Finding unique ways to reach out to domestic abuse victims
Today (18 May) over 100 pharmacies across Sussex will be handing out shopping bags with domestic abuse support branding. This is in a bid to reach out to victims who may be too scared or unable to seek help at this time.
Councils in East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton & Hove have invested money from their own Covid-19 funds to roll out this initiative, working in partnership with domestic abuse support agencies, local refuges, the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner and the NHS.
Duncan Crow, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member for Fire and Rescue and Communities, said; “Even though the rules for lockdown are easing off ever so slightly, one of our top priorities is still making sure those people living in an abusive environment get the help they need as quickly as possible. It is not always easy to ask for help but we’re hoping that the pharmacy bags will remind domestic abuse victims that they are not alone, and support is only a phone call away.”
Cllr Bill Bentley, East Sussex County Council lead member for community and safety, said; “Lockdown is a difficult time for everyone, but especially so for victims of domestic abuse. This initiative will help us to spread the message that vulnerable people shouldn’t let the isolation rules stop them from getting themselves out of a potentially dangerous situation. It’s really important that people know that despite the lockdown, there is a huge range of support available out there for people who need help.”
Councillor Clare Moonan, Chair of the Brighton & Hove Health & Wellbeing Board, said;
“The restrictions on movement which have been so vital to reducing the spread of the virus have been easier for some to bear than others. The sad truth is that a shocking rise in domestic abuse has been reported nationally during the pandemic.
“By working together across Sussex, we can help get the message across to more people than we can do alone. It’s so important that the people that need it know that local support is available and that’s it is ok to leave your home to seek safety, even now.”
The bag is branded with the messaging ‘at home shouldn’t mean at risk of domestic abuse’, making it clear that household isolation rules do not apply in these potentially life-threatening situations.
Local support services have expressed their concerns about victims of crime not feeling able to safely reach out for help whilst stuck in isolation, especially when living with their abuser.
Kay Birch from Victim Support Sussex said; “It’s really important that we use every opportunity we have to let Sussex residents know that domestic abuse support services across the county are open and ready to help, regardless of whether an incident is reported to the police. Pharmacies are an invaluable community resource and using pre-printed bags provides a low risk way of ensuring more people know they can pick up the phone or go online if they need independent information, advice and support.”
In 2016, Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne launched ‘Safe Space Sussex’, the first online directory of local victim services. In response to the ‘lockdown’ and these concerns, Mrs Bourne has upgraded this site equipping it with a new search tool, so that victims of any crime can find the service they need in seconds.
The website address – www.safespacesussex.org.uk – is also featured on the pharmacy bags so people know there are an abundance of local services still offering help and support.
Mrs Bourne comments; “It is great to see partners working together, going the extra mile, to get important messaging like this out to our communities.
“Just because we are seeing a decrease in reports does not mean that crimes, like domestic abuse, are reducing. So, it’s now more important than ever, that people who feel threatened and vulnerable have someone they can reach out to, who will listen and help them.
“We may be in lockdown, but they must not feel locked out.”
If you're a victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is, and there's an emergency that's ongoing or life is in danger, call police on 999.
If you can’t talk because the perpetrator is nearby, you can press the numbers ‘55’ into your mobile phone when asked, which will alert the operator that you need help.