Yesterday morning, in my role as the Cabinet Member for Community Safety I opened an event at the Family Justice Centre to mark International Violence Against Women Day.
The Family Justice Centre is a multi-agency partnership between Croydon Council, the police, NHS Croydon, local solicitors firms and a wide range of voluntary organisations including Croydon Family Aid, Relate, the Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre and Croydon Campaign Against Trafficking. It provides a one-stop service, primarily to victims of domestic violence but also to victims of honour-based violence, forced marriage and human trafficking. Since it was established in December 2005, it has supported 17,500 local families.
One of the things I have learned in the year that I have been the Cabinet Member for Community Safety is that the problems that cross my desk fall into three distinct categories.
The first is offences where there is strong evidence of a problem and widespread public concern and coverage in the media The rise in youth violence and knife-enabled crime that we experienced just over a year ago - that we responded to by launching Operation Safe for All, which has delivered significant reductions - is a good example.
The second category is offences about which there is widespread public concern - normally driven by coverage in the media - but which the evidence suggests are falling, not increasing. The concern about gun-enabled crime earlier this year is a good example.
The final category is offences about which there should be widepsread concern but which are rarely discussed at the public question times the Borough Commander and I hold or in the media. Domestic violence is perhaps the best example of this type of offence. There are about 400 victims a month - many more people than are robbed each month. But it remains something of a taboo subject.
The police have made real progress in recent months in increasing what is called the sanctioned detection rate - the proportion of cases where the perpertrator is cautioned or prosecuted. But we need to increase the proportion who are prosecuted rather than being cautioned; we need to encourage victims to come forward and report what is being done to them (most people that report domestic violence have been victims of repeated assaults) and we need to send out the message loud and clear that violence against women (and also children, siblings and parents) is unacceptable. At the moment, too many people get away with it.