According to the 2001 British Crime Survey, 26% of women and 17% of men have experienced at least one incident of domestic violence since they were 16. Whilst there is not a simple causal link between alcohol and domestic violence, research shows a significant association between the two. Alcohol appears to be important in escalating existing conflict, and levels of consumption are related to the likelihood, and severity, of domestic violence
A 2003 British Home Office research study on the characteristics of Domestic Violence Offenders identified alcohol as a feature in a majority (62%) of the offences studied, with almost half (48%) of the sample of perpetrators being alcohol dependent. A key recommendation of this study was that problems of alcohol use should be addressed where identified as an offending-related need.
Lewisham has the highest volume of reported domestic violence across the London boroughs (Greater London Domestic Violence Project, 2007) with a steady increase in numbers from 2003 to 2006. To date, there has been no specific collection of data on how many of these featured alcohol. My post as an alcohol/domestic violence worker was set up as a six month pilot, funded largely by the Government Office of London Domestic Violence Fund, with the aims:
To test the association between alcohol and domestic violence at a local level
To test the feasibility of delivering voluntary alcohol assessment and brief interventions to domestic violence perpetrators in the custody suite at Lewisham Police Station.
With the support and cooperation of Lewisham Police Community Safety Unit, and of custody staff, I have been introducing myself to all domestic violence arrestees, and inviting them to participate in a brief alcohol assessment (AUDIT). The voluntary nature of this intervention is emphasized, with the use of consent forms, and it is made clear that it will have no bearing on the outcome of the police investigation.
I have been operational since early February. Initially, it had been agreed that the investigating police officer would invite the prisoner to see me. This approach produced few referrals, so it was decided that I would introduce myself. This change of tack worked, and I have so far assessed 29 people, the majority of whom have accepted onward sign posting or formal referral to local alcohol services. The majority of this group have been drinking at a harmful level, though I have seen 5 dependent drinkers, none of whom had had any past contact with local treatment services.
My post is funded up to June 30th, and the issue of onward funding remains uncertain. I think this short pilot has already achieved its aims, confirming that there is a significant pool of people locally whose drinking is exacerbating their domestic violence, and that their arrest can provide a good opportunity for alcohol intervention. Given an extension of the project, it would be possible to set longer term objectives around retention in treatment and reconviction for example.
This appears to be the only such project running nationally in a police station context, though it has features in common with the brief alcohol interventions currently being developed with A & E and hospital inpatient populations, which parallel has provided me with some good contacts. I would be really interested in discussing my work with others involved in developing “ joined up” services in alcohol/domestic violence, whether from a treatment or a criminal justice angle.
Claire Sibson Alcohol/Domestic Violence Worker