'Hidden pandemic' of domestic violence in West Midlands as abuse cases reach record levels
West Midlands Police dealt with more than 4,000 domestic violence cases in the first month of lockdown – but only three per cent resulted in a charge.
It is believed to be the highest monthly figure on record, which police chiefs say is largely down to people spending more time at home due to coronavirus restrictions.
According to West Midlands Police official figures, from March 23 to April 26 some 4,108 cases were recorded as 'domestic violence'.
Of those, 123 people were charged (three per cent) and 20 people were handed a caution.
The figures show that 2,435 cases – nearly 60 per cent – were closed due to victims refusing to press charges, while 745 cases (18 per cent) ended because of "evidential difficulties".
Nearly three quarters of the victims (74 per cent) were female.
MPs – who this week passed a new bill aimed at tightening up legislation to support victims – today warned of a "hidden pandemic" of domestic violence.
Chief Superintendent Pete Henrick, from WMP's Public Protection Unit, said: "Tackling domestic abuse is always a priority for us; our officers are out in communities right now looking to arrest suspects and protect vulnerable people.
"In the first few weeks of the lockdown we arrested hundreds of domestic abuse suspects, including people wanted over assaults, harassment and coercive control offences.
"It’s true many cases don’t progress because victims choose not to support a prosecution. We completely understand taking formal police action against a partner or ex-partner is not an easy decision but we are aware that some may be fearful or intimidated.
"We have specially trained domestic abuse officers who work alongside support groups and charities to help survivors through the process and safeguard them.
"An option in such cases is to refer offenders onto a course designed to address their domestic abuse offending. We’ve put hundreds of offenders through the programme in the last two years with only a very small percentage going on to commit further offences."
The force says that this year it has secured more than 300 Domestic Violence Prevention Orders (DVPOs) against suspects. Anyone who breaches the terms of their order faces being taken to court.
Ch Supt Henrick added: "However, in cases where we suspect survivors are pressured into dropping their complaints and we have concerns for their wellbeing, we will take suspects to court relying on the other evidence we gather and not solely on the account of a victim.
"Our combined efforts demonstrate our commitment to improving our service to survivors of domestic abuse."
David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, said a campaign the force launched appealing for domestic abuse victims to come forward had contributed to the rise in reports.
"Following an initial fall during lockdown, we’ve seen incidents rise to some of their highest levels on record," he said.
"This is something I take very seriously and West Midlands Police have been taking lots of proactive steps to arrest and charge abusers in recent months.
"I will continue to stand up for victims and provide them with the help and support they need to escape abuse and recover.
"To access the services for victims I commission, people do not have to have reported a crime.
"I want victims to know that myself and West Midlands Police are prioritising domestic abuse."
On Monday the landmark Domestic Violence Bill has passed its final stage in the Commons and will be debated in the Lords before it is enshrined into law.
The Government says the legislation will ensure that children who see, hear or experience the effects of domestic abuse would be treated as victims under law.
It will introduce the first legal government definition of domestic abuse – including economic abuse and coercive or controlling non-physical behaviour – and also includes an amendment to ban killers using the ‘rough sex defence’.
Lib Dem leadership candidate Layla Moran MP, who backed the bill, said: "As with all crises, vulnerable women and girls must stay on the radar. Their risk of abuse increases, yet their visibility diminishes.
"These figures show the hidden pandemic of domestic violence in the West Midlands at its most stark.
"For women in particular who are already facing greater economic insecurity and caring responsibilities, a spike in domestic abuse is however yet another stain on their lives. This is why I voted to strengthen to law in these areas this week.
"For them, self-isolation doesn’t mean living in the confines of a safe haven we call home. Instead, victims remain trapped in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could help them."
Ms Moran was arrested in 2013 for slapping her then boyfriend while "feeling threatened", but the charges were dropped.
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