Guest blog from Guddy Burnet: Tackling domestic abuse
Gudrun (Guddy) Burnet, community safety team leader for Peabody, explains why Peabody leads the field in the way we deal with domestic abuse.
One in four women experiences domestic abuse in her lifetime. Two women a week in England are killed by a current or former male partner. Those who go to the police have been attacked, on average, more than 30 times before reporting the abuse.
These are shocking statistics, and Peabody takes them very seriously. We believe that housing providers such as ours have a key role to play in helping individuals experiencing domestic abuse, and in recent years we’ve taken steps to improve the way we deal with it.
Training for frontline staff
For example, we’ve introduced domestic abuse training for our frontline staff; developed a more efficient case management system; strengthened our links with local authorities across London, and added two qualified independent domestic violence advisers to our community safety team — very unusual for a housing provider. Since introducing these improvements, reports of domestic abuse to our community safety team have increased from four a year to more than 120, and satisfaction with our domestic abuse case handling is 15% higher than average.
Our frontline staff, including caretakers, contractors, neighbourhood managers, lettings officers and community development officers, are in regular contact with residents, so they’re in an ideal position to identify domestic abuse. We teach them what to look out for and, if they have any concerns, to report back to a member of our community safety team. For example, recurrent damage to a property such as broken doors, locks smashed in or holes punched in walls can be a sign of domestic abuse, and our repairs contractors will be alert to this.
Domestic abuse takes many forms, from physical and sexual to emotional and psychological, and it’s not always obvious to the outsider. An important part of our training is about challenging perceptions and attitudes: some people might think it’s ok for a man to make all the decisions in a relationship (which it’s not), or that a woman should just leave if she’s experiencing abuse (it’s not as simple as that).
It takes an enormous amount of courage for a person experiencing domestic abuse to talk about it, and we encourage staff to listen in a non-judgmental way. If suspected domestic abuse is reported to our community safety team, one of our officers will contact the person (in a safe way) within one working day and carry out a risk assessment using a standardised checklist.
If they score more than 14 points out of 24, they will be referred to a multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) in which police officers, social workers, health workers, plus an advocate for the person sit down and agree a plan to safeguard the family. Actions could include finding alternative accommodation, ensuring that the address is flagged to the police so that they treat all calls as urgent, referring people to specialist support agencies such as Refuge, and applying for injunctions against perpetrators.
Training for housing providers
Our approach to domestic abuse has been so successful that other housing providers are coming to us for training — so far, we’ve trained 116 staff from other housing providers, as well as 156 Peabody staff.
Domestic abuse is complex. Many individuals, once relocated, just want to carry on with their life rather than supply evidence to help us evict the perpetrator, because they’re frightened of repercussions or they don’t want to see the perpetrator suffer.
In my experience, the majority of domestic abuse isn’t reported to the police, and convictions are rare. Nevertheless, there are many things that housing providers can do to help — and changing attitudes and perceptions of frontline staff, as well as establishing robust processes, is a step in the right direction.