Belfast Telegraph

Domestic violence level shames society

Editor's Viewpoint

By any measure, the level of domestic violence is Northern Ireland is both shocking and appalling. Police recorded more than 28,000 incidents last year - a level of crime that outstrips most other offences.

As the Chief Constable has pointed out repeatedly, the victims are among the most vulnerable people in society.

There is an old saying that no one truly knows what goes on behind closed doors. But this glimpse of what actually happens in a great many homes is horrifying.

The latest total is the highest since the present recording system was introduced and raises the question, is the law failing victims?

The Chief Constable has pointed out that his diminished force, reduced budget and the demands of investigating the past have all contributed to placing enormous pressures on officers.

Domestic violence, like any other crime that involves lives in danger, remains a priority for response and investigation.

So what then can be done to help victims? Inevitably, most of those who suffer domestic violence are women, although the number of men attacked has been rising in recent years.

Domestic incidents are difficult to police. Those who have been attacked may be reluctant to give evidence, fearing that it could lead to the break-up of the family, the loss of a home or further attacks.

The courts can deliver non-molestation orders and restraining orders to keep the guilty party away, but there is no guarantee those orders will be obeyed.

The fears of many women are realistic. Last year, 1,200 women and children stayed in refuges operated by the Women's Aid charity around the province because they were afraid to return to the family home. A significant number of other women could not find a refuge to flee to.

That adds to the complexity of dealing with the crime and shows the need for social services and other agencies to work closely with police.

Many victims of psychological and physical abuse undoubtedly continue to suffer in silence, and identifying them can be a very difficult task. For some, admission that they are victims of abuse in the home is a taboo subject.

It must be made clear to those who carry out abuse that there is zero tolerance of their crimes, both through the decision to prosecute and in the sentences handed down in court. These crimes behind closed doors cannot be allowed to continue to escalate.

Belfast Telegraph


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