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No surge in domestic abuse reports to police, says NPCC

Reports of domestic abuse to forces have risen by 3 per cent since the lockdown, which is “on track” with the year on year increase, according to National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).

There appears to be a sharp disparity between reports of domestic abuse to forces and calls to charity helplines. 

Speaking at a virtual NPCC briefing on policing domestic abuse during the lockdown, Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, NPCC Domestic Abuse lead, said: “We have this slight increase of 3 per cent which is roughly on track with how domestic abuse has been going up year on year, around 20 per cent plus each year since 2014.”

Domestic violence support charities however have reported a significant spike in reports. Calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge were were 49% higher in the week prior to 15 April than the average prior to the pandemic.

College of Policing’s Head of Crime, David Tucker, said it is “really difficult to understand why there is this gap” and the police were “doing as much as we can to understand it”.

“We're trying to get the information from the charities to assist us to do so,” he said.

Mr Tucker said they have asked the charities to give as much information as possible about the nature of the calls so that “we can be prepared just in case there is this demand waiting there for when lockdown finishes” and also to try and encourage people to come forward now.

“We're asking them to take the message that policing is open for business and we will deal with domestic abuse.”

Mr Tucker highlighted how it can be difficult for victims to come forward during the lockdown while under the eye of their abuser, and said this was an issue that was not unique to the COVID-19 situation.

“That's why we're trying to talk to the charities to understand the contact being made with the charities, but not with the police and whether we can get any referral of people into policing, for those who need that immediate support so that they're made safer.

“The messaging has been very clear - policing is open for business for victims of domestic abuse."

According to DCC Rolfe, both policing and charities and have seen “quite a significant shift” to online reporting.

“Quite a lot of focus of our campaign work with the Home Office and the charities has been about pushing the availability of the Silent Solution, but also other ways of contacting us online," she said. 

“And one of the pleasant surprises here in West Midlands Police is the number of victims who contacted us when we implemented our live chat facility - which is an alternative to 101 calls.”

Many victims apparently said: “I would have never considered picking up the phone, I find it hard to talk to somebody”.

Another reason DCC Rolfe acknowledged on why someone might be reluctant to the call the police regarding domestic violence is the presence of officers on the doorstep and the later ramifications from their abuser.

“I will always say that while policing has its part to play, and we absolutely should take this very seriously and should be prosecuting offenders who have committed criminal offences and protecting victims, it cannot be solved by policing alone," she said.

"It requires a really good joined up public health approach and many victims do not want prosecution. Many victims want the abuse to stop and want the right support to enable them to get away from an abuser or remove an abuser.”

This week the government pledged £76m for vulnerable people who are suffering disproportionately as result of the lockdown.

This will include funding for domestic abuse victims, vulnerable children and providing them with alternative accommodation.

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