Help is at hand for domestic violence victims in Norfolk

Victims of domestic violence can suffer for years, unable to break the cycle of abuse. But help is at hand so victims can escape their ordeal. Crime correspondent BEN KENDALL reports.

Domestic violence can take many forms and affects people from all walks of life. Abuse is not simply limited to men on women, although women make up the majority of victims who contact the police.

Some estimates suggest victims suffer an average of 35 attacks before seeking help and cases in which victims have lived with abuse for years, and even decades, are common.

The advice of those who have escaped and built a new life is often simple: get out as soon as you can. But putting this advice into practice can be far harder.

One victim, who did not want to be named, said: 'I was with my partner for four years. It was my first adult relationship and for the first few months we were happy.

'But I soon saw another side to him. When he was drunk or under pressure he would lash out.

'Sometimes it was verbal, calling me names or putting me down. Sometimes it was physical. I thought I could cope with the physical side at first and that it was my fault in some way. But it got worse and worse, much more than the occasional slap.

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'If I had known then what I know now, I would have ended it at the first sign of violence. The longer I stayed, the harder it got to leave, especially when we had a child together.'

Abuse can take many forms, ranging from destructive criticism and verbal abuse such as mocking, accusations and threats, up to serious violence and sexual abuse.

Advice from Norfolk police, available from the force's website, says that abusers will often use pressure tactics and controlling behaviour such as threatening to withhold money, taking the children away and lying to friends and family.

Many abusers will persistently put down their partner in front of other people, or refuse to help with childcare or housework.

Harassment such as following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public – these are also common.

Norfolk police has specially-trained domestic abuse officers who victims can talk to in confidence. They can provide advice and assistance.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, the force promises to treat you with sensitivity and investigate each incident fully.

Insp Ross McDermott, who leads the domestic violence team, said: 'It can be hard to gather evidence, particularly if you are living with a controlling partner.

'But my advice would be to tell somebody you trust, a friend, family member or neighbour, what is going on and if possible keep a record of any incident. It will help prove what happened if the case ever comes to court.

'Often, when we begin to investigate, we find out that those who know the victim suspected what was going on, but didn't know how to intervene.'

In cases where the force has power of arrest, officers will normally arrest the perpetrator and prosecute offenders where appropriate. The force can also use other methods to prevent further violence.

Officers strive to work with the victim and any other witnesses to the offences to ensure they feel confident enough to report offences and give evidence in court.

All victims and witnesses involved in cases going through the court process are referred to the Witness Care Unit; they provide a single point of contact until the court case is finished and will contact you, keep you informed about your case and arrange ongoing support.

Norfolk police and the Crown Prosecution Service work together with Victim Support, Witness Services and Leeway Women's Aid to provide a high-level of service to victims and witnesses of crime.