VIEWPOINT: Why I want to focus on issue of domestic abuse

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The new leader of Wokingham Borough Council, Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor explains why society must take action on abuse

It was a privilege to be elected by my colleagues last week to be the new Leader of Wokingham Borough Council. In my speech thanking my fellow councillors, I said that it is my job to act in the interest of all residents across the whole of our Borough. But I also said that there are always those who need our particular attention and focus.

Domestic abuse is a hidden crime for many people. Too often, people are afraid to come forward for help because of threats from their abusers, or, more tragically, because of a perceived social stigma.

Worse still is the fact that many of us simply do not recognise domestic abuse when we see it. It is easy to miss and many victims hide signs from friends and family.

The Government’s definition of domestic abuse is “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse” that includes “psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional” abuse.

How often have we seen something that fits part of this definition or that concerns us, but might have turned away because we do not want to pry, or that we feel someone else might intervene?

I have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects that domestic abuse had in slowly tearing apart the family of one of my close friends.

It is vital that those of us in positions of authority do what we can to raise awareness and be able to point those needing help in the direction of support services for victims, and counselling and courses for perpetrators.

Domestic abuse is not a crime constrained by wealth or any social class – it is happening here in affluent Wokingham just as it is in other more deprived areas of the Borough and indeed right across the country.

In 2016/17, the police recorded 1,277 incidents of domestic abuse in Wokingham Borough.

This is an increase of 17% in the previous year, which shows that more people are coming forward, as we made it a priority of our Local Children Safeguarding Board to raise awareness of domestic abuse.

However, nearly 23% of victims are reporting more than one domestic abuse crime, down by 1% on 2015/16.

There is still more to do, and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that this number keeps falling.

Domestic abuse is something that we, as a whole community, must work together to wipe out.

I will make it a central part of my role to continue to raise awareness and highlight the harm caused by domestic abuse. Working with my colleagues on the Council, we will see what more we can do to confront this issue head on.

I want to be a Leader who gives courage to victims of domestic abuse to help them seek out help and support, as well as a Leader who stands up for victims of domestic abuse so that together we can effectively tackle this challenge in Wokingham Borough.

If you are in an abusive relationship and would like confidential help, call 0808 2000 247 or log on to www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk