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New measures to support vulnerable people ahead of Hidden Harms Summit

New measures to support vulnerable people ahead of Hidden Harms Summit
  • Prime Minister to open virtual Hidden Harms Summit in Downing Street to drive action to tackle domestic abuse, sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and modern slavery
  • Government plans to introduce a new codeword for domestic abuse victims who are seeking immediate help
  • Multimillion-pound boost to law enforcement to tackle child sex offenders operating on the dark web and increase support for victims

The government will spearhead a new codeword scheme for domestic abuse victims, which will allow people in urgent or immediate danger to get help from shop workers by using a specific phrase that staff will be trained to identify.

The new scheme, which has been championed by the Victims’ Commissioner, Domestic Abuse Commissioner and crisis support charities such as Safe Lives, will be discussed at the Hidden Harms Summit today (Thursday 21 May). Representatives from government, law enforcement, victims’ charities, front line practitioners and the private sector will drive forward action to support victims of crimes such as domestic abuse, sexual violence, child sexual abuse and modern slavery.

The virtual summit, hosted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is in response to the unique challenges victims have faced during the coronavirus pandemic and to ensure they continue to get support.

Attendees include representatives from the National Crime Agency, National Police Chiefs’ Council, the children’s, domestic abuse, anti-slavery and victims’ commissioners and leaders from domestic abuse and children’s charities, including the NSPCC, Refuge and Women’s Aid. 

Ahead of the summit the government has announced it is working with business groups, such as the National Pharmacy Association and British Retail Consortium, and domestic abuse charities, on the implementation of a codeword scheme to support domestic abuse victims.

In addition to this, funding will support law enforcement to target perpetrators sexually exploiting children and help those affected by abuse rebuild their lives. Around £10 million will boost the National Crime Agency’s ability to tackle paedophiles operating on the dark web and a further £3.36 million has been allocated to projects to the understand the threat posed by the most serious criminals.

This follows the unprecedented £76 million extra funding for vulnerable people from the government’s £750 million package of support for charities. This included £34.1million to safeguard vulnerable children, £28 million to help survivors of domestic abuse, £10 million to support victims of sexual violence and £1.73 million for modern slavery support services.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“I am acutely aware that for some people home is not a safe space, and that coronavirus has brought with it additional dangers.

“Just as I am committed to tackling the virus, we have to support the most vulnerable and keep them safe from harm and exploitation. That is why it is vital that we come together and bring all our collective expertise to ensure we are doing everything we can to support those at risk, and to help them rebuild their lives.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“While the necessary social distancing guidelines are keeping the majority of us safe, they are amplifying danger for others. Protecting vulnerable people from the most sickening crimes such as child sexual abuse and domestic abuse has been my priority since the very start of this crisis.

“This summit will enable us, along with experts from the public and private sectors, to develop an action plan to protect victims as we seek to rebuild society.”

Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said:

“We have taken every measure possible to protect the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic. This includes an unprecedented £750m boost for front line charities and making sure victims can still access the support they desperately rely on remotely.

“Our message is clear that despite these difficult times no one should suffer in silence.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Now more than ever, we must make sure the most vulnerable children and families in our society are protected from any hidden harms they may face, including abuse, exploitation or neglect.

“We know that the nature of such harms have changed, and this summit is an opportunity for us to reaffirm our wholehearted commitment to working together to keep children safe.”

The summit will also provide an opportunity to show victims that support is available, empower them to reach out for help and give a forum for key stakeholders to come up with further solutions to tackle these harms.

It will also discuss the proactive and innovative tactics being piloted by police forces to tackle domestic abuse, such as Cumbria, South Wales and Sussex, which include methods for better identifying those posing the highest risk of offending and multi-agency approaches to prevent re-offending.

As well as the opening session chaired by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Education Secretary will also lead meetings on law enforcement, victim support and safeguarding vulnerable people in the community.

Further measures announced ahead of the summit include:

  • £2 million funding boost for domestic abuse charities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • £1.4 million for the Modern Slavery and Organised Immigration Crime Programme. This will support the police to increase prosecutions and crack down on organised immigration crime;
  • launching a £2.8 million child sexual abuse Support Services Transformation Fund to improve support available for children and young people affected by sexual abuse by building our understanding of what support works for victims and promoting best practice between providers and communities; 
  • a pledge of £3.7 million to continue support for 11 local authority-led projects in England through the Trusted Relationship Fund, to support young people identified as at high risk of sexual or criminal exploitation by providing bespoke help from adult role models such as youth workers, police officers and other professionals;
  • £800,000 for a helpline, email service, and online tool to assist unrepresented victims seeking an emergency protective order from the family court with making their applications;
  • A commitment to review the delivery model for victim support services; and
  • commissioning further work to identify the best law enforcement responses to domestic abuse by analysing data and intelligence on incidents during the lockdown period.  Working with police forces and leading academics, this will ensure we develop a deeper understanding of emerging trends, such as the nature of offending and perpetrators. To encourage forces to share best practice the Government will convene a further Ministerial roundtable on domestic abuse with academics, police and other key stakeholders.


Notes to editors

  • For further information please contact the Home Office press office on 0300 123 3535.
  • The Home Office is currently working with partners, including charities and the business sector on a codeword scheme for domestic abuse victims. Further details will be announced in due course.
  • The Home Secretary’s law enforcement session will focus on supporting and encouraging innovative law enforcement response to these hidden crimes and gather views on trends emerging.
  • The Lord Chancellor’s victim session is focused on hearing from the voluntary sector about the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on victims and survivors, understanding the risks related to easing lockdown measures and discussing the long-term implications of COVID-19 on how we support victims.
  • The Education Secretary’s safeguarding session is focused on the current systems in place to identify people vulnerable to hidden harms – both adults and children –, the systems in place to support them and where organisations can share best safeguarding practices.
  • Organisations that have received funding through the Trusted Relationship Fund include Rotherham Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Hounslow Council, North Yorkshire County Council & York Council, Ealing Council and North East Lincolnshire Council, Bradford Council, Hackney Council, North Somerset District Council, Barnet Council and Northampton Borough Council.
  • Last year the government pledged an additional £30m for law enforcement to help tackle child sexual abuse.
  • The FLOWS Project offers legal help to unrepresented victims seeking an emergency protective order from the family court. An £800k funding package will help the project provide a helpline, email service, and online tool to assist with making applications to the court; and
  • Earlier this month, the government announced £76 million extra funding to support survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and vulnerable children and their families and victims of modern slavery as part of the government’s £750 million package of support for charities.
  • Government action to support victims during include:
    • Domestic abuse: Launched the #YouAreNotAlone awareness campaign, published updated guidance for those in danger of domestic abuse and their children during coronavirus and announced £2 million of funding to immediately bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support
    • Child Sexual Abuse: produced detailed guidance for parents and carers on how they can keep children safe online, published interim safeguarding advice with the primary focus to support schools and colleges to keep children safe and provided the NSPCC with an extra £1.6 million to expand and promote the adult helpline.
    • Modern Slavery: Announced in April that individuals supported through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract are to be allowed an extended stay in government-funded safe accommodation for the next three months and working with partners to ensure victims still get the support they need during the pandemic.

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