Evening News launches campaign to help domestic abuse victims in Norfolk

Don't suffer in silence - that is the message as the Evening News and Norfolk police join forces in a bid to help thousands of victims of domestic violence.

Norfolk police received more than 9,000 reports of domestic abuse last year - nearly 2,300 of these were in Norwich and 1,750 in Great Yarmouth.

But officers say the true scale of the problem may be far greater as, on average, victims suffer 35 attacks before seeking help.

Insp Ross McDermott, who is in charge of the force's domestic violence team, said: 'We have seen an increase in the number of offences reported in recent years and that is something we welcome.

'Domestic violence is traditionally under-reported and this shows that more and more people are finding the courage to speak out.

'Nobody should have to live in fear and our message to anyone out there who is suffering abuse is that we can and will help you.'

It is impossible to stereotype victims of domestic violence: people of all ages, social class, faith and sexuality can suffer at the hands of abusers.

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While the majority of victims are women, there are also significant numbers of men affected. One in five victims who contacted Norfolk police last year were male.

Similarly the abuse itself can take many forms, from beatings and sexual violence to psychological torture.

Nobody knows the true scale of the problem as many victims feel unable to escape abusive relationships and suffer for years, even decades.

Last year there were at least 3,100 victims in Norfolk, many who reported several attacks on different occasions. The true scale of the problem is expected to be far greater but remains hidden behind closed doors.

Mr McDermott said: 'There are a wide range of reasons why victims find it difficult to come forward.

'This might be fear or a misguided sense of loyalty or because they are worried about where they will live or what might happen to their children.

'There are some victims who were brought up in abusive families and therefore tolerate it because they see it as normal. A victim may belong to a particular faith or community where such behaviour is seen as acceptable.

'Most of the people we speak to are repeat victims and those in high risk advocacy have suffered an average of five and half years of abuse before seeking help.

'We need to send out a clear message that there is absolutely no excuse for this kind of behaviour and if victims can find the courage to speak out, we will do everything we can to help them.

'If people suffer 35 attacks before contacting us, we would like to reduce that to one. It only takes one attack for somebody to suffer serious injury or worse.'

Norfolk police has seen a dramatic increase in domestic violence reports - last year's 9,080 reports was almost double the 4,767 reported five years ago.

The force sees this as a positive sign that more people are finding the confidence to contact the police.

Mr McDermott said: 'There are a number of ways we can help victims. Even if there isn't enough evidence to pursue a case through the courts we can point them towards refuges and support services.

'There are also other legal steps that can be taken, such as injunctions, to protect the victim. If you tell us about what's happening, we can help you on the way to finding a solution.'

The force assesses the risk level of all victims and takes steps to protect the most vulnerable.

Electronic markers can be placed on addresses where there is known to be a domestic violence problem. This means that call-handlers can immediately identify high-risk properties, particularly if they receive an aborted 999 call.

Officers also work with health workers and other professionals to teach them how to spot the signs of abuse. For example doctors and nurses can contact the police if they become aware of abuse, although usually they will tell the victim they are going to do this.

It is also possible for police to bring a prosecution without the victim's consent if they are particularly worried about what is happening.

• See tomorrow's Evening News for an in-depth report on the steps that victims can take to find help and the support that is available. Later in the week Ben Kendall will be speaking to a woman who suffered beatings, rape and psychological abuse at the hands of her partner for 12 years.

Throughout this week the Evening News will be highlighting the role the police and other groups can play in helping victims break the cycle.

Each day we will be publishing a business-card size guide explaining how to seek help which victims can cut out and store discretely.