Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Island's 'abuse model' a success

By Thelma Etim
BBC News, Isle of Wight

A woman protecting herself from a blow from her partner
The island has a network of support systems for domestic abuse sufferers

Next Thursday, is the final session of the Freedom Programme, run by former RAF intelligence analyst Fiona Gwinnett.

In a nondescript social services building in the town of Newport, Isle of Wight, up to 19 women have been sitting beside each other for two-hour sessions over the past 12 weeks.

They have both laughed and cried while sharing their experiences at the hands of their abusive partners.

Many of them will have been referred there by Hampshire Constabulary's domestic abuse officers in the force's public protection unit.

Freedom's statistics suggest the approach is working - 260 women attended the programme in 2008.

He punched me in the face and then he pinned me down on the floor
Domestic abuse sufferer Amelie

The figures have risen this year - 167 abused women were on the scheme in the first six months.

The increase shows more cases of abuse are being indentified meaning more victims can be helped.

Instead of attending "domestic incidents" just to keep the peace, police officers are reporting cases to the force public protection unit.

Warning signs

Amelie, not her real name, is one of the programme's successes - she was able to leave her husband and start a new life.

"On one occasion he got very drunk and punched me in the face and then pinned me down on the floor in our hotel room," she said.

"He said I had embarrassed him by spending too much time in the ladies' toilet when our dinner had already arrived at our table."

Amelie, who has several children, revealed she was only allowed to go out in the evening with her friends twice in three and a half years of married life.

"The programme is brilliant," she said. "I always look forward it.

"I am much more confident and I have learned to spot the warning signs in men I meet.

Freedom Programme founder Pat Craven
Ms Craven says her course builds the domestic abuse survivor's confidence

"Everything I looked forward to he ruined but now I am free."

So what is the Freedom Programme?

It was founded in Wales in 1999 by former probation officer Pat Craven and is aimed at "teaching women to recognise they are being abused".

She created a concept called "The dominator", which is essentially a list of the common characteristics she has identified in abusers.

They are depicted in cartoon illustrations, which include: "The Sexual Controller", who may rape his partner; "The Liar", who denies abuse; and "The Bully" who intimidates his partner by shouting and destroying possessions.

Ms Craven says she drew her inspiration for the concept from the men she worked with during the last years of her former career.

Some of those men had been convicted of rape and murder.

Make friends

But some men are also victims of abuse and men attend the course in cities and towns across England and Wales.

"[The course] is not therapy, it is about information - educating women to understand the dynamics of their relationship with an abuser," she said.

"They make friends, laugh a lot and build their confidence."

Picture posed for by model
Domestic attacks result in the death of at least one woman every week

Ms Craven believes the Isle of Wight's abuse support network is a model for other police forces around the country.

Mrs Gwinnett, who established the Isle of Wight's programme in 2004, said: "The general demand for the scheme grows annually.

"We had to stop taking referrals from the police in October and this month because we could not cope with volume."

In May this year, the island's Specialist Domestic Abuse Court (SDAC) was launched - another link in the chain of support systems.

Insp Owen Kenny, head of the Isle of Wight Public Protection Unit (PPU), said: "The SDAC provides confidence to victims and ensures them that they are protected and supported from the time of reporting abuse, throughout the process of the criminal justice system and beyond."

The latest Home Office figures suggest domestic attacks result in the death of at least one woman every week, on average, in England and Wales.

Print Sponsor

Domestic abuse project under way
30 Oct 09 |  Berkshire
Pilot for male violence victims
03 Oct 09 |  Hampshire


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