Domestic violence surges in Lancashire during lockdown
Domestic abuse cases made up one in five cases reported to police during the first lockdown.
Police in Lancashire made more than 2,000 arrests for offences linked to domestic abuse in that time, with charities warning the problem “is not going away”.
And figures reveal such cases make up a growing proportion of the work officers have to deal with.
While comparable arrest figures for previous years were not available, nationally the number of domestic abuse cases has risen steadily in recent years.
The spike was greatest during the first lockdown as cases surged. During April and May, they accounted for a fifth of alloffences recorded by police.
Support charity Refuge called the problem the “biggest social issue” facing women and girls today.
It said there was a general increase in demand for domestic abuse services at this time, and it continues to see peaks in demand three weeks into the second lockdown.
Lisa King, director of communications and external relations at the charity, said: “It is important to remember that behind all of these statistics are real woman and their experiences.
“These numbers refer to instances of physical violence, rape, sexual assault, emotional and psychological abuse, coercive control, FGM [female genital mutilation], forced marriage and other forms of gender-based violence.
“Domestic abuse is biggest social issue facing women and girls today, and these statistics show it simply isn’t going away.”
Figures from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services show Lancashire Police made 2,089 arrests for domestic abuse-related crimes between April and June, when the toughest national Covid-19 restrictions were imposed.
There were also 104 voluntary attendances at police stations, where a suspect agrees to meet officers at a station as an alternative to being arrested.
Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest domestic abuse crimes were already rising in Lancashire before the pandemic struck.
In the year to March, 15 per cent of all crimes in the area were linked to domestic abuse (21,474) – an increase on the 13 per cent the year before.
Across England and Wales, domestic abuse offences have risen steadily as a proportion of all crimes for the last four years, reaching 15 per cent in 2019-20.
This spiked in April, May and June when roughly a fifth (21 per cent, 20 per cent and 19 per cent) of offences recorded by police were flagged as domestic abuse related.
As restrictions eased, this proportion fell slightly – likely to be due to overall police-recorded crime increasing following the lockdown.
Police forces, excluding Greater Manchester, recorded 198,112 offences between April and June – nine per cent more than the same months in 2019, and 17 per cent more than two years ago.
Barnardo’s said families were facing new financial and emotional pressures during the pandemic so while “deeply sad”, the figures are not a shock.
Chief executive Javed Khan said: “Children are the hidden victims of domestic abuse, not just bystanders. Lockdowns have left too many children trapped in unsafe homes, and missing out on vital support.
“In many cases we know that without timely help, children go on to experience further abuse in their own relationships and risk becoming trapped in a life-long cycle of violence.”
Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins said the Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill, currently awaiting its second reading in the House of Lords, will strengthen protections for victims and also ensure perpetrators feel the full force of the law.
She added: “We are acutely aware that for some people home is not a safe place and that the pandemic put those people in greater danger.
“That is why we are taking action, alongside our partners including the police, to better protect victims, bring perpetrators to justice, and learn from deaths to prevent future tragedies.”
There was also a small rise (two per cent) in the number of child protection referrals as a result of domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes over the three months compared with the same period in 2019.
There were 56,945 child protection referrals over this time.
Lancashire academics are leading a worldwide research effort into the way different countries have dealt with domestic violence and abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new international study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19, is being led by Professor Nicky
Stanley and colleagues in the Connect Centre for International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm at the University of Central Lancashire.
The 14-month long study will examine policy and practice responses in four countries: the UK, Australia, Ireland and South Africa.
The Preston-based team, along with researchers at the University of Edinburgh; University of Melbourne, Australia; Trinity College, Dublin; and the University of the Witwatersrand in
South Africa, will work with domestic violence organisations and policy actors in all four countries to collect and compare different initiatives and policies for all family members living with domestic violence and abuse.
Professor Stanley, inset, said: “The risks of living with domestic violence and abuse have increased under Covid-19 restrictions and support and services have become harder for victims and their families to access.
“A range of responses at policy and practice levels have emerged. These differ across the world and little is known as yet about their take-up and impact.
“This study will fill an important gap in our knowledge.”
As part of the project, domestic abuse services and experts from across the UK will be asked to provide evidence and experience for the research, which will produce briefings and feedback for providers and policy makers throughout the study.
The project has been welcomed by Nicole Jacobs, the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales,
She said: “We know that victims of domestic abuse have faced much greater danger during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many have felt lost, isolated and fearful and unable to access help or support. It is essential that we learn lessons from the response worldwide now so that we can bring about positive change that will help victims in times of future crisis.
“Given the Connect Centre’s considerable experience in this area, I believe this study will make a real difference to many people globally.”
A final report will be available by January 2022.
The Connect Centre is based in UCLan’s School of Social Work, Care and Community and works to bring to together researchers, practitioners and influencers to develop new ideas on preventing all forms of interpersonal violence and the harm that can result.
It is led by Professor Stanley and Dr Christine Barter.