Suffolk: Number of domestic abuse cases revealed

TWENTY reports of domestic abuse are received every day in Suffolk, shocking new figures have revealed.

The statistics, which have been collated by Suffolk police, show that 1,807 people have reported incidents of abuse in just three months this year.

Those working with the county’s victims have now called for an extra awareness of different types of domestic violence facing people in Suffolk – claiming they are seeing an increasing number of women who have been subjected to serious mental abuse.

According to information seen by the East Anglian Daily Times, the number of reports between April 1 and June 30 this year has dipped slightly on the same period last year.

But figures for Babergh, Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury and west Suffolk as a whole, have all gone up.

The Forest Heath ward saw the biggest increase, with the number of reports going from 162 to 183.

Waveney saw the biggest fall, going from 405 cases in 2011 to 359 in 2012.

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The highest number of reports overall was in Ipswich, which saw 536 reports of domestic violence.

Annie Munson, manager at Women’s Aid Centre, a refuge in Bury St Edmunds for women and their children who are victims of domestic violence, said increased awareness had led to more reports of abuse.

But Mrs Munson, who has worked at the refuge for 20 years, said more needed to be done to highlight an increase in mental abuse where women were “completely controlled” and isolated from friends and family.

Her comments come just days after ministers revealed that the definition of domestic abuse is to be widened to encompass a wide range of coercive or threatening behaviour, meaning men who abuse partners in a “controlling” fashion could face charges too.

The refuge manager said: “More women are suffering mental forms of abuse – it is something we have seen increasing over the years. Men who abuse are becoming more devious, cleverer. On some level there is an understanding that they cannot send their wife or girlfriend to the school gates with a black eye, they couldn’t get away with it.

“Of course, they may still hit their partners, but it is rarely around the head.

“They are much more likely to push and shove, or pull her hair and dish out mental abuse.”

Mrs Munson, who said the refuge’s counsellors described perpetrators of mental abuse as “headworkers”, added: “Although people might be more aware of headworkers than they were, most people only come to us after they have been advised that what they are experiencing is domestic abuse.

“They don’t recognise it themselves. They might feel they are in some way to blame and shouldn’t be helped.

“They think ‘I haven’t been hit or he hasn’t hit me for a long time’.

“Many of the girls who come here will also be isolated and vulnerable. They will have been taken away from their family or their family has been scared off.”

Mrs Munson revealed many abusers will set out to make their wife or girlfriend feel like they are losing their mind, adding: “Headworkers will often do things like hiding keys or leaving the oven on, or turning it up without them knowing.

“There is always that sentiment of: If you say about this to people, they will just say ‘so’? But in the overall scheme of things, it is quite traumatic.”

The refuge manager said it was also common for abusers to keep one child at home while their partner was out as “security” against them leaving for good.

Mrs Munson, whose team helps counsel and resettle victims – even finding them new homes and schools for their children – said she was not surprised that a large number of arrests in relation to domestic violence resulted in no further action.

According to Suffolk statistics for April to June 2012, up to 51% of arrests did not proceed to prosecution or caution.

In the county as a whole, out of 621 arrests, 228 of them resulted in no further action.

Mrs Munson said: “Often the woman doesn’t want to prosecute. No-one puts their hand into the crocodile’s mouth willingly.

“Girls are often willing to go forward to prosecute when they get here, but then they will get a phone call or something, or a Facebook message.

“But even 20 years ago, women would change their minds. They just want to slip away and start again.”

It is hoped the expansion of the definition of domestic abuse by the Government, which will also be applied to under-18s, will help police monitor cases and bring more prosecutions if coercive control is judged to amount to harassment.

Mrs Munson, who said it was hard enough to get women with “stitches and black eyes” to prosecute, said the revision would increase awareness of domestic abuse.