People across Leeds have been urged to unite and take a collective responsibility in tackling the hidden issue of domestic violence across the city.
The sheer scale of the problem in Leeds has prompted a rallying cry for employers, charities, schools, sports clubs as well as the council and police to all work together to stamp out one of the city’s biggest challenges.
The topic was the subject of debate as leaders from the private, public and third sectors gathered at the YEP’s office for the latest Voice of Leeds Summit, organised with the Leeds Community Foundation.
Domestic violence in the city has led to the deaths of 17 people over the past three years and has affected the lives of thousands of men, women and children.
Supt Sam Miller, of Safer Leeds, branded the number of murders “outrageous” and said: “The scale of the problem is just something we need to accept and agree”. She said businesses becoming aware of the issue would help lead to a “stepchange” in the city. She said: “All our victims are generally employed by someone. All our perpetrators work somewhere. [We need to] talk to businesses and HR managers to say: ‘Are you actively searching for potential victims, witnesses, children in your environment?.”
Coun Mark Dobson, executive member for safer communities, said domestic violence is now one of the city’s top priorities. He said: “We have to never be in the situation again where we have dedicated professionals in organisations doing good work with families and young people but there’s no connectivity and it’s not joined up.”
The summit also highlighted the importance of focusing on prevention and aftercare - for offenders as well as victims, to break the city’s “high level of repeat offending”. And all can play a part. Dan Busfield, partnership manager at Leeds Rhinos Foundation, spoke of the club’s potential to use its connections with local sports groups and schools, to raise awareness of healthy relationships. The meeting heard there are some communities in Leeds were no domestic violence is reported - which “cannot be a reflection” of the real story. Nahid Rasool, director or Shantona Women’s Centre said the problem can be embedded in cultural practices and spoke of their success with “community messengers” who spread awareness within hard-to-reach households. Kate Bratt-Farrar, of Leeds Women’s Aid, urged the city to continue to trail a blaze: “Leeds has a reputation, going back years and years, for being at the forefront of this groundbreaking work.”
The worrying effect of domestic violence on children was highlighted by panelists on the YEP Voice of Leeds summit.
The summit heard witnessing abuse in the home can have a devastating impact on young children’s lives - and potentially affect their ability to form healthy relationships in the future.
While in some parts of the city, services work with schools where a child may be affected by domestic violence, the panel heard this was very much “fragmented” across the city.
Supt Sam Miller said Leeds should follow good practice in Greater Manchester where a child’s school is made aware within 24 hours of a domestic incident.
She said it explains to teachers that “a child might be coming in and you might see a difference in behaviour - there’s a reason for that.”
Coun Judith Blake, executive member for children and families, said even hearing domestic violence through neighbours’ walls would have an impact on children.
As reported in the YEP, services across Leeds are reporting a rise in domestic abuse among the 16-24-years-old age bracket - largely through online apps and the accessibility of mobile phones. Jane Thoy, of Behind Closed Doors, said this could also be due to children growing up with violence in the household and accepting it as the “norm”.
She warned: “That threshold of tolerance - which is unacceptable - is rising.”
Pip Goff, programmes manager at Leeds Community Foundation, who chaired the summit, said afterwards: “It was fantastic to hear from a range of business and voluntary sector leaders that share a collective goal of tackling domestic violence which can have a devastating impact on families and communities.” She added: “We want local communities to have the confidence to come forward and seek the support they need. “We hope this summit will inform local businesses and people of the services that are available and how everyone can play their part in addressing this issue.”