Record high 30,000 domestic abuse incidents reported to police in Northern Ireland - sexual assaults also reach peak level
'If this was an illness it would be an epidemic'
Police dealt with a record high 30,000 reports of domestic abuse in the past year, new figures reveal.
The number of sexual assaults also reached a peak level for the first time since new reporting was introduced almost 20 years ago.
The PSNI published its annual crime statistics on Wednesday which showed overall crime was at its lowest since the first report in 1999.
Overall in the 2016/17 financial year there were 98,076 crimes recorded by the PSNI, a drop of 6.6% on the 105,023 incidents investigated the previous year and the lowest number recorded since the 1998/99 year.
However, the number of sexual offences and paramilitary style attacks increased.
Reports of sexual offences is at its highest recorded level since the first report rising by 4% to 3,158 reports on the previous year.
Police dealt with just over 30,000 incidents of domestic abuse in the year - the highest recorded level.
Chief executive of Nexus NI, a sexual abuse counselling organisation, Cara Cash said many incidents were never reported to police, but she was encouraged people were turning to the law when they became victims of domestic abuse.
"There is a gross under-reporting across Northern Ireland," she told the Belfast Telegraph, "These figures are only representative of those that are reported."
Cara said the impact of the violence stays with victims for years and they can blame themselves.
"They will say it's their fault. It impacts on every aspect of the life. When individuals are trying to come to terms with that the fact crimes have happened.
Societally there are still barriers about having conversations and there are societal taboos about coming forward. We are trying to campaign to break the silence so that even more victims do come forward and seek support. Cara Cash chief executive Nexus NI
Cara said that every victim is different and they will process and deal with the crime in their own way.
She continued: "The organisation has seen an increase in our referrals. We welcome more people coming forward and trying to deal with the trauma. In terms of our clients around 79% are female and 21% are male.
"There are even more barriers for male victims of violent crime.
"I would hope that people are made more aware that this is happening. I would hope that people out there who feel alone and feel they are the only person, will take comfort that we are here and want to support victims. And that they aren't on their own.
"It starts conversations and breaks the silence on sexual violence the more we talk about it the more we empower our victims to talk about it, the easier it will be to get them support."
Noelle Collins Women's Aid team leader in Belfast and Lisburn said the domestic abuse figures painted an "absolutely horrific picture".
She said: "There is so much still going on in society here in Northern Ireland. The recent murder [of Concepta Leonard] really says it is not going away.
"We need to change our culture completely.
If this was an illness we'd have an epidemic. Noelle Collins Women's Aid team leader
She added: "Our own helpline shows there is a greater awareness and it's not only from the victims but also from families and friends who are giving that information out that there is help. Especially women who are the overall victims here and that they would be listened to and believed.
"It's a very slow process sometimes because of the perpetrator mostly telling women that no-one will believe them and women are threatened in relation to their children."
Noelle also acknowledged that men are also victims of domestic abuse.
"It is horrendous that in a society we have gone through The Troubles and we are now looking at social problems in the high numbers that they are, it's rdiculous.
She added: "I would ask anyone who finds herself in this situation and feels there isn't an avenue out of the abuse, we are just a phonecall away. We have a helpline open 24 hours, it's free and women can ring that.
"No-one has to suffer this. This is power and control - having power over another."
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “I would continue to encourage anyone who is a victim of domestic abuse to come forward and report it to police.”
If you need help or know of someone who is suffering contact:
- Women's Aid - 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline 0808 802 1414 (freephone) 02890666049 - 9-5pm
- Nexus NI - Nexus NI offer counselling and support to survivors of sexual abuse, victims of sexual violence including those who have experienced rape and sexual assault. Belfast - 028 9032 6803 - Londonderry 028 7126 0566 - Enniskillen 028 6632 0046