Dealing with domestic violence in Newham before it becomes a crime
Your mail is opened by your in-laws, you can’t call your famliy or friends and you are not allowed out of the house.
Your days are an endless round of cooking, cleaning and clearing up punctuated by threats and criticisms. And hanging over you is the constant fear that you could be deported from Britain if your husband divorces you.
That is the reality for many young women who come to the UK for marriage - from many cultures but to most people their treatment would not constitute domestic violence.
The phrase usually conjures up images of wives battered by their husbands, afraid of calling the police or other authorities for fear that it would make matters worse.
However a team of dedicated professionals at a one stop shop for sufferers of domestic violence set up in at the Stratford Advice Arcade at 107-109 The Grove, Stratford aims to intervene and stop things before they get to that stage. Its aim is to help vulnerable women, and men in some cases, deal with issues before they result in physical abuse although some may already be suffering from it.
The team comprises members of Newham police’s community safety unit, Asian Women’s Aid, East London Black Women’s Organisation, Newham Action Against Domestic Abuse and TV Edwards solicitors- all of whom are available at the OSS every Monday morning.
Since it was launched in mid -May the team has dealt with 18 cases of people accessing its varied services coming in through its doors- far more than the team were expecting so early on.
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Jane Pritchard, a solicitor with TV Edwards, said their aim is to provide a holistic solution in order to tackle the diverse problems faced by their clients.
Jimi Tele, Acting Detective Inspector, Newham Police Community Safety Unit, said: “When they get there, we will do a risk assessment test to see which of our partners can best assist them. If there is a language requirement, that will be met; If there is a housing need, that will be addressed and if there is a legal advice case, that will be met too.”
“We want to make sure the case does not escalate to the point where they need to go to the criminal justice system so its about early intervention. I would be disappointed if a high number of people that we see at the OSS end up in the criminal justice system.”. Those that want to take the matter to the courts will be supported.
Jane Pritchard is quick to point out they don’t push their clients towards any particular ‘solution’. She said: “Its about the one that fits their circumstances and what they need. There is never any pressure, only guidance and an open door every week through which they can return and be supported. It is a bespoke service.”
Jimi and the rest of the team are acutely aware that many women, and men, who come to them are keen to avoid the courts and law enforcement agencies like the police.
The team is also aware of honour based violence. Anju Ahluwalia, from AANCHAL Asian Women’s Aid, said between them they speak seven languages and run a 24-hour helpline. They help women across the country but the fact that they are part of the OSS means they can provide help that much quicker.
One woman was experiencing violence at the hands of her family in the context of a cultural issue. Anju said she was very vulnerable and needed a solicitor. Children were also involved so the team dealt with housing issues and removed them from the situation where they faced domestic violence and mental abuse.
Jimi said: “Honour based violence’ is a crime or incident, which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and/or community.
“The OSS offers free and confidential legal advice regarding obtaining Forced marriage civil protection orders, Injunctions, Restraining Orders and Non-Molestation Orders and provides practical support for victims of domestic abuse / victims of honour based violence across Newham.”
Jane Pritchard said: “Sometimes the abuse can be about controlling behaviour rather than physical abuse. It can still be harmful and constitutes mental abuse. There could also be the threat of being hit. You could have someone who was hit ten years ago and they are not being hit now, but there is the controlling behaviour and the threat of physical abuse.”
Another woman suffered with DV for 12 years before deciding she wanted to speak to a solicitor. She was given legal advice, got an injunction against the perpetrator and received counselling. She came to the OSS after getting a text from the police.
If you need help you can contact:
AANCHAL Asian Women’s Aid - 0845 451 2547
ELBWO East London Black Women’s Organisation - 0208 534 7545
Newham Action Against Domestic Violence- 0207 473 3047
Newham Asian Women’s Project- 0208 472 0528.
You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 0208 430 2000 and ask for the DV coordinator.