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Spotting the signs of domestic abuse

Published: 15 Sep 2015 09:30

Successful project rolled out across the country

Domestic violence can often be a hidden crime with the signs of abuse hard to detect, however new Scottish Government funding being announced today will train vets, dentists and doctors to firefighters and hairdressers across the country to recognise the signs of this heinous crime.

The Ask, Validate, Document and Refer (AVDR) programme has been awarded £115,000 to develop and deliver domestic abuse training throughout Scotland, teaching professionals on how to look out for the signs of domestic abuse and to give guidance on how to get further support to victims.

The programme, set up by Medics Against Violence and the Violence Reduction Unit, trains professionals to spot the signs of domestic abuse and raise it with clients during a routine check-up or visit in a private setting.

The Scottish Government is providing this additional funding alongside the £956,000 annual grant already awarded to the Violence Reduction Unit.

So far, 2,000 dentists, doctors, vets, firefighters, hairdressers dental and medical students have benefitted from the project however today's announcement means it will be rolled out across the Scotland, reaching potentially 100,000 professionals.

It was developed in Scotland by Dr Christine Goodall, a lecturer and consultant in Oral Surgery at the University of Glasgow and founder of Medics Against Violence. She worked on the project after years of studying the link between facial and dental injuries and violence.

Medics Against Violence expanded it to include veterinary surgeons after a clear link was identified between animal cruelty and domestic abuse, with abuse to the animal often being used to coerce or punish. Research conducted in the UK showed that 66% of women suffering from domestic violence had threats of violence or abuse of their pets from their abuser, and 38% reporting actual abuse.

Earlier today, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson visited a veterinary practice in Glasgow's southside to hear how the training has benefited staff and clients at the practice there.

He said:

"Domestic violence is a scourge on Scottish society and this government is determined to do all it can to eradicate it.

"The work already done by Medics Against Violence has been truly fantastic and I am keen that, as a government, we provide this additional funding to expand it right across Scotland. The £115,000 we are giving to the scheme will allow it to potentially reach over 100,000 staff the length and breadth of our country and help untold numbers of victims have the confidence to stop suffering in silence and seek help.

"Our commitment is part of a wide range of measures we are putting in place to tackle all forms of domestic violence. In March of this year the First Minister announced that £20m would be invested in a range of measures including better support for victims to ensure they are able to access the services they need.

"We know that victims are having greater confidence in reporting crimes but there is still a way to go. Indeed, the number of sexual crimes reported to police rose by 11 per cent last year, with nearly half of that rise linked to an increase in reporting of historic crimes. We are strengthening the law, creating a hostile environment for potential abusers and our next major step will be the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill, providing extra powers against those who commit domestic abuse, harassment and sexual offences, and creating a new offence criminalising the appalling offence known as revenge porn.

"Ultimately, our goal is to tackle this heinous crime by tracking down those who cause such suffering and misery to the families they are meant to protect and ensuring they face the full force of the law, and by supporting their victims through this."

Vet Dr Karen Campbell was motivated to take part in AVDR training after being asked by the SSPCA to carry out a post mortem on the dog of one of her clients. The dog lived in a house where there was domestic abuse.

She said: "The poor animal had been kicked to death. Its liver was in shreds and it had bled out, the abdomen was full of blood. It would have been a slow and painful death for the animal. I'll always remember the SSPCA inspector, who visited the dog's home, described it as a 'house of violence' with smashed windows and doors. Both the partner and the dog had been abused.

"I was really shocked and upset by the incident and wanted to do something to stop this happening to other animals which is why I jumped at the chance to be involved in the AVDR scheme. It was reassuring to know that something had been put in place that was official with proper training and experts able to offer us guidance. It's about knowing how to safely intervene without putting either the client or yourself at risk, because we all have a duty to help if we suspect someone is being abused."

The scheme was developed from an American model by Dr Christine Goodall and the Violence Reduction Unit.

She said: "To date the AVDR training has been extremely positively received by all the different groups of professionals we have trained. A number of professionals have been in touch following training to let us know of cases where they have been able to put their training into practice to help victims.

"This significant Scottish Government investment of £115K in AVDR will enable us to establish the programme in vets practices, dental surgeries, hairdressing salons and fire stations across Scotland. This will undoubtedly increase the number of avenues of support open to victims of abuse. Our wish is that supporting victims of domestic abuse becomes an expectation and that victims know if they approach a doctor, dentist, nurse, social worker, vet, fire officer or hairdresser for help they will get it. We all have an obligation to help those suffering domestic abuse and we could not achieve this without the support of the Scottish Government.

"Domestic abuse is never the fault of the victim and we want that message to be heard loud and clear by those who perpetrate abuse. We are only too aware of the amazing work carried out by the domestic abuse organisations and we hope that our work will complement their efforts to make Scotland safer for everyone."

Notes to editors

Dr Christine Goodall worked on the scheme after years treating patients with facial injuries, some were women who had been victims of abuse, and there was nothing in place in her sphere of work to allow health professionals to offer support. Medics Against Violence quickly expanded the scheme to include veterinary surgeons as there was a clear link between animal cruelty and domestic abuse, with abuse to the animal often being used to coerce or punish the person.