Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland facing 'epidemic' of domestic abuse as PSNI records highest ever figures

More than 30,000 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded in Northern Ireland in 2018/19 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
More than 30,000 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded in Northern Ireland in 2018/19 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

A former justice minister has said Northern Ireland is facing an "epidemic" of domestic abuse after the PSNI revealed it has recorded its highest ever number of incidents.

MLA Claire Sugden, who is attempting to bring forward legislation to make so-called "coercive control" a criminal offence, told the Belfast Telegraph that more needs to be done to tackle domestic abuse here.

She said the rise in figures may be because more people are reporting incidents. She said to effectively tackle the problem the Stormont institutions needed to be restored.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey, who was the co-chair of the all party group on domestic and sexual violence at Stormont, described as "startling" the figures which illustrated the need for action.

PSNI figures show that 31,682 domestic abuse incidents were recorded in the 2018/19 financial year, 51% higher than the level of 20,959 recorded in 2004/05 when police records began.

Of those incidents there were 16,182 crimes - again the highest on record - and 86% of those carried out allegedly by males. The majority were over 18, white and either of British or Irish nationality.

Figures also released on Friday showed an increased in crime to 100,995 in the past year - over 2,000 more than the historic low of 2016/17. There was also 21 murder recorded in the year - the third highest in the past 10 years.

Claire Sugden told the Belfast Telegraph that she was "disappointed but not surprised" by the domestic abuse figures.

"I think the figures are now starting to reflect what happens behind closed doors," she said.

"Previously maybe less people were coming forward - it may indicate it is increased reporting rather than a rise in incidents.

"In one sense, it is good that people are now recognising this type of behaviour as being wrong and feel confident enough in being able to come forward.

"It reiterates the epidemic we have in relation to domestic abuse in Northern Ireland and our systems don't support any kind of redress for that, which is disappointing."

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Claire Sugden

The legislation put forward by the independent MLA to make coercive control - where someone controls their partner through psychological abuse - has stalled due to a lack of the Stormont Executive and Parliament dissolving for the general election.

"When that becomes law, we might see even more incidents of domestic abuse recorded," she added.

"We need to do more about it, not just from a criminal justice point of view. We need to start looking at this through education, through health and social care.

"Why do people feel the need to abuse others? What is it that drives people to behave in this way.

"I think it is a broken society, if I am honest. It comes from early childhood trauma, from the difficulties that we all face in life and the problem in Northern Ireland is that we are not addressing those issues."

Ms Sugden said in order to tackle domestic abuse in Northern Ireland effectively, the Stormont Assembly must be recalled.

"A number of lobbyists, along with the Department of Justice and myself encouraged the UK government to take it as part of their wider domestic abuse bill and they agreed to do that," she said.

"The difficulty is that it was in its early stages of its passage at Westminster and because it has not been completed, parliament has now been dissolved and all incomplete legislation with it.

"We are back to square one when the new parliament comes into effect."

The MLA added that she was hopeful that the newly elected government will take up the new legislation when it comes into office.

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Clare Bailey (Liam McBurney/PA)

Green Party leader Clare Bailey told the Belfast Telegraph the increase in domestic violence incident was startling and presented a real issue for society, requiring an urgent response.

“The outgoing Tory government failed to progress domestic violence legislation and the Stormont stalemate provides little prospect of progress," she said.

“There must be improvement made to the criminal justice system if we are to see better outcomes for domestic violence survivors.

“However, this issue goes right back to how we help our young people understand what constitutes a healthy relationship.

“That’s why I’m advocating for a compulsory relationship and sexuality education programme at schools level.”

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