Police have warned of a looming rise in reported domestic abuse cases with some victims currently suffering in silence fearing if their abuser is arrested and becomes unemployed, they and their children will be plunged into poverty.
The Metropolitan police, which covers London, said its officers are arresting an average of 100 people a day for domestic violence offences during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Commander Sue Williams said charges and cautions were up 24% from 9 March, when people with coronavirus symptoms were asked to self-isolate, compared with last year.
She said domestic incidents, which can include family rows not recorded as crimes, were up 3% year on year and 9% between 9 March and 19 April, although offences were up just 2% in the Covid-19 period.
“We are seeing a rise, there’s no doubt about that, and we welcome that because we will take positive action against any perpetrators,” Williams said. “We are arresting about 100 people a day for domestic offences, which I think is pretty amazing, even given all the challenges we have in London.”
Charities said reports to them are up by around a quarter and Williams said policing around the country expects a rush of reports of domestic violence once lockdown is lifted, which is what happened in other countries when restrictions were eased.
This gap between the large rise reported to charities compared with the small increase reported to police has caused concern that victims are unable or unwilling to come forward.
Williams said charities the Met works with said some victims can fear police arresting the breadwinner in their household will leave them and the children with no money during a lockdown when jobs are disappearing: “There may be a reluctance to arrest someone who brings in the money,” adding: “In this current climate it becomes a hidden crime.”
She said that when other countries relaxed lockdown measures, reports to police of domestic violence and abuse increased, and she expected that would happen in the UK. Williams said: “I think we are going to see a rise when we come out of lockdown.”
Williams pledged an amnesty for domestic violence victims who may have breached lockdown rules saying the Met viewed stopping abuse as the priority: “We’re interested in them as a victim of crime and holding the perpetrator to account.”
Police were finding it easier to catch perpetrators as they were more likely be at home and less likely to be able to move around.
In one case in east London a woman called police but did not want to support a prosecution. Officers used their body-worn video to record a statement and that was enough to gain a “victimless” prosecution.
Williams said there were two homicides in London linked to domestic violence but it was not yet known if either was linked to the lockdown.
The Met is working with other agencies and charities to find temporary housing for suspects so women and their children don’t have to move home during the lockdown.
Williams said: “If we can arrest the perpetrator we give the victim some time to think about what they want to do.”
She urged neighbours to listen out for heated arguments or screams and said victims could also send text messages to friends or family and they could call police for help.
Williams said: “The main thing we are seeing is what we call domestic incidents. It could be the parties themselves in the household, family, friends phoning us and telling us they’re hearing noise, arguments taking place.
“Of course, there are violent offences; it has gone up a little bit but not massively. We have had two domestic-related murders in London during this period.”