New campaign aims to end domestic violence

The Westmorland Gazette: New campaign aims to stamp out domestic violence New campaign aims to stamp out domestic violence

Next week, Cumbria Police launches a new initiative to combat domestic abuse and sexual violence. Between February 2012 and 2013, 6,555 incidents were reported in Cumbria, although experts fear figures could be as high as 15,000 as many cases go unreported. In South Lakeland alone, reported incidents have increased by 25 per cent - to 810 - in just seven years. STEPHANIE MANLEY explores the issues and reveals one abused Kendal woman’s story.

THE Government defines domestic violence as ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged over 16 who are or have been intimate partners or family members.

In Cumbria, the number of reported incidents is increasing, though this doesn’t mean there is more abuse happening.

Jenny Draper, South Lakeland District Council’s senior partnership and communities officer, said: “One of the targets of the South Lakeland Community Safety Partnership, of which we are a member, has been to encourage more people to report incidents of domestic abuse.

“We have worked hard with our partners to raise awareness of domestic abuse, give victims the confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously and ensure the right services are out there to support them.

“The feedback we have had is that more people are now coming forward to report the crime, so the rise in the number of incidents being reported does not necessarily mean there is more abuse taking place.”

Penny Scott, manager of Springfield House, a Kendal hostel for women, said: “There are many signs of an abusive relationship. If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner; constantly watching what you say and do to avoid a blow-up, the chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive.

“Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and personal feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, desperation and fear of your partner.

“Although 89 per cent of the victims who suffer sustained domestic violence are female, it is important to realise that men are also victims of domestic abuse.”

The abuse of power and control by one person over another can take many different forms, which Emily (not her real name), of Kendal, knows all too well as she spent three years in a controlling, abusive relationship with a man 14 years her senior.

Now in her early 20s, she has decided to speak out about her ‘nightmare’ to help other women understand what domestic violence is to raise awareness about the forms of help available.

"Usually, I wasn’t allowed out on my own, but if I was, I had to be in at a certain time and if I wasn’t he became very angry with me.

I wasn’t allowed to go shopping or pay bills and he would take my money off me and spend it on himself.

He told me I couldn’t eat so I was surviving on very little food. I wasn’t allowed to use any electricity either, so it would be cold.

He didn’t trust me and was always checking up on me and would accuse me of cheating on him.

I hated night times, it was worse then. I felt I had to have sex with him, even though I didn’t want to.

On occasions he would pin me down and threaten me, but most of his abuse wasn’t physical, which is why I didn’t think what I was going through was domestic violence.

You don’t think of someone controlling everything, taking away all your confidence and playing on your emotions, as domestic violence.

This is why it’s so important for people to understand what domestic violence is.

The other thing he kept saying was that he was sorry and would never let it happen again – and of course it always did. I got to the stage where I didn’t shower or change my clothes, I had no food and felt so desperate.

I finally broke down when I met someone from the Let Go domestic violence project and told them what had happened to me.

They helped me to understand that what I had gone through was domestic violence. I went to a refuge in November 2012, but my ex-partner found me. He said to me: “Emily, I’ll find you, no matter where you go.”

The support agency was really good to me and found me somewhere else to go quite quickly and that’s how I came to the hostel in Kendal.

My advice to other women who are going through domestic violence, but perhaps don’t realise that’s what it is, would be to go and get help as soon as possible. I wish I’d done so much earlier.

When I first arrived at the hostel, I hated it. It took me a few weeks to start to trust people.

I feel really proud of myself that I’ve managed to escape from this awful nightmare and put my life back on track. I now have a lovely flat in Kendal.

I’m happy here and feel really safe for the first time in three years. I never used to smile and I certainly didn’t talk to anyone.

That’s all changed now. My confidence is gradually growing and I find myself smiling again. I do plenty of voluntary work, which I really enjoy. I can’t see me ever being able to trust a man again.

But I am making plenty of friends in my sheltered housing and we go out on a Tuesday night. My mum comes to see me and although I would never have said this at the beginning, I now can’t see me moving away from Kendal.

What to do if you are a victim

Cumbria has a countywide domestic violence service, Let Go, which provides professional help and advice: Let Go Domestic Violence Service Let Go South 01229 582386, letgo@impacthousing.org.uk

Cumbria Constabulary The police will listen; provide help and immediate assistance if required. In an emergency call 999, non-emergency 101.

Victim Support provides free and confidential help to victims, witnesses, their family, friends and anyone else affected by crime, whether it has been reported to the police or not and whether the crime has happened recently or in the past. 0300 30 31 979 www.victimsupport.org.uk

For further contacts see the SLDC and Cumbria County Council websites: www.southlakeland.gov.uk www.cumbria.gov.uk

If you are interested in becoming a domestic violence champion and helping to raise awareness of domestic abuse contact s.blyth@southlakeland.gov.uk or emmas@impacthousing.org.uk

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