Welsh Domestic Abuse – The Shocking Truth

Wales prides itself on being a rugby-loving nation. But behind the sense of pride lurks a secret shame – for every match that’s played, another victim of domestic violence is claimed.

Women’s aid groups claim domestic violence doubles on international rugby days, quadruples if Wales are beaten and multiplies by eight if Wales lose to England.

Last night, as the Rugby World Cup came to an exciting finale in Paris, the same support groups were counting the cost and looking into what extent the tournament has caused domestic turmoil in some households across Wales.

And with help from police officers, it could soon become clear how not everyone was spending last night cheering England on to glory.

For the past three years, Gwent Police has led the way by cracking down on match day abuse by running Team Saff (safe) – a £1,000-a-day domestic violence patrol unit.

The unit sees plain-clothed officers in unmarked vehicles patrol the Caerphilly and Blaenau Gwent region, speaking to victims in the aftermath of a domestic violence incidents, offering reassurance and encouraging them to report incidents.

While England were beating France in last Saturday’s World Cup clash, six officers were deployed from their base in Bargoed town centre to pick up the pieces from yet another booze-fuelled violent outburst.

Between 7pm and 2am, the unit responded to eight reports of domestic abuse. But because of the secretive nature of domestic violence, countless other cases may have gone unreported that night.

As officers entered one victim’s house – who had called to report violence at the hands of her ex-girlfriend – she instantly dismissed her own claims, describing the incident as “nothing”. But the bruises to her arms and face told a different story.

Detective Sergeant Andy Bartholomew, leading Team Saff, said the unit’s most important role is to restore some of the victim’s confidence.

“Confidence is a big part of it,” he said. “When the victims haven’t got much confidence in the courts, they blame the police.

“Part of the reason we are plain-clothed officers is to create a less officious atmosphere and to offer reassurance for the victim. If you’re not in uniform you seem more relaxed.”

He said that limited resources prevent Team Saff from assisting officers on domestic violence cases throughout the year.

“In an ideal world we want to make life easier for the uniformed police officers”, he said.

“The finances aren’t there to do this all the time. Seven nights will cost £7,000, but we do as well as the resources we have.

“Incidents range from verbal arguments with a partner to people who’ve been hospitalised. The ultimate one is a murder. A high percentage of murders, three out of five, are domestic related.”

DS Bartholomew said that witnessing the devastation caused by domestic violence sometimes makes it difficult for members of the unit to remain detached, particularly where children are involved.

“Our duty is towards the victim, but also to her children,” he said. “We have a responsibility to make sure they’re not in the middle of any domestic violence. You have to try to go home and switch off. If we took things too much to heart we would never sleep at night. But it’s more than a job.”

Team Saff member Detective Constable Caroline O’Donnell told how risk assessment was essential in identifying repeat offenders and victims of domestic violence.

“All the questions we ask them are about risk assessment,” she said. “We go through the forms and determine how high or low the risk is. We try to provide a service to everyone but we concentrate on those at higher risk and offer them advice to protect them.”

She said that higher risk victims were supplied with alarms and security cameras, but technological change was rendering some equipment obsolete.

“For high risk victims, we fit police alarms and sometimes security cameras at their homes,” she said. “When someone dials 999, it usually takes between five and 10 minutes for the police officers to be told about it.”

Fitting a police alarm will make the process extremely quick, taking officers between 30 seconds to one minute to respond.

“The older alarms work off landlines, but a lot of people just have mobile phones these days so the alarms need to be replaced. The new alarms work off a radio signal. Replacing all the alarms will be very expensive,” she said.

Team Saff works in conjunction with groups such as Welsh Women’s Aid to encourage those who suffer in silence to come forward. An outreach support worker for Women’s Aid said: “One in three women will suffer from domestic abuse at some time in their lifetime.

“It’s important to get the message across to anyone suffering that it’s not their fault, they’re not on their own and there are agencies out there who can help them.”