Surrey Police campaign highlights 'controlling behaviour' in domestic abuse

A poignant film featuring the survivors of a family almost wiped out by their abusive father has been made by Surrey Police as part of a new campaign warning of the role coercive and controlling behaviour plays in domestic abuse.

One of the campaign images used to encourage people to speak out against domestic abuse (Pic credit: Surrey Police)
One of the campaign images used to encourage people to speak out against domestic abuse (Pic credit: Surrey Police)

Ryan and Luke Hart feature in the 15-minute film, 'Breaking the Silence', which tells the story of how their father Lance abused them, their mother Claire and sister Charlotte by the way he controlled the household over many years.

In July 2016, by which time the two brothers had already left home, their mother and sister moved out and started a new life.

But just days later, Lance Hart shot and killed his estranged wife and daughter before turning his shotgun on himself.

Since then, Luke and Ryan have campaigned for greater awareness of coercive behaviour as a form of abuse.

The film, which was made in-house by Surrey Police earlier this year, has been split into five sections, each dealing with an aspect of the abuse and telling it from the brothers' perspective.

Juliet Smith, lead communications officer at Surrey Police, said: "I had the idea for the films because I met Luke and Ryan at a training session that they were doing for some of our officers. I wanted to tell their story because it shows how deadly coercive control is."

Speaking in the film, Ryan describes how such abuse "takes away your life" and adds: "Even though there’s no violence it does take away your life and your freedom." He urges people to speak out if they can see this happening to others.

Luke says: "People who think domestic abuse is just about violence will get into the same trap that we did and I think it’s really important to understand that any action to control another human being as part of a pattern of behaviours is dangerous and illegal and coercive control, and that’s what people need to look out for."

The film went online last month and was promoted on social media during the force’s domestic abuse awareness week. Several victims of domestic abuse have since come forward to the police.

Smith commented: "The best outcomes from this week were that there were nine disclosures as a direct result of campaign material."

The film has made a real impact in terms of engagement. The five sections have been watched more than 100,000 times to date and about half of their total reach "converted into comments, reactions or shares", according to Smith.

She added: "We still have too many people not spotting the early warning signs of abuse, feeling unable to report or understanding why it is hard to take action to leave an abusive relationship."

The campaign aims to "bring this issue out into the open, talk about it and give people who are suffering the confidence to know they can do so without judgement, jeopardising their safety, or compromising themselves in any way," Smith said.

About 80 women a year are murdered by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics.

'Breaking the Silence' is the latest in a trend for professional films being produced by police forces as part of their comms strategies.

Other recent examples include films made by Leciestershire Police – 'Breck’s Last Game', which tells the story of how a 14-year-old schoolboy from Surrey was groomed and lured to his death, and 'Kayleigh’s Love Story', telling how a 15-year-old schoolgirl was groomed and subsequently raped and murdered after meeting a man online.

Ruth Shulver, co-vice-chair of APComm and head of corporate comms at Surrey Police, told PRWeek: "Storytelling and victim involvement has always been a massive part of policing comms, it’s just the method has evolved. We’ve got more in-house skills to produce content and share it, use it as training material, public engagement materials and from a campaigning perspective."

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