Supermarket workers ‘should be trained’ to recognise abuse victims’ code words

Supermarket workers should be trained to recognise code words from domestic abuse victims whose only opportunity to seek help may be during the weekly shop, the Victims Commissioner said.

While the school gates used to be a place where women could speak out, the coronavirus lockdown has reduced opportunities to get support, and some women may only be leaving the home to visit shops or pharmacies.

Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird said the Government must adapt to the new normal brought on by Covid-19, by providing a “system of rescue” in the places where victims are most likely to frequent during the crisis.

She told the Home Affairs committee: “Now, the equivalent of course is the supermarket, so you may be a very controlled person but the likelihood is you are sent out to buy the food, and also of course pharmacies.

“We urgently need to copy the French model … which is to have emergency provision available in supermarkets and pharmacies.”

Dame Vera mentioned how “Ask Angela”, an emergency code word to protect people from sexual assault, which alerts bar staff to the need for help, could be adapted for use at shop tills.

Supermarket Shopping
Supermarkets could provide a system of rescue, it was suggested (David Jones/PA)

She said: “You could have a very similar system, easily training local workers in supermarkets, to just respond … if people are able to come in and talk about what’s happening, fine, but maybe that’s not so straightforward and you wouldn’t know what to say to a cashier, so an option to have a codeword so that you say ‘Ask Vera’, and the person says ‘that means this to me’.”

She said the police are looking out for signs of abuse on patrols, and urged the public to sound the alarm if things do not seem right, similar to how they are encouraged to report suspected terrorist issues.

She added: “I hope we can also get the Government really to commit to introducing a system of rescue at the places, the sole places, that people who are in difficulties can go to now, which are largely pharmacies and supermarkets.”

Dame Vera said one member of the British Retail Consortium had proposed a red button system where women ordering groceries online could sound the alarm that they are in danger.

Another option could be to broadcast messages over loudspeaker in parks, such as is already taking place with regard to people only using the areas for exercise.

She added: “It seems to me we have really got to be creative, nationally and locally”.

Dame Vera Baird
Dame Vera Baird (Northumbria PCC/PA)

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs, also giving evidence, warned that society must prepare for the “inevitable surge” of domestic abuse victims seeking support when the lockdown lifts.

She said there were concerns that some of the millions of pounds of Government funding announced for the charity sector may struggle to reach small local charities supporting specific groups.

She said: “We need to allow those charities to quickly and very simply bid in and get the funds they need to sustain what they are doing, but also plan for the inevitable surge that we will have.

“There will be people that are waiting and trying to survive every day and then will access support as quickly as they can when some of the lockdown is lifted.”

She also called for the period in which victims must report offences to be increased, as many may not be in a safe position to contact police.

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