On Saturday, Pru appeared at a hustings event in Penrith about crime and safety for women. The hustings posed six questions, and you can read Pru’s speech below.
The six questions were:
1. Will you make sure women report violent crime
2. How will you prevent the victimisation of women and girls
3. Will you make sure the police respond effectively and sensitively to women reporting domestic and sexual violence
4. Will you protect victim services, the specialist domestic violence services, rape crisis services and women’s refuges?
5. Will you support the development of specialist services to support children and young people affected by domestic and sexual violence and child sexual exploitation?
6. How would you ensure appropriate programmes are in place to address the issue of domestic violence?
Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here to talk about these crucially important issues. I first want to place my agenda or manifesto in relation to this subject as your potential PCC in the context of my own experiences.
It would be very easy to blithely trot out promises to you on each of the points raised within the programme, because that’s what political parties like to do. I am not a career politician, as a barrister I live and work in the real world, and for the last 30 years, I have dealt with almost every form of abuse against women and children known to man…..Domestic Violence, psychological violence, sexual violence, (and I include within this heading rape, exploitation and child abuse) and other forms of abuse such as abduction as well as forced marriages.
Can I clarify that I know that women also perpetrate these atrocities or assist in them, but they are very much in the minority, so for the purposes of this debate, I am going to refer to male today.
Unfortunately, it is part of the human condition that those who see themselves in positions of power will exert that power over others if they have the opportunity to do so. It is my experience that damaged, abusive men naturally see themselves, almost as a right, the dominant one within a relationship. When I am dealing with such men in my role as a barrister, it often comes as a surprise to them when I challenge their views and preconceptions about their role within the relationship or family. Many such men do not have any self- awareness or understanding of their behaviour or the effect that it has upon their victims. Sometimes they don’t even care. As we all know, their victims often love them fiercely, although when you really get to the bottom of their psychology, if we are fortunate to see a psychological report on the family functioning, the love the women and children feel towards their perpetrators is very often actually a very unhealthy dependency.
I don’t need to quote the statistics to you, that most serious abuse, including sexual abuse takes place in families. The career predators of our country such as Jimmy Savile are thankfully in the minority, (I hope), although the emotional devastation they leave behind is utterly horrendous and long lasting, leaving their victims with deep emotional scars which last a lifetime.
I have found that there is a large amount of secrecy and shame in reporting abuse in all its forms. Often, it is only as a result of the police being called as a desperate call for help during a particularly violent attack that it becomes visible publicly. Or if man goes too far and causes serious injury or even kills his victim. Sadly, two of my female clients have been killed in the most horrendous way by their partners, and in one of those, cases, her 6 year old child was also murdered by strangulation.
Unfortunately, as we know women are long suffering, and will often only leave their partner after multiple and often increasingly more serious attacks. In spite of organisations such as Childline, it is my experience that children, especially young children seldom report their abuse to anyone, and it is often found out about in other ways, and often by accident by doctors, nursery staff or school teachers.
I was fortunate that I was adopted as a baby, and when I came to know my birth family in my 30’s, my own half-sister, aged then 13, who I fostered for a while when she was a teenager had been repeatedly sexually abused by her own father. Despite all the help she was given, she never recovered and she became mentally ill. Tragically, she died when she was aged 27 from an overdose of drink and drugs. Sexual abuse of children and young women is leaves long term emotional and emotional scars from which they unlikely to ever recover.
I am telling you this, because I want you to understand that I understand and know what women and children suffer and continue to suffer.
Within that context, I can now move on to the questions that have been set out for me to answer.
- No-one can force women to report violent crime. However, the culture of an organisation starting from the top and cascading downwards is crucial in determining whether a woman or indeed a child feels that it is safe to report abuse. In order to feel safe, the victim needs to know that they will carefully and sympathetically listened to by someone who will understand their problems and their complaint will be taken seriously. As PCC I will ensure that will happen. What I would wish to do, in formulating the Police Plan for the next 5 years is to move Domestic and other forms of violence and sexual abuse up the agenda to emphasise its importance.
- I will ensure that in spite of the cuts, there will be continue to be sufficient numbers of dedicated members of the force in the Public Protection Units who are properly trained to deal with these issues, and who will respond with speed to these complaints and where appropriate to refer them on the other agencies, and in high risk cases special Multi agency risk assessment conferences will continue to take place. I will look at whether more cases need to be referred for risk assessment.
- There is already a great deal of working in Partnership with voluntary and the statutory services, such as the NHS, probation services and the local Authorities. I would ensure that would continue to flourish and grow. As we know in all cases, early intervention is crucial to prevent serious harm.
- Given the potential for serious damage to these services I do promise to victim’s services, and all the specialist domestic violence services, rape crisis centres and women’s refuges. These are all specialist services that should continue to be developed and supported. I do believe that we need to look at ways in which we can bring in expert assistance from psychologists and therapists more often to work with those who have been affected. I have found that it is all very well identifying a problem, but if services are not available to address the problems, then that person has far less chance of recovery.
- A subject that is not a popular one is that of appropriate ways of dealing with perpetrators. The violent, angry men and the sexual predators move from one victim to another unabated. They don’t accept they are a problem to women and society, and they therefore won’t accept help. More often than not, they may only get therapy if they are convicted of an offence, and probation become involved, or at the other end of the scale they may get admitted to some sort of programme if are sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence. What happens to the rest? What happens to those men who are never actually convicted? I see them all the time in the family courts and they are a serious nuisance to women, children and society, but they carry on regardless. The result is numerous calls If I were elected, in my position as PCC, I would lobby the Government to invest in far more perpetrator programmes than we have now and to give family courts as well as the criminal courts the power to force perpetrators to attend courses designed to stop them in their tracks. These men are the first to complain about not having access to their children, and to blame the partners for that.
- It may well be that with the serious cuts in everyone’s budgets and the police cuts are extremely worrying that we all need to work more imaginatively. I know that much of Cumbria is relatively safe, but there are some difficult areas, and DV and sexual abuse can happen in small villages, rural areas and in families from any socio-economic background. I was with Patrick and Mary yesterday in Barrow police station and we heard about the impact the Government cuts are having on their morale, with less officers having to do more work. The cuts are to deepen and their impact is likely to become more obvious, and you might think that that women, children and vulnerable children will not suffer as a result. I promise you this: Not under my watch they won’t.