LAST week West Midlands Police reported their highest ever recorded cases of domestic abuse this Christmas.
Between Christmas Eve and December 29 officers were called to a “staggering” 1,250 incidents of domestic abuse – 60 per cent more than in the same period in 2019.
During those six days police made 191 arrests which accounted for almost 30 per cent of the force’s total arrests.
And as we face another extended lockdown the force urges anyone feeling unsafe in their home to seek help from the police or other agencies.
The Observer spoke to domestic violence services and charities in Coventry for their response to these shocking statistics and to highlight where victims can turn to locally.
Call 999 in an emergency or go online to see what other options there are. If you do not feel comfortable contacting police Visit No Excuse for Abuse to find out about other agencies who can offer support and advice in and around Coventry.
Ask for ANI
New Home Office scheme, “Ask for ANI” (Action Needed Immediately) enables anyone experiencing or escaping an abusive relationship to access immediate help from the police or other support services, from the safety of their local pharmacy.
Jaime Richards, of Coventry Haven: “The Christmas period is a notoriously difficult time for those being subjected to abuse in their own homes; unfortunately, Covid has created a 10-month long ‘Christmas period’ for victims trapped at home, with the same triggers, including more time spent together, finances and family.
“We have always known that the ‘pandemic’ is domestic violence and abuse and that this is actually a pandemic within a pandemic. Covid has enabled abusers to inflict more power and control than ever before. During all three lockdowns, victims have told us that it’s extremely difficult to find a safe space to make a call, so we have had to think outside of the box.
“Our own data supports the WMP statistics, as we evidenced an increase in third party calls/contacts requesting advice on how to support friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues, and how to spot the signs and support them safely.
“Our new referrals into service increased massively as each of the lockdowns eased. We also supported employers to be mindful of video calls/meetings and to understand how that might be difficult for victims to deal with.
“With the news that we were heading into Lockdown 2.0 we evidenced victims fleeing as they could not face another period locked inside with their perpetrator(s). They also confirmed that the abuse had escalated in severity, very often reporting if the abuse hadn’t previously included physical violence, that it had escalated to actual violence.
“We have also been involved with the Local Authority to produce radio ads aired for four weeks mid December through to mid-January to try to make our services as accessible to as many victims as possible and get the message across that that they can always leave an abusive home in lockdown, and to promote the various methods of contacting us.
“We are still here; our services are still open and ready to support you. We believe you, we listen, we understand, and we do not judge you.”
See how to contact Coventry Haven here
Lisa King, Refuge’s Director of Communications and External Relations: “These alarming statistics on domestic abuse-related calls to West Midlands Police over the Christmas period serve as a stark indicator of the dangers that women and children experiencing domestic abuse are facing up and down the country.
“These statistics also reflect the many forms of abuse that perpetrators use to isolate, intimidate, and control women, whether it be physical and sexual assaults, criminal damage, coercive and controlling behaviour, breaching non-molestation orders, or making threats to kill.
“It’s important to remember, however, that these statistics only relate to one weekend this year, but for survivors of domestic abuse, these crimes impact their lives all year round.
“After prolonged periods of living in isolation with their abusers during the pandemic, women have had increasingly limited opportunities to contact friends, family or professional services for support.
“As we are now in the third national lockdown, we want to assure them that they are not alone, Refuge is here to provide safety and support. Domestic abuse services are safe and open, and women can and should reach out to us.
Call Refuge’s freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, available 24 hours day, seven days a week on 0808 2000 247, or go to nationadahelpline.org.uk to request a safe time for a call back from one of their expert female staff or to use their live chat service, available Monday to Friday, 3pm to 10pm.
COVENTRY CITY COUNCIL’S SAFE TO TALK HELPLINE
Coun Pervez Akhtar, deputy cabinet member for policing and equalities:
“It’s really sad to see such a rise in the number of domestic abuse incidents that the police had to deal with over the Christmas break.
“Early in the pandemic we invested in extra support for victims of domestic violence, including extra accommodation to support victims fleeing abuse.
“So, while it is never good news to know domestic abuse is going on, we are pleased to see that victims are confident to report problems and seek support.
“These already challenging times for many, have been extra difficult for those living with domestic abuse and we will continue to work with partner agencies to manage and address domestic abuse in a sensitive and supportive way.
“I want to reassure anyone that finds themselves in this position that there are lots of people and organisation who are ready to help. If you, or someone you know, is suffering through domestic abuse, you can find support at safetotalk.org.uk/.
“If someone is in immediate danger and their life is threatened, they should dial the Police on 999; if you are unable to talk, once connected to 999 press 55 and the police will attend.”
“All of us need to be vigilant. We need to help understand domestic abuse including violence in all its forms and support victims to bring these crimes out into the open.”
Coventry’s Safe to Talk helpline is available Monday to Friday 8.30am – 5.30pm and Saturday to Sunday, 10am – 1pm. For support tel: 0800 111 4998.
SUPPORT LOCAL DOMESTIC ABUSE CARE WORKERS
Coun Ann Lucas, The Lord Mayor of Coventry, has so far raised £1,000 towards her ongoing campaign supporting charities and organisations helping victims of domestic abuse in her year in office.
Anyone interested in donating can do so here.