In the first week of the latest national lockdown, more than 400 vulnerable people reached out for help to victim support agencies across Sussex. Worryingly though, domestic abuse referrals have begun to decrease, with one specialist support service seeing a fall of nearly 40% in referrals compared to numbers in late December.
Although the Government has made it clear that individuals are permitted to leave their homes if they are escaping domestic abuse, Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) Katy Bourne is concerned that victims may still feel trapped at home and that there may be many across the county who are suffering in silence.
She says: “Just because we are seeing a decrease in referrals does not mean that these crimes are reducing. We may all be locked down, but it doesn’t mean that victims of abuse are locked out from help. I recognise the impact these restrictions may have on those confined to living with their abuser so it’s more important than ever that, people who feel threatened and vulnerable, know there is someone out there who will listen and help them.”
Support services across Sussex are still accessible for all victims during lockdown and there are many ways in which people can discreetly reach out for the help and support they need.
Mrs Bourne relaunched the Safe Space Sussex website in the first lockdown. It is an online directory of local victim services which has been equipped with a new search tool so that victims of any crime in Sussex can find the service they need within seconds. It also has a ‘leave site now’ button that users can press to quickly exit the site.
Sussex Police have issued advice on how a victim of crime can covertly let a call handler know they are in danger. The '55' technology is in place for those too scared to speak, to alert a call handler to the fact they need help by pressing 55 on their mobile phone once they've dialled 999.
From this week, the Government has announced that, as part of a national campaign, victims of domestic abuse will also be able to safely access support from thousands of pharmacies across the UK through a new codeword scheme – offering a vital lifeline to those who are not safe in their own home.
The ‘Ask for ANI’ scheme allows those at risk or suffering from abuse to discreetly signal that they need help. By asking for ANI, a trained pharmacy worker will offer a private space where they can understand if the victim needs to speak to the police or would like help to access support services.
There will be an on-going sign-up process open and Mrs Bourne is asking all pharmacies across Sussex to get involved, saying: “This is an innovative way for local pharmacies to help in the fight against domestic abuse. By signing up to this worthwhile scheme you are providing another much-needed safe space where victims can covertly reach out for the help they need.”
The Ministry of Justice provided an additional £151,000 in December 2020, in addition to the nearly £700,000 the PCC secured in June 2020. This substantial funding has provided services locally with additional resources necessary to ensure they can continue to deliver crucial support to victims throughout the pandemic.
So far, the additional funds have enabled more than 3,000 vulnerable people to get the help they need, whilst allowing services to cope with extra demand and to introduce safe, remote ways to deliver support.
If you, or someone you know, is feeling unsafe at home, please visit https://www.safespacesussex.org.uk/.
If you or someone else is in immediate danger, always dial 999 and ask for the police.