Most people’s lives have been touched by domestic violence and abuse in some way and many of us know someone who has been affected by it. This issue cuts across all ethnic groups, all ages and all social backgrounds. It’s no surprise to hear then that the number of domestic violence incidents reported to the police in Leeds last year was around 14,000. How can we tackle such a big issue in such a diverse city and where our population is changing all the time? Michelle De Souza, Manager of Leeds City Council’s Domestic Violence Team tells us more.
My work involves managing the council’s Domestic Violence Team. One way we attempt to tackle domestic violence and abuse is by helping services and communities to be aware of it and respond appropriately to victims, children and those wanting to address their abusive behaviour. One of our tasks is to deliver a training programme to ensure that the workforce in Leeds understands what domestic violence is and knows where help is available. Our role is to enable people to identify signs of domestic violence, recognise the risk factors and to respond effectively. Often, we are asked whether domestic violence is more common or worse in some communities, particularly black and minority communities. This is a challenging question and should be given a considered response.
It’s true that domestic violence may be reported more within some communities than others and it can be more visible in some neighbourhoods; for example, where people are living closely to each-other however there’s not necessarily more of it within any one community and it’s not particularly worse within any one group. There are many unhelpful myths about black and minority ethnic (BME) communities and domestic violence, often perpetuating stereotypes that suggest BME communities are more violent and prefer to ‘sort things out among themselves’ rather than using services. At the same time, we have learned from our consultation with black and minority ethnic (BME) service users that, for some victims, the difficulties of domestic abuse are made worse by issues such as honour based violence and forced marriage. Abuse from extended family members as well as cultural and religious expectations may keep victims trapped in unsafe, abusive relationships for many years. Living in a relatively small community can also mean that support is withheld for fear of reprisals. In addition to these difficulties, barriers to seeking assistance such as judgemental attitudes from staff, a lack of interpreting services or inaccessible locations can lead to some victims being excluded from services and their needs disregarded or misunderstood.
Whether we are family members, community representatives or service providers, we should keep an open mind to the idea that potentially anyone could be affected by domestic violence and abuse help whilst remembering that some victims face additional issues and extra hurdles when pursuing help. We may need to ask more questions, be prepared to meet in unlikely or unfamiliar surroundings and be willing for our offers of help to be turned down many times.
Help and support needs to be accessible to everyone and our aim is to ensure this happens. This doesn’t mean that everyone requires the same response. It’s more apt that everyone gets a different response; a response which considers their particular needs. We should not be afraid to ask people what they find helpful or express our lack of knowledge about their culture. These conversations help the engagement process and build the beginnings of professional relationships.
Leeds City Council is continually changing and improving its services to the public to try to meet the many and varied demands of the rich and diverse communities living here. We want to get it right for everyone and we are keen to hear your views on how we can do things better.
The campaign, ‘Get comfortable talking about it’, wants everyone in the city to feel comfortable talking about domestic violence and abuse. People can ask any questions they have about domestic violence and abuse – either by email, social media, or by posting a question in our branded letterboxes – look for them in Council Community Hubs. It really is everybody’s business, doing nothing is not an option.
If you want to talk about it personally or on behalf of someone else go to the www.getcomfortableleeds.org.uk website and ask your question.