In the year ending March 2018, 2 millions adults had experienced some form of domestic abuse, with 140,000 children living in a household where serious abuse takes place. I don’t know about you, but in a society where everything seems forward thinking on so many other things, this is something that seriously needs to change.
Now, domestic abuse isn’t just physical - there are other forms too. You’ve got:
Psychological and/or Emotional Abuse
Harassment and Stalking
Online or Digital Abuse
A lot of these won’t be accompanied by physical signs, but have you ever had a customer that never has any money but can’t explain where it’s all gone? Or had a customer on the phone talking to you whilst their partner is in the background shouting and being aggressive? Chances are they could be victims of domestic abuse….
Well, who better to lead that charge than the housing sector? With most DA incidents perpetrated within the home, we’ve a responsibility to ensure all our customers have a safe place they can call home. But where do you start?
Last Tuesday, the Domestic Abuse South West steering group hosted an event called ‘Make A Difference’ with support from the MD Group and Chartered Institute of Housing. You’re probably thinking it’s just like any usual event. But you’d be wrong.
Because instead of the usual ‘strategic suits’, the room was filled with front line workers, operatives or managers, most of whom were men.
And instead of charities & support agencies relaying stories, we actually got to hear them first hand from the survivors themselves.
There is good reason for this - Gentoo Housing Association found that roughly 13% or all repair jobs and 21% of repairs costs are potentially related to domestic abuse.
MD Group, one of the biggest supporters of Domestic Abuse South West work almost exclusively with housing associations and public sector building services, therefore, their workers are in and out of thousands of homes all across the UK each and every day. By training the very people that are visiting customer homes frequently and potentially carry out such repairs, they are far more likely to pick something up that can help a customer out of a potentially life threatening situation. Been called out to fix the bathroom door at a property multiple times or noticed damage inconsistent with wear and tear on the same door when visiting? You could be spotting signs of domestic violence, as the bathroom is typically the only room in a house with a lock on the inside and is often the first place a victim will go to if they need to get somewhere relatively safe and quick.
Now, you may think I’m overreacting, but a constant theme throughout the survivors stories was the fact that it seemed like no one cared, when all they needed was that one person to raise a concern which would’ve helped them find a way out. James Stephens, one of the male survivors who spoke around the abuse he witnessed as a child against his mother, vividly recalled going into school with red eyes daily, with no one asking why. The CIH’s own president James Strang spoke about the neighbours who would make sympathetic comments to his mother but would never report it or take it further.
I mean, with 7 women a week dying at the hands of a current or former partner, you never know if the time you see that person is the last time anyone sees them. Tell me I’m being overdramatic now.
Training and raising awareness is an excellent first step in the right direction, but obviously my mind immediately turns to potential ways we can innovate to find a solution to this giant problem! I mean, if we can remotely check on the health of one of our properties using technology, surely we must be able to deploy a solution that can keep victims safe?
This is a tough one. During one of the coffee breaks, I caught up with Alison Inman, former CIH president about the blessing and a curse technology can be when looking at the subject of domestic abuse. Whilst sensors could be deployed that pick up vibrations (the same technology used within major art galleries that can detect whether a painting is at risk from damage or being stolen!) deploying such technology requires customers to agree to this, as well as various GDPR issues around the kinds of data we can capture. Technology is also assisting perpetrators in keeping tabs on victims - Ring doorbells, designed to protect the home actually give perps a means through which they can check whether victims have left the property, as well as any visitors. The constant geo-tagging via location services on various apps, plus the hot potato that is social media, mean it’s really not all that hard to find someone if you really want to. Technology is a huge enabler and has facilitated development in so many other areas of life, but for this particular issue, it seems like it’s tipping the balance of power towards the perpetrators.
Thankfully, there are a number of people already out there making huge leaps in redressing this balance. The app Bright Sky was launched by Hestia in 2018 as a means of providing support and information to anyone who might be in an abusive relationship or for those who have concerns about someone they know. It looks like any other weather app, so for perpetrators checking victims phones, they would not think twice and is available in 4 different languages - English, Urdu, Polish and Punjabi. Hestia is looking at how it might use technology to support the recovery of service users generally, and is currently looking at expanding the use of the Bright Sky app globally to countries such as Ireland, Malta, Romania, Italy, Portugal and Czech Republic.
It’s not just apps - LiveWest has been successfully running a perpetrator’s programme aimed at directly tackling their behaviours and working with them to address this and create stable trusting relationships. South Wales Constabulary are using data driven insights on incidences to design patrol routes and target their resources more effectively - for example, through using data to identify areas where communities prefer ‘hands on’ officers, they are able to make sure officers are available to be publicly visible and get involved in community events at the right times. Bonnie Navarra, Assistant PCC for South Wales, is also doing huge amounts of work around highlighting how domestic abuse in households with children contributes to ACE’s, otherwise known as Adverse Childhood Experiences, which ultimately lead to issues that will reach far into adulthood such as drug or alcohol dependency, type 2 diabetes and also younger mortality rates than children not affected. Picking up trends from the data either way, the more we find out, the better we can design a solution that will work.
It was a really insightful (and emotional!) morning, but I walked away feeling really confident that if we all come together, we can take huge strides towards making domestic abuse a footnote in history. It’s certainly given me huge food for thought and it is something I will keep looking into in earnest to identify potential ideas we can develop that might help this along even quicker.
Make sure you sign the Supporters Pledge if you haven’t already - after all, a problem shared is a problem halved! Also make sure you check out the MD Group’s digital training toolkit - it’s free and they have kindly created it so you can add you’re own branding to it! After all, it might just save someone’s life….