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Abuse victims ‘staying silent due to fear of homelessness’

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VICTIMS of domestic abuse are staying silent because they fear being left homeless or penniless because of Jersey’s housing and welfare rules, police and an abuse charity say.

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Police fear that domestic abuse is one of the most under-reported offences in Jersey – despite accounting for almost a sixth (14%) of reported crimes. Detectives have said in the past that it is particularly under-reported in the Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Latvian and Thai communities because of shame, a lack of trust in the police and language barriers – as well as issues to do with residency rights.

And today, Police Sergeant Paul Smith has said economic factors are a major barrier to victims seeking help. Income support can only be accessed by Islanders once they have been in Jersey for a continuous period of five years. And only entitled Islanders – those born or who have lived in Jersey for ten consecutive years – can apply to live in affordable housing if they are on their own.

A spokeswoman for Jersey’s Women’s Refuge said the charity had helped women without five years’ residency to get income support ‘in exceptional circumstances’.

Speaking at the launch of a training programme being rolled out to all 190 States police officers, PS Smith said Jersey’s ‘nuances’, such as housing qualifications, could prevent victims coming forward.

The Domestic Abuse Matters scheme – training tailored to police officers and staff – is offered by UK-based charity SafeLives alongside the UK College of Policing. Three States police officers, as well as an independent domestic violence adviser and Laura Osmand, head of the Jersey’s sexual assault referral centre, Dewberry House, have now been trained as trainers.

The course aims to teach officers and staff to identify the early signs of domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour so they can identify problems and help victims sooner. On average, a victim can live with domestic abuse for up to three years before getting help, according to Safe Lives. Figures in the UK reveal that victims of abuse will be assaulted 35 times before they tell the police.

PS Smith said Jersey had done a great deal to encourage victims to come forward but the Island now needed to do more to equip officers and staff to proactively identify abuse.

He said: ‘I don’t think domestic abuse is any more under-reported here than it is in the UK. It is under-reported everywhere. But it is the case that there are certain nuances in Jersey. Financial and economic factors are big in Jersey because it is an expensive, albeit beautiful, place to live. The perpetrator may be the breadwinner or have the housing qualifications and that can impact on childcare if there are children involved.

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‘I certainly would say that it’s more focused [the reasons for not reporting abuse] in Jersey. As trainers we have all identified times when economic factors were deciding in the victim making a statement. It’s not just about them maybe not being the breadwinner. Do they have housing qualifications? Where are they going to live? We have a fantastic women’s refuge but if they cannot access social housing it can be expensive and difficult.’

Speaking about the training, which takes a day to administer, he added: ‘We have done work on how victims respond, why victims don’t report, victim and perpetrator behaviour and how perpetrators manipulate victims. It’s a great course.’

The Women’s Refuge spokeswoman added: ‘A person who is living with a perpetrator might not have money or a bank account and housing qualifications. That can be a barrier. It might be the case that both the victim and the perpetrator work but the victim doesn’t have access to a joint account because their abuser, for whatever reason, controls the money. That is financial abuse. We see it.’

Victims can stay with the refuge for up to eight weeks, which can be extended with the committee’s approval. After that, victims without housing qualifications will have to find private accommodation and work to fund it, as they will have no access to income support.

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Who to call:

Jersey Women's Refuge: 0800 7356836

States police: 612612 (999 in an emergency)

Jersey Domestic Abuse Support: 880505

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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