The current Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, Sue Mountstevens, in her guest blog tells us what she has been doing to support Bristol Zero Tolerance since first signing the pledge in March 2015.
I am delighted to have signed the Bristol Zero Tolerance Pledge as your Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). It is a fantastic initiative under the auspices of the Bristol Women’s Commission (BWC) and I am pleased to be in such good company as a signatory. I truly believe that we will not end abuse, violence and exploitation unless we make it everybody’s business and I think the breadth of support that this pledge has received is a real credit to the Commission. I am delighted that Avon and Somerset Constabulary have also signed the pledge which shows their long-standing commitment to tackling these most devastating and intrusive crimes.
As PCC I have worked with the BWC and other key groups and individuals in Bristol, including Mayor George Ferguson and Bristol City Council, Safer Bristol and Bristol Women’s Voice as well as countless voluntary sector providers and organisations. I am immensely proud of the ground breaking work in the City and the way that agencies work together to achieve it.
One such example is the This is not an Excuse campaign that was first launched in November 2013. I was pleased to jointly fund this and work with Safer Bristol and Bristol Public Health on this well received campaign. I was acutely aware that at times, the Police and other agencies can sometimes get messaging around rape and domestic abuse wrong with well-meaning but unintentionally victim-blaming content. This campaign saw an end to that and made very clear that there is no excuse for abuse. I am proud to see that campaign continue through joint working and now include resources for friends and family.
A key focus for me over the last year has been the implementation of Lighthouse Integrated Victim Care Service, a ground-breaking service which provides care coordination and support to victims of the most serious crimes, which includes domestic and sexual abuse. Alongside this, I have commissioned a range of support services including an enhanced Avon and Somerset-wide Independent Sexual Violence Advisor Service (ISVA) provided by Safelink as well as funding The Bridge Sexual Assault Referral Centre. I was delighted to be awarded Home Office Innovation funding for a West of England CSE service which is transforming how we identify and support victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE). In addition, services for victims of these crimes in Bristol have also benefitted from both my Community Safety Grant and Commissioner’s Community Action Fund.
Of course, a crucial part of my work is to oversee Constabulary improvements in the way that victims of these crimes are supported during the reporting, investigation and criminal justice processes. To make sure that this happened, I made tackling domestic and sexual abuse one of my top priorities in the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Plan. This is a plan that all elected PCCs must publish and sets out their priorities, how they will work and key objectives for the Constabulary. My plan was published in 2013 and since then the Constabulary have been focusing on this priority which covers domestic abuse, sexual violence, modern slavery, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child abuse including Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). It is fair to say that alongside this being a PCC priority these crimes have seen an increased focus with a shift towards focusing on vulnerability, national inquiries and a significant increase in reported crimes and incidents. Increased reporting and recording of these most serious crimes means that more people are getting support and can start to cope and recover from what has happened. At the same time I, more than anyone, am acutely aware that in times of austerity we must use our resources differently to meet this complex demand as these figures highlight.
Police recorded cases 2014/15 % change on 2013/14 across Avon and Somerset
You can read more about the needs across the force area in the Avon and Somerset Strategic Needs Assessment.
For me, an important part of improving the Police response was making sure that victims were listened to, taken seriously and believed. I knew from speaking to victims and survivors that this wasn’t always the case and that small details, like the way the attending officer spoke or looked at the victim had a huge impact. So something I’ve personally been pleased to see is shift in focus to listening to the voice of the victim in the development of the policing service. So when we want to look at how we can improve attrition rates in rape and serious sexual offences cases for example, the force are now going to the experts – ISVAs and other support services who are providing feedback directly to officers who are working to improve the service. The voice of the victim was also a key theme when I asked a group of independent people to review police cases files, which included domestic, sexual and child abuse cases earlier this year. I also made sure that it was central to our thoughts when I called a scrutiny panel to look at the Police response to Domestic Abuse following the HMIC Inspection of 2013. You can read more about both of these scrutiny sessions online.
For me, my role and this pledge is about speaking out for those who can’t, standing proud alongside those who share this priority and showing the city of Bristol that as public services, organisations and individuals we aspire to be a city free from gender-based violence and abuse.
Sue Mountstevens, Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset