New police team created to help protect those at risk of abuse
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A new police team has been created to help protect those at risk of abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.
The Vulnerability Safeguarding Team (VST) will provide an enhanced response to those crimes which happen behind closed doors.
So far there has not been a notable increase in reported cases of domestic or child abuse in Gloucestershire since the "lockdown" began, however this may well be due to limited opportunities for victims to report that abuse.
This situation is a significant concern for all police forces and agencies working in this area of vulnerability, and Gloucestershire is adopting a proactive and preventative approach.
The VST, which started work last Tuesday (14 April) is made up of existing Vulnerability and Schoolbeat officers who already work in the world of safeguarding and will be out and about visiting locations and people known to be at high risk.
They will also be following up reports from concerned families, friends and neighbours who, they hope, will be keeping a more watchful eye on people they know.
The VST will be working alongside the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and Domestic Abuse teams in order to provide a complete response to all safeguarding concerns within the home.
Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Cooper said: "The lockdown is difficult for everyone, but more so for those who are forced to stay at home with someone they are frightened of. The Constabulary are still here and ready to help.
"We are concerned that long periods of having to stay indoors, possibly feeling unwell and concerned about the future could place extra strain on relationships which could escalate into abuse.
"For those already at risk the lockdown may limit their opportunities to get help. So please, everyone, look out for those around you.
"We've understandably had lots of calls from people with concerns about their neighbours' social distancing but we hope to see an increase in concerned neighbours reporting their suspicions about abuse or neglect. It could be happening next door to any of us.
"It is vital that neighbours are reporting to the police if they believe they can hear someone in danger – a victim's ability to safely report to the police or escape the perpetrator will be greatly affected by the current situation.
"We want friends and family members that were either aware of, or concerned about, someone potentially suffering abuse to keep in contact with that person.
"As well as creating our own new team, proactively engaging with vulnerable families and individuals, we have already been working with our partners across the Safeguarding Children Executive, Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Support Service (GDASS), Gloucestershire County Council, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and a local network of committed individuals and organisations.
"We anticipated these issues and put robust plans in place to ensure that victims of abuse are not let down during this difficult time.
"The government social distancing measures should not prevent someone fleeing abuse, or seeking help to do so. Where a victim of domestic abuse is looking to flee the abuser we would advise making contact with GDASS or the police who can support that victim in finding suitable accommodation and in taking action to keep them safe from the abuser.
"I want to reassure the public that we will deal discreetly and sensitively with any reports of abuse, made directly from the victim or concerned family or friends, without putting victims at further risk of harm."
Heather Downer, service manager at GDASS, said: "GDASS is still operating as normal, and we will continue to support those experiencing domestic abuse throughout this period. We know this is a frightening time for those who do not feel safe at home and we are here to provide advice and support to help keep families safe.
"We are working closely with our partner agencies, including the police, to make sure that those who are experiencing domestic abuse are able to receive the support they need, and are able to leave their homes if they feel they are in danger.
"There is a really important role for the community here to make sure we are looking out for our family, friends and neighbours by reporting domestic abuse when we see or hear it.
"Most of us are staying in contact by phone, or video calling, so it is important to look out for signs that someone may be being coercively controlled and/or physically hurt during this time.
"Please remind people that you are there for them if they need help and encourage people to contact GDASS if they need support or advice. It is vital that as a community we take a zero tolerance approach to domestic abuse.
"We are can be contacted via our helpdesk in 01452 726570 which is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, or you can make a referral online at www.gdass.org.uk"
Martin Surl, Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I’m pleased to hear that Gloucestershire Constabulary is taking action against domestic violence during lockdown with its new Vulnerability Safeguarding Team.
“My team and I work closely with GDASS and other local support charities through The Commissioner’s Fund, many of whom have raised concern about service users not being safe at home. It’s my sincere hope that the victims of domestic abuse know that even during lockdown, help is still available. And those who are unable to reach out, will instead be reached by the Constabulary’s new team and our partners.”
Cllr Kathy Williams, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care said “Ensuring people are safe is a top priority for the county council and all our partner agencies. The Vulnerability Safeguarding Team (VST) is an excellent addition to the work we do as a county to prevent abuse and support those at risk. The VST is especially important at this difficult time when more people may be at risk.
"No-one should suffer in silence. Whether the abuse is physical or emotional, advice and support is available to you.
"If you are experiencing domestic abuse or you are concerned about a friend, family member of neighbour, please report it!”
Details on recognising the signs of domestic abuse, other help and advice and agencies that can offer support can be found here: https://www.gloucestershire-pcc.gov.uk/domestic-abuse-and-sexual-violence-advice-during-covid-19/