Domestic abuse crimes in Northern Ireland rise to highest recorded level, with more than 19,000 cases reported last year

Cases of domestic violence have risen to their highest recorded levels in Northern Ireland, according to a report published by the police, with victim support groups saying lockdown has created a “perfect storm” for abuse to occur in homes.

The report, which was released onto the PSNI website, details all the reported cases of domestic violence incidents for the entirety of 2020. It highlights that this year saw the highest amount of these crimes being responded to since the Police Statistical Branch started their annual analysis back in 2004.

This year saw 19,000 cases of domestic violence crime being recorded, which is an increase of 951 compared to 2019, which represents a jump of 5.3%. Of these, 10,496 of them were violent in nature, with 4,454 of those incidents resulting in injury.

Many NI support groups seeking to aid those who suffer from domestic or sexual violence have said the lockdown conditions have forced victims to be confined at home with their abusers more, which has resulted in case numbers spiking. The Foyle branch of Women’s Aid, a charity that wants to stop domestic violence against women and children, recently reported that they had a 25% increase in calls during the first lockdown back in Spring of last year.

The numbers released by the police back up that lockdown is one of the main instigators for this raise in cases of domestic violence. There were 550 more reported incidents in April and May of 2020, right in the middle of that Spring lockdown, when compared to those same months in 2019. However, in June, when restrictions began to lift as non-essential retail and cafes could open their doors again, reported incidents dropped, and that month saw 226 less cases than its 2019 counterpart.

This rise was not just contained to any one part of Northern Ireland, as seven out of Northern Ireland’s eleven policing district saw a notable increase in reported cases of crimes of domestic violence, with the Newry, Mourne and Down area seeing the biggest spike with 383 additional incidents compared to 2019. These rises, in addition to a drop in other major crimes, such as theft and criminal vandalism, meant that domestic violence crime made up 19.7% of all crime recorded by the PSNI, which is up from 16.9% last year.

Louise Kennedy from Victim Support NI, a charity set up to help victims of violent attacks, ranging from sexual assault to hate crimes, says lockdown has “resulted in an escalation of violence in the home”. She went on to say: “Reports of abuse are up. Restrictions to travel have created conditions whereby abusers and victims are in closer proximity more of the time, with fewer routes of escape or de-escalation.”

However, Ms Kennedy, who is the Policy and Communications Manager for her organisation, urged caution with how people analyse the numbers that the police have released. She went on to highlight that, while lockdown has definitely caused an unnatural spike in cases, “COVID hasn’t created abusers”, and that a gradual rise in incidents had been a trend for the last few years.

On what could be done more by Stormont to try and reverse this tide of rising incidents, Ms Kennedy said: “Resourcing is always a big issue. The best thing Government can do is fully cost and resource the initiatives and laws they bring in to ensure that they have the maximum effect.”

These comments come only weeks after Jacqui Durkin, the NI Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, said that the pace towards domestic violence case reform in Northern Ireland was “disappointing”. A report, released in 2019, made six key recommendations for necessary reform, but a review from the Chief Inspector found that four of these had only been partially implemented while two had not been progressed at all. This critique was responded to by the Justice Minister Naomi Long, who said that her department was working “tirelessly” to enact the recommended changes.

Louise Kennedy had one other important message that she wanted to pass on to anyone who felt trapped as a victim of domestic violence, that being: “There is help out there. You’ve got ourselves, the Helpline, Women’s Aid, Men’s Advisory Project, and others. We’re all here to help support you. We will listen, we will believe you, we can help you put safety plans in place, and help you to take whatever next steps at your own pace. There is nothing to lose by picking up the phone and having a chat about what you’re going through.”

Ms Kennedy also urged anyone who is looking advice or support because they, or someone they know, are in an abusive situation, to call the Domestic Abuse Helpline, which can be reached at 0808 802 1414.