IF YOU were in Swindon town centre this weekend, you may have seen a number of suspicious looking pantomime characters strutting their stuff on a red carpet. I, alongside Mayor Cllr Junab Ali and others donned wigs and make-up to raise awareness of domestic abuse and support the opening of Swindon Women’s Aid charity shop in the town.
I am happy to be booed and jeered at in my Evil Queen costume if it helps highlight the amazing work being done by Women’s Aid and draw the public’s attention to the impact a crime like domestic violence has on so many people.
One of my key priorities is to put victims, witnesses and communities at the heart of everything we do. This is central to the work I do as chair of the Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board.
For too long victims of domestic abuse may not have had the confidence to seek help, report the abuse or support the prosecution of perpetrators. If they did seek help, there was no adequate support in place to support them through the court process to help break the cycle of abuse. This has now thankfully changed.
Part of my responsibilities is to commission and fund services for victims of crime and, here in Wiltshire, we have a number of amazing services for domestic violence victims. These include Horizon – an in house service based at Police HQ, Splitz via Wiltshire Council, Victim Support and Swindon Women’s Aid to name a few.
Although this is a positive move, we all have a responsibility to recognise abuse, be it physical, mental, sexual, coercive or financial. If something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t and we all have to speak up on behalf of those who are unable to.
Thankfully, support for victims has improved since the inception of Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012. I recently visited the courts in Swindon to attend the launch of a pilot called the Family Court Domestic Abuse Support Service.
The service, which is run by Citizens' Advice and Swindon is one of 12 pilot areas, gives practical and emotional support to those attending court with priority for those who are unrepresented by a legal team or those involved in disputes over child access and protective orders.
Witnesses will be supported by having an explanation of the court process, advised over special measures available to them and one to one support on their day in court. This is additional support to what they will be offered by Horizon.
Let's hope that with the support of the police, judiciary, the courts, Citizen Advice, Horizon and my office we can make a real difference to those suffering from domestic abuse.