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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

PSNI reveal domestic abuse represents around 20% of reported crime in NI

More organisations are being urged to sign up as a ‘Safe Place’ in a bid to raise awareness of domestic violence.

Speaking at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim’s Policing and Community Safety Partnership on Wednesday evening, Onus underlined the need for more participation in the initiative.

Onus says that its ‘Safe Place’ scheme is a “simple way” for any organisation to provide information and signposting to anyone affected by domestic abuse.

Participants are asked to play their part in supporting those affected and send a clear message to perpetrators that domestic abuse is intolerable.

Onus (NI) Ltd is a social enterprise based at Church Street, Ballymena, that offers specialist training and consultancy services on domestic abuse.

Chief executive Colette Stewart said she would encourage businesses such as hairdressers and beauticians to become involved as they have an important role to play through working in places where  individuals have “personal conversations”.

“We believe that in order to create a society based on zero tolerance of abuse, we all have a part to play. The first step is helping provide a safe place,” Colette explained.

“Any organisation can become a Safe Place, from hairdressers to churches. We believe everybody has a part to play to send out a clear message that domestic violence is always wrong. The onus is on all of us.”

She stressed: “You are not on your own if you are dealing with domestic abuse. Abuse thrives in silence.”

Also speaking at the online meeting was PSNI Inspector Siobhan Watt who described the role of the multi-agency support hub which was established in September 2017 by a number of statutory partners to “pool expertise”.

Insp Watt told the meeting of “a shift in policing from traditional crimes to criminal acts against the most vulnerable”.

“In order to address vulnerability, the PSNI works in partnership to pool expertise,” she explained. “It brings key professionals together to better share information and to work together to improve a person’s situation.”

Partnership working, she says, “fosters better outcomes for individuals”.

“The aim of the support hub is to facilitate early intervention and to improve a person’s health, well-being and quality of life.

Agencies can then pool resources and connect. It allows for a more efficient identification of problems and addressing underlying causes although the responsibility remains with the most appropriate agency.”

Partners include Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Housing Executive, Youth Justice Agency and Education Authority.

As a result, Insp Watt says that calls to police have almost halved. She went on to say that when a person has been involved with the multi-agency support hub for six months “their vulnerability is significantly reduced”.

The hub has received 1,462 referrals since it was established. It has received referrals from agencies such as Extern and Women’s Aid.

Meanwhile, she reported a 20 per cent increase in domestic offences during a recent 12-month period. She also noted an increase in confidence for victims to come forward.

She commented that domestic abuse represents approximately one fifth of crimes reported to the PSNI with one incident reported every 17 minutes.

Between April 2021 and March 2022, there were 2,325 incidents of domestic abuse reported to police in Mid and East Antrim compared to 2,176 from April 2020 until March 2021.

The number of domestic abuse crimes rose from 1,222 during the period between April 2020 and March 2021 to 1,476 between April 2021 and March 2022.

Commenting on new legislation on coercive control, the officer said it will “help to support victims of domestic violence and move towards a society where domestic and sexual violence is simply not tolerated in any fashion”.

She stated that the new legislation criminalises coercive control and other non-physical forms of abuse.

The new domestic offence covers behaviour that is controlling or coercive or that amounts to psychological, emotional or financial abuse of another person. Abusive behaviour may also include sexual abuse and technological or digital abuse.

As well as physical and sexual violence and threatening behaviour, the inspector indicated that abusive behaviour includes psychological and emotional abuse, technology abuse and digital abuse.

She also reported a Stalking Protection Bill which was introduced in April with a new offence of non-fatal strangulation to be added later this year.

“If we take a multi-agency approach to reducing domestic abuse, we will become successful in reducing harm caused to victims and citizens of Mid and East Antrim.”

Commenting on coercive control offences, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said earlier this year: “This legislation will support victims and will provide police with a clear definition on what constitutes domestic abuse, with access to further tools to arrest and prosecute offenders and prevent harm.

“We are here to help victims of these crimes and bring their offenders to justice. As I have said many times, this is the one crime when we know who the perpetrator is.

“Officers and staff members have been trained to recognise and respond to reports of coercive control and how to use the new powers they now have to safeguard children that witness any form of domestic abuse.”

Women’s Aid NI says: “Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. Coercive control is often inherent in domestic abuse. It is a pattern of controlling behaviours and acts which may include, threats, humiliation and intimidation, assaults or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.

“This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent on their abuser by isolating them from family and friends, support services, exploiting them, humiliating and degrading them and regulating their every day behaviour. It can be a gradual process which over time can lead to a total loss of confidence and sense of self.”


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