FEATURE: Reaching out with Compassion to all victims of domestic abuse

Compassion team left to right Julie Penney, treasurer, Cathy Press, chair, and Caroline Duffy, senior volunteer ANL-161111-094407001
Compassion team left to right Julie Penney, treasurer, Cathy Press, chair, and Caroline Duffy, senior volunteer ANL-161111-094407001
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Domestic abuse can be the most subtle of crimes. Victims may not even be sure if it’s really happening to them.

And that can make it very hard to tell anyone or seek help.

There may be no bruises to show ... abusers often do nothing physical, but secretly undermine and control while to the outside world they appear to be the perfect partner.

Finding someone who really understands and can give support and advice is crucial.

The charity Compassion reaches out to those who suffer from all forms of domestic violence and abuse.

Its team, made up almost entirely of volunteers, runs targeted programmes and groups.

They also offer one to one support from a befriending service, and help is there for as long as it’s needed, sometimes years.

Compassion is now 15 years old. So far it has helped around 1,500 women referred for ongoing assistance.

It started out as the Babergh Domestic Violence and Abuse Forum but always operated independently of the council,

Since then it has grown and widened its scope, also seeing people from outside the original district including the Bury St Edmunds and Havehill areas.

When austerity hit, cutting the amount of local authority help for domestic abuse victims, demand for Compassion’s services doubled.

“About five years ago it became clear we were going to have to start sourcing funding differently,” said chair Cathy Press.

“Use was expanding and we didn’t have the money to grow. So we decided to become a charity.

“In 2011 we changed the name to Compassion. The previous one didn’t really reflect everything we did ... and it was a bit of a mouthful.”

The 15th anniversary will be celebrated at Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury on Friday November 25.

It’s a special date as it coincides with the launch of the 2016 international White Ribbon Campaign to end violence against women.

“One of our service users is going to speak. She is an ex-police officer which shows that the last people you would expect can suffer domestic abuse,” said Cathy.

“Quite a lot of people have this misled idea of what a victim is like ... timid, uneducated, and living on benefits.

“It’s so important to break these myths because they’re absolutely not true.”

The truth is that domestic abuse knows no boundaries.

It can happen behind the door of a million-pound country property as easily as among the grafitti-splattered walkways of a rundown tower block.

The sufferer could be a high-earning professional in designer clothes who is outwardly living a charmed life.

“It doesn’t matter what you have materially, it doesn’t prevent you becoming a victim,” Cathy says.

When long-running BBC radio soap The Archers ran a storyline about domestic abuse this year it highlighted the fact it can happen to anyone.

The powerful portrayal of Helen Titchener’s ordeal was widely praised by campaigners.

Listeners suffered with her as husband Rob’s controlling behaviour changed her from confident businesswoman to someone who doubted her own sanity.

Abusers can now be prosecuted for coercive control. “It’s brilliant that it has been recognised as a criminal offence.

“And the key definitions of domestic abuse are much better now, and easier for people to understand.

“One of the difficulties has always been how to be sure you’re really suffering abuse. They might hear something and think ‘is that me?’”

Compassion is currently running its Freedom Programme for women affected by an abusive partner in a current or past relationship.

The Stronger Families groups for children and mothers who have experienced abuse and violence has helped children as young as four, and ts future has just been assured by a grant of £5,000 from the Dulverton Trust.

Another very welcome boost came from Suffolk county councillors John Sayers and Colin Spence, who each gave £500 from their locality budgets towards a database system.

“It will make our lives so much easier. I don’t think they really know quite how much those donations mean to us.”

Abuse does not only happen between adult partners. Teenagers as young as 13 are falling victim to a surge fuelled by social media and digital technology.

Escape The Trap aims to tackle the problem and is something Compassion wants to run having piloted it in 2013.

“Teen relationship abuse is a massive problem. These are children and we are not doing nearly enough to address it.

“Research has shown 40 percent of 13 to 16 year-olds in relationships experience abuse. The level of sexual coercion is very high.”

The charity is also looking to help parents enduring abuse from their children with a programme called Who’s in Charge?

“Often it is indulged children who believe the world revolves around them. A lot of parents suffer in silence because they are reluctant to admit ‘I’m afraid of my child.’

“Parents tend to get blamed for everything, so they won’t tell anyone.”

Compassion has only two paid staff – project manager Andy Fell, and admin assistant Elaine Jones.

It is run by seven trustees who are all volunteers, Cathy, Caroline Duffy, Julie Penney, Shirley Osborne, Jenny Antill, Paul Little and Graham Garden.

Becoming a charity with trustees lifted some of the workload from Cathy, who has been with the organisation fron the start.

She still puts in around 15 hours a week while working full time as a therapist and counsellor.

“My next mission is to find us a base with space for an office and meeting room. We are desperately looking for somewhere, ideally in Sudbury.

“At the moment the charity lives in my house and our meetings are held in Children’s Centres. My loft is bursting at the seams.”

Volunteers are also needed, not only to train to help clients, but for the practical side like fundraising as well.

Anyone who would like to get in touch with Compassion can call Andy Fell on 07597 337831, or email andy@compass-ion.org.