Words by Amanda Eleftheriades-Sherry With Photos by Charlie Eleftheriades-Sherry
West Dunbartonshire Council today became the first social landlord in Scotland to declare a zero tolerance policy on domestic abuse in all local authority properties.
At an emotionally-charged press conference in Clydebank Town Hall councillors, Police, council officials and representatives from Women’s Aid Dumbarton shared their plans to make homes safer for women and children.
The new initiative will introduce a range of practical measures and specialist legal support to help victims of domestic abuse remain safely in their homes.
And the Council will use their full legal powers to forcibly remove tenants who are found guilty of violence in the home.
The tough stance is a response to the high levels of domestic abuse in West Dunbartonshire which saw 1,395 incidents reported to Police Scotland in 2016/17 and 186 households presenting as homeless as a result.
New Way Of Working
It will see housing teams work in partnership with the Police, Courts and Criminal Justice teams to co-ordinate swift action against the most serious offenders while supporting the victims to choose whether they want to remain in the family home or find new accommodation.
Janine Jardine of Dumbarton District Women’s Aid (DDWA) said: “We know these incidences are happening in West Dunbartonshire behind closed doors and women stay in these relationships because they are at greatest risk when they do decide to leave.
“That is why we have to work together so that when a woman does make that difficult decision to leave she knows she will have all the support she needs to protect herself and her family.
“We also need the community to come together to help stop this. We need to stop asking ‘why doesn’t she leave him’ and instead ask ‘why doesn’t he stop hitting her’.
“There is confidential support available and help-line numbers which anyone can call to report domestic abuse – don’t be a bystander to domestic abuse.”
Speaking from the audience Clydesider’s photographer Charlie Eleftheriades-Sherry told of his personal experience as a child growing up in a home where domestic abuse was a regular occurrence.
He said: “No matter who in the household is the perpetrator – although in the vast majority of cases it is the man, in my home it was my Dad – the children are always the victims.
“At the time you think this violent abuse is the normal way to live but when you start to realise it’s not, the guilt and shame stops you talking about it and the psychological scars stay with you for the rest of your life.”
As part of the ‘No Home for Domestic Abuse’ the Council’s housing team will be able to get a locksmith out to change a tenant’s locks within hours of a report of abuse plus they can install peep-holes and even CCTV cameras.
These measures are designed to keep families safe while the perpetrator will be forcibly removed and not be able to return to the family home if given bail. If found guilty of domestic abuse, they will only be offered a short term tenancy an adequate distance away.
Figures show that 79% of victims of domestic abuse are women, many of whom suffer not just physical violence but mental and sexual abuse at the hands of their partner.
Councillor Diane Docherty, Convener of Housing and Communities, said: “Not all abuse ends up with a bruise. It can be psychological abuse which takes over every aspect of your life until you find yourself asking for money to buy your tampax or you have to make sure the table is set a certain way.
“This emotional and mental control of every aspect of your life is abuse and we need to start treating domestic abuse as a human rights issue.”
Dumbarton DIstrict Women’s Aid have also been working in local schools to encourage young people to talk about what a healthy relationship looks like and to recognise that abusive relationships are not normal.
Councillor Caroline McAllister, the Council’s spokesperson for Action on Domestic Abuse, said: “One thing we need to do is create a safe environment. We must encourage our young people to change the whole culture of shame and guilt that surrounds domestic abuse, unfortunately for too long our culture has tended to collude with abuse and make it almost acceptable.
“This campaign will put the Council and our partners in a stronger position to more robustly tackle this issue.
“It is wrong for victims of domestic abuse to have to flee their homes which only adds to their stress. We want to reassure victims and their families they can stay in their homes and inform them where they can get the help and support they need locally.”
For more information on the No Home for Domestic Abuse campaign and to access the support available call 01389 738510. To report incidents call Police Scotland on 101 or 999. For direct support contact Women’s Aid Dumbarton on 01389 751036 or Women’s Aid Clydebank on 0141 9528118.