By Ann Orr,
In 2012, 1,220 racist attacks were reported to the PSNI. Reports of sectarian attacks numbered 2,261. In the same time frame more than 27,000 instances of domestic abuse were reported to the PSNI. This equates to around 3 every hour. In all three cases, reality is likely to be worse, however, it is clear that the instances of domestic violence across Northern Ireland are at an epidemic level.
Every day, the PSNI is called to an average of 60 domestic-related incidents and while the number of reported incidents of domestic violence against men has increased by over 40% over a 9-year period, it remains true that women are most effected by domestic violence. Very worryingly, young people aged between 16 and 19 were found by a 2009 UK-wide survey to be the most likely to suffer abuse by a partner than any other age group.
Even though domestic violence affects so many people in society, it is still a huge taboo. People can face a variety of reasons that make reporting such crimes very difficult. From financial worries to shame and concern over reporting a partner and possible co-parent. However, the very low conviction rate in domestic abuse cases (which has actually decreased compared to previous years) also makes it more difficult for victims to come forward. One victim of domestic violence described her experience of the PSNI as follows: “No-one ever seemed interested and kept telling me to go to a solicitor which I cannot afford as a working single mother; […] My assailant continued to threaten and abuse me, I did not contact the police because I felt they didn’t care.” Others spoke of “re-victimisation” and extreme stress. These examples, taken from a report by the Criminal Inspection Service Northern Ireland show how ill equipped the legal system is to deal with domestic violence and how much more victims are forced to suffer.
In 2010 several recommendations were made by the chief inspector’s office which focused on greater co-operation between the PSNI and prosecution services, improving victim support by working with women’s aid, improving staff training and making approaches to domestic violence incidents more uniform across Northern Ireland. Not even these reforms have been implemented. In actual fact, conviction rates for domestic violence have declined.
We need a genuine local-based police service which is democratically controlled and accountable to local communities to give confidence to victims of domestic violence. But the roots of domestic violence must be tackled too. The economic, financial and social pressures people face as well as sexist attitudes in society need to be eradicated to wipe out domestic violence.