New training courses in Exeter

There are places available on 3 great new courses being held in Exeter in March.  These training courses cover CSE, young people displaying sexually harmful behaviours and young people & risk in abusive relationships.  All are now open for booking.  For more details see the training calendar.  Or you can download the booking form here Course Spring 2016


Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) 17th March 2016. £90 including lunch and resources

A one day course on defining CSE and how it differs from child sexual abuse. The course will look at the indicators of CSE, the dynamics of grooming and how you can respond to young people at risk of CSE.


Young People Displaying Sexually Harmful Behaviours 18th March 2016. £90 including lunch and resources  

A one day course on understanding and defining harmful sexual behaviour in young people over 12 years old. The course will look at some of the pathways to harmful sexual behaviour, how it sits in a child protection framework and will outline some basic interventions that practitioners can utilise.


Young People and Risk in Abusive Relationships 23rd March 2016. £90 including lunch and resources

A one day course on understanding Coercive Control in young people’s relationships with a focus on assessing risk.  2016 will see a new law on Coercive Control established.  This course will help you understand what it is, how it impacts on young people and how to risk assess.   The training will include applying the SafeLives DASH RIC Young People’s Version and appropriate referral pathways.


16 Days of Action

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women & day 1 of 16 days of action against gender violence.

A day to contemplate a hugely concerning fact; girls & women are still disproportionately at risk of violence from intimate partners and also of FGM, so-called honour crimes and sexual violence.

In the UK, on average 2 women a week die from violence inflicted by a partner or ex partner. That is a horrifying number and something that should be causing national outrage.  Men also experience domestic abuse and it’s important that this is tackled.  In addition, we need to pay particular attention to why women experience partner violence at such high rates and why for so many women it results in fatal violence.  This pattern is seen reflected across countries and cultures.

It is also important to remember that in many countries women do not have the autonomy, power or rights to give voice to their experiences.  In some countries or communities, violence against women is legitimised.  Today is therefore also about remembering the importance of campaigning for women across the world.

Over the next 16 days I will attempt to blog about 16 different ideas for enhancing your practice in response to violence against women.  To follow the 16 blogs, please find me on Linked In.

And today I want to highlight the work of the IDVAs.  A large proportion of my training responsibilities is training IDVAs and other domestic abuse workers. But what do IDVAs do? In this blog, Ceri talks about her role supporting high risk victims of abuse and it’s well worth a read.  How about making your action today to find out more about what IDVAs do?

Rhianna: admonishing victims for being in love


Rihanna has spoken publically and candidly about the domestic abuse she experienced in her relationship with Chris Brown. In the aftermath of the publicity surrounding it, it was noticeable how much scrutiny there was of Rihanna’s decisions, specifically about her decision to pursue the relationship.

As an onlooker, it can seem as though there are clear choices that victims of abuse should be making. The emphasis can quickly shift to holding the victim accountable and even blaming them if they in some way don’t fulfil the expectations of ‘how a victim should act’. You hear ‘I wouldn’t let him/her do x to me. Why does she/he put up with that’?

But if we’re honest, because we love and hope we all sometimes put up with much more than we ever thought we would or should.

And for most of us this will be in small and largely inconsequential ways.  And unlike Rihanna we won’t be under a media spotlight with the world moralising on How We’ve Let Down the Side through the choices we made.

And it’s easy to say from the outside what you’d do; how do you know until you’ve been there? An abusive relationship will start in the same way as a healthy one; so when would you feel that a line had been crossed? The first time they hit you? But by then there’ve been countless times when you’ve felt really scared and didn’t leave. Numerous occasions where they’ve shouted in your face and called you worthless. Several good friends have fallen by the wayside because your partner takes up all your time and headspace and perhaps now you have a child and a whole lot of pressure to put a brave face on.

And perhaps aside from all the many barriers to leaving, you really love this person. Really love them and want and hope for things to be better.

And probably sometimes they do get better, for a time. Then when it starts to get bad again you’ve lost perspective. You can’t recall how many ‘chances’ you’ve given them and before you know it you’re ‘just giving it 3 more months’ for the 10th time.  And the friends that would have reminded you stopped calling a year ago.

Fear of violence or further abuse can never be completely absent from the mind of a person in an abusive relationship. But it’s not the only emotion that keeps people in abusive relationships. A decision to leave your partner is a decision to step into a grief process that none of us would enter into lightly.

It is painful and difficult to end a relationship. Any relationship. Aside from the practical implications of extricating yourself from someone else’s life, emotionally you have wound yourselves together. All the plans you made, the dreams you had, your hopes and expectations for the future feel suddenly obsolete.  You can swing between feeling elated to have a made a decision one minute and the next be completely unsure of yourself and question whether things were ever that bad. Add to this the erosion of self-confidence which results from an abusive relationship and it can feel paralysing.

And all this is a societal context that elevates relationships and stigmatises being single. Something that is also gendered – women are very much valued in terms of how attractive they are as a sexual partner (compare the connotations of the terms Spinster and Batchelor as an example).

As a domestic abuse trainer, I train domestic abuse workers to use Motivational Interviewing (MI) in their practice.

A key part of MI is being able to listen to their clients. Not just the listening we think we do whilst we rehearse what we want to say next, but mindfully, purposefully listening to what they say. And we can only truly listen if we empathise with how difficult the decisions are that they are faced with. Something we cannot do if we’re too busy holding victims to account for not acting in the way we think they should.

Policing domestic abuse: New guidance issued


In September the College of Policing issued  The Authorised Professional Practice (APP) guidelines which include a raft of directives aimed at improving the police response to domestic abuse.

It follows the publication in March 2014 of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) review of the national police response to domestic abuse, a report which was described at the time as ‘scathing’.

The guidelines are aimed at senior officers as well as frontline police, call handlers and counter staff.  Checklists have been issued to help call handlers respond appropriately to the initial reports of domestic abuse.  High profile cases such as that of Maria Stubbings and Banaz Mahmood have highlighted major deficits in how the police respond to vulnerable women who ask for help.

But such cases are only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve witnessed first hand a very inept risk assessment carried out by police called to an incident of domestic abuse involving a friend.  The officer clearly had no understanding of why she was risk assessing or how to use the information to make the victim safer. The officer was only focused on investigating the  incident she had been called out for and as the incident would have been minor in the officer’s eyes (certainly not to us experiencing it), she was not interested in the overall pattern of behaviour that was indicating a rise in risk.  The officer decided to deal with the incident by driving my friend’s ex partner home and then recording that my friend had not wanted to ‘press charges’. Not only inaccurate but also against ACPO positive action policy.  He went on to assault her and although handed himself in to the police station was even then not charged.

The new guidance from the College of Policing stresses the responsibility of senior officers to ensure that specialist officers are available to investigate cases of abuse and that avenues of support for victims are made accessible. There is also an emphasis on building cases against perpetrators of domestic abuse using sources of evidence other than the victim’s testimony, which we know can be withdrawn for a number of reasons including pressure from the perpetrator, from family, feelings of guilt, fear and loyalty. The guidance also goes into detail about spotting patterns of abuse, which is much more indicative of risk than focusing on individual criminal offences.

The move has been widely welcomed by domestic abuse charities.

Putting Victims on Trial


Our media needs to look at the choices it makes when reporting on domestic abuse homicides.  Reading the coverage of the trial of James McDonald who murdered his estranged wife Sophie in Dawlish, Devon, I’ve found out much more about Sophie’s private life then is relevant.  Unless she was the one on trial for murder, it’s hard to see, for example, what relevance it is that she was attending AA.

By choosing to spend column space detailing what the victim did or didn’t do rather than on the perpetrator’s actions, journalists shift the blame onto the victim.  I feel like I’m back in my Probation service job listening to an offender who’s trying to shift the responsibility on other people.

Journalists have a responsibility to think about the impression they create for the reader.  If you detail a victim’s private life, the average reader will assume that’s relevant to what happened. The reader is encouraged to draw a causal link between the victim’s behaviour and the perpetrator’s decision to kill.  This is not the case when the media reports on stranger homicides, but we also see it in the reporting of rapes and sexual assaults.  It’s unfair on victims and their families.

If journalists report the excuses a perpetrator has made for their violence, then they should be careful to highlight that this is what it is; the excuses of someone trying to mitigate the sentence they will receive. It is not a rational, acceptable explanation for their violence and sometimes this is not at all clear in the reporting.  Nothing the victim did or didn’t do makes murder acceptable.

But better still, journalists would instead focus on what we know about the perpetrator and would make links to the warning signs of highly controlling, jealous and abusive partners who go on to murder.  They’d make the link to the hundreds of women who are murdered each year in this country at the hands of partners or ex partners, many at the point of separation like Sophie.

And they’d make sure that they publish helpline numbers to domestic abuse services such as Women’s Aid.  Groups such as Media Reporting Standards for Domestic Abuse are  and Everyday Victim Blaming are doing a great job of collating examples of poor reporting and highlighting what needs to change.

Otherwise the media ends up putting victims on trial and they, and their families, deserve better.