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‘I used to be scared to go anywhere’ - domestic abuse cases in Norfolk and Suffolk are soaring

PUBLISHED: 11:19 16 October 2017 | UPDATED: 11:19 16 October 2017

More women in Norfolk and Suffolk are reporting domestic abuse to police and charities. Picture posed by model. Photo: Laura Dodsworth

More women in Norfolk and Suffolk are reporting domestic abuse to police and charities. Picture posed by model. Photo: Laura Dodsworth

Laura Dodsworth

Vulnerable women fleeing domestic abuse are being turned away from shelters in Norfolk and Suffolk because of a surge in demand.

Demand has increased on women's shelters meaning there is not always room for those fleeing abusive partners. Picture posed by model. Photo: Laura Dodsworth Demand has increased on women's shelters meaning there is not always room for those fleeing abusive partners. Picture posed by model. Photo: Laura Dodsworth

The refuges, run by charities, have had their funding cut across the country at the same time the number of women needing them soars.

By every measure, reports of domestic violence in the region are increasing.

Charity Leeway, which supports victims of domestic violence in Norfolk and Waveney, has seen the number of people seeking its help increase by 27pc since April.

Last year it did not have room in its refuge for 144 women and 98 children who needed help.

MORE: How we broke free from abuse - Eight women from Suffolk and Norfolk share their stories

Police figures, meanwhile, show a 70pc increase in reports of domestic abuse in Norfolk since 2013 to 5744 last year.

To help deal with the demand staff trained in domestic abuse are going to be placed in the police control room.

Suffolk, meanwhile, had the highest prevalence of domestic abuse in the country from 2013 to 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Mandy Proctor, chief executive of Leeway, the charity providing support to those experiencing domestic abuse.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Mandy Proctor, chief executive of Leeway, the charity providing support to those experiencing domestic abuse. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Its police force had 9,600 reports last year – more than one every hour.

While the numbers have risen, council funding for refuges for women fleeing abusers has been slashed by around a quarter in both counties.

In Norfolk it fell from just over £700,000 in 2013/14 to £558,000, according to Freedom of Information requests from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Suffolk County Council also cut its funding by a quarter last year to £348,000.

Norfolk Police's Detective Superintendent Julie Wvendth says police are dealing with more reports of domestic abuse thanks to more awareness. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary Norfolk Police's Detective Superintendent Julie Wvendth says police are dealing with more reports of domestic abuse thanks to more awareness. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

Some of the funding cuts have been made up for by both Norfolk and Suffolk’s police and crime commissioners putting more money into domestic abuse services.

Councils in both countries were also awarded money by the government last year to fund more services.

Norfolk County Council said it had funded 54 refugee beds each year for the last five years.

“Tackling domestic abuse remains a priority for the council and its partners and we continue to fund the same number of beds in refuges across the county,” a council spokesman said.

But in a response to a survey from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, one refuge manager in Norfolk said council budget cuts had impacted on the specialist services they could provide. Their council funding has been cut by 50pc in the last seven years and staff reduced from eight to just two.

Charity Leeway which has five safe houses for women in Norfolk and Waveney said they did not have enough room at their refugees last year for 144 women and 98 children who needed their help.

Instead they were sent to other services or refuges or put in hostels by local councils.

Leeway provided shelters for 328 women and children fleeing abusers last year and also helps around 200 men a year.

•What the police say

Detective Superintendent Julie Wvendth, from Norfolk police, said domestic abuse was one of the force’s priorities, but an increase in reports of it meant funding had not kept up with demand.

It meant charities were “over run” with cases, she said.

She said that the increase in reporting was down to more awareness of the crime. Det Supt Wvendth put that down to soap opera storylines and police work.

In Norfolk three domestic abuse coordinators work across the county to train staff in workplaces to be domestic abuse champions and help colleagues who may be suffering.

A new law was also introduced in 2015 to prosecute those controlling or coercing their partners.

“It was really easy years ago to say, you are not being hit so you are not being abused,” Det Supt Wvendth said.

But now emotional abuse can also be prosecuted. That abuse may happen through accessing a partner’s bank account, stopping them seeing friends or family and controlling what they wear.

Although reports of domestic abuse to the police has increased, the number of people charged with the crimes has not gone up at the same rate.

Det Supt Wvendth said this was because some victims dropped out during the process. “The crime can be really complex to investigate and can take months to get to court,” she said. “Women during that time can say ‘I can’t cope on my own’.”

Leeway supports women in need at the top end of the spectrum but DS Wvendth said the support was not always there for those in the middle.

•If you need to talk to someone about domestic abuse contact Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247 or Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327

•If you are in danger call 999

•Tomorrow: What extra help is being given to tackle domestic abuse in the region?

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