EMPOWERING people, particularly men, to challenge poor attitudes and change behaviours towards women, is at the heart of a new strategy to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), launched today by Kim McGuinness.

Setting out a series of priorities and actions for her office, she commits to tackling the root causes that lead to VAWG and is investing in a raft of prevention and intervention work as part of determined efforts to make the North East safer for all.

The Commissioner’s new plans also include investing £1 million into working directly with perpetrators following a successful bid to the Domestic Abuse Perpetrator’s fund. The focus of this work will be around prevention in order to protect people, including children, from experiencing domestic abuse.

More than 1400 people responded to a Safer Streets survey conducted by Kim’s team at the end of 2022 and all the views and experiences collated have helped inform the development of the strategy and the work being delivered by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.

As an example – many highlighted the need for better education on the importance of speaking out whenever they see or hear problematic behaviour. In response to this, the Commissioner’s office along with her Violence Reduction Unit commissioned a programme of ‘active bystander’ training which has recently been rolled out across the region.

An ‘active bystander’ is someone who recognises that a situation is potentially harmful and takes steps to intervene and make a positive difference. This approach helps shift responsibility away from victim-survivors onto the wider community.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “For me, this VAWG strategy sets out our stall with everything we need to be doing to drive real, lasting change. We owe it to the young girls growing up here in the North East. As well as continuing to ensure there is valuable support for victim-survivors and that we continue to improve their journey through the criminal justice system; I want to work towards a future where we don’t have victims at all.

“Society needs a reset. Men absolutely need calling out when they make women feel uncomfortable. I want their friends to challenge their mate’s behaviour or actions, not pump them up or egg them on. If we intervene, we’re telling the perpetrator that their behaviour is not OK, but by saying nothing it’s almost an endorsement. This is the problem, and this plan is all about solutions. Work like the active bystander training is just one of many projects we want to build on to achieve that vision of a safer North East for everyone.”

Up and down the region, there are already many businesses and organisations who have signed up to schemes such as the domestic abuse champions scheme and the active bystander training such as Nissan, Hays Travel and most recently Northumbrian Water.

Northumbrian Water who have just signed up colleagues to the Northumbria Violence Reduction Unit’s domestic abuse champions scheme, which trains staff to understand and spot the signs of domestic abuse so they can help others access support and raise awareness.

Elouise Leonard-Cross, Head of People Strategy & Experience at Northumbrian Water said: “Creating a culture where it is safe to speak up and get the support you need has been key to helping build a great place to work. Within Northumbrian Water we have developed an award winning health and wellness offer, Living Well, and this includes a network of colleagues who volunteer as Mind Mates. We have almost 50 colleagues trained around the business who are on hand to provide peer support if a colleague has concerns that are impacting their life in a negative way. ​​​​​​​Joining the Domestic Abuse Champions Scheme is a positive way to extend how we are able to support our colleagues, whatever they are facing”

The Commissioner’s VAWG strategy sets out clear commitments and calls to action for the next two years including lobbying, interventions and awareness campaigns.  It identifies four areas of focus, which are: prevention, support for victim-survivors, pursuing perpetrators and creating stronger systems.

Two of the Commissioner’s prevention commitments are below with more detail outlined in the strategy.

  1. I will lobby Government to provide more funding for important prevention work and education programmes, in particular those that engage with children and young people.
  2. I will fund active bystander training to give people, including men and boys, in our communities the knowledge and skills to challenge problematic attitudes and behaviours where this is possible and safe.

The VAWG strategy acknowledges that men and boys can also be victim-survivors of VAWG crimes, and women can perpetrate abuse against men and other women. – in the year ending March 2020 alone, there were an estimated 618,000 female victims (aged 16-74) and 155,000 male victims of sexual assault (including attempts). 98.3% of perpetrators were male.

Chief Constable of Northumbria Police Vanessa Jardine said: “Tackling violence against women and girls is rightly an absolute priority for Northumbria Police.

“Abusive behaviour against women in any form is simply not acceptable and I therefore welcome and fully support any initiatives which will help tackle this.”

To view the strategy in full click here.

For information about help and support available to victims click here.