At the Gloucestershire County Council meeting held on 9 November 2022, members considered Motion 908, (Violence Against Women and Girls). Please refer to the outcomes of the Motion (attached) at that meeting.
The members of the Adult Social Care and Communities Scrutiny Committee are asked to ‘consider a report on the steps being taken by Gloucestershire County Council to end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in Gloucestershire’.
County Council Officer leads for Domestic Abuse will be in attendance at the meeting. A representative from Gloucestershire Constabulary will also join the meeting on behalf of the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner. The Constabulary will answer questions on their work relating to this area.
5.1 At the Gloucestershire County Council meeting held on 9 November 2022, members considered Motion 908, (Violence Against Women and Girls). To view the discussion and the outcomes of the motion at the full council meeting, please refer to the link to the minutes of the meeting here. One of the outcomes was a request that the Adult Social Care and Communities Scrutiny Committee investigate the work of the County Council in addressing the concerns raised at the council meeting and to produce a report following a discussion at this meeting to present to Cabinet.
5.2 Claire Procter, Assistant Director of Prevention, Wellbeing and Communities, (Public Health and Communities), presented a report on the steps being taken by the County Council to end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in Gloucestershire. County Council lead officers for Domestic Abuse were also in attendance at the meeting. A representative from the Gloucestershire Constabulary attended the meeting on behalf of the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner, (OPCC), to respond to questions on the work of the OPCC in relation to this area. The slideshow presented at the meeting can be viewed at the link here.
5.3 The Government publication ‘Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Strategy’ published in 2021 defines VAWG as ‘acts of violence or abuse that we know disproportionately affect women and girls’ including, but not limited to the following crimes and behaviour; ‘rape and other sexual offences, domestic abuse, stalking, ‘honour’- based abuse, (including female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and ‘honour’ killings’)’, as well as offences committed online.
5.4 According to the latest statistics cited in the Government Strategy, nationally, 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual assault, (or attempted assault), in their lifetime, (5% of victims are men); over 27% of women have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16 (14% of men); and 20% of women aged 16-74 have experienced stalking since the age of 16 (10% of men).
5.5 Local data for the period 2021/22 recorded 12,797 crimes, (reported to Gloucestershire Police), as VAWG, (a 44% increase from that reported in 2020/21); reports of domestic abuse accounted for 44% of all VAWG crimes recorded by Gloucestershire Police. 7670 domestic abuse crimes were recorded in 21/22 (a 42% increase from 20/21, reflecting a continued upward trend). In 2021/22, 1516 stalking crimes were recorded, (compared with 591 recorded in 20/21). Whist the vast majority of stalking crimes were linked to domestic abuse; 2% of recorded stalking crimes classified as VAWG related to non-Domestic Abuse stalking. 1912 sexual offences were recorded in 2021/22, (a 39% increase from 20/21).
5.6 The local response to VAWG is shared between several lead organisations, including, but not limited to Gloucestershire County Council, Gloucestershire Constabulary and the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC). It was noted that Gloucestershire Police had made VAWG a priority issue.
5.7 A number of multi-agency partnership groups also provide strategic oversight and co-ordination. These include: the Domestic Abuse Local Partnership Board, (chaired by the Director of Public Health), the Sexual Violence Partnership Board, (chaired by the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner); and Safer Gloucestershire, (chaired by the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner).
5.8 Operational leadership is provided by several jointly funded roles, including a County Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (DASV) Strategic Coordinator. The coordinator oversees the county Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) process and is involved in the wider constabulary response to VAWG.
5.9 The council also commissions several core services, including the Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Support Service (GDASS), which provides a comprehensive range of support to victims, including a helpdesk, group support, and support from specialist Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs); the STREET service (Safe Teenage Relationships Education and Empowerment Team), who provide support to young people aged 13-19 years affected by DA, and Positive Relationships Gloucestershire, (PRG), a countywide service aimed at addressing the behaviours of perpetrators of domestic abuse through structured support programmes.
5.10 In terms of funding, the Council provides funding, (via the DLUHC Domestic Abuse Grant), to the women’s refuge in Stroud, and to cover the support costs of victims of domestic abuse residing in safe accommodation.
5.11 Included in the motion to full council in November, members committed to seeking White Ribbon accreditation, a nationally recognised accreditation demonstrating an organisation’s commitment to ending male violence against women. It was confirmed that officers were currently in the process of setting up a steering group to oversee the accreditation process as part of the corporate action plan.
5.12 The Assistant Director informed the committee that staff and members would have an opportunity to sign up to become White Ribbon Ambassadors, (men), or Champions (women), and that further updates would be provided to members as the programme progressed.
5.13 The Council Motion also included a commitment to provide an awareness session on VAWG to elected members. The Assistant Director advised that officers were currently working with the OPCC to plan a session. At the committee meeting members were encouraged to promote the session to other members. Action by – Committee Members
5.14 Members were also encouraged to their influence by taking an active role in supporting local work on ending violence against women and girls, (within their local communities).
5.15 A number of suggestions were put to members as activities they may like to consider to support their commitment : -
i) Actively promote national and local VAWG awareness raising campaigns, such as the international White Ribbon Day;
ii) Support the development of domestic abuse champion networks on a district level;
iii) Facilitate links between community groups and the new Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Consultation Officer to support their work;
iv) Link in with the work of the district led Community Safety Partnerships;
v) Promote awareness of the FLARE application developed by Safer Gloucestershire, which enables women and girls to anonymously share their experiences of where and when they’ve felt unsafe. The information will help local agencies understand how and where women and girls feel unsafe in the county and take appropriate action.
5.16 Responding to the update, several members opposed some of the terminology relating to White Ribbon accreditation and strongly questioned the need to distinguish the roles of men and women by references to ambassadors (men) and champions (women). One member proposed replacing ‘ambassador’ and ‘champion’ with a joint description and suggested using the word ‘advocate’. The committee was informed that, as a national programme, the terminology was inherited. Noting the concerns, it was suggested that the committee’s objections be fed back to the campaign organisers at the charity and this was agreed. Action by – Director of Public Health
5.17 For more information on the respective roles of ambassador and champion, please refer to links to the charity organisation website below:-
5.18 Another concern shared by members was the terminology and graphics of promotional material being displayed at local railway stationsby Crime Stoppers UK. It was agreed that a letter expressing the committees concern would be sent to Crime-stoppers UK. In the meantime, Cllr Carole Allaway-Martin, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care: Commissioning, agreed to contact Gloucestershire Police to enquire if something more immediate could be done. Actions by - Assistant Director of Prevention, Wellbeing and Communities and the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care: Commissioning.
5.19 A local member from the Stroud District referred to the women’s refuge in Stroud and reflected on the reduced number of places of refuges in Gloucestershire. Enquiring if there were plans for additional refuges, the member linked his concerns to the importance of rehousing female inmates being discharged from HMP Eastwood Park.
5.20 Tina Hemingway from the Prevention Wellbeing and Communities Hub explained that, in response to changes to the needs and risks to victims in recent years, the council now commissioned accommodation based support using different models. A refuge was no longer considered the most appropriate model for women seeking support and was not always welcomed by the persons seeking help. In most cases, victims seeking help preferred to stay with their families in their own homes, with efforts directed at moving the perpetrator out of the home and away from the victim.
5.21 It was confirmed that work with housing partners was ongoing, and that the council hoped to increase the number of ‘places of safety’ for Gloucestershire from 12 to 36. Additional government funding of £1 million had been specifically invested in providing accommodation to victims of domestic abuse.
5.22 A link to the work of the Nelson Trust, (provided by County Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (DASV) Strategic Coordinator after the meeting), illustrates the robust work being undertaken to support women leaving HMP Eastwood Park and the partnership working by the council with the Nelson Trust. The Nelson Trust is a key partner of the reducing re-offending board, (coordinated by the OPCC), and forms part of the local criminal justice board
HMP Eastwood Park - ONE Women's Centre - Nelson Trust
5.23 Elaborating on ways in which the committee might take action to support this important area of work, the Director of Public Health and lead officers referred to the importance of prevention as a key priority approach and ‘International Women’s Day’ on 8 March 2023 as a starting point for raising the profile of the ‘tackling violence against women’.
5.24 Members welcomed the range of effort being invested in addressing the issue. It was agreed that a committee response would be produced in draft form and circulated to members before presentation to cabinet. Action by - Assistant Director of Prevention, Wellbeing and Communities and the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care: Commissioning