This week amongst the Brexit votes a cross-party group of MPs including myself sat for our first session to scrutinise the Government’s draft Domestic Abuse Bill. Roughly 26% of women and 15% of men have experienced some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, and last year alone over 26,000 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes were reported to Sussex Police. It is a crime that often goes unreported or unnoticed given its effects are not only physical but emotional and psychological too. Over the coming weeks the Committee will hear from charities, organisations and victims of domestic abuse to see what improvements can be made to the new laws. We need to make sure there is trust and support in the system to encourage people to come forward, and an important part of our work is widening the definition of domestic abuse. It is the first time economic abuse will be incorporated into the statutory definition, which will now encompass psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional forms.
Domestic abuse is a cruel and complex crime that can affect anyone, leaving survivors and their children with physical and emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Here in West Sussex several agencies are working together to provide domestic and sexual violence services across the Chichester district, through the Worth programme and other key initiatives. The Worth programme brings together local NHS provisions, Sussex Police, the County Council and regional charities to provide specialist services for all forms of domestic abuse, which includes the Sexual Assault Referral Centre at Crawley Hospital and Victim Support, an independent, confidential advice service for people in need of help. West Sussex is also one of three authorities in the country to be provided funding for its ‘Drive’ project, which aims to reduce the number of child and adult victims by disrupting and changing behaviour of the perpetrators. These projects are crucial to curbing reoffending rates, but we must not lose focus of early intervention and targeted support for those displaying likely signs of being abused.
To have the best support network in place locally, legislation must ensure victims are confident to come forward and that provisions are in place to support them every step of the way. Concern has been raised that many support services are volunteer-led, and adequate funding is needed to provide safe accommodation including refuges and social housing, plus support workers and helpline services.
If you would like to talk to somebody in confidence about your own experience of domestic abuse, contact Worth services on 07834 968539.