Huge spike in domestic abuse revealed by West Midlands and Staffordshire police figures

Domestic abuse crime has soared by almost 40 per cent since the first lockdown, new police figures show.

Ministers have announced new funding for domestic abuse victims
Ministers have announced new funding for domestic abuse victims

And the number of reports received by West Midlands Police has more than doubled in the past five years, a response to a Freedom Of Information [FOI] request revealed.

Between April 1 last year and March 31, the force received 57,652 reports of domestic abuse.

It rose from 41,535 during the previous 12 months, in 2019/20, and dwarfed the figure of 22,549 reports in 2016/17.

Superintendent Jenny Skyrme said more victims may be coming forward than in previous years as they started trusting police to help them.

She said: “We are aware of the increase in crimes of domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We know the lockdowns have been tough on relationships and that people have been suffering domestic abuse in both physical and psychological forms.

“Previously, victims have been reluctant to make contact.

“And while we never want to see a rise in any crime, the increase in reports can indicate people have trust in us to listen, handle the situation sensitively and be prepared to take action.”

Rise in domestic abuse across the region

West Midlands Police has committed to investing in 50 additional police officers to handle domestic abuse investigations.

Since 2016, the office of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner has almost doubled funding for victim support.

Supt Skyrme said West Midlands Police officers were carrying “targeted activity to arrest suspects”.

In a five-day period over Christmas, the region’s police force handled a huge spike in cases, dealing with 1,250 incidents.

Supt Skyrme added: “Safeguarding vulnerable people and bringing perpetrators of domestic abuse to justice remains a priority for us.

“We need people to know there is no need to suffer alone and the force, along with the many charities and refuges across the West Midlands, are ready, willing and able to help.”

Power and control

Charities that help victims of domestic abuse include The Haven, in Wolverhampton, Black Country Women’s Aid, in West Bromwich, and Survivors of Domestic Abuse (SODA), in Stourbridge.

Samantha Billingham, manager at SODA, who herself is a survivor of domestic abuse, said lockdowns could make the lives of victims much harder.

Reacting to the FOI figures, she told the Express & Star: “I remember when the Prime Minister Boris Johnson first announced we were first going into lockdown.

"I thought about all those people, men and women, who were in abusive relationships, because they were going to be in lockdown with their perpetrator.

“This means their perpetrator can control them even more.

“For example, many people were on furlough. For some victims of domestic abuse, the work place is their safe haven but now, because of the pandemic, they can’t go to work.

“The pubs, lots of people and abusers go the pub. Abusers often use alcohol as an excuse for their behaviour. We all know their is no excuse whatsoever.

“But now the pubs closed, the abuser has nowhere to go. They are in lockdown with their victim, so the abuse will be higher because they are together 24/7.

“The victim is further controlled even more because when we talk about domestic abuse it is not just about physical violence, it is all about power and control.

“That is something the pandemic has given to perpetrators, they now have that power and control to abuse even more.”

She added: “We have seen an increase in cases during the pandemic.

"Back in December, we ran a campaign called ‘more than a bruise’, which was highlighting about coercive control and controlling behaviour.

“Just from that campaign, we had lots of men and women get in touch because they identified those behaviours in their relationship.”

Tip of the iceberg

The FOI, requested by the Express & Star, showed reported domestic abuse crime to West Midlands Police increased by 155.67 per cent between 2016/17 and 2020/21.

The increase between 2019/20 and 2020/21 was 38.8 per cent.

Ruth Davison, chief executive officer at national domestic abuse charity Refuge, warned the data from West Midlands Police is “just the tip of the iceberg”.

She added: “The sharp increase in domestic abuse cases reported to West Midlands Police in the last year is stark and alarming, but sadly not surprising.

“Refuge published a report earlier this year showing a dramatic increase in demand for our services throughout the pandemic; these findings correlate to what we have noticed throughout the last year nationwide.

“As the country moved to take necessary lockdown measures in March last year, women experiencing domestic abuse found themselves isolated and confined with their perpetrators and exposed to more abuse.”

Staffordshire Police also responded to a Freedom Of Information request from the Express & Star.

The police force revealed the number of reports had increased by 5.6 per cent since the first lockdown, rising from 16,726 reports in 2019/20 to 17,658 in 2020/21.

Inspector Victoria Ison, of Staffordshire Police, said: “The increase in Staffordshire is considerably less than the national average, but expected, given the pandemic and the fact many victims and perpetrators have been forced to spend extensive periods of time together due to the restrictions.”

Over a five-year period, the number of reports to Staffordshire Police have increased by 23.18 per cent, rising from 14,334 in 2016/17.

While police forces invest more resources into tackling domestic abuse, the Government is also becoming more proactive on the topic.

In February, £13 million was given to local authorities across the region, allowing victims and their children to access life-saving support in safe accommodation.

Newly-elected West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster added: “The rise in domestic abuse is alarming and is why, as a part of my election campaign, one of my top commitments was to combat violence against women and girls and domestic abuse.

“Over the coming weeks I will be setting out how I will be providing more support for victims as they go through the criminal justice process.

“Going through the criminal justice system can be highly distressing for victims and that is one of the reasons I’m committed to increasing support.

“Getting justice for victims of domestic abuse is incredibly important to me.

"People should be safe in their own homes.

“Bringing more perpetrators to justice and supporting victims is at the heart of my agenda.

“I welcome the recent announcement of 50 additional officers to investigate domestic abuse, but I am clear that even more needs to be done.”

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