If you manage a block with just a handful of flats, chances are some kind of domestic abuse is taking place behind those closed doors, statistics say.
Every week in England and Wales two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner and police say they receive 100 calls an hour reporting domestic abuse.
More than 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 have experienced such abuse in the last year, according to the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales. Of those, 1.2 million were women while 713,000 men suffered at the hands of abusers.
The Women’s Aid and Nia Femicide research has shown that 75% of women killed by current or ex-partners in 2016 were killed in their own homes.
Neighbour who failed to respond
One such case that year was the death of 27-year-old Natasha Bradbury, who had been savagely beaten by her boyfriend Luke Jones in their flat in the Welsh town of Haverfordwest.
Swansea Crown Court heard how Jones – who was jailed for life after being found guilty of Natasha’s murder – had smashed up the property and beat his partner so badly she suffered cracked ribs as well as injuries to her neck, brain, heart and liver.
Shockingly, the court heard that a neighbour, Timothy Down, had tried to record the sound of the beating rather than phone police because he did not want to get involved.
The court heard a recording on his phone in which he says: “There seems to be some kind of domestic aggression coming from apartment A. Seems to be a male. The time is approximately 12.45am. Banging and shouting! Do I go across or call the police? I feel it is better to stay away.”
Crime that affects everyone
Studies claim that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and it takes place at all levels in society regardless of gender, social class, race, religion, sexuality or disability.
But domestic abuse is not just about physical violence – it can also be emotional, sexual and economic.
It can affect everyone and is not always obvious. But it isn’t, and shouldn’t, be considered a crime against women – it’s something that affects everyone.
The biggest issue around tackling domestic abuse is that it is a hidden crime. People are often too afraid to speak out and the No.1 reason why someone cannot leave their abuser, is due to housing circumstances.
If you have nowhere to go, what are you supposed to do? Where are you supposed to go?
This is all very alarming but what does it have to do with property managers? Surely this is a private matter? It is shocking, but there’s nothing that a block manager has any control or influence over surely? However, the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) says the opposite.
Leading the change
DAHA is a partnership between 3 organisations (Gentoo, Peabody and Standing Together against Domestic Violence) leading change in the housing sectors’ approach and response to domestic abuse. Founded in 2014, DAHA’s overarching mission is to ensure ‘housing’ improves its response to domestic abuse.
This has been achieved through the introduction of an established set of standards and accreditation of social housing providers and from lobbying and influencing. It says the housing sector is in a unique position to respond to domestic abuse was well as carrying out research and highlighting best practice.
DAHA is now extending its reach to look at how domestic abuse awareness and response can be addressed in the private rented sector – and this is where you come in!
DAHA believes that block managers have a vital part to play in raising awareness of domestic abuse and in supporting anyone experiencing domestic abuse.
They are not proposing that managers directly intervene and offer the same response as a social housing provider, but suggest block managers should consider a softer approach – and one that really can make a positive difference.
Don’t ignore potential signs and be reassured that there is help and advice out there at local levels, in terms of support services, and nationally, with helplines and advice.
Case study from SEA (Surviving Economic Abuse) Experts by Experience group member
Anna’s partner lived in her rented flat and didn't pay rent. He would shout at her in the middle of the night about nothing and stomp around. She would sneak round the flat closing all the windows in case she was reported for creating a disturbance.
On the many occasions she told him to leave the property he would scream: “You can't make me! I can do and say what I want.” Anna* was terrified.
Her neighbours heard what was going on but didn’t do anything or ask if she was ok. One night, the neighbour who lived opposite saw her open her door to try and get out the property, but her partner pulled her back in. The neighbour did nothing.
Anna’s partner also broke countless items in the property such as the washing machine and the sofa. She replaced these things as she was worried that her landlord would throw her out.
*Name changed to protect identity
The role of the block manager
- Raise awareness
- Work within communities and knowing the community
- Eyes and ears on the ground
What can you do?
- Display discrete posters and leaflets in communal areas
- Think about any presenting issues through lens of domestic abuse rather than just anti-social behaviour
- Support staff who are suffering from domestic abuse – develop and implement a staff policy that recognises that this can happen to anyone and cant’ be ignored. 75% of those experiencing domestic abuse are targeted at work. There is a useful toolkit for employers available here: https://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/sites/default/files/bitc_phe_domestic_abuse_toolkit-v3-compressed.pdf
- Train and increase awareness of concierge/cleaners/window cleaners/TV operatives/ maintenance teams to recognise signs of domestic abuse
- Reoccurring repairs to internal doors, walls, windows external doors and locks could be a sign of something else and shouldn’t be considered always as ‘malicious damage’ or just another ‘problem tenant’
- Annual events – Consider including something on domestic abuse
- Residents Associations and community groups – Make them aware of the signs and how to seek help.
The first thing you can do is put up posters in communal areas which promote the various domestic abuse support services and helplines that residents can call. People often don’t know where to go for help and something as simple as knowing the right phone number could potentially save a life.
The freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge, is a national service for women experiencing domestic violence, their family, friends, colleagues and indeed anyone calling on their behalf.
Secondly, don’t assume that all reports of nuisance behaviour are just that. Take a step back and consider whether a complaint is really just about noise or could it be something more serious? If you have any concerns about the safety and welfare of somebody living in a property you manage never ignore and sit back doing nothing.
Tackling domestic abuse is everybody’s responsibility.
The facts behind domestic abuse
- Almost 2 million people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse every year – 1.3 million female victims (8.2% of the population) and 600,000 male victims (4%)
- More than 100,000 people in the UK are at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse each year
- In 2013–14, police recorded 887,000 domestic abuse incidents in England and Wales
- Seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales
- 130,000 children live in homes where there is high-risk domestic abuse
- 62% of children living with domestic abuse are directly harmed by the perpetrator of the abuse, in addition to the harm caused by witnessing the abuse of others
- On average, victims at high risk of serious harm or murder live with domestic abuse for 2-3 years before getting help
- 85% of victims sought help five times on average from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse
Gudrun Burnet, Senior Business Partner (Domestic Abuse) Co -founder DAHA
To find out more or contact DAHA go to their website at www.dahalliance.org.uk
If you would like more information specifically on the DAHA PRS project then please contact Victoria Watts who is currently engaging nationally across the PRS to raise awareness and improve the response to domestic abuse (firstname.lastname@example.org)