Women’s Aid: Police chief vows abuse top priority

Police say they have increased resources to deal with abuse cases. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Police say they have increased resources to deal with abuse cases. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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There was a time when calling the police to a “domestic” might have resulted in a slap on the wrist for the perpetrator and a cup of tea and sympathy for the victim.

The idea that what goes on behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors was how domestic abuse was treated by society – including the police. And if things were so bad that an arrest was made, likelihood was that the bloke would be back home next day after a night cooling his heels in the station cell.

However, as society has become less tolerant of domestic abuse the police response has improved. And since April this year in Edinburgh, tackling this particular societal scourge has become a top priority for Police Scotland.

In Edinburgh, the drive behind taking the issue seriously comes from Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, who has established a 16-strong unit which deals only with domestic abuse – cases passed to them by frontline constables who are always the first on the scene.

“Domestic abuse is a major priority for us. It’s a stone that for too long has been left unturned, but now we’ve turned it over, and the ugliness beneath is going to be dealt with,” he says. “Already there’s been a significant increase in resources to deal with it and the Chief Constable is determined that we do something about what is a chronic issue.

“We recognise the damage domestic abuse does to individuals and society as a whole, it affects people of every class and gender, and it should have no place in a civilised country.”

Which is why he supports the Evening News Christmas Appeal to raise funds for Edinburgh Women’s Aid, the charitable organisation which provides refuge and support for women – and their children – escaping domestic abuse.

Every day five new women become domestic abuse statistics in Edinburgh and around 5500 incidents are reported in the city every year.

That is a number Ch Supt Williams is hoping will rise. “It’s an odd thing to say but I’m hoping our focus on it will encourage people to report domestic abuse more often and quicker as we find that in a lot of cases there have been at least four incidents of violent behaviour before a woman will come to us. I also hope that the focus will encourage people from more middle or upper-class backgrounds to feel they can come forward. We find they are the hardest to reach.”

One statistic already on the rise thanks to the new team of 16 detectives is the number of incidents going forward as offences. Figures for last year showed that only 34 per cent of reports were eventually treated as crimes but, says Ch Supt Williams, that’s already changing.

“We’re currently at about 56 per cent of incidents being proceeded to a crime report. We certainly have done less than half of that in previous years. Reports to the procurator fiscal are up to 54 per cent; prior to April it was 26 per cent. .”

The rise has been to a change of approach. “Twenty years ago when I joined the police domestic abuse was regarded as a crime and people were always arrested. However, it was also the case that if you could defuse the situation and resolve it at the time efforts were made to do that, which probably wasn’t in the long-term interest of the victim.

“We would take away the perpetrator, get them to sober up and calm down, but the next day it would be just the same. That’s not acceptable and I don’t think that happens now.

“Now we get full statements from both parties immediately, we talk to neighbours, we look for any CCTV that might exist, we look at the history we might have on that address, we carry out a far more robust inquiry into every incident. It’s all led to a big impact on the criminal justice system.

“We’re spending more time on dealing with it, reporting more people to the Crown Office and procurator fiscal, more time supporting victims through working with partner organisations like Edinburgh Women’s Aid, White Ribbon and the council.”

For the most serious of incidents, the cases are forwarded to a specialised east of Scotland team. “They go into the history of the offender, contact previous partners and discover in most cases that abuse was happening there, too. It builds a far more robust case.

“When you lift the lid you realise the chronic nature of the issue. These people are clearly incredibly dangerous. You can’t just put the lid back again.”

Next month will see Police Scotland launch its festive campaign against domestic abuse, as Christmas is an area where incidents rise sharply.

“We know domestic abuse can be exacerbated by excessive drinking and the stress of the period so our campaign will be running from Christmas Eve through to the New Year. But on December 20, anti-violence day, we’ll have 80 officers out on the streets picking up people wanted on warrant, many for domestic abuse cases.

“But our focus on domestic abuse is not just for Christmas and we’re determined to really do something about it. Domestic abuse can easily escalate and lead to other, more serious, sometimes murderous crimes. We want to try and do something about that.”


AN independent book store in Quartermile has already pledged to help raise funds for Edinburgh Women’s Aid in the hope the money will be used to send kids in refuge to the panto this Christmas.

Looking Glass Books, in Simpson Loan, will charge £1 for every present it wraps in its store over the festive period and will also put out a donations jar. All the money will go to EWA, which currently offers refuge or outreach support to 73 children.

Boss Gillian Robertson said: “Last year we offered free gift wrapping. I thought maybe we’d change this year and ask for a £1 donation for Edinburgh Women’s Aid.”

See Also:

Evening News Christmas appeal for Edinburgh Women’s Aid

Comment: Abuse victims come from all walks of life

•{ http://www.edinburghnews.com/STEN.d/Prestige.Item.1.30852661| Staff often see scars beyond the physical abuse|Click here}

Gina Davidson: Abuse myths have to stop

How you can help

FORTY years ago Edinburgh Women’s Aid was launched to help women and their children experiencing domestic abuse leave their homes and get help and support. Still today one in four women will experience some form of domestic abuse. To help EWA help them please donate this Christmas – as little as £5 can be put to good use.

Cheques should be sent to EWA, 4 Cheyne Street, Edinburgh, EH4 1JB or donate online at www.justgiving.com/edinburghwomensaid/donate

What can your donations do?

£5 provides duvet covers for a woman or child/young person

£10 provides a duvet for a woman or child/young person

£50 gives children/young people an outing to the cinema/ten-pin bowling/zoo

£1000 gives 12 weeks (5 hours per week) awareness raising/prevention work in schools

£15 covers fuel/lighting costs for a week’s refuge space

£20 provides 45 minutes of one-to-one support for a woman or child/young person

£25 provides 60 minutes of one-to-one support in the community

£25,000 provides an additional advocacy worker for 35 hours per week

£100 buys new locks to keep someone safe in their home

£15,000 provides an additional support worker to women or children and young people for one year (21 hours per week)

£5000 funds a parenting course to increase parenting skills and build for the future

£2500 enables a lifestyle management course to build confidence and self-esteem