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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 23:30 GMT
Domestic violence: A police perspective
Sussex Police officer Kate Witt works in an Anti-Victimisation Unit set up in 2001 to investigate domestic violence and also crimes motivated by racism or homophobia. Here she talks about the work of the unit and her own changing perceptions of domestic violence.

Between the start of January 2002 and the end of November 2002, 2,781 incidents of domestic violence were reported in Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of England.

Whilst all reported incidents are investigated, our particular unit takes on those at the most serious end of the scale.

These are usually offences involving serious assault or sexual offences.

Investigations conducted within the unit have also included murder and assaults against pregnant women who have subsequently lost their babies.

The message being sent out is that the police are interested and people who abuse will be prosecuted
I have dealt with victims from all social backgrounds and age groups.

It is important to recognise that men are also victims of domestic violence - our domestic violence case worker has worked hard to raise the profile of violence against males.

Our force policy states that when officers attend an incident of domestic violence and a 'power of arrest' exists (ie an offence has been committed where officers are empowered to arrest), officers will arrest in 80% of cases.

This is hopefully helping to change the perception that violence within the home is "just a domestic" and that the police will not be interested.

The message being sent out is that the police are interested and people who abuse within the family will be prosecuted.

Legal hurdles

As a police officer, the frustration very often arises when the matter finally reaches court.

While my experience with the local Crown Prosecution Service has been good, with a willingness to prosecute domestic violence, rules of evidence at court are fairly inflexible.

This means that evidence of past violence by the defendant may be excluded and the magistrates or jury just see a snapshot of an incident rather than the whole picture.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
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Another difficulty is that victims of domestic violence will often withdraw their complaint and refuse to attend court. They also often return to the abusive partner.

They can then become hostile towards the officers who first helped them and resentful when the matter has been taken to court against their wishes.

There are no current figures for attrition rates, where an offender has been charged but a victim retracts, but from personal experience, large numbers of victims are initially keen to prosecute but then refuse to go to court when the time comes.

This often happens despite continued support from the case workers.

Understanding

I will admit that before I worked on the unit I was rather arrogant, and held the opinion: "Why don't these women leave their abusers?"

I have now changed my attitude and realise that for a variety of reasons - financial, children, ill-health, victims do return to their partners and face further violence.

These victims require continued support and monitoring and must not be shunned because of the decisions they have made.

Despite some real successes, where I have seen victims leave their abusive relationships and become visibly healthier as a result, there is a burn-out for working in this area of policing.

Having worked on the unit for two years I feel that it is time for change.

My lasting impression is that domestic violence, like most negative areas within our society has always existed and probably always will.

The important thing is to send out a message: to those who commit offences, that is unacceptable and to the victims, you are not responsible.




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