Hidden harm is happening in Essex
I was delighted to see so many people at the latest Essex Police Challenge on Thursday February 27 in Chelmsford. There were lots of great questions from the audience, and I was particularly pleased to welcome members of the YMCA Young Governors and Essex Youth Assembly. I look forward to working with them more closely going forwards on how we can make this county even safer for our young people.
The Essex Police Challenge was a great opportunity to debate some really important issues around local policing in our county, and for those who couldn’t make it, a video of the event is available to view on the PCC website. In just a couple of days we’ve already had over 300 views, which I think demonstrates how much people care about their local policing.
You can watch the video here.
I’ll be writing a second article later this week, focusing on domestic abuse and a big announcement that Essex Police will be making to mark International Women’s Day on Friday March 7.
In this piece though, I will concentrate on one of the most worrying things for me as Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex: the growing awareness of the significant numbers of people who are victims of various forms of abuse over and over again, and who for whatever reason don’t have the confidence or freedom to seek help from the police or other agencies. These people are suffering hidden harm, and we must work together to prevent it.
This community of the ‘hidden harmed’ is hugely diverse. Very often victims are hidden in plain sight – people we sit next to on the bus or pass on the street, but who exist in their own private prison, without the support or confidence to speak out. There are many types of hidden harm, including female genital mutilation (FGM) and other types of so-called ‘honour’ based abuse, which add up to the simple fact that there are far too many people in this country – and in this county – experiencing intimate terrorism, often from the people they should be able to trust most.
I welcome the debate generated by the recent petition on tackling FGM. While I decided at the beginning of my election campaign not to sign up to any petitions as a matter of principle, I can and will do more than that: by helping to raise awareness of this important issue in Essex, and by holding police and partner agencies to account in how they are supporting victims and bringing offenders to justice.
In the coming months my team and I will be working with Essex Police and partners to develop a more robust strategy for dealing with these types of hidden harm, in which the victims are often women, but may also be children and men. We can only tackle these issues in partnership, and we will work diligently to improve the communication, information sharing and partnerships that will allow us to identify victims, provide better support to them, and deliver tougher outcomes for perpetrators of these hidden harms.
UPDATED ON MARCH 4, 2014.
To my knowledge, there have been no successful prosecutions for Female Genital Mutilation anywhere in the country. However, we know that women are suffering from this heinous crime. The government estimates that over 20,000 British girls are at risk of being cut every year.
My aim is to be strongly involved in work to develop a multi-agency strategy, with effective partnership working, to identify victims and those at risk of hidden harm, and to provide support for them across Essex and the unitary authorities of Southend and Thurrock.
As Police and Crime Commissioner, I expect Essex Police to play a key role in helping lead this work but they will need the strong support of local councils and Community Safety Partnerships, voluntary groups, the health service, schools and colleges, and anyone in our communities who simply suspects that something is wrong.
Just as victims must have the confidence to report domestic abuse to Essex Police or partner agencies, so we must encourage and support victims of hidden harm – whether it be Female Genital Mutilation or human trafficking – to report these crimes to appropriate groups.
If you suspect a friend or family member has suffered or may be at risk of FGM, you should always report this to Essex Police or Social Services, or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
There is also a national charity, called FORWARD, that has done extensive research particularly in the area of FGM, and which also provides advice and support.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex Police