In 2016, Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne launched ‘Safe Space Sussex’, the first online directory of local victim services, so that people could easily reach out for support. In response to the ‘lockdown’ and concerns raised around crimes like Domestic Abuse, Mrs Bourne has upgraded this site and started an online campaign today (11th May.) The campaign will help victims covertly reach out to the Police for help while they are stuck in isolation – #SafeSpaceSussex.
With the entire country still in lockdown, many services have expressed concerns about victims of crime not feeling able to safely reach out for help. Some services have seen a decrease in engagement from victims and reports of crimes (like domestic abuse) made to Sussex Police, have reduced by approximately 4% at a time when they may be expected to be on the rise.
Detective Superintendent Steve Rayland of the force’s Public Protection Command said: “We know it can be more difficult than ever for people to report abuse that’s taking place at home at the moment. With no escape from their abuser, a victim’s opportunity to reach out to people who may previously have been able to help them is greatly reduced.
“But there are options available to make contact discreetly, with Police and their partners. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the police, we would urge you to contact one of the support services listed on the Safe Space Sussex site.
“It’s really important people know that we will continue to respond to domestic abuse as normal, arresting perpetrators and protecting vulnerable people.”
The Safe Space Sussex website has been equipped with a new search tool so that within an average of 10 seconds, victims of any crime can find the service they need. It also has a ‘leave site now’ button that users can press to quickly exit the site.
As part of the relaunch campaign, tailored guidance will also be shared across social media on how victims can access the new website covertly, using incognito tabs, as they may be living with their perpetrators during ‘lockdown’ and their search history may be monitored as a result.
Sussex Police have also issued advice, which will be shared this week, on how a victim of crime can covertly let a call handler know they are in danger. The ’55’ technology is in place for those too scared to speak to the Police. Instead victims can alert a call handler to the fact they need help by pressing 55 on their mobile phone once they’ve dialled 999.
Mrs Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner said: “While we are all deeply affected by this ongoing pandemic, those who have, or are still experiencing crime may well be in a heightened state of anxiety and distress. We may be in lockdown, but they must not feel locked out.
“Just because we are seeing a decrease in reports does not mean that these crimes are reducing. So, it’s now more important than ever, that people who feel threatened and vulnerable have someone who will listen and help them.
“We have relaunched Safe Space Sussex so that we can continue to do everything we can to ensure that critical and confidential help remains available to those who need it.
“I understand that it may be difficult for many victims at this time to reach out but I’m hoping that, by sharing ways they can do this more covertly, we will see more people coming forward and getting the help they need.”
Local independent domestic abuse service, RISE, has observed a worrying decrease in referrals from Police in the first few weeks of lockdown but noticed an increase in calls to their helpline, showing that many are still suffering at home but may feel unable to reach out safely to the police.
“Our message to survivors has always been to call 999 if you are in immediate danger,” says Jo Gough, CEO of Sussex domestic abuse charity RISE.
“However, we know that when women are isolating in close proximity with their perpetrator, it isn’t always possible to speak. Using the ‘silent solution’ after calling 999 by pressing 55 on a mobile phone can literally save lives, and the new #SafeSpaceSussex website contains vital safety resources for survivors.”
Following extra investment this year, Sussex Police has introduced new ways that victims can reach out to them covertly. A new specialist unit will now be able to deal, by appointment, with non-emergency cases through new video conferencing technology.
Officers obtain a safe contact number and send a onetime text message to the caller’s smartphone. Activating this link puts the caller into a virtual waiting room where an officer will be able to see and talk to them so that an investigation can take place.
The caller is then told to delete the text, which is disguised in the first place to hide any links with the Police.
As part of this interaction they will also be putting victims in touch with local support services like RISE to increase referrals and ensure people get the support they need.
Everyone is going the extra mile to ensure that nobody suffers in silence during the coronavirus crisis and lockdown that has followed. If you find yourself in an emergency where you think you or others may be in immediate danger dial 999. Sussex Police are always there for you when you need them. Don’t suffer in silence.
If you would prefer not to contact the police you can report a crime anonymously via Crimestoppers online or by calling: 0800 555 111.
www.safespacesussex.org.uk has all the information on support services who can help any victim of crime across Sussex.