Walking down any ordinary street in Salford, it is astonishing to even contemplate that behind some doors will be abusive relationships. With tables suggesting that we have the highest number of incidents throughout Greater Manchester though, many are obviously silent victims. But with new volunteer led support groups and national laws coming into force, there are clear plans of a brighter future for those who have escaped violent partners.
Jane Gregory is just one woman who has made it her mission to protect the vulnerable from an agonising and abusive relationship.
In the early part of this year, she founded the Salford Survivor Project. The group aims to support those going through, or having gone through, an abusive relationship.
Jane was prompted to act after a number of murders in Salford. She said that it is local victims Linzi Ashton and also Leanne McNuff, who was killed by an ex-partner, who made her determined to set up the volunteer-led group. Her emotions ran high when thinking of the victims, and she openly admits to once crying when thinking of Linzi Ashton’s two children left without a mother.
“I decided this year that enough was enough,” she said. “Support, campaigning and awareness is needed to stop the abuse.
“Linzi Ashton and Leanne McNuff should not die in vain. Lessons need to be learnt, and the Salford Survivor Project will hopefully be a legacy for them for years to come.”
The story of Linzi Ashton made national headlines when her body was found at her home in late June. Her ex-partner, Michael Cope, is currently on trial having pleaded not guilty.
Jane’s daughter was also a victim of domestic violence. But the six years that she suffered were put to an end when her friend Leanne McNuff, mentioned earlier, was killed. “Leanne saved my daughter’s life because then she decided to leave the abuse for good,” said Jane. “She knew that she couldn’t carry on living with a man who could lash out.
“He’d first attacked her when she was just 19, and on one occasion threatened to rape her before trying to rip the gas cooker from the wall. She knew she had to leave.”
There is no doubt that Jane’s group is a step in the right direction for protecting victims. But volunteer groups like this are up against startling figures, one revealing that last year there were 1,526 domestic abuse incidents reported to Greater Manchester Police over Christmas and New Year alone.
There are of course other more prominent groups helping victims daily. Women’s Aid, which was set up in 1974, works at regional and national levels. Dawn Redshaw, who is the manager of the Salford office, said that domestic abuse in Salford is a major issue.
“We’ve got one of the highest percentages and I think we’ve got one of the highest rates of domestic abuse in Greater Manchester. We dealt with over 5,500 calls last year.
“Only 30% of these calls were reported to the police, because many victims are too afraid to take it to that level.”
Working long hours at a small office in the heart of Salford, Dawn explained how the recent murders in the area had went some way to make other victims speak out before it’s too late.
“The more aware the threat is; people feel more confident to come forward. More victims are coming forward and not suffering in silence like they have for over thirty years.”
But many noted that the police also need to be trained more about how to deal with a victim who has decided to come forward. Looking back, Jane Gregory felt that her daughter was mistreated by police on a number of occasions. “The domestic violence unit informed my daughter that she was not high risk enough to be given a home alarm as the abuser had not been in contact,” she explained.
Dawn Redshaw of Women’s Aid also voiced concern, saying “police need to train more specialist officers that are going out to the houses, because we’ve got one of the best domestic violence units in Greater Manchester but the officers who are on the beat are not being told what to look for.” She went on to describe how whilst many steps are being made to make things better, some laws and practices remain in the force which ‘take steps back once again.’
Dawn did however raise her eyebrow at the thought of volunteer-led groups like Salford Survivor Project. Whilst being in support of them, she insisted that they ‘must be careful.’
“My staff are all trained by a Home Office scheme called MARAC and they receive specialist advocacy training, so how are these local groups that are just setting up managing” she questioned.
When asked about this, Jane Gregory, with a puzzled tone in her voice, insisted that all of the volunteers who handle victims one-to-one, called mentors, are trained and ex-survivors themselves, so to ‘relate’ to the person needing support. She also said that these mentors provide aftercare, something she said was lacking for many victims who have escaped abuse.
Both managers from Salford Survivor Project and Women’s Aid had the same distinct message for the local and national governments – aftercare is key. Currently, restraining orders are common practice but many are not held for a long enough time. “Many women are being tracked down and murdered after they’ve left their partner – we need more protection after somebody has left a violent relationship,” Dawn Redshaw explained. She went on to say that local government “are tending to the higher risk stuff and forgetting therapeutic work.”
With a tone of voice which sounded as if she was willing for people to understand the seriousness of aftercare, she analysed how domestic abuse works.
“Victims of domestic abuse are linked to torture and the tactics used by the perpetrator to abuse women is what was used in prisoner of war camps. People in those camps are often victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and are given long term support and counselling – these women are not getting that, and this is what they need.”
Whilst aftercare may be a problem, new laws have made those who work in the domestic abuse sector feel more positive. Many groups have voiced support for a new scheme being made open to the public called Clare’s Law, which gives people the opportunity to ask the police in confidence whether their partner has any previous convictions for domestic violence. The law was piloted in Greater Manchester earlier this year, with over 146 applications being made, 22 of them in Salford.
The law is named after Clare Wood, who was strangled to death in 2009 by her boyfriend who had a history of violence. Clare’s father, Michael Brown, was supported by Rt Hon Hazel Blears, MP for Salford and Eccles.
After being given the green light to be rolled out nationally on 25th November, Hazel Blears spoke through a spokesperson, commenting “(Clare’s Law) has the potential not only to change people’s lives for the better, but also to save lives, so I am absolutely delighted that it is being rolled out.
“I know how dearly Michael wishes that this option had been available to Clare, and of his belief that if it had been; she might still be with us today.”
Mrs Blears was an advocate of the law, even organising a parliamentary launch for the campaign at Westminster. The law went on to receive support from many from the political spectrum. She was also a key player in allowing Michael Brown to speak personally to Home Secretary Theresa May.
“The roll-out of the scheme is a testament to the hard work of everyone who has been involved in our campaign, including Clare’s dad. It is also testament to the dedication of all the police officers and partners who have been involved in making the four police schemes a success,” Mrs Blears said.
Despite political delight, and comfort for the father of Clare Wood, Dawn Redshaw of Women’s Aid mentioned an astonishing fact – Clare’s Law is something which we’ve “technically always had.
“Police have always had the power to disclose information but it’s a power which has now been tidied up.”
She did however go on to say that she thinks that the more unified law will now “work for the victims.”
Nonetheless, Christmas will be a tumultuous time for some. As stated earlier, there is a steep rise in the number of police callouts over the December, and Dawn Redshaw offers a theory as to why.
“I think the problem is that they try to keep the family together, and when Christmas Day has been and gone, all the tension and stress builds up, and drinking alcohol adds to the dynamics.”
“My staff will be working in A&E from next week with specialist trained officers and specialist safe-guarding nurses and what we’ll do is try to use the domestic violence protection orders to help those in need.”
Written in December 2013 as a university assignment