Like many police officers, Wigan’s Chief Superintendent Emily Higham faced a range of “horrendous” domestic abuse incidents early on in her policing career.
Attending these incidents sparked her concern over the volume and variety of domestic abuse that she was witnessing in Greater Manchester.
As Emily progressed in her career, she helped bring in several improvements to the way domestic abuse cases were handled.
Some of her work included the introduction of multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARAC), which are held weekly across GMP districts and involve partnership work with statutory agencies, councils, and charities, to provide the best care path for victims.
In 2005, Emily also helped to introduce specialised domestic violence courts – a programme in place to bring domestic abuse perpetrators to justice and to improve the safety and welfare of victims.
Speaking about the courts, Emily said: “I trained the Magistrates on domestic abuse, stalking and harassment, repeat victimisation, and the voice of children.
“I gave them some statistics around the point in which the victim comes forward to the police, which is usually around crisis point after they have suffered domestic abuse several times before calling the police or other partner agencies.
While this work has improved the handling of domestic abuse incidents and criminal justice cases within GMP, Emily says there is still so much to do and working in partnership is key to supporting victims, children and families.
She said: “I think with domestic abuse, it’s very much a hidden crime. A lot of it takes place behind closed doors, and a lot of it is subtle – controlling and coercive behaviour, restricting money being available, what a person wears and who their friends are. Some people will be subject to domestic abuse and they don’t even know it”
“People don’t realise they are in a controlling relationship, and it is often hidden from family and friends. If and when it does unfortunately escalate to violence, that’s when it becomes more visible because of injuries or hospital treatment and then people will call the police in their hour of need.”
“I have some really close friends who have been subjected to horrendous violent abuse and these are strong and independent women. It just opens your eyes to the fact that domestic abuse affects everybody.
Domestic abuse is one of the highest volume of crime types in Wigan/Leigh and remains a key priority for Emily in her role as Chief Superintendent.
She added: “We talk about domestic abuse a lot more now and encourage and support those victims, but it can be really difficult for those subjected to abuse. But actually, everybody should be looking out for it and reporting it. If you take smoking now for example, someone who lights up in a pub now is challenged. They’re told get out and stop smoking, the social ‘norm’ around this has completely changed, so why aren’t we so forceful around domestic abuse? Why do people stand by and let somebody be assaulted, or know there is something going on in a relationship and do nothing about it?
“For me, there is more that we need to do as a society to say that domestic abuse of any kind is unacceptable. It is about the third party reporting, the neighbour ringing up, the school telling somebody, the best friend knowing that their mate’s relationship is not right. Our tolerance levels still need to change a lot in this area.”
“I have attended too many homicides that are domestic related and in some of them friends and family knew something was not right but did not speak out.
Domestic abuse can be a lot more than what meets the eye, and can involve threatening behaviour, violence or physical abuse, as well as controlling, psychological, emotional or financial abuse, which can sometimes be harder to recognise and can often go under reported.
Emily says:”Partnership work is strong in this area but collectively we want to do more.
“In Wigan, we have some really good pro-active work going on with partner agencies and there is a great early intervention service, but I don’t think that happens everywhere and there needs to be more investment in early invention, support for children and perpetrator programmes.
“Domestic abuse can affect women, men and children, as victims and as perpetrators.
“On International Women’s Day, think of those loved ones in your life and if they are in an abusive relationship think about what you can do to help, even if that means just speaking to them or making a call to the police or a local support service to see what help is available”.
Where to go for help if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse:
- Contact Greater Manchester Police using our LiveChat or online reporting facility on our website: www.gmp.police.uk, or dial 101. In an emergency that’s ongoing or life is in danger, always dial 999.
- Greater Manchester Victims’ Services can provide independent emotional and practical support for anyone affected by crime, whether you are ready to make a report to the police or not. You can contact the service by visiting the website on www.gmvictims.org.uk or calling 0161 200 1950.
- If you are based in Wigan, the Wigan Borough Domestic Abuse Service, in partnership with Well Women and Wigan Council, offers independent support to victims of domestic abuse. To find out more go to www.diasdvc.org or call the helpline on 01942 311365.
- Reports can also be made anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
- Every month, GMP also hosts an anonymous domestic abuse Q&A session alongside its partners. If you have any questions or concerns, we’d encourage you to join where you will be able to access direct support from specialist teams both within GMP and external support services. All questions can be submitted anonymously.Further information on the sessions will be posted on the Greater Manchester Police Facebook page.