Domestic homicide could rise as Covid restrictions ease, policing bodies warn

·4-min read
Authorities must be prepared for an increased risk of domestic homicides, policing bodies warn (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)
Authorities must be prepared for an increased risk of domestic homicides, policing bodies warn (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)

Authorities must be prepared for an increased risk of domestic homicides as some abusers’ control is taken away amid eased coronavirus restrictions, policing bodies have warned.

Some 163 domestic homicides and 38 suspected suicides of victims of domestic abuse were reported by police in the year to March 31, according to new research from the Domestic Homicide Project.

The figures show that rates of domestic homicides are “entrenched and enduring” but did not rise significantly during the first year of the pandemic.

But the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and College of Policing say the rates are unacceptable and warn of an increased risk of deaths as some abusers regain access to their victims as society reopens.

Their report also warns that financial pressures arising from Covid-19, its mental health legacy and delays to court cases are also likely to continue to be reflected in domestic abuse, domestic homicide and victim suicide.

And they said forces must remain alert to ‘Covid-blaming’, with some suspects having used the pandemic as an excuse or defence for their behaviour and others having “weaponised” it as a tool of control.

But they also believe that emerging from lockdown could help reduce the risk in some cases by opening up access to support networks and making abuse more visible.

All police forces in England and Wales responded to requests for information on domestic homicides – including murder from a current or ex-partner, family member and child deaths in a domestic setting, and suspected suicides of victims.

It is the first time data on apparent suicides of victims with a known history of domestic abuse has been captured.

Dr Lis Bates, who led the Home Office-funded research, said there has been a slight increase in the number of domestic homicides of an adult family member by another relative since April.

The senior research fellow at the Open University, told a media briefing an “informed guess” is that it is perhaps linked to “families being able to get together again who haven’t been living together during Covid”.

NPCC lead for domestic abuse, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, said: “We do know from other research that some of the protective measures around Covid-19 like lockdown meant that estranged partners had less opportunity to abuse victims in a sort of face to face way.

“But we have seen increases in things like online digital-perpetrated abuse, but of course… many forces have been thinking about those abusers that they are aware of and… what they might do as lockdown measures ease, and there’s been a lot of contact with victims as well.”

The research also found that more than half of suspects (58%) in the cases were already known to police for some form of offending, and 48% had previously been reported to the police for domestic abuse.

Ms Rolfe said the research had identified a “greater than previously connected” link to a history of domestic abuse.

Their findings also support existing research that coercive and controlling behaviour is associated with higher risk of homicide.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of the victims were female, 76% of those with a known ethnicity were white and 90% of deaths occurred in urban areas.

Some 80% of the suspects were male, although in cases where a child had died more than half of the suspects were female.

Dr Bates said numbers “remain far too high”, with 14 victims dying at the hands of a partner or relative each month, and three apparent suicides of victims a month.

Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said lockdown measures created a “uniquely difficult and dangerous environment for victims of domestic abuse”.

She said: “Services remain hugely stretched and have been herculean in their efforts to support victims throughout the pandemic, often on a shoestring.

“What emergency funding was available has now largely ceased, but demand remains as high as ever.

“The report clearly highlights the increase in demand for support spikes after lockdown measures ease, as victims find opportunities to seek help – but it is at exactly this point that victims can be at highest risk.”

Anyone struggling can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free on 0808 2000 247, or via live chat, or the Samaritans for free on 116 123 or via jo@samaritans.org.

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