Six out of 10 victims of serious domestic abuse don't report it
Police are not told about six in 10 of the worst cases of domestic violence in Northern Ireland, a new survey has revealed.
The figures released by the Department of Justice yesterday were based on interviews with 1,209 individuals aged 16-64 on their experiences of domestic violence involving their partners and wider family circle.
The annual survey divided domestic violence/abuse into non-physical abuse, threats and force.
In 2015/16, just over a third of the worst cases of domestic partner abuse (36.6%) were reported to the PSNI.
Furthermore, while 61% of victims believed their worst incident of partner abuse was a criminal offence, a fifth (21%) believed it was "wrong, but not a crime" and one in eight (12.3%) accepted it as "just something that happens".
DCS George Clarke, head of the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, said the number of victims making the "courageous" step of phoning the police was increasing.
"We know that domestic abuse is a frightening crime which can affect anyone, often leaving victims feeling isolated and alone," he said.
"If you are a victim of abuse, please be assured you are not alone and that there are people who can help you.
"Please come forward and report the matter to police."
DCS Clarke added that police respond to an incident of domestic abuse every 18 minutes and the PSNI had dedicated domestic abuse officers to ensure that all domestic crimes were investigated, as well as providing support on police and legal proceedings.
The department's survey follows on from police statistics in May which reported a record high of almost 30,000 reports of domestic abuse during 2016/17.
The number of sexual assaults also hit the highest level for the first time since new reporting methods were introduced nearly 20 years ago.
Jan Melia, CEO of Women's Aid in Northern Ireland, welcomed the increase of reports to police.
But she said the new survey proved domestic violence was still "a hidden crime".
She added that much work was needed to raise awareness of the nature and definition of domestic violence.
"Women tell us that there is a particular need to highlight emotional abuse and the coercive ongoing nature of abuse in intimate and familial relationships," she said.
She added that more early prevention work was needed in schools, along with training for doctors, teachers and community workers to ask victims the right questions.
Ms Melia said increased prosecutions would send a "clear message to perpetrators that domestic violence will not be tolerated in Northern Ireland".
She also called on the department to secure funding for domestic abuse support workers in police stations and more robust legislation, including a specific domestic abuse offence.
The PSNI has urged anyone suffering from domestic abuse to contact their local police station on 101, or 999 in an emergency.
A 24-hour domestic and sexual violence helpline is also available to anyone who has concerns, past or present, on 0808 802 1414.