We spoke with Anita Lord, a VAWG Development Worker with the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), to find out more about this work. She told us that these projects are all part of a wider push to address the needs of those affected by domestic and/or sexual violence.
After a successful bid to the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Transformation Fund, funding for the Building Capability Project was secured for 2017 to 2020. As part of this work, four projects will be carried out with the money granted by the fund which seeks to address four strategic pillars concerning VAWG and women in the wider community.
One project is focused on the design and development of domestic abuse practitioner standards. Another project focuses on improving the situation for complainants of rape and sexual violence who are coming into contact with the criminal justice system (CJS). It looks at improving the court process which has included identifying gaps and issues and challenging current procedures.
The project also includes a cyberstalking and harassment pilot which has already been successful in identifying and investigating several serious cases involving stalking and harassment in the context of domestic abuse and in securing charges and convictions whilst also supporting and safeguarding the victims involved.
The diversion project, probably the most established of the four projects, entails diversion support work for women who are identified as vulnerable and victims of VAWG, but who are also female offenders. This project is also part of a wider initiative to develop OOCDs (Out of Court Disposals). Anita talked us through how this particular project works: A woman may come into contact with the CJS via the police, for shoplifting, for example, and then from there she is arrested or asked to voluntarily attend the police station for interview. If there is an admission of guilt, there is then the opportunity, if eligible, to be offered a conditional caution as a means of diverting the woman away from the courts and the wider CJS. As part of this caution, the woman is referred to a voluntary sector organisation that will be working with the local Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) at a special women-only hub. There are then three chances for the woman to engage with the organisations’ diversion support worker as part of their caution. The service will reach out to them. If they engage, a needs assessment is carried out and they are then referred on to other appropriate services. If they fail to engage and miss the three opportunities then this is seen as breaking the conditions of the caution and the case is then sent back to the police and a formal process will follow.
Anita goes on to explain that there is recognition that women who are victims of domestic abuse may have a controlling partner who has prevented them from reaching out or seeking help before. The diversion support work, therefore, offers them the opportunity to get help and also engage with services that they may not have been able to access before. Three attempts at engagement allow for the opportunity not to be missed and in some cases, they may consider reaching out again if it’s considered necessary.
At the time of writing, Anita acknowledged that the future is relatively uncertain as the projects are in their earliest stages, with work beginning in September 2017, but they hope and expect the projects to deliver outcomes that secure their continuation.
Since they are in their early stages, there is no concrete evaluation of the project as of yet. However, Anita does say that quarterly monitoring data shows that “engagement levels are where they were expected” to be at about 75%. The diversion support worker is also successfully identifying a range of needs amongst the women who have engaged with the project and there have been disclosures of domestic abuse, although work is ongoing to improve on and maximise the number received.
Anita believes that the diversion support work is innovative to the extent that it has developed from “experimentation in the past” and this is the first time it has been attempted in the Northumbria force area. The cyberstalking and harassment work is more innovative, as it seeks to address the various ways in which technological change can be put to negative as well as positive use by offenders, and the work focused on sexual violence complainants and the development of a more assertive form of advocacy within court processes is also innovative and could lead to significant changes on both a local and a national level.
This project has evolved into Northumbria Police's Out of Court Disposal Pathways, to read more about this, please click here.
This case study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018