Domestic violence charities are preparing for a flood of calls as christmas tensions boil over. But they insist that help is always at hand. Sam Casey reports.
Domestic violence campaigners are urging victims not to suffer in silence over Christmas – as two men start life sentences for murdering their partners.
Charities traditionally experience a spike in calls at the turn of the year as the combination of financial stress, family tensions and excessive drinking create pressure-cooker conditions that can boil over into violence.
The Halt domestic violence service in Leeds saw a 40 per cent increase in referrals between December last year and January this year,
Nik Peasgood, service manager for Leeds Domestic Violence Service, said: “Over Christmas people are trying very hard for their families and kids and they may let things go and we don’t see a lot happening.
“But towards the end of the year and into the new year, we get exceptionally busy.
“Our message is don’t keep things to yourself. You don’t have to leave your partner, you don’t have to take the kids and run away – or report it to the police – but if you can find someone to talk to it releases the burden.”
Ms Peasgood was speaking after two men were jailed for life yesterday for the murders of their partners.
Stephen Maynard, 54, was sentenced to a minimum of 14 years for stabbing 51-year-old Gail Lucas to death in Chapeltown.
Aseeb Rahman, 24, received a minimum 16-year term for stabbing 21-year-old Asma Begum to death in Gipton.
While such tragedies remain relatively rare, they illustrate the danger facing thousands of domestic violence victims in Leeds every day.
In the 12 months to April of this year police received about 13,400 calls relating to domestic abuse in the city, the vast majority of which were from women.
But Ms Peasgood said the figures were a positive sign.
“Reporting rates have significantly increased – they’re the highest they’ve ever been,” she said. “Is that a bad thing? No, it shows that the public has improved confidence that their concerns are being listened to.”
A quarter of domestic violence reports end up being recorded as crimes by police, with others assessed as minor disputes which do not warrant criminal investigation.
A third of reports are from victims who have called police in the past.
Of those incidents recorded as crimes, West Yorkshire Police currently brings charges in 54 per cent of cases.
Detective Inspector Dave Cowley, of Leeds Safeguarding Unit, said officers faced challenges in prosecuting some offenders.
“We rely on victims going through the criminal justice process,” he said. “We are victim-focused and we do support them, but for various reasons some people don’t feel able to go through with it.”
Police work closely with Leeds City Council and third sector organisations to deal with domestic violence. “It’s a key strategic priority for us to encourage people to report domestic violence, because it’s only when it is reported that we can do something about it,” Det Insp Cowley added. Coun Peter Gruen, chair of community safety partnership Safer Leeds said tackling domestic abuse was the partnership’s number one priority.
“We are working extremely hard with our partners, which include West Yorkshire Police, on a daily basis to provide a wide range of support to victims of domestic violence in our city. “We would urge anyone who is experiencing domestic violence to not suffer in silence, but to seek help as soon as possible.”
Shadow Home Secretary and Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper said two women a week were killed and two million people a year were domestic violence victims.
“We shouldn’t stand for this,” she said. “Just because the violence happens behind the net curtains doesn’t mean we can turn our backs.
“The impact of domestic abuse on families lives is immense. I’ve talked to a woman who was so afraid of her husband she locked herself in her children’s bedroom each night for months before she found the strength to leave.
“It’s time to put a stop to hidden violence and abuse.”
NUMBERS TO CALL WHEN YOU NEED HELP AND SUPPORT
There are several services in Leeds offering help to those experiencing domestic violence:
Call the domestic violence helpline for women on 0808 2000247
The men’s advice line is 0808 8010327
A specialist service for Jewish women can be accessed by calling 0808 8010500
Broken Rainbow, for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, can be contacted on 0300 999 5428
In an emergency ring West Yorkshire Police on 999, or for further help and advice in non-emergency situations call 101