Don't suffer in silence - Chief Crown Prosecutor's call to domestic violence victims

16/01/2012

Judith Walker, Chief Crown Prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service East Midlands has issued a call to victims of domestic violence to report crimes against them and give evidence in court. Speaking at an event organised by CPS East Midlands, she said that victims will be taken seriously and will be fully supported in giving their evidence.

Judith said that she had chosen to speak about domestic violence because it is a particular issue at this time of year.

"It is the start of the New Year and the end of the old, with the Christmas holiday just behind us. Traditionally we like to think of Christmas as a time for peace, love and happiness but the reality is that it is also a time when domestic violence rises with many more calls to the police, visits to hospital and calls to crisis agencies. 

"The CPS recognises the enormous impact which domestic violence has on victims, families and the community. Tackling this problem is not easy. It is not easy for society but, more importantly, not easy for victims.  Packing up and leaving is a huge step.  Where do people go, how do they support themselves and how will they cope alone, particularly if they have children?  Do they want to be seen as responsible for breaking up the family?

"Many abusive relationships are not violent all the time.  Many include good times and caring behaviours and for many victims its not a case of wanting the relationship to end; they just want the violence to stop.

"All these factors contribute to victims keeping quiet and putting up with abuse, sometimes over many years, suffering in silence. Until finally, something or someone breaks that chain and spurs them to complain.

"This is when the Crown Prosecution Service becomes involved.  The police investigate such complaints. The CPS authorises charge and prosecutes cases through the courts. Here in East Midlands in 2010/11 there were just over 6,000 prosecutions for domestic violence with convictions in of those cases. This is better than some parts of the country but the successful prosecutions cover only a small number of the incidents of domestic violence which occur across the East Midlands and nationally.

"Prosecuting domestic violence cases has its own unique challenges. One of the issues we are very aware of is the fact many victims refuse to assist the prosecution once the police have made an arrest or the defendant appears in court. 

"It can be possible to continue with prosecutions without the victims support. Prosecutors focus on other evidence, including tapes of 999 calls, photographs taken by the police of injuries or damage or statements from witnesses who have seen or heard an assault. 

"However, without the victim's evidence it is not always possible to continue the case and we pay great attention to helping victims to attend court and give their evidence. The CPS can apply to the courts for special measures to help with this. Witnesses can give evidence from behind a screen so they dont have to see the defendant. They will normally be able to see the court before the hearing so they are more familiar with it and in some cases they can give evidence via a video link. Victims tell us that these and the other measures available really help them give evidence, especially when it their husband or partner in the dock.

"Being a witness is not always easy but doing nothing is not always the easy option either.  Domestic abusers rarely stop of their own accord and whilst ever the victim puts up with the abuse it is likely to continue.  In addition many abusers who use violence in the home are repeat offenders and will move from victim to victim because they have not been stopped.

"A crucial message which I want to get over to all victims is that if you do report abuse you will be taken seriously and you will be supported and assisted throughout the process.  Your safety will be a paramount concern and your fears and concerns will be understood and taken seriously.

"Victims of domestic violence should not suffer in silence. If we are to tackle domestic violence and reduce the misery it causes then it is important that victims come forward.  It does take some courage, but do not underestimate the support available, not just from the CPS but from agencies across the East Midlands. We understand the many reasons why people may be reluctant to do so, but we want to help you escape the cycle of domestic violence."