New figures which show reports of domestic violence are increasing in Sheffield to more than 30 incidents per day are the ‘tip of the iceberg’, a city expert has warned.
But while the statistics – which show 11,369 incidents of domestic abuse were reported to police between April 2013 and March 2014 – look grim, those in the city tasked with dealing with problem said there may be some comfort to be taken from them.
The most recent figures represent an extra 1,164 reported cases compared to the previous year.
Maureen Storey, director of charity VIDA Sheffield, which was formerly known as Sheffield Domestic Abuse Forum, says that while the number of reported incidents are the ‘tip of the iceberg’, the fact more people feel confident enough to report abuse in the city is a good thing.
She said: “Reporting has certainly increased in Sheffield, and nationally – people are now more likely to involve the police rather than put up with domestic abuse.
“And if they can’t ring themselves, family and neighbours might – they’re less likely to treat it as a ‘private matter behind closed doors’.
“Then there all the people who don’t appear in the incident numbers because they don’t want anything to do with the police.
“Referrals to specialist services went up – more people are contacting us directly or via the police and other agencies for help and advice – nearly 5,000 women and 400 men used the specialist domestic and sexual abuse services last year.
“Agencies are much better at recognising and recording domestic abuse as an issue now, so that can also affect the numbers.”
Maureen added: “People feel more able to come forward and talk about what is happening to them and you can see that in a positive light.
“Hopefully the culture is changing where people no longer see domestic abuse as a private family matter.
“We are seeing the kind of cultural change in attitudes that we have seen with drink-driving.
“The Jimmy Savile case and a real surge in reporting of historic abuse has created a climate where people feel able to come forward and they will be believed.
“The message is getting through.”
But she warned domestic violence remains a ‘huge issue’ not just in Sheffield, but across the country – with much work needed to be done to tackle the problem.
A Sheffield Council report on the issue said nationally only around 40 per cent of domestic abuse is estimated to be reported. But Jo Daykin-Goodall, director of substance abuse strategy and domestic abuse at Sheffield Council, said victims are ‘increasingly confident’ about coming forward.
She said: “Women are the majority of victims – reflecting the fact that domestic and sexual violence and abuse remain gender issues in the city and the wider UK.
“Incidents of domestic and sexual abuse and violence remain under reported and under-recorded nationally and locally.
“Increased reporting levels are therefore likely to indicate that people in the city have greater awareness of and improved confidence in, local services.”
The report added: “The intention is that Sheffield will continue to build on the successful work of previous years in ensuring good quality, effective services are available to all victims of domestic and sexual abuse and violence in the city at the point of need.”
But the council is planning to change the way it obtains domestic violence services to reflect budget pressures.
While the expected cost of providing services is anticipated to go up by around £200,000 next year – the council is reducing the number of contracts it hands out from three to two to help control costs.
It means it will spend £70,000 extra next year rather than £200,000.
The council’s overall spending in the area will still go beyond £750,000 as a result.
Police are also working to encourage more victims to come forward.
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “It has long been understood that domestic violence offences are under reported and we want to encourage victims of these life-changing crimes to continue to come forward to police and other agencies.
“Extra funding in recent years has significantly increased the number of public protection officers working in South Yorkshire to protect victims and bring offenders to justice.
“Nationally, reports of sexual offences have increased and in South Yorkshire, this figure includes a recent increase in reporting of historic offences.
“We take the increase in reporting as a sign of confidence among victims that all such offences will be dealt with in a robust and professional manner, while providing the necessary support throughout the criminal justice process.”
n The Sheffield Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 808 2241. The number is free from landlines and most mobile networks.