Worthing councillors back commitment to tackling domestic abuse

A commitment to reducing and preventing incidents of domestic abuse and supporting adults and children affected has been made by Worthing Borough Council.

Sally Smith's motion on tackling domestic violence was approved unanimously
Sally Smith's motion on tackling domestic violence was approved unanimously

Sally Smith (Lab, Central) submitted a motion calling on the council to commit to tackling domestic violence as it had become an ‘epidemic’ during the Covid-19 pandemic when people were spending more time at home.

Ms Smith’s motion said: “This is often a hidden crime unreported to the police and although both men and women are affected, incidence and severity are much greater for women.”

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She referred to the number of calls and contacts to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline which increased by an average of 61 per cent between April 2020 and February 2021.

She added: “For many people, home can be a terrifying place to be. Covid-19 has not caused domestic violence but in many cases has escalated volatile situations enabling misuse of power and control – social isolation is a common tool used by perpetrators to maintain dominance.”

Ms Smith emphasised that domestic abuse ‘goes well beyond physical violence’ and said the Domestic Abuse Act, which came into force in April this year, ‘marks a significant step forwards’.

She applauded the work of Sussex Police surrounding domestic violence such as the force’s use of ‘innovative technology’ to help victims during lockdown and also the multi-agency approach supported by council officers and other agencies.

However, she said it was ‘imperative’ to act on ‘weaknesses in our systems and structures’ that had been exposed by the pandemic and lockdown.

Council leader Dan Humphreys (Con, Offington) praised the motion and the work of Sussex Police, and described how he was proud of his wife who has played a role as an employee of the force.

He also recognised ‘a large number’ of existing challenges to tackling domestic abuse including refuge places that ‘are not fit for purpose’.

He explained: “There is a challenge with regard to our housing stock and the housing pathways that we can provide for people who have suffered and are fleeing domestic abuse.

“We don’t have enough of the necessary housing stock and indeed that goes down to refuge placements as well which simply are not attractive to people and not fit for purpose, in many cases, for people fleeing abuse.”

Ms Smith also acknowledged the effect of domestic violence on children and young people whose development and wellbeing may suffer as a result, adding: “Being exposed to domestic abuse in childhood is child abuse.”

The impact on children was also recognised by Emma Taylor (Lab, Heene) who said: “We’re finally recognising that children that witness domestic violence, they’re victims.

“Half of those children will be boys, and they were all sweet little boys, and then one day as we’re having to acknowledge now, a considerable number of those sweet little boys turned into something not so sweet.”

Local policing efforts were praised by Kevin Jenkins (Con, Gaisford) for having a ‘multi-agency’ approach which meant that children in domestic abuse situations were being monitored and supported in school.

Councillors supported Ms Smith’s motion unanimously.

Ms Taylor said the issue was ‘close to my heart’ and it was ‘heartening’ to see the council ‘talking sense’ and ‘working together’ on an issue.

Louise Murphy (Con, Offington) recognised that men also experience domestic abuse and violence and encouraged anyone who was suffering to ‘come forward and speak out’.

A visually emotional mayor Lionel Harman (Con, Castle) said it was difficult for male sufferers of domestic violence to ‘say help’.

He said: “Some of you are aware I was also on the wrong end of a domestic violence situation a million years ago.

“Speaking as a man that was in that position, and I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but ladies get the coverage.

“As a man it was very hard to say ‘help’.”

Safe in Sussex helpline is open Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 3.00pm – Call 01903 896202. Visit www.safeinsussex.co.uk

National Domestic Violence Helpline can be called free 24 hours at 0808 2000 247 or visit www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk