How Lancashire’s victim support service team is providing vital help to the people who need it most.
“I could not see beyond the darkness...”
The stark words of one woman, a victim of domestic abuse whose life was changed by one simple call.
At the end of the phone was Ingrid Archer, a caseworker for Lancashire Victim Services –trained to show even the most trapped, the most vulnerable there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
Ingrid is part of the dedicated team at Lancashire Victim Services, whose brief is to offer help, guidance, counselling and advocacy to every single person who reports an incident to the county’s police.
The stories she tells reveal just how important the scheme, which this week expanded with the launch of four new hubs, in Blackpool, Preston, Lancaster and Accrington, can be.
Specialising in domestic violence, Ingrid’s work with the service, run by national charity Victim Support, brings her in contact with people who often do not even realise they need help.
Blackpool has two dedicated domestic violence advisors, there are 17 in total across the county.
But the work of Victim Support is spread much wider
Claire Powell is in charge of delivering a new multi-million pound contract, awarded by Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw.
He wants to raise by half the number of people being given support every year, aiming to help 60,000 people across the county.
Claire explained: “The support that we offer is to enable victims to feel safe, to get appropriate support for their needs.”
That isn’t always an easy task.
With the remit of the service covering everything from domestic burglary to historical child sexual exploitation, from domestic violence to hate crimes, a huge range of needs are catered for.
And Claire knows the magnitude of the crime doesn’t always reflect its impact.
She said: “The type of crime does not necessarily dictate the support that someone need.
“A victim might present with a low level crime that has a massive impact on them. You might then get someone who has been a victim of a very serious crime who, through their own resilience, the strength of their support network, does not need our help.”
Even so, support is always on offer – four attempts at contact being made with vulnerable victims within 48 hours of information being passed from police. For all other cases two attempts will be made in a 72 hour period.
Victim Services may be able to handle the needs of a victim internally, offering telephone support, one-to-one sessions, peer support and drop in ‘surgeries’.
In other cases partner agencies are involved including LGBT specialists Renaissance, counsellors from Lancashire Women’s Centres and faith leaders from the Lancashire Council of Mosques.
Each area of the county comes with it’s own issues and Blackpool, with some of the most deprived council wards in England, is no exception.
Claire said: “Blackpool has very high reported rates of domestic violence.
“There are people who are hard to reach.
“A victim might not realise there is support there, may not engage with local services.
“It is vital that we can provide the help they need, that our services are visible, accessible.
“It’s important we show people that if they report crime, there is someone there who can help.
“There are rural areas as well, where people might feel they don’t have the same access as people in urban areas.
“That is where it is vital to offer outreach services.”
Mr Grunshaw visited Blackpool to launch the resort’s Victim Services hub earlier this week.
The office, based on Blackpool Technology Park in Bispham will serve as a base for the whole of the Fylde coast.
He said: “I want to make sure that all victims of crime can access the specialist support they need in a way that suits them best and the fantastic team working from the new Hub will make sure this happens.”
Ellen Miller, Services Director for Lancashire Victim Service added: “I am really happy to see the Blackpool hub launch.
“No one should feel alone or unsupported after being a victim of crime and through the hub people can access support locally to help them recover.
“We have a team of experts on hand to provide emotional support and help, no matter what type of crime they have been affected by.
“We don’t ration our support, and we don’t make judgements – we just want people to know we’re here, to talk, to listen, for advice and for help, whenever they need someone to talk to.”
Controlled, abandoned and cheap
‘Emily’ is one of the women who has already had her life transformed by the service.
She was contacted by caseworker Ingrid Archer in March this year.
Ingrid explained: “Emily got in touch with police at the end of a 12 month relationship because she was suffering from continued harassment.
“She had been a victim of cohesive control, of everything from her make up to her style of dress to her friendships.
“She had rekindled the relationship but the man had then found a new partner. Emily then found out he had shared private images from his phone with his new partner.
“Her appetite was poor, she was mentally drained and suffering from panic attacks.
“She was not sleeping well and was suffering flashbacks. She should not talk to her family about what had happened. Her confidence was at a real low.
“She felt abandoned and cheap.”
After initial caution at being approached by Ingrid, Emily accepted help from the service.
She was offered not only a person to talk to but help with safety planning and with her ongoing dealings with the police.
“Weekends were particularly bad for her,” explained Ingrid.
“Every Friday and Monday I’d sent her positive quotes by email, positive affirmation, showing somebody was supporting her.”
In addition Emily was put in contact with a sexual health clinic, referred to her GP over her ongoing anxiety as well as to mental health charity Mind.
She was also put in contact with a charity which provides specialist support for survivors of rape and sexual abuse.
In her own words Emily described how she felt when Victim Services reached out to her.
She said: “I could not see beyond the darkness.
“I felt worthless, I was a shadow of my former self.
“I always thought domestic abuse involved violence, physical harm, that it was hush hush, that it was about a loss of self control.
“It is only through speaking to Ingrid I realised I was a victim.”
The experience had a radical effect.
Emily said: “Knowledge is power.
“Victim Services bring safety and comfort to those who otherwise would continue in silence.
“Without this I would have been isolated. It is simply amazing. I am so grateful.”
Confidence to speak out
‘Norma’ is another domestic abuse survivor who became part of Ingrid Archer’s case load.
Her partner, an alcoholic and a depressive, returned one nice in a rage and damaged her property.
He was arrested by police and Norma removed herself from the home.
But the trauma was far from over.
Ingrid said: “She was fearful. She was struggling with no family or friends.
“She wanted to continue having contact with the partner, to continue contact with him.
“His messages were not blocked.
“But her confidence, her self esteem were shattered.”
Norma was offered support as police dealt with the case. She was also assisted with advocacy alongside Lancashire Police’s public protection unit as well as support from her GP.
She made a disclosure under Claire’s Law, and was also put in contact with the Victim Services support line as well as the Relate couple’s counselling service.
Alcohol services were also brought in to work with her partner, as Norma continued to try to salvage her relationship.
Norma said: “That night the police were called.
“I felt lonely, I felt completely helpless.
“This support as a much-needed lifeline.”
What is Claire’s law?
The aim of this scheme is to give members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with or who is in a relationship with someone they know, and there is a concern that the individual may be abusive towards their partner.
If police checks show that the individual has a record of abusive offences, or there is other information to indicate a person is at risk, the police will consider sharing this information with those best placed to protect a potential victim.
The scheme aims to enable potential victims to make an informed choice on whether to continue the relationship, and provides help and support to assist the potential victim when making that informed choice.
The law, officially called the Domestic Abuse Disclosure Act is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009 - came into force across England and Wales in March 2014.
About Victim Services
Lancashire Victim Services was established by Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw to provide support to victims and witnesses of crime across the county. Victims and witnesses of crime can access emotional support, information and practical help, regardless of whether the crime was reported to the police. All services are free and confidential.
For further information visit www.lancashirevictimservices.org.