‘I just don’t want anyone else to go through what I had to’

Maria Cole
Maria Cole

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A PENSIONER who was a victim of domestic violence has delivered a stark message to other sufferers – don’t be afraid to speak out and seek help.

Maria Cole has spoken out about her horrific experiences in the hope more women will feel empowered to get support and not continue living in silence.

Figures show domestic abuse accounts for six per cent of all calls to police in Hampshire for help and eight per cent of all recorded crime – with instances of abuse rising during Christmas and New Year.

Miss Cole, 70, who suffered years of domestic abuse and a sex attack in the 1960s, has decided to lift her life-long anonymity – granted to her by law – to encourage others to not be afraid and leave dangerous relationships.

Speaking to The News, Miss Cole, who lives in Southsea, said she reported her abuse but did not get any support.

‘I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through,’ she said. ‘The support now is a lot better.

‘There are more people around you can talk to – if you went to a GP in those days they wouldn’t have known what you are talking about.’

‘There are lots of women who put up with it.

‘Domestic abuse is more of a problem than we think.

‘Women go back to their partners after being beaten up, because they think they will change.

‘That person says they are sorry to you, it won’t happen again, and you believe them.

‘But then it happens again and you go into that cycle where you are told you asked for it and did all the wrong things. There are probably a lot of women out there who are going through this and don’t want to talk about it.’

Miss Cole said she was only able to get out of her situation by running away and setting up a new life before moving to Portsmouth 10 years ago.

‘It’s easier for me because what happened was a long time ago,’ she said.

‘But I think the sooner women can face up to things and look for help, the better.

‘The sooner they find the courage to speak out, the sooner it will stop and it will be sorted and dealt with.’

Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes said he was doing everything he could to improve the situation.

‘It’s important to look at how we prevent crime in the first place and to reduce reoffending across our communities,’ he said.

‘I have set out a “social change” agenda focusing on early intervention and the alteration of offending and re-offending behaviours to bring about positive change.’

He added: ‘Society as a whole has an obligation to protect and safeguard people from harm, abuse and neglect.

‘Domestic abuse and violence can have serious, long-term physical and emotional, consequences for both the victims and perpetrators, especially for children and young people who witness the cycle of abuse.’

It comes after a team of councillors on Portsmouth City Council agreed to form a domestic abuse awareness group to boost the work being done to help victims.

Councillor Rob New, Portsmouth Tory cabinet member for environment and community safety, who is launching the initiative, said: ‘As councillors, we’re corporate guardians of the city and I feel strongly that more can be to help residents who may be suffering domestic abuse.’

Ukip councillor Julie Swan, who is on board, added: ‘I wanted to get more involved with helping people escape abusive relationships and give them the courage to know that asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of, there is support available.’

Support group to meet

PORTSMOUTH’S new domestic support group will meet in January.

And an advice surgery will be held afterwards for residents who want support on helping a friend or relative who is being abused at home.

Councillor Rob New, Tory cabinet member for environment and community safety, who is leading the team, said: ‘It’s vital that we do our best to provide as much support as possible, even if it means getting our hands dirty and delivering this service ourselves directly as councillors and representatives of our communities.’

Meanwhile, police are taking unique approach to tackling domestic violence – by reaching out to perpetrators.

Officers from the Leigh Park Safer Neighbourhoods team have invited known offenders to chat openly about their behaviour over a cup of coffee.

In a joint project with Portsmouth City Council’s Up2U group, many of those who visited the domestic abuse clinic Cops n Coffee shop, in Greywell Precinct, Leigh Park, had no idea how their behaviour affects their partners.

The root cause of the abuse was looked at to try and make it stop.

Sergeant Garry Smith said: ‘We are committed to putting a stop to cases of domestic abuse in Leigh Park. We run a number of events throughout the year at the Cops ‘n’ Coffee shop but this is the first time we have put on an event specifically for perpetrators.

‘We’re pleased with the attendance at the two clinics.

‘Every situation is different and the expert counsellors at the event will be working with individuals make positive changes which will improve the situation at home. Tackling the root cause of the abuse is important to making these changes permanent.’

9,000+ offences recorded

In 2013/14 there were 9,347 domestic incidents recorded by Hampshire Constabulary in south-east Hampshire – Portsmouth, Fareham, Gosport and Havant.

Of these, 2,920 were recorded by police as domestic crimes (35 serious wounding, 1,030 ABH, 1,015 common assault)

n 52.77 per cent (4,932) were repeat incidents

n 978 of the perpetrators were repeat perpetrators (ranging from one to six previous recorded incidents)

n 286 of the victims had at least two recorded previous incidents (from two nine)

Shonagh Dillon, chief executive of Aurora New Dawn, which works with victims of domestic and sexual violence in Hampshire, said it was a ‘peak time’ for domestic violence over the holidays.

‘It’s a well-known fact across the sector that we have to prepare for Christmas and New Year because it’s a peak time for domestic abuse,’ she said. ‘The contributing factors are spending more time together, stress and alcohol, which is a massive factor.

‘A lot of the time, people are trying hard to keep it together for the kids and trying hard to give them a good Christmas. But spending a lot of time together and drinking can make it worse.’

Click here for the Hampshire Police domestic abuse advice page