York walk in memory of murdered domestic abuse victim

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MORE THAN 200 people are expected to take part in a fundraising walk being held tomorrow in memory of murdered North Yorkshire domestic abuse victim Rebecca Kowal.

Seven years on from Miss Kowal’s death at the hands of her drunken boyfriend, Miss Kowal’s brother, Andrew Overton, said he believed society had yet to get a firm grip on tackling violence and abuse ‘behind closed doors’.

He hopes that by raising awareness of what is still thought to be a largely unreported crime, by holding an annual ‘Becca’s Walk’, that more people - victims and perpetrators, as well as family members and friends of both - will muster the courage to seek help and advice before it is too late.

Mr Overton, 54, of Northallerton, is leading the 10km circular walk through the city of York, starting at 10am from Millennium Bridge, with the Lord Mayor of York set to officially start the event. Anyone wishing to show their support is welcome to join in.

“Ever since my sister was killed in 2008 I have been doing things for charity in relation to domestic abuse,” said Mr Overton, who has become an ambassador for York-based domestic abuse charity IDAS (Independent Domestic Abuse Service).

“I hold this walk for three reasons: to raise funds for charity; there is a need to create awareness of the horrors of domestic abuse, and, to keep my sister’s memory alive.”

Robert Byrom, of West Tanfield near Ripon, was jailed for life in January 2009 for the murder of Mr Overton’s 29-year-old sister Miss Kowal, a mother of one.

Mr Overton said: “If I can prevent what happened to my sister from happening to just one person then all this will have been worthwhile.”

Since he started fundraising, he has raised more than £10,000 for domestic abuse charities through sponsored events. But with domestic violence statistics still unacceptably high, and with many other victims thought to be suffering in silence, Mr Overton is determined to do more to encourage people to seek the support they need.

“The theme of the walk this year is ‘Taking steps against domestic abuse’ and this isn’t just for people who are suffering as victims, it is also about normal laypeople like you and me who might have noticed a friend or colleague whose well-being has deteriorated, who might be in a new relationship,” Mr Overton explained.

“I want those people as well, to take steps and think about who they should speak to make someone’s life better.

“Often, victims can’t and don’t leave an abusive relationship and they need advice so they know what they can do about it, and it may be a case of talking to someone independently.

“This is about perpetrators too who might want to seek help for their behaviour.”

Police forces are routinely called to reports of domestic abuse, with West Yorkshire Police called to deal with four incidents of domestic abuse every hour.

Over the past three years, in Leeds alone, domestic violence has led to 17 deaths.

In North Yorkshire, there are over 9,000 reports to the police each year and it is recognised that over 90 per cent of incidents go unreported.

Sarah Hill, director of IDAS, said: “We appreciate Andy’s total commitment to raising awareness about domestic abuse. Much has been done over the last 10 years to improve both people’s knowledge about domestic abuse and the police response to this. However, there is still a huge amount that needs to be done to get the message across that domestic abuse, be it physical or emotional, is never acceptable and support is out there.

“It can be hard to recognise the signs of abuse but if your partner is regularly jealous or controlling or if their behaviour is violent or threatening then please pick up the phone and get the support and advice you deserve.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation to IDAS can do so online via justgiving.com/beccaswalk and for more information about Becca’s Walk, email info@idas.org.uk

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