Supporting domestic abuse victims

I am delighted that both the Chief Executive and Chairperson of the RHCT have been confirmed in their positions. I am confident that under their leadership we will continue to see improvements at Treliske. Just like you, my family and I rely on our local NHS and I will continue to work hard to ensure that we receive our fair share of the significant additional funding that the government has committed to our NHS. 

Every day staff at Treliske, as well as those working in our community health and care services, will be working with people affected by domestic abuse – fellow members of staff as well as patients and their families. Domestic abuse affects many more people than you might imagine, people from all walks of life and backgrounds.  

This week the government launched the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and a package of 120 non-legislative measures to support victims and survivors of abuse and to stop the cycle of violence. With 2 million victims of domestic abuse last year, this is much-needed. This is a huge and very positive piece of work across national and local government.  

For many years, I have been working with a wide range of victims of domestic violence and organisations that support them, not only to do what I can to support them, but to campaign for changes to ‘the system’. Together, we have made some improvements, but this Bill brings together many of the most needed changes that will have a really positive impact on many people here and across the country. 

This Bill sets out a wide range of actions and here are just a few highlights: setting out in law the first cross-government definition of domestic abuse, including non-violent behaviour such as economic abuse; new, streamlined protection orders for victims and their children, including the powers to impose positive and negative requirements to stop the perpetrator; supporting victims in court through prohibiting cross-examination by perpetrators in family courts and granting special measures automatically in criminal courts; appointing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner whose sole focus will be tackling domestic abuse and ensuring good standards of services across country; more and better training for police, health professionals, Job Centre staff, housing officers and other frontline workers to help identify and support victims; improving and rolling out Op Encompass to all schools so that teachers know before the school day starts that a child in their care has witnessed domestic abuse the night before and put in place appropriate support. 

I have the privilege of working with local people delivering some excellent services for victims of domestic abuse in Cornwall and inspirational people breaking free of their abusers. I will be arranging meetings with all those organisations and people that I have been working with to review this draft Bill. I will work hard to secure any further changes identified. If you would like to contribute to my work on this important Bill, please do not hesitate in contacting me. 

First published in the West Briton 24/01/19


Domestic abuse survivor praises Emmerdale for its powerful Rhona storyline

Rhona Goskirk’s recent domestic abuse storyline in Emmerdale moved many viewers. Here, domestic abuse survivor Mandy Thomas, explains why she’s thankful the soap tackled such a sensitive subject…

51-year-old Mandy Thomas is an artist, writer, and mum-of-four. She’s also a Survivor’s Ambassador for Women’s Aid, after surviving 18 years of horrific abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.

“I suffered every kind of abuse imaginable at the hands of my ex, including horrific physical attacks,” Mandy explained. “My eldest son even saw his father take a blow torch to me.”

And now Mandy – whose son Jahméne Douglas won the nation’s heart when he took part in The X Factor in 2012 – has praised Emmerdale for raising awareness about the horrors of domestic violence through Rhona Goskirk’s story.

“Hats off to the Emmerdale scriptwriters and actors for tackling such a sensitive subject,” she enthused.

“Storylines such as Rhona’s not only raise awareness about the different kinds of abuse – from verbal, to coercive control and physical – but also help victims know that they’re not alone.”

Although the dramatic scenes of Rhona being raped on her wedding night were clearly powerful, for Mandy, it was the more recent court scenes which really struck a chord.

“My heart was in pieces for Rhona,” she explained. “I was pleading for her to get justice, as so many do not.”

Talking about her own experiences, Mandy told us: “My trial went on for a year and my children were dragged through the court, as my ex pleaded not guilty. In the end, he was sentenced to 15 years (six for rape and nine for GBH with intent and false imprisonment).”

However tragically, that wasn’t the end of Mandy’s ordeal. Her ex-husband was released from jail early after serving just six years, and shortly after her son Daniel took his own life.

“We still live in an era where people are unaware about what goes on behind closed doors,” Mandy explained.

“It’s so important that TV shows like Emmerdale show exactly what victims of domestic abuse have to go through to get justice.”

Mandy isn’t the only person who’s been impressed by Emmerdale’s work. Sarah Newton, Minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, echoed Mandy’s comments, saying: “I welcome Emmerdale raising awareness of domestic abuse to millions of people.

“More abusers than ever are being brought to justice, but with so many people still suffering from this horrendous crime it is clear there is more to do.”

What is the UK government doing to tackle domestic abuse?

The Domestic Abuse bill

The UK government recently introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse bill, which will help them to protect and support victims, recognise the life-long impact domestic abuse has on children, and make sure agencies effectively respond to domestic abuse. This will include measures to:

  • Enshrine a definition of domestic abuse in law
  • Create a consolidated new domestic abuse prevention and protection order regime
  • Make sure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, that the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating life-long impact that abuse can have on the child
  • Establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of statutory agencies and local authorities and hold the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse
  • Demonstrate our commitment to the Istanbul Convention by extending our extra-territorial jurisdiction over Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG) related offences to ratify the Convention.

Coercive or controlling behaviour offence

A new coercive or controlling behaviour offence came into force in December 2015. It carries a maximum five years imprisonment, a fine or both. Guidance for professionals on the new offence was also launched at the same time. The offence means victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.

Justice for victims

In the year ending March 2017 the police recorded 464,886 domestic-abuse related offences – a 10% increase over the 421,185 offences recorded the previous year. This increase is likely to be due to improvements in crime recording and more victims coming forward to report crimes to the police.

More perpetrators of domestic abuse than ever have been brought to justice with the highest volume of prosecutions and convictions ever recorded. There have been year on year improvements for domestic violence prosecutions and in 2015-16 the volume of prosecutions rose to 100,930, the highest ever recorded. The volume of convictions in 2015-16 reached 75,235, also the highest ever recorded.

Funding and projects

Earlier this month the Home Secretary announced a £17million Violence Against Women and Girls Fund.

More than 40 projects will share the money to help prevent violence against women and girls.

If you or a friend or family member need support, you can contact the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on: 0808 2000 247

First published in Closer Magazine August 2017

Marking International Women’s Day

For decades the 8th March has brought people together to campaign for a more inclusive and equal world. International Women’s Day is marked across the globe. It is a time to reflect on what progress has been made and to focus on what more needs to be done.

At home, in school, in work and in politics gender parity is critical to empowering women and releasing the full potential of countries and communities.

Although our country’s gender pay gap is at its lowest ever level at 18.1% it is still far too high. As a government we want to see this eliminated completely. We are also extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, introducing shared parental leave, and seeing what more barriers need to be removed.

As well as doing more at home, we also recognise our responsibility to support women and girls around the world. Education provides children with the best route out of poverty. Between 2011 and 2015 the Government supported over 11 million children, including 5.3 million girls, in primary and lower secondary education in developing countries. We have committed to help at least another 11 million children in the poorest countries gain a decent education by 2020.

The UK is a world leader in tackling violence against women and girls. We support the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and we have committed to increased investment of £80 million to oversee the delivery of the violence against women and girls strategy here in the UK.

Incredible progress has been made over the last century to give women across the globe the rights they deserve. We can all play our part to ensure that, no matter what your background or gender, you should always have the chance to achieve your full potential.

First published in the West Briton 08/03/17

Domestic Abuse

I was pleased to visit staff and volunteers at Twelves Company in Threemilestone on Friday to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Twelves Company are an award winning charity that provides specialist support to victims, men, women, girls and boys of sexual violence and domestic abuse across Devon and Cornwall. They run REACH which is a gateway and single point of contact for domestic abuse in Cornwall. The helpline is open weekday working hours on 0300 7774777.

They are partners in Safer-Cornwall who ran a Domestic Abuse Awareness Week by holding a number of public events throughout the Duchy from Monday 21 to Friday 25 November.

The week was a celebration of the partnership working between the public, private and voluntary sector organisations across Cornwall, the primary aim of which is to continually improve community safety across the county.

Last year there were 8,223 reported incidents of domestic abuse to the police in Cornwall.   In addition, during the same period, the specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence services have received over 6,300 referrals from individuals wanting support and advice. Domestic abuse accounts for 13% of all crime and 37% of all violence.

Domestic abuse is a ‘hidden crime’ and National Domestic Abuse Awareness Week is important. It is an opportunity for all services to highlight the wide range of fantastic support that is on offer, encourage people to seek help and stand side-by-side to show commitment to a zero tolerance of domestic abuse and sexual violence in Cornwall.

This year Safer Cornwall focused its Domestic Abuse Awareness week on people aged 60+. Older people experiencing domestic abuse can face particular barriers to accessing appropriate support services and so it is important to raise awareness of the specific needs of such victims.


Published in the West Briton.