Reports of domestic abuse of women have increased by 54% in the last five years in the West Midlands, according to West Midlands police data.
Leyla Buran, policy adviser at Birmingham & Solihull Women’s Aid (BSWA) said: “Austerity has hit women the hardest, putting many women in vulnerable situations in regards to housing, employment and access to specialist services. This instability is exacerbated when women are also experiencing domestic abuse”.
BSWA has worked with 27% more women in the year 2018/19 than the previous year, and has seen an increase of 18% in the last year alone for the number of women calling their Helpline.
Reports of domestic-abuse related incidents or offences involving female victims in the West Midlands have increased from 13,842 in 2014 to 21,271 in 2019. Buran said: “The number of women seeking specialist support is unprecedented, even by an organisation that is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary.”
Marcia Lewinson, CEO of Women Acting in Today’s Society (WAITS) said this increase is also due to more public awareness of domestic abuse and the new legislation on coercive control.
Buran added: “Support agencies missing signs of coercive control is the most common major element found in Domestic Homicide Review’s in Birmingham; despite coercive control being declared criminal in 2015.”
By self-defined ethnicity, the majority of victims are White-British, followed by Asian-Pakistani and Asian-Indian, a consistent pattern in all periods.
“There are no demographic indicators to which women are more likely to experience domestic abuse, since it can affect all women,” Buran explained.
Lewinson agreed: “We see women from a variety of backgrounds”.
As to whether victims are more confident to talk about it, Lewinson believes that women struggle due to the types of abuse faced to talk about it. She added: “Women from ethnic minorities also face barriers due to lack of understanding of the law and language and cultural barriers”.
A total of 111,226 women victims of domestic abuse have been reported to the West Midlands Police since 2014 . After four years of steady growth, in 2019 the number of cases has fallen for the first time.
Buran said: “Domestic abuse is widely understood to be more prevalent after a relationship has ended, with women’s risk of danger being highest at the point of leaving an abusive relationship. The number of women deemed to be at high risk has tripled in the last five years.”
She added: “Couple this with underfunded frontline services, a huge deficit in available housing and we start to uncover the difficulty women affected by domestic abuse face when trying to seek help through the criminal justice system, and attempt to move on and rebuild their lives in new homes.”
Lewinson agreed: “Institutions like housing, police and benefits are not supporting adequately”.
Over 32,000 domestic abuse-related crimes were recorded in the West Midlands in the year ending March 2019. This equates to 11 crimes for every 1,000 people in the population. 4,018 domestic abuse-related prosecutions took place in the same period, which represents 17% of all prosecutions in this area.
Buran said: “Similar figures are echoed across the country, whereby an underfunded criminal justice system is not able to respond to growing reports of crime.”
75% of domestic abuse-related prosecutions resulted in a conviction. There were 43 arrests per 100 domestic abuse-related crimes.
To Lewinson, stronger laws to protect victims and better policing in this area are needed. Buran concluded: “Perhaps, the legal definition of domestic abuse, as will be introduced by the Domestic Abuse Bill, will broaden a wider public understanding of domestic abuse.”