During this national 16 Days of action on domestic abuse, we turn the spotlight on Bedfordshire Police’s Victim Engagement Officers.
“VEOs” aren’t police officers, we are specially trained members of police staff who are there to support the victims of domestic abuse. Quite often we get involved at the point when an offender is in custody, but can also be brought in once a complaint has been made, and the offender has not yet been arrested.
While police officers deal with the criminal aspects and investigation of a case, we are there for the victim; toprovide help and assistance with anything and everything at what will be probably the worst time in someone’s life.
It’s June 2018, and I’m getting ready to host a charity football match on Sunday (10 June). What’s so special, you might ask, but match day marks the one-year anniversary of my escape from a very unusual situation.
At 4.20pm on Saturday, 10 June 2017, following a 999 call from my worried neighbours, police officers came to my home and arrested my girlfriend for grievous bodily harm, putting an end to months of abuse and suffering, and, I do believe, saved my life.
I was working in the domestic violence unit in 2007 when we started to see more and more reports of what is now known as honour based abuse. It’s a very difficult area to police, as a lot of the reports were just that, reports, with victims not wanting their families to be prosecuted. We set up an honour based abuse unit, following advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the Luton All Women’s Centre playing an instrumental part. Honour based abuse can take any form; physical or emotional abuse, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, rape and in extreme cases, murder.
When I meet victims for the first time, I take their DNA and fingerprints; just in case the worst does happen. We take them somewhere to keep them safe, often a hotel, until refuge is found, sometimes for several days. Victims need a friend; when they are first taken away from their families, friends, school, college, university, work, this is when they are at their most vulnerable. They are often isolated, lonely and frightened.
I’ve always thought policing is not just about fighting crime and disorder, it is also about offering friendship; reaching out just that little bit further and having empathy, so that victims feel able to open up. I give them my phone number to and speak to them whatever time of day it is. I hope that by being accessible and by being their first point of call that can help keep them away from danger.
Sometimes I get a call or text or email out of the blue, saying ‘thank you’ or ‘you saved my life’. I know then that the victim has become a survivor and this is why l do the job that l do.
Police Officer Esther Carroll has been protecting women from forced marriage since 2007 and was given the ‘True Honour’ award by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) for her work with victims in March.