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You are not alone, police tell domestic violence victims

Police across the country will promote silent 999 calls in a bid to help people at risk of domestic violence during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Campaigns will be run across social media by police forces using#youarenotalone to reassure people living with a violent partner that they will be protected.

With the lockdown now heading into its third week, police are concerned that the pressure of isolation and issues like debt will lead to an increase in incidents.

Launching its campaign, Suffolk Constabulary said it was “acutely aware” that the coronavirus will have a serious impact on women, children and men who already face domestic abuse in their homes. Limited contact with the outside world may cause tensions at home leading to an increase in domestic abuse.

Police and crime commissioners agreed earlier this week that it needed to be made a priority after analysing data shared with Chinese officials and EU countries that imposed the lockdown earlier about the impact of the virus on offending.

China reported incidents increased by a third.

There has been an increase in recorded UK incidents but not at the same level. PCCs and officer leads for domestic violence believe there is a hidden problem because victims think the police are too busy to respond or because they are living with their abuser they cannot get help.

To counter this, forces will promote ‘silent’ 999 calls. If a caller dials 5 5 after the prompt, the control room will know and allocate officers to respond.

They can also move a victim to safe accommodation as government guidance was put in place at the beginning of the lockdown for police on how to respond to domestic violence cases.

Det Chief Supt Eamonn Bridger of Suffolk Constabulary said: "Let me be really clear to anyone concerned – domestic abuse is considered a serious crime and we are is committed to the safety of victims and children during this time of crisis. The current situation of self-isolation can make the home even more like a prison with an abuser.

He added: "We want to stress that any form of abuse is a crime and we will deal robustly with perpetrators. Whilst it is too early to identify a significant increase in domestic abuse we know that it is a crime that occurs behind closed doors and other countries have seen a rise in abuse during their own Coronavirus responses.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for domestic violence revealed domestic violence and refuge charities had been involved in the COVID-19 work to ensure resources such as helplines were available.

Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe said: ““For those already living with domestic abuse these restrictions will have left them fearful of being even further isolated and left at home with their abuser. They may feel like there is nowhere to go for help and are now unable to meet the family and friends who act as a support network.”

Charities will be critical to the campaign’s success and PCCs said forces had to ensure the partnership delivered on the promise to victims.

APCC Victims Leads, Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner and Sophie Linden, London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime issued a joint statement: “We all need to be working, closer than ever, with our Chief Constable and commissioning partners to ensure that victims are still able to get the help and support they so desperately need during the coronavirus lockdown.

“PCCs are responsible for commissioning the majority of local support services for victims of crime, which includes services for women, children and men experiencing domestic abuse. More than ever, a public health response is required to keep victims safe. We are also adapting the ways we are offering support. We want victims of this devastating crime to know that we have not forgotten them.”

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