Pioneering scheme cuts domestic violence

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The Independent Online

A pioneering scheme to tackle domestic violence, which affects 1.5 million women each year in the UK, has cut the incidence of assault and injury to women by two thirds, according to the first independent evaluation of its impact.

The 1m scheme, half funded by the Home Office, uses special case workers to co-ordinate services aimed at keeping the victim safe in her own home and has been so successful that it is being rolled out across the country.

Every year more than 100 women die at the hands of their partners, and 150,000 suffer physical or sexual assault, psychiatric harm, or are driven to suicide. More than 600,000 report incidents of abuse to the police, but thousands more suffer in silence.

The new approach involves identifying women at highest risk, using a 20-point checklist of risk factors, and appointing independent domestic violence advocates (IDVAs) to support them. The advocates co-ordinate monthly meetings of local services to protect the victims and help them to rebuild their lives.

Results from the first eight pilot areas to be evaluated showed that after six months, in at least 90 out of 140 cases (65 per cent), the violence had stopped. The monthly Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (Maracs) have dealt with 8,000 cases this year, which is set to double to 15,000 next year. Research shows that 70 per cent of women who have been through the Marac process were still safe six months later.

The scheme is run by a charity, Co-ordinated Action on Domestic Abuse (CAADA), set up by Diana Barran, a former hedge fund manager, in 2004.

Ms Barran has the enthusiastic backing of Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, and was last week awarded a Beacon prize, one of Britain's top awards for philanthropy.

She said: "The research shows that the model works. When we talk about violence in this context we are talking about a knife being held to a victim's throat. There is nothing pink and fluffy about this.

"For too long victims of domestic abuse have been chucked from pillar to post because it is a problem that crosses so many boundaries police, health, housing, social services. Women's refuges have kept victims safe, but lives have also been lost because women didn't want to go into them, or they were full or too far away.

"Our objective is to keep women in their homes but safe and supported. We aim to provide a GP-style of service so that wherever you go for help you know exactly what you are going to get. Currently victims of domestic abuse who go to a local agency get a completely different response in one area from the next."

A national training programme will have 360 advocates in place around the UK by the spring, enough to deal with 30,000 high-risk cases annually.

The largest project is at Worthing, West Sussex, where 10 IDVAs are attached to the accident and emergency departments of Worthing and Crawley hospitals. Detection of domestic violence rose from one case a year to one a day after A&E staff began routinely asking women how they were injured. The scheme is being rolled out to hospitals at Chichester and Haywards Heath, and the number of advocates more than doubled to 25.

Ms Barran said: "IDVAs are the catalyst that make everything else work. We estimate the cost of providing a national service at 50m, which would save 5 for every 1 spent. But it is the biggest human need for which it is most difficult to raise money."

'You don't have to put up with it' - Tessa, victim

Tessa was with her five-year-old daughter, Maisie, when her partner came at her in the living room with a knife.

"He had attacked me lots of times but this time I thought he was going to kill me. He picked me up and flung me over the sofa because I wouldn't go to a party with him. I tried to protect myself and he stabbed me through the hand. I went to casualty and I told them I had had an accident cutting meat even though I am a vegetarian. That's the problem there was no help so you tell lies. You put up and shut up."

She had met Roy, a plumber who played rugby and boxed for charity, in a pub in Manchester in 1995. She said: "It was an on-off relationship, full of violence and nastiness. I did try to get away, but he used to turn up at my house and I couldn't get rid of him. He was on drugs and would smash the windows to get in."

The police did nothing and the domestic violence helpline was useless, she said. Then social workers threatened to take her children into care. "That was really scary. I felt trapped there was nothing I could do."

Eventually her local Women's Aid branch put her in touch with an advocate, trained by CAADA, who organised police protection, helped her to start court proceedings and found her a new place to live. "They really helped me. I would not have had the go in me to carry on without them. I want people to realise that you can get out of situations like mine. You don't have to put up with it."