New survey launched about the personal safety of women and girls

We have launched a new survey so we can hear more from women and girls on how they feel about their own personal safety in Cumbria.

The online survey seeks opinion on topics including how women and girls feel in their own homes, neighbourhoods and towns – and includes questions about their own experiences.

We are aiming to use this information to better inform our policing services as part of ongoing work to address the national issue of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).

A range of work has already been carried out as the constabulary improves and updates its services and response to these offences and these issues.

But we are always aiming to improve and are seeking first-hand experiences and opinions to help us with this.

The work so far on this issue has seen positive results that means Cumbria has been a leading force nationally in the last year.

Since April 2022, Cumbria has been ranked either first or second in the country for convictions at court in relation to VAWG offences, with an average of between 84 per cent and nearly 87 per cent ending in a guilty plea or verdict.

The survey, which is completely anonymous, is available at: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/LSYSYC/

It will run until April 2.

Detective Superintendent Sally Blaiklock said: “Violence against women and girls is unacceptable and Cumbria Constabulary and our partners always treat these issues seriously.

(left to right) Detective Inspector Matt Belshaw and Detective Superintendent Sally Blaiklock

“In Cumbria Constabulary, we all wish to deliver an outstanding service and keep all people safe.

“In this respect, violence against women and girls is no different and we are always looking to see how we can get better and improve our services for the sake of our communities in Cumbria.

“Feeling unsafe is obviously not an experience exclusive to women and girls.

“But sexual violence and harassment offences are overwhelmingly committed by males against females.

“We believe we have made great progress in improving how we deal with these offences and issues.

“We have implemented a range of measures, operations and activities to make women and girls feel safer and to deter these crimes and tackle the perpetrators of these offences.

“The conviction rates achieved by our work with the CPS putting cases before the courts also shows how seriously we take these offences and the work that goes into cases.

“Cumbria is one of the safest places to live. However, these crimes do happen here.

“They can happen behind closed doors or in public places, online or in the real world.

“We have carried out a lot of work to address the issue of violence against women and girls and we believe this survey will be our latest tool to help our drive to constantly improve.”

What is VAWG?

The term Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) refers to acts of violence or abuse that we know disproportionately affect women and girls.

Crimes and behaviour covered by this term include rape and other sexual offences, domestic abuse, stalking, ‘honour’-based abuse – as well as many others, including offences committed online.

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THE WORK CARRIED OUT SO FAR:

Our first survey on this issue – Call It Out

We carried out our first survey under the banner of Call It Out in 2021.

It saw more than 5,000 people take part, with additional feedback sought from victims and partner agencies.

Creation of a new dedicated operational Violence Against Women and Girls detective inspector post.

Detective Inspector Matt Belshaw was appointed to this post in July last year. He reports to Det Supt Blaiklock.

DI Belshaw has 20 years experience as a police officer, including 18 as a detective, holding specialist roles in areas of policing such as child exploitation and public protection as well as with the Home Office investigating international human trafficking of women and girls.

This role provides operational oversight for crime investigation, officer and staff development, proactive deterrence and preventative operations.

He also co-ordinates strong partnership working.

Operation Vigilant

In July 2021, we launched Operation Vigilant.

This is a perpetrator-focused, uniformed street patrol campaign to deter potential opportunistic offenders in the night-time economy.

Specialist training was given to officers on night shifts in urban areas.

The training provides officers with key identifying markers for potential perpetrators targeting vulnerable people coming out of venues such as pubs and clubs.

The training also looks at public engagement and supporting those in a vulnerable state.

Anyone whose behaviour correlates to any of the key markers will be stopped by uniformed officers and questions will be asked to establish the circumstances around their activity and behaviour.

Nearly 60 VAWG champions established in force

These are voluntary positions undertaken alongside the day job of those involved.

They are integral to developing a changing culture and the champions are out-and-about in their respective areas of policing, influencing positive change and supporting colleagues with investigations.

Verification process

In October 2021 a new officer verification process was introduced for people who would like to confirm the identity of a lone working Cumbria Constabulary officer with whom they come into contact.

This was to reassure people who may have concerns about lone officers and the reason for their interaction with them.

All Cumbria Constabulary officers will provide their collar number to anyone who asks and will call the control room on their police radio asking an officer or staff member to confirm their identity, location, that they are on duty and the reason why the officer is speaking with them.

The officer’s radio will be on loudspeaker so the person can hear the response.

All uniformed Cumbria Constabulary officers are equipped with body worn video cameras and they will make clear to people it is switched on and recording.

Officers are unable to edit or wipe footage from body worn cameras.

In the rare event that an off-duty lone officer is involved in an incident, the officer will call 999 and allow the member of the public to speak to an officer or staff member in the Constabulary’s control room on the phone. Once notified of an incident, uniformed officers will be sent to the scene as quickly as possible.

Media messages

The constabulary features violence against women and girls in its campaigns run throughout the year, with particular social media and media messaging also focussing on the issue and aiming to deter offences.

Carlisle Safer Streets Welfare Hub

We have worked with our partners to establish and promote the Carlisle Safer Streets Welfare Hub.

This supports those out in the city’s night-time economy, specifically helping vulnerable people.

It operates on Court Square, near the man nightlife areas and the train station, in an easy-to-identify red gazebo on a Saturday night between 9pm and 3am.

The staff at the hub – student volunteers from the University of Cumbria, officers from Carlisle City Council and our own neighbourhood policing team officers – are trained in First Aid, conflict resolution and safeguarding.

VAWG training

This is delivered to student officers enrolling in the constabulary as well as operational sergeants and inspectors.

Further training is being provided this year to other operational officers.

Training is being delivered to relevant partners, including witness care, probation and health services.

A CASE STUDY – HOW THE WORK OPERATES ACROSS AGENCIES AND METHODS

Threlkeld railway walk

In September 2022 we received a report about a lone woman being approached on the path by a man. She felt very frightened.

The walk was added to a patrol plan.

The public safety information that followed challenged inappropriate behaviour by males towards women and girls.

DI Belshaw met with the Mayor of Keswick and members of the local authority to plan for better lighting along the route to minimise the fear of violence in women and girls.

This followed reports from schoolgirls to the council suggesting they were scared to use the pathway.

Crime prevention officers were asked to prepare a report into better lighting.

Work continues to tackle offences and help women and girls feel safer

Det Supt Blaiklock said: “Everyone should be safe and feel safe, no matter where they are.

“We support all departments across the constabulary to ensure they have the tools and knowledge they need to effectively identify and tackle these crimes.

“We also work with partners across Cumbria, such as schools and colleges and women’s support centres, to listen to the issues experienced and to offer opportunities such as education, support, reporting and, where appropriate, looking at what extra needs to be done to tackle crime.”

Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, said: “Everyone has the right to feel safe in Cumbria, especially women and girls, who are more likely to face sexual violence and harassment.

“This survey is a fantastic opportunity for the public to provide first-hand experience and personal views on how safe they feel in their own communities so that the Constabulary can effectively work towards creating a safer environment for all women and girls.

“I would urge all women and girls to take part in this survey – your views are incredibly important.

“If any woman or girl has been affected by a crime, they can receive support in Cumbria, whether they wish to report it to the Police or not. Victim Support can provide support and signpost to the appropriate services on all types of crime that affects women and girls. They can be contacted on 0300 303 0157, Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm or use the online chat 24 hours day at Get help in Cumbria – Victim Support.”

HOW DO I REPORT TO POLICE?

If you wish to report to police you can do so online at www.cumbria.police.uk/report-it.

You can also phone on 101.

Always phone 999 in an emergency or if a crime is in progress.

Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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SOME OF THE SUPPORT SERVICES AVAILABLE – FACTFILE

  • Cumbria-wide, Victim Support – Victim Support can support anyone over a number of crimes, including abuse, Mon – Fri 9am-6pm – and can be reached on 0300 303 0157. The national 24/7 helpline is 0808 1689 111. Victim Support also has a 24/7 online chat on their website, victimsupport.org.uk
  • Cumbria-wide, The Bridgeway – The Bridgeway Sexual Assault Support Services offers a vital lifeline to those who have been victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse in the county. The Bridgeway is open 24/7 and can be contacted on 0808 118 6432.
  • North and West, Safety Net – Safety Net support anyone who has experienced rape, exploitation, sexual and domestic abuse. They can be contacted Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm on 01228 515859.
  • North: Gateway 4 Women, Carlisle, provides support on issues like domestic abuse, mental wellbeing, homelessness, housing etc. and can also provide information on other domestic and sexual abuse services. They are open Monday – Thursday 9.30am – 4.30pm, Friday 9.30am – 1.00pm. They can be called on 01228 212090
  • South, Birchall Trust – The Birchall Trust offer counselling sessions to males and females of all ages who have experienced sexual abuse/rape. Counsellors help survivors to make sense of their story, answer difficult questions about what has happened to them, help people to come to terms with their situation and heal. The Birchall Trust can be reached on 01229 820828, Monday –Friday, 9am-5pm.
  • South: Women’s Community Matters, Barrow, can help with issues like domestic and sexual abuse, benefits and housing issues and mental wellbeing. They can also provide information on other services that can help you. They are open Monday 9.30am – 4pm, Tuesday 9.30am – 6pm, Wednesday 9.30am – 4pm, Thursday 9.30am – 6pm, Friday 9.30am – 1pm and can be reached on 01229 311102.
  • A round-up of services across Cumbria is available here: Victim Services Archive – Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (cumbria-pcc.gov.uk)


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