Figures released last week by Police forces across the country provided further evidence of the hidden crime of domestic abuse. At the same time, continued cutbacks to specialist services for survivors of Gender Based Violence could be leaving women with nowhere to turn.
Home Office data on emergency 999 calls to the Police showed that, nationally, one in 10 calls related to cases of domestic abuse; this figure was over 20% in Merseyside. With an estimated 22.3 million emergency calls to the police every year these figures could amount to 2.2 million calls as a result of domestic abuse.
Recent figures released in Scotland have shown that while reports of Domestic Abuse have increased by 7% in the past 12 months, the percentage of reports which are then reported as a crime or an offence fell by 4%. The British Crime Survey shows that the majority of women who suffer incidents of abuse to not report them while some have argued that even this underestimates the true extent of domestic abuse in the UK. Improvements have been seen in prosecution and conviction rates, through concerted and coordinated efforts by the CPS, but much more remains to be done.
Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary said, “Last year the domestic violence rate was twice as high as the burglary rate. Two women every week are killed at the hands of their abuser in England and Wales, yet it still isn’t given enough priority to keep people safe.”
If women are coming forward to report violence and abuse it is important that there are services beyond the criminal justice system available to support them. Unfortunately recent research has shown that while an increase in incidents of domestic violence is a likely, indirect consequence of an economic recession, spending cuts are having a disproportionate effect on welfare support and services for women. A clear indication of this impact is Women’s Aid reporting that, on an average day, it has to turn away 320 women from its refuges across the England due to lack of bed space.
Protecting existing support services is an important element for ensuring that women are safe from violence and abuse in their homes, and have safe spaces available to them if they are not.