The first Cockermouth Conference, organised by the town’s Rotary club, gave a troubling insight into something that is all around us, but often unseen.
Countering domestic abuse and modern day slavery was the subject of this first of an annual set of conferences.
Delegates heard from one young woman who bravely told how she had been beaten and abused by her husband.
Members of the audience were visibly upset to hear the woman catalogue how she had been described as worthless and ugly by her violent partner.
The victim was able to escape the controlling pattern of verbal and physical abuse thanks to the police’s Victim Support team, who were able to help despite five separate reports had been unable to generate criminal proceedings against her abuser.
The conference also heard from former Crown prosecuting solicitor, Linda Vance, who reflected on how difficult it is for the police and Crown Prosecution Service to bring cases to court, because so much of the abuse was out of sight, and tough to prove.
Women who are facing a difficult time, for whatever reason, are able to get the help and support which they need in a safe environment.”
This was where agencies such as Victim Support could step in and shelter victims as they rebuilt lives, she said.
The keynote speaker was Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, who explained that the police are now putting much more effort into tackling domestic violence.
But he added that it was important for the public to play its part, as society spots this unseen crime and, if necessary, guides people to organisations such as Victim Support.
Mr McCall praised the work of the newly set-up Women Out West Centre (WOW) in Whitehaven.
WOW is designed to help women who are victims of domestic violence, those affected by separation or divorce, women living in poverty or on low income, and those who want to set up their own business.
Previously there had been dedicated women’s centres in Carlisle and Barrow, but not in the west of Cumbria.
Rachel Holliday from WOW said: “WOW is a place where women who are facing a difficult time, for whatever reason, are able to get the help and support which they need in a safe environment.”
Police Chief Inspector, Craig Smith, addressed the issue of modern slavery, pointing out that there were life sentences for offenders.
In recent cases, they had investigated safeguarding and safety issues for casual foreign workers hired on building sites and those working in the fishing industry.
He said: “It is extremely challenging to unpick the legitimate from illegal exploitation in such areas as pop-up car washes, nail bars and the takeaway trade.
“Many are perfectly legitimate, so you can see how difficult it can be to investigate.”
The conference was jointly organised by Rotary Cockermouth and Cockermouth Churches Together, and welcomed by Rotary club President, Joe Fagan, along with District Governor, Mary Bradley.
The Rotary team has also helped to introduce follow-up Domestic Champions training, which will be delivered by the Freedom Project.
The training will give information on how to spot the signs and symptoms of domestic abuse, and recognise the different types of abuse.
The training also signposts where to go for help and what can be done to properties to enable better security.