This afternoon Justin Lee Collins has been found guilty of a “campaign of abuse” against his ex-partner, Anna Larke. Over the span of six months, Collins was accused of trying to control his partner’s life, threatening her and dictating what she could and couldn’t do.
Such abuse has resulted in Collins being sentenced to one hundred and forty hours of unpaid work. A positive outcome in this case, but sadly such reports of domestic abuse are far from uncommon and across the West Midlands this week alone, many similar incidents will come to our attention.
At the same time, many more will not.
Many will go unreported, suffering will continue and in some cases one day the outcome may well prove to be fatal.
Domestic abuse isn’t something to be underestimated, nor is it something that should be allowed to continue unabated. Police forces up and down the country are ready to help victims when they come forward and as the Collins case suggests, the courts are ready to prosecute those responsible.
As someone who has attended more reports of domestic abuse than I care to think about, I think two things stand out about the matter.
Firstly, the extent of domestic abuse isn’t always apparent to the victim and in some cases not even recognised as ‘abuse’ at all.
Abuse doesn’t have to be physical – emotional blackmail, threats and verbal abuse are all counted as domestic incidents and nor does sexuality make a difference to how we treat abuse. The definition of domestic abuse is wide ranging and allows us to deal with abuse in many different forms.
Problems can start gradually – a push after a few drinks, raised voices and then maybe even an apology the morning after. Such behaviour is written off to the heat of the moment, alcohol, work stress. Thing is, it happens again. Then again.
Over the coming weeks or months, the abuse establishes itself. It may be written off by the perpetrator as accidental, or attempts made to isolate the victim so that he or she doesn’t realise how bad the abuse has become. Either way it continues.
I remember speaking to one domestic abuse victim reporting harassment after suffering in silence for months, out of curiosity I’d asked why she hadn’t reported it sooner and was told “It happened so gradually I didn’t even realise there was a problem”.
A problem there was, a serious one at that, and it goes to show how identifying domestic abuse isn’t easy, nor is it something that victims are always going to want to face up to.
Secondly, when a person realises that they’re victims of domestic abuse, the next obstacle can be speaking out against it. Be it unfamiliarity with the police, fear of the court system or simply fright of reprisals from the partner, domestic abuse is a problem frequently under-reported.
I don’t doubt that taking the significant step of approaching the police for help is a hard one to take – it takes a rare courage and a real determination to escape the trap of domestic abuse.
Us officers recognise this and will do our very best to guide victims through the process of making a report, offering all the support that we are able along the way.
Of course approaching the police isn’t the only way that abuse can be reported and should victims not feel ready to call the police, charities such as Refuge can help, be it supplying advice or simply offering someone with whom to talk about problems.
If the above has rang bells for you or someone you know, I’d encourage you to give us a call as soon as you feel ready and discuss your situation so that we can try and find a solution.
Had Anna Larke not come forward, it’s not unlikely she could still be in the situation now that she found herself in last year. She found the courage to come forward, to speak out and to break the cycle.
If her situation sounds familiar, it’s possible for you to do the same too.