The success of Cumbria police’s online surgeries around domestic and child abuse has been recognised by the Government, as the force seeks to connect with victims amid a rise in domestic abuse during lockdown.
The force has been holding regular online surgeries in partnership with other agencies, including Victim Support and Cumbria County Council, since mid-April in a bid to encourage more victims of domestic abuse or child abuse to come forward during lockdown.
With the Facebook surgeries having reached in excess of one million people, and at least 10 new victims identified through these surgeries that would not have otherwise been found, they have been acknowledged by the Government as a significant success, with other police forces now contacting Cumbria police for insight into how best to replicate the initiative.
Detective Chief Inspector Dan St Quintin explained that the motivation behind holding the surgeries, one per week on domestic abuse and one per week on child abuse and exploitation, came from concerns that during lockdown, an already hidden crime would become even more invisible.
“We wanted to open up any new lines of communication that we could with victims and their families, or worried loved ones to say there are other opportunities to come forward and report your concerns, take some safety advice,” Det Ch Insp St Quintin said.
“A multi-agency group are on hand to answer any questions as best as we possibly can.
“The surgeries are meant in part to raise awareness of the issue, and in part meant to encourage victims to come forward.
“We’ve already had new victims of domestic abuse identified through those web surgeries, that we wouldn’t have been made aware of in any other way.
“We’ve identified at least 10 new victims through these surgeries so far.
“This shows the value of what we’re doing.”
Det Ch Insp St Quintin said that since the beginning of lockdown, Cumbria police has experienced between a 10 and 15 per cent increase in reports of domestic abuse.
While some of this increase may be attributable to the success of the online surgeries, Det Ch Insp St Quintin explained why he was confident that figure was indicative of a rise in domestic abuse since lockdown began.
“That 10 to 15 per cent increase in domestic abuse reporting figure is compared to the 12 months prior to that,” he said.
“Twelve months ago, we had pubs and nightclubs open. Twelve months ago a significant amount of our domestic abuse was occurring in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings, after Friday and Saturday nights.
“There’s a clear pattern of perpetrators going out into the nighttime economy, having a bit to drink and then coming home and abusing their partners.”
He added that other large-scale events were often linked to instances of domestic abuse.
“Twelve months ago we had large-scale football matches, festivals and other events, where people could socialise and drink alcohol – during lockdown none of that existed.
“With pubs and clubs shut and no international football matches, no festivals or events during that time, and we’ve still had a 10 to 15 per cent increase with those other significant factors not there.
“So as a result of that I’m fairly confident there has been an increase in domestic abuse due to people being in lockdown.
Det Ch Insp St Quintin said that a rise in domestic abuse has been likely driven by the various pressures created by the conditions during lockdown
“I think its being driven by financial pressures, pressures of being cooped up at home, I think it’s being in contact with loved ones more, and there hasn’t been anywhere for people to escape to,” he said.
Det Ch Insp St Quintin stressed that domestic abuse can take various forms, both violent and non-violent, and can affect men and women.
“Men can be victims as well, and it doesn’t apply to just heterosexual relationships, it happens in same-sex relationships too.
“Domestic abuse can involve physical violence.
“It can also form coercive control, controlling how people dress, their lifestyles, who they speak to. It could be financial abuse, or emotional abuse.”
He added that domestic abuse can be particularly difficult to escape from because of this controlling aspect of the crime.
“It’s very typical that domestic abuse victims can perceive themselves as victims twice over,” Det Ch Insp St Quintin said.
“First of all, they’re victims of domestic abuse and then they’re a victim of financial constraints because they feel they would like to separate from their partner, but that they financially can’t do so.”
Domestic abuse can be incredibly damaging, but Det Ch Insp St Quintin stressed that it is not only damaging to the victim themselves.
“It can be incredibly damaging to children who are exposed to it as well,” he said.
Anyone who believes they might be a victim of domestic abuse can contact the Cumbria victim care team on 0300 303 0157.
“There are a lot of services that are out there, especially through Victim Support,” Det Ch Insp St Quintin said.
“By contacting Victim Support people can talk these things through before they make this move to separate.
“I would also encourage people to visit the Cumbria Together website.
“There’s a list there of all the services available to communities in Cumbria for all types of issues, not just domestic abuse.”
Given the hidden aspect of domestic abuse, Det Ch Insp St Quintin said Cumbria Police has long sought to encourage more victims to come forward.
“The Constabulary has worked incredibly hard to encourage reporting, and worked with partners across a number of agencies,” he said.
“We’ve been working a lot closer with multi-agency partners as the years have gone by.
“There’s a really strong partnership approach to domestic abuse during lockdown, which was very successful.
“We don’t know how much domestic abuse is hidden, but we do recognise that it is, and we’ve been working very hard to get as many people to report it as possible, so we’ve got a clearer picture of the scale of domestic abuse in Cumbria.”
Cumbria Police is keen to continue its web surgeries on domestic abuse and child abuse and exploitation, even beyond the end of lockdown.
It is also keen to promote awareness of the agencies working across Cumbria to help victims of abuse, and to help perpetrators change their behaviour.
“Domestic abuse will continue beyond lockdown. It’s a sad aspect of society,” Det Ch Insp St Quintin said.
“There’s a lot of agencies out there to help victims and their families. There are agencies out there to help victims and their families.
“And there are agencies out there that can help perpetrators with their behaviour as well.
“People can refer to something called Turning The Spotlight, if they want to address their own behaviour. That can be accessed through Victim Support.
“If you are a victim of domestic abuse, report it. Call the police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.
“And do have a look at the Cumbria Together website. If you’re not comfortable in speaking to the police, please do get in contact with Victim Support.”