger management classes and apart from that, unless they go through the judicial system, the amount of support available is limited.

"A lot of them do feel guilty for what they've done, but I've met several men who blame their actions on their partner. They feel she winds them up and causes them to hit out."

She admits that the culture of violence can be passed down the generations.

"The vast majority of the guys I've come across have witnessed domestic violence as a child.

"But what surprises people is that it's not always the woman who is being abused. In North Tyneside at the minute, I am dealing with eight male victims."

Julie's role begins after fellow officers have been called to a domestic incident. Depending on the family history or the severity of the incident, Julie will make a call to the victim, explain what she does and volunteer to pay a home visit. Most people are pleased to hear from her and more than happy for her to pop around.

"I work in plain clothes and drive an unmarked car so I'm very anonymous. I'll go round either on my own or with social services, depending on what the woman prefers.

"I'm very proud to be part of such a pioneering scheme. It can be a difficult job ( there's good days and bad days. But the good tend to outweigh the bad and there's a lot of job satisfaction."

For more information call Det Con Julie Morren on 0191 214 6555 ext 63264 or 07796 938 201.

Fighting violence

Det Supt Mike Jones, head of child protection at Northumbria Police, is delighted with the success of the North Tyneside domestic violence unit.

He said: "If there's domestic violence where there are children present, they will always be affected by it.

"But the unit's work also takes in extra-familial abuse - abuse from outside the family. A child who has been abused outside the home should get the same service and support as one abused inside the home.

"What makes us unique is that we share an office with social services. We have child protection, DVLOs and social services all working together."

Det Supt Jones, instrumental in Northumbria's child porn crackdown, Operation Ore, points out the tragic case of little Victoria Climbie.

A shortage of social workers and a breakdown in communications between agencies meant that, despite the eight-year-old being on the at-risk register and repeatedly being taken to hospital with injuries, she was not visited in the months before her death.

"The unit has staff working side by side so those communication failings can never be repeated," said Det Supt Jones.

He also paid tribute to the staff at the unit. "It takes a special kind of officer to do their job."

"They not only need a good detective brain, but also another brain to cope with multi-agency work. They work together in the best interests of the child. But the stress and the strain of dealing with this kind of work can be immense."

Her life's been transformed

Last week we reported the extraordinary story of Angela Kingston who left her violent partner after enduring 20 years of physical abuse.

Originally from Berkshire, she travelled to Newcastle four years ago with her two youngest children, desperate to put as much distance between herself and her ex as possible.

After spending time in Durham Women's Refuge, she now lives in Durham City and works full time at the Pelaw View Community Centre recruiting volunteers.

Remembering the drunken attacks she was forced to endure she said: "I would try desperately to keep things on an even keel, staying calm. Anything to avoid provoking him. But it was useless.

"Now my life has been transformed. Sometimes I get up in the morning and I just don't know me any more.

"I was never allowed to be myself before so it's been amazing to finally have the confidence to do it."

"I have no feelings whatsoever towards him. No anger, no bitterness. He's no longer part of my life so why should I spend any time thinking about him?"

According to the Home Office:

Two women are killed every week by their partner

Domestic violence accounts for 25% of all violent crime

There will be an average of 35 assaults before the victim calls the police

In 2002-2003 there were 501,000 reported incidents of domestic violence in England and Wales

One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime

Police in Newcastle recorded 3,068 incidents of domestic violence over a six-month period in 2003
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Chronicle Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 27, 2004
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