More than 3,000 arrests were made for domestic abuse-related crimes in Sussex during the first coronavirus lockdown, new figures reveal.
With a fifth of all crime nationally during lockdown involving domestic abuse, Refuge said the problem is the “biggest social issue” facing women and girls today.
Figures from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services show Sussex Police made 3,632 arrests for domestic abuse-related crimes between April and June, when the toughest national Covid-19 restrictions were imposed.
There were also 142 voluntary attendances at police stations, where a suspect agrees to meet officers at a station as an alternative to being arrested.
Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest domestic abuse crimes were already rising in Sussex before the pandemic struck.
In the year to March, 15% of all crimes in the area were linked to domestic abuse (19,039) – the same level as the year before, but an increase on the 13% in 2018.
Across England and Wales, domestic abuse offences have risen steadily as a proportion of all crimes for the last four years, reaching 15% in 2019-20.
This spiked in April, May and June when roughly a fifth (21%, 20% and 19%) of offences recorded by police were flagged as domestic abuse related.
As restrictions eased, this proportion fell slightly – likely to be due to overall police-recorded crime increasing following the lockdown.
Police forces (excluding Greater Manchester) recorded 198,112 offences between April and June – 9% more than the same months in 2019, and 17% more than two years ago.
Refuge said there was a general increase in demand for domestic abuse services at this time, and it continues to see peaks in demand three weeks into the second lockdown.
Lisa King, director of communications and external relations at the charity, said: “It is important to remember that behind all of these statistics are real woman and their experiences.
“These numbers refer to instances of physical violence, rape, sexual assault, emotional and psychological abuse, coercive control, FGM, forced marriage and other forms of gender-based violence.
“Domestic abuse is biggest social issue facing women and girls today, and these statistics show it simply isn’t going away.”
There was also a small rise (2%) in the number of child protection referrals as a result of domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes over the three months compared with the same period in 2019.
There were 56,945 child protection referrals over this time – with 3,197 in Sussex.
Barnardo’s said families were facing new financial and emotional pressures during the pandemic so while “deeply sad”, the figures are not a shock.
Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Children are the hidden victims of domestic abuse, not just bystanders. Lockdowns have left too many children trapped in unsafe homes, and missing out on vital support.
“In many cases we know that without timely help, children go on to experience further abuse in their own relationships and risk becoming trapped in a life-long cycle of violence.”
Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said the Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill, currently awaiting its second reading in the House of Lords, will strengthen protections for victims and also ensure perpetrators feel the full force of the law.
She added: “We are acutely aware that for some people home is not a safe place and that the pandemic put those people in greater danger.
“That is why we are taking action, alongside our partners including the police, to better protect victims, bring perpetrators to justice, and learn from deaths to prevent future tragedies.”
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said earlier this month that the Force had secured £402,000 from the Government to set up the first county-wide domestic abuse (DA) perpetrator programme.
Mrs Bourne said, “There is currently no specialist partner intervention for those who continually abuse and we are seeing far too many perpetrators in Sussex slipping through the criminal justice net, going on to reoffend and hurt more people.
“We are determined to challenge and change domestic abuse perpetrators.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Rayland of the Sussex Police Public Protection Command added, “The funding will allow specialist services to work with perpetrators to change and modify their behaviour and educate them about healthy relationships.
“However, those perpetrators who continue to offend will still be investigated and where there is sufficient evidence positive action will be taken, including prosecution. Domestic abuse isn’t acceptable and will not be tolerated, and I hope that with the funding available those who want to change will have the opportunity to do so.”