Islington’s shocking domestic abuse figures only the tip of the iceberg, warns charity
- Credit: Archant
Many will have been stunned by last week’s revelations about the enormous scale of Islington’s domestic violence problem.
We knew it was a terrible reality for far too many families, yet the latest figures published by` the Gazette were truly shocking.
Police in Islington handled some 4,000 cases in 12 months over 2011/2012, while the financial cost to the borough was estimated at a staggering £25.7million over the same period.
The numbers, which were presented to an Islington Council health committee last Tuesday, make it plain that domestic violence places a huge burden on our cash-strapped public services.
Yet it is the human cost that is most alarming of all – the devastating impact abusive and violent partners have on women, children and sometimes men.
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In Islington, domestic violence accounts for 49 per cent of all violent crimes against women. Nationally, 20 per cent of women say they have been attacked by a partner or an ex. Fifty-four per cent of all rapes are domestic cases. And two women are killed every week.
All this adds up to a shockingly widespread problem – so it is crucial there are robust services for victims to turn to.
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In Islington, one of the main support services for victims of domestic violence is Solace Women’s Aid, a charity based in Holloway. It runs refuges and offers other forms of help, including counselling.
About 1,000 women and children come through its doors every year and in 2010, Tracy, a 39-year-old mother-of-one, was one of those.
She escaped an abusive relationship and entered a Solace refuge with her young daughter. They still receive support from the charity.
She said: “To find myself in a refuge with a three-year-old child was pretty hideous.
“Yet it was a huge relief and I felt happier in that situation, in a tiny room with my daughter and a few clothes and books. I don’t think my daughter and I would still be alive if we hadn’t left when we did, I really don’t.”
Tracy got together with her tormentor, the father of her daughter, in 2006 and soon became pregnant.
Solace boss Mary Mason says pregnancy is a common trigger and that’s when the problems started for Tracy.
She suffered through years of abuse before finally seeking help. Remembering some of the most harrowing episodes, she tells me about the time he tried to rape her before dragging her down a flight of stairs.
On another scarring occasion, he performed a sudden U-turn into oncoming traffic on an icy road, with both Tracy and their daughter in the car.
Yet she said: “I didn’t really have a clue what was happening. You live in denial, you don’t want to think this man you loved and adored and whose child you had is an absolute pig. You just can’t believe it and you invent all kinds of excuses for their behaviour. You blame yourself.”
Many of the women who have turned to Solace have faced violence for a long time. In some cases, their ex-partners have gone on to kill other women.
Ms Mason, the chief executive of Solace, said: “We know a lot of it is not reported. Only about a third of incidents are. We also know people tend to experience at least 30 incidents before they come to us.
“Human nature is hopeful and we all hope that things are going to get better. We hope this is going to be the last time because these men are the husbands, the fathers of the children. There’s been a love relationship and that’s really hard. For some it means leaving financial security – what you lose is huge. To leave that behind is a huge step.”
Ms Mason says it is vitally important to ensure domestic violence is high on society’s agenda. “We need to identify the issues earlier and there needs to be greater resources,” she said. “Health professionals in particular need to be much more alert.They need to be aware when women walk into A&E or the GP’s with injuries.
“It needs to be higher up on everyone’s agenda.”
As we learned last week, the cost of domestic violence in Islington was put at £25.7million in one year.
Ms Mason says it is only by supporting the likes of Solace that the pressure on the public purse can be eased.
She highlights research published by the Women’s Resource Centre charity, which indicates that for every £1 invested in services for victims, around £8 is saved in costs to other public services such as health and policing. Despite this, such organisations have faced swingeing cuts and Solace lost about half of all its funding in 2011.
The charity has been forced to reduce key services, including its programme for women at high risk in the community.
Ms Mason said: “The council has worked very hard to maintain the funding, but we have not been able to protect all the services.
“The government’s decision to cut these strands of funding has left us with not enough resources to tackle the problem. It makes absolutely no sense.”
The Solace Women’s Aid helpline is free to call on 0808 802 5565