A sharp rise in domestic abuse referrals to Hackney Council’s intervention service during lockdown coupled with a decrease in reports to local police has caused puzzlement.
Neither the Town Hall nor the Metropolitan Police are yet able to explain why the council has seen a 60 per cent rise in its weekly cases, while the Borough Command Unit covering Tower Hamlets and Hackney had a three per cent drop in reports compared to last year.
The council and police have underlined the routes of support that exist for individual survivors and victims of domestic violence and abuse (see below) as work to understand the overall statistical picture continues.
Borough Commander Marcus Barnett said: “We are still seeing a reduction from where we were this time last year. There has been an increase in reporting to third-party sector and local authorities. I’m not sure we yet fully understand the reasons why.
“We’ve spent a huge amount of time and effort over the years driving up education, understanding, awareness, and our level of capability, our support to tackle domestic abuse. We have professionalised it and come on in leaps and bounds in the way we approach our investigations.
“But if you were to report something to a local authority, maybe it’s a slightly different connotation for somebody in crisis when they have nowhere else to go to go to the police as the final authority. It might just seem a step too far.
“It’s been a real concern for us. We focus very closely on it and work very closely with our partners. It is a concern that we’ve seen the drop in reporting.”
Barnett added that another “eminently sensible” reason for why the police are seeing a drop in reporting is an under-attendance at A&E, which could translate into fewer victims becoming known to the police.
Attendances at the Homerton’s A&E fell dramatically during lockdown, averaging at just under 150 per day for the past month, compared to an average of around 350 per day in November.
The police have not yet seen a predicted surge in domestic violence reports with the easing of lockdown, which Barnett attributed potentially to many still living in isolated conditions even as social distancing rules begin to be relaxed.
Sarah Wright, the Town Hall’s head of safeguarding, said: “I’m not sure that we do have an understanding of what these figures mean.
“One could hypothesise about how difficult it is to call the police for people who are victims of domestic violence, that we know is massively underreported to the police, with all of the things that calling the police brings with it.
“It is difficult to understand why it has gone down in terms of the polcie referrals. I’ve also heard that in other places it has not gone down quite so much.
“One of the differences with contacting the police is that people may feel that they have less control over what happens once they have phoned the police. That is always a consideration for people – if you pick up the phone, does that mean they will come round and take control of it, whereas if you contact a voluntary organisation or a service like ours, you may feel you have a bit more control over what happens next.”
Community and voluntary groups are understood to have also seen an increase in domestic abuse referrals, though not to the same degree as the council.
Cllr Caroline Selman, community safety lead at the council, said: “Nobody has a definitive answer for why this is, though there might be hypotheses for why it might be. It is often people who have trusting relationships who come through to us.
“Looking London-wide, there are other non-police referral services that were also worried at not seeing the level of referrals coming through to them as well. The sense is that is attributed to the barriers we know people might be facing in reporting.”
Wright has said that many of the referrals making up the spike in reporting during lockdown were those who knew the council’s services and had used them before.
Barnett added: “As a community safety partnership, we have a very strong structure and focus around supporting victims, and we constantly seek to improve the level of reporting. We want people to come forward.
“If you are a victim of domestic abuse, and you come forward, we will support you. We will do everything we possibly can to prevent you from suffering further abuse. Be it us or our local authority partners, we will do everything in our power.
“If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, we will come and help you. We have a heart and a desire to stamp out domestic abuse.”
If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999 right away. If it is unsafe for you to speak, you can make a silent phone call to the police by dialling 999 and pressing 55 when asked to do so.
If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have visual impairments, you can call the police in emergencies on 18000 or text 999 if you have registered for the Emergency SMS service, which you can find at this link – bit.ly/emergency-sms.
If someone’s immediate safety is not under threat, you can report domestic abuse to the police by calling 101 or at this link bit.ly/report-domestic-abuse . If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired you can call the non-emergency textphone on 18001 101.
If you are concerned about the safety of children, you can call Hackney Council’s Children and Families Service on 020 8356 5500 from Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm, or 020 8356 2710 outside office hours.
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can be reached 24-hours a day for free on 0808 2000 247 or by visiting nationaldahelpline.org.uk .
You can reach the National Stalking helpline on 0808 802 0330 .
More information can be found at hackney.gov.uk/domestic-violence