The first national lockdown saw a spike in domestic abuse cases in England and Wales, new figures have shown, with one in five offences recorded by police related to domestic violence.
More than a quarter of a million crimes were flagged as domestic abuse-related between March and June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The 259,324 offences represent a rise of 7% from the same period in 2019 and an 18% rise from two years ago, but the ONS said it could not be determined if lockdown fuelled the number of offences as domestic abuse cases have been increasing year-on-year before the pandemic.
In April, May and June roughly a fifth (21%, 20% and 19%) of offences recorded by police were flagged as domestic abuse-related.
The number rose each month, with the biggest rise between April and May (9%).
While it is uncertain if the pandemic fuelled the spike, the easing of lockdown measures at this time may have made it safer for victims to seek help, the ONS said.
As restrictions were relaxed, the proportion of offences that were domestic abuse-related fell slightly – likely to be due to overall police-recorded crime increasing following the lockdown.
Separate data collected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) from 40 police forces shows there were 64,283 arrests for domestic abuse-related crimes between April and June.
This is a rise of almost a quarter (24%) compared with the same period in 2019, when comparing numbers from 37 police forces that provided data for both years.
There was also a small rise (2%) in the number of child protection referrals as a result of domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes over the three months compared with the same period in 2019.
The ONS said the Metropolitan Police received 41,158 calls for domestic incidents between March 25 and June 10 – a 12% rise from the same period in 2019.
There was also a large increase in the number of reports from third parties.
This is down to more people who would not usually be at home being able to observe and report incidents, and victims being in close proximity to their abuser with less opportunity to safely seek help, the ONS said.
The #YouAreNotAlone campaign which launched in April may also have increased awareness among members of the public to stay alert for signs of abuse.
Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said the rise in calls from third parties shows the public is becoming “more aware and more alive to the stresses and the risks” for people living through the pandemic with an abusive partner.
She told the PA news agency: “I do think there’s been a level of awareness-raising. But I also think people have been able to consider what it would feel like to be at home and how it would feel to be at home with someone you were scared of.
If any of these issues have affected you, here's how you can get help and advice:
Call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.
Women's Aid has a range of direct services for survivors, including a live chat service and an online Survivors’ Forum.
The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them. Contact on: 0808 801 0327.
Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages about identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused.
“So, I think the public has been able to understand and focus on that perhaps a little bit more than before.”
Between April and June, the national domestic abuse helpline, run by Refuge, was contacted 40,397 times – up 65% from the first three months of the year and around 444 times per day on average at the height of the pandemic.
The ONS said the rise in calls does not necessarily show a rise in the number of victims, but it could represent an increase in severity of abuse and lack of usual coping mechanisms.
Separate research from the charity Victim Support suggests incidents have increased in severity.
The ONS also provided statistics on domestic abuse for the year ending March 2020.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that 2.3 million adults aged between 16 and 74 – 1.6 million women and 757,000 men – experienced domestic abuse. This amounts to an estimated 5.5% of adults.
This is a small but not significant fall from the previous year.
The police recorded 758,941 domestic abuse-related crimes during the year ending March 2020 – a 9% rise from the previous year.
However, referrals of suspects from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service fell 19% and the proportion of suspects charged also fell slightly – from 74% the previous year to 73%.
More than three quarters of domestic abuse-related CPS prosecutions were successful in securing a conviction (78%), a similar level to the previous year.
Ms Jacobs said the fall in referrals to the CPS was a “cause for concern”.
She added: “That is worrying. It goes to show exactly what I tend to believe, which is we are not joining up in our criminal justice process well enough in many, many areas so that cases are proceeding all the way through the court system.”
The Crime Survey data in the year to March 2020 shows the victim was female in 74% of domestic abuse-related crimes, with women aged 16-19 more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than older women.
Divorced or separated adults, disabled people and the unemployed were likely to be victims of domestic abuse.
More than twice the proportion of disabled women (14.6%) experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020 than non-disabled women (6%).
And people of mixed ethnicity were significantly more likely to experience domestic abuse than black or Asian people.