'He used to punch me while I was asleep': Domestic abuse cases rise to record high over Christmas

With police under growing pressure to enforce lockdown, official figures show that in the first three months of the Covid pandemic, a fifth of offences recorded by officers in England and Wales related to domestic abuse.

But ITV News has learnt that some forces spent Christmas week responding to so many incidents of domestic abuse, it made up over half of their workload. 

Most areas are still collecting the data, but Cleveland Police told us that between the 24 and 29 of December, 49% of 266 arrests made fell into the domestic violence category, including over 60% on Christmas and Boxing Day. 

Warwickshire Police reported that 38 out of their 60 arrests related to domestic abuse, while in Surrey the figure was 52%. 

In Cambridgeshire, the rate was lower, with domestic abuse accounting for 26 out of 108 arrests; in Avon and Somerset 11 out of 29 were related. 

Rachel Younger reports on the alarming figures

There is usually a peak in domestic violence over the Christmas and summer holiday breaks, but for the domestic abuse teams at West Midlands Police, December was the busiest month they’ve ever known, accounting for 191 of 643 arrests. 

Detective Superintendent Jenny Skyrme, who oversees the unit, is in no doubt that lockdown played a large part. 

“Domestic abuse usually rises across the seasonal Christmas period,” she said.

“But December for West Midlands police was actually our highest recorded month for domestic abuse in our history.

Rachel Younger speaking to Victoria. Credit: ITV News

"The lockdown has an impact ...  you have people who are uncertain about employment, where alcohol can be playing more of an issue. Tempers get raised and people can find themselves in an abusive relationship and needing to get out.”

Victoria, not her real name, managed to escape from an abusive relationship in August. 

She and her children are now safely housed in a hostel but we have agreed to protect her identity. 

For Victoria, the abuse began to escalate when the first pandemic restrictions were introduced in March. 

With both herself and her partner furloughed, it was four months before there was any opportunity to get out.

She only managed to escape after her former partner got so drunk he passed out after attacking her.

She told ITV News: “Before I was working so I could go to work and go shopping - I used to make excuses to go out and get some space. 

“But when lockdown happened, I was with him all the time. Wherever I went in the house he would follow me.

“I was waiting for him to go back to work but it kept being put off, he kept being furloughed for longer and longer so I couldn’t leave.”

Her account of what he did to her, in the supposed safety of their home, is horrific. 

“He used to grab me by the neck and throw me up against the wardrobe. He broke one of my ribs. When I was sleeping he used to come to bed and punch me while I was asleep.

"The last time he hurt me he punched me in the face and that’s when I left.

“I was scared I was never going to get out. He was getting more and more controlling, more and more violent”.

Tragically, even the shocking figures shared with ITV News by police forces are likely to be an underestimate of abuse rates. 

With lockdown in place again, some victims will struggle to call for help. 

Victoria agreed to risk speaking to us because she wants others who find themselves in a similar situation to know that support is out there. 

She is rebuilding her life, supported by one of the UK’s domestic abuse charities. 

“It’s made every single difference,” she smiled.

“We are all happy now. We all laugh everyday and I’m coming back to the person I was. 

“I want to let other women know there is hope out there. You can get away. 

“You can do it and you will do it and you can be happy again.

"You can be free from them, they haven’t got the power over you you think they have.”

Help and support

Call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247 for confidential, non-judgemental information and support.

Women's Aid - for information and support, email helpline@womensaid.org.uk or contact a local domestic abuse service by using the Domestic Abuse Directory.

If you are in immediate danger, call 999.