"We’ve got a lot to do. Not just system change or legal change, but cultural change" - Yorkshire domestic violence charity leader speaks out after police boss resignation

Combatting violence against women and girls has been at the centre of Sarah Hill’s career for 30 years.

Growing up in the 1970s, in Telford, she saw for herself the devastation domestic abuse can cause.

“When I was growing up, domestic abuse was a hidden problem for most families who experienced it.

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“My aunties experienced it, and my cousins,” she remembered.

Sarah Hill’s voice has perhaps never been more pertinent than over the past month, when comments made by North Yorkshire’s elected police, fire and crime commissioner, Philip Allott, sparked widespread outrage and led to a storm which ended in his resignation.

“I think one of the things that shaped me was knowing that there just weren’t the systems in place to support victims of abuse.

“So when I was growing up, I had this keen sense of injustice that the abuse was commonplace.”

Her career journey has taken her from qualifying as a children’s support worker to becoming the chief executive officer of Yorkshire’s leading domestic violence charity, the Independent Domestic Abuse Service (IDAS).

IDAS has grown from being a small service based in York to one which supports women from across both North and South Yorkshire.

It runs both support and advocacy services as well as refuges in York, Harrogate and Barnsley, which provide emergency safe accommodation for women and children escaping domestic violence.

But Ms Hill’s voice has perhaps never been more pertinent than over the past month, when comments made by North Yorkshire’s elected police, fire and crime commissioner, Philip Allott, sparked widespread outrage and led to a storm which ended in his resignation.

His comments on the false arrest of York woman Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, were condemned universally across the political spectrum.

Mr Allott said that Ms Everard, 33, should not have “submitted” to her false arrest, and called on women to be more “streetwise”.

Before having his hand forced by a vote of no confidence, Mr Allott wrote to domestic violence organisations and campaigners to ask for their help. Acknowledging he had “much to learn,” he said he wanted to meet with experts across the region.

One of the organisations which offered to meet him was IDAS.

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“In the wake of the Sarah Everard murder, and all the things that have happened in the press, it’s highlighted institutional misogyny and the attitudes and beliefs that underpin violence and abuse of girls

“It’s been a really tough time, both for victims of abuse and the charities that support them.

“Like everyone, we were dismayed by the comments, but also dismayed that his apology wasn’t really heartfelt and didn’t come quickly enough,” she said.

“Survivors need to trust in leaders.

“Victims won’t come forward unless they have faith in the system, so I suppose hearing leaders in those positions make comments like that, it breaches trust, and it takes a while to build trust back up.”

“We do provide training. We train over 10,000 people each year, and we’re keen to influence.

“We want people to live happy, safe lives, and we will do our part to engage with people if they are happy to engage with us.”

The forthcoming by-election for North Yorkshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, sparked by Mr Allott’s resignation, has seen both Conservatives and Labour put up female candidates.

For Ms Hill, the new Commissioner’s priorities must be both centred on restoring the role’s reputation and in tackling violence against women and girls.

“It is a moral cost to society, and keeps women and girls feeling unsafe – and it impacts on male victims too,” she said.

“It costs millions this year, and I would like candidates to grasp investment in services and to ensure that police have the resources and training to respond appropriately.”

Strict purdah rules and her role as chairman of the board of Women’s Aid means Ms Hill cannot back either of the two leading candidates – Zoe Metcalfe for the Conservatives

and Emma Scott-Spivey for Labour.

"All-women shortlists are great – but what we need to see is candidates that understand the issues,” Ms Hill said.

“We’re open to working with any candidate that is open to working with us.”

But for Ms Hill, important as holding our elected officials to account may be, it doesn’t compare to the satisfaction gained knowing that IDAS has helped a woman escape from an abusive relationship.

“There are so many personal stories of people escaping abuse that are so wonderful.

“I’ve seen so many women who have lived with abuse for years, who have come through us and gone on to break free and live safe lives.

“I’d like to see more work in the family courts, especially with abusive parents whose children have to have contact with them. I’d like to see that challenged.

“We’ve got a lot to do. Not just system change or legal change, but cultural change.

“You can create new laws but without the resources to follow them through, they’re only as good as a piece of paper.”