A STATEMENT of ‘intent’ was signed by police in Barnsley yesterday in an attempt to stamp out cases of violence committed against females across the borough - which will result in more officers being tasked with dealing with growing issues.

The new initiative will support women and girls of Barnsley aged between 18 and 35 - creating ‘male upstanders rather than bystanders’ - and was launched by South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings.

Spells of lockdown saw a dramatic spike in numbers of domestic abuse incidents as victims were forced into close proximity with their abusers.

Work has stepped up since the horrific killing of Barnsley woman Victoria Woodhall, 31, by her estranged husband Craig Woodhall in March 2020.

He was handed an 18-and-a-half year sentence having pleaded guilty, but police revealed they have arrested four times as many suspects in domestic abuse cases than they did prior to lockdown, with reports rising from 14 per cent.

South Yorkshire Police’s violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategic lead Natalie Shaw said the new strategy - which a recent district performance report for Barnsley noted is of particular importance - is about challenging misogynistic behaviour as well as giving better support to victims.

Local officers will work alongside a national taskforce in three main areas - building trust, pursuing perpetrators and creating safer spaces.

A three-year plan, it will firstly focus on standardising policing of VAWG, then in later years look to stamp out violence.

Dr Alan Billings said: “I want South Yorkshire to be a place where women and girls both feel safe, and are safe.

“To achieve that, it is essential that we address violence against women and girls.

“To deliver real, lasting change on this issue, it is important that everyone pulls in the same direction, from statutory support services to South Yorkshire Police and the voluntary and community sector.

“We want women to feel safe in our communities - we have heard time and time again about behaviours that make women feel uncomfortable, yet they are expected to put up with them.

“We want to see this changed.

“If left unchallenged, this type of behaviour can escalate, and in some cases lead to serious crime and violence against women and girls.

“Women are harassed and abused every day, and we need to stop it.

“Preventing violence is always better than solely responding after the harm has been done.”

Natalie Shaw, the police’s lead for reducing offences, added: “We don’t want to alienate our male friends and colleagues - they are very much a part of the solution.

“It’s about creating male upstanders rather than bystanders.

“There’s nothing more powerful than a male challenging misogynistic behaviour.

“Men can start those conversations at work, in the pub, at the football match and call out another man for his behaviour or lack of respect towards women.

“If a man is prepared to stand up and say something isn’t acceptable, that’s when we start to see the societal change.”