BLOG: Christmas period means more victims of domestic abuse
Maybe it's a sign that I'm getting older, (speaking as a sprightly 33 year old), but, with each year that passes, my focus around Christmas time has started to shift from gluttony and gifts to things less jolly. Whether it be the number of people, young and old, who will be spending Christmas alone or on the streets, or families worrying how they're going to afford presents for their kids.
This year my concern has been piqued by reports about incidents of domestic abuse. An increasing number of police forces are drawing attention to evidence which shows that, during the Christmas-New Year period, we can expect to see a rise in domestic abuse. More commonly referred to as domestic violence, the government defines it as: "any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality."
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Official figures show that one in four women and one in six men will experience a form of domestic abuse at some point in their lives. Although Women's Aid, a charity which helps 250,000 women and children a year, claims these stats are somewhat misleading since they only include single incidents, whilst excluding the severity and frequency of the type of abuse. It also leaves out sexual assault, a crime overwhelmingly perpetrated against women by their previous or present day male partners. On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.
As in previous years, Avon and Somerset Police are running their "Have the Christmas you deserve" campaign. On their website, you will find their "Don't be a victim this Christmas" page. According to their own findings, last year, incidents of domestic abuse more than trebled over the festive period:
"Figures show that on an average day over the last year police were notified of approximately 1400 incidents of which 14 were domestic abuse related. Over the Christmas period last year there were about 914 incidents per day, of which 28 related to domestic abuse and over the New Year period, there were about 1295 incidents per day, of which 50 were DV related.
"These figures show a rise from an average day of one per cent of domestic abuse related incidents; to three per cent over Christmas and four per cent over New Year."
Detective Inspector Katie Boxer from the force's Public Protection Unit explains that:
"At this time of year there is often more drinking and more stress on families and this can lead to the types of scenarios when violence and abuse are more likely to occur."
Similar campaigns have been launched in Northern Ireland, and by West Mercia and Humberside Police. Vicki Paddison from Hull's Domestic Abuse Partnership (DAP) service believes a combination of factors provides this potentially toxic mix:
"People are at home. The stress and anxiety of Christmas is often raised, for many, many families but particularly where there is domestic violence evident.
"They've got the break-up of schools. The increasing pressure in terms of having to buy presents and food for the Christmas period, and that raises anxiety and stress within families. Which, ultimately increases the domestic abuse."
Domestic violence is widely acknowledged to be under-reported by its victims. Many regard it as a purely private matter and won't report it, some are too afraid of going to the police, some feel trapped but don't want to see their partner arrested, others may blame themselves for what happens.
Figures by the police (see p.45) show that 7.4% of all recorded crime in Avon and Somerset for 2011/12 was for domestic violence. 8,548 incidents were reported; a 3.9% increase on the previous year, puncturing the general pattern of a county-wide fall in crime. National research in 2007 discovered that almost 40,000 women in Bristol, aged between 16 and 59, have experienced some form of domestic violence. And yet, under-reporting means that, whilst officially there were 7,505 cases in 2010/11, this is believed to be well down on the true figure, estimated to be 26,195 incidents for the year.
Bristol City Council's Crime and Disorder Strategic Assessment - the most recent of which was published in January - found that domestic violence was more likely to occur in some of the city's more deprived areas: Hartcliffe, Easton, Lawrence Weston, and Southmead. It also commented on data released by the British Crime Survey (BCS) which found:
"Victims of domestic violence were more likely to experience repeat victimisation than victims of other types of crime. Repeat victimisation accounted for 73% of all incidents of domestic violence as measured by the 2010/11 BCS. Around 59% of the people who commit domestic violence are repeat offenders. Tackling prolific domestic violence perpetrators can have a large impact on crime reduction targets."
It's not only at Christmas that authorities notice a spike in domestic violence. Earlier this summer, Avon and Somerset Police warned about the possibility of a 25% increase during the Euro 2012 football championship, in particular, after England matches. This came as a result of a steep climb in cases during the 2010 World Cup, culminating in a 32% rise following England's elimination to Germany on penalties. How terrifying that, for some people, their well-being is at greater risk every time England takes part in a national tournament.
This Christmas, because of problems with funding, there will be fewer professionals on hand to help. Last month, Channel 4 News revealed that one in five domestic violence centres has had to cut some of its services in the past year. Because some are so oversubscribed, between 275 and 300 women are turned away every day by the first refuge they approach.
Unfortunately, Andy Williams, Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year for some of us.
Here is a link from the council website about domestic abuse services available in Bristol: http://www.bristol.gov.uk/page/community-and-safety/domestic-abuse-report-it
Ben Mitchell is a freelance political commentator who has had work published on The Independent and Huffington Post, as well as on a number of the country's top political blogs.
His personal blog can be found here. You can follow him on Twitter: @bmitchellwrites