Blog: A public service response to VAWDASV

10th October 2023

I was recently honoured to address the audience at a special event celebrating the 30-year anniversary of our partners New Pathways.

New Pathways is a charity that provides specialist support for adults, children and young people who have been affected by rape, sexual assault or abuse. We have worked with the charity for many years now and fund the organisation to provide an independent sexual violence advisor, and counselling services, to support survivors of violence and abuse. I have seen first-hand the difference the organisation has made to the lives of survivors in our communities.

As well as celebrating the good work New Pathways has done over the years the event was an important opportunity to hear directly from survivors themselves. The bravery and courage they showed in speaking out about the terrible things that had happened in their lives was inspiring.

The event brought together the survivors with professionals, service providers, partners from the criminal justice world and others. It was a day to reflect on where we are as a society in our response to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV).

We have an ambitious vision in Wales to eradicate all forms of VAWDASV. This is enshrined within the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act which places a statutory duty on public services to proactively tackle these issues. More importantly, we also have a responsibility to ensure that all victims of crime, especially victims of sexual violence, are protected and given the right support.

Although we have made significant progress over the last three decades, we know that we still have a long way to go. 

Our successes so far have been driven by people who care and who want to see justice done. People who work for support services like New Pathways, the NHS, the police, local authorities, housing agencies, and criminal justice agencies. However, while we might have many of the right people in place, our systems, policies and procedures have been slow to change. Too often fantastic work is achieved by our crisis workers, doctors, nurses, or police officers despite our organisations and processes, rather than because of them. This must change.

We also recognise that we have not considered the impact of VAWDASV on children and young people sufficiently in the past. We know that the demand for services for children and young people experiencing sexual violence and abuse is increasing significantly. Addressing this, and putting the right support structures in place, must be a priority for us.

It is on these areas that we need to focus if we want to continue to make big strides forward and ensure that we meet our vision for Wales, and provide the services we know that victims and survivors really need. And to do this we must look inwardly and ensure that our own organisations reflect this commitment to change.

Both Police and Crime Commissioner Jeff Cuthbert and Chief Constable of Gwent Police Pam Kelly have committed to tackling sexual violence, abuse, and rape in Gwent. Within both organisations we have placed a significant focus on getting this right.

Gwent Police, alongside all police forces in Wales, been part of the Operation Soteria Bluestone programme which aims to improve how the police investigate rape, interview suspects and support victims throughout the criminal justice process. I am personally proud that the independent Operation Soteria team recognised the work of the Gwent Police survivor engagement co-ordinator, a post that was created following recommendations from our office. The survivor engagement coordinator makes sure that we engage directly with survivors, listen and learn from their experiences, and ensure that we take action in relation to our policies and procedures. The results from Operation Soteria Bluestone so far are promising but this is only one part of a wider approach to ensure that change is led from within.

Policing is under scrutiny like never before. Nationally, we have seen horrific high-profile cases of sexual abuse and violence from serving officers, and other cases where misogyny was at the root of the problematic behaviour. We are determined in Gwent to prioritise ending VAWDASV. This includes empowering our work forces to speak out, challenge, report problematic behaviour and to not be a bystander to any misconduct.

Moving forward it is crucial that public services work together, recognising our individual areas of responsibility to implement a consistent commitment to ending sexual violence and abuse.

We must ensure that survivors are at the centre of our work and that we are accountable to them in delivering our services. We must ensure that our response to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, is the very best that it can be.


Don’t suffer in silence

If you have suffered abuse please don’t stay silent. Help is available.

Live Fear Free is a Welsh Government helpline giving information and advice for people suffering with domestic abuse or sexual violence. The helpline is free and staff are available 24 hours, seven days a week with information, support and signposting. The phone number is 0808 8010 800.

The Gwent Safeguarding Board has information and advice on local support service. Visit the website and click on VAWDASV for information and advice.

You can also report issues directly to Gwent Police by calling 101, or via Facebook and X (formally Twitter).

In an emergency always call 999.