That’s the message from Detective Inspector Laurie Nicholson, who is the Operational Lead for Domestic Abuse within the Western Trust area covering Fermanagh, Derry and Omagh.
According to the PSNI’s most recent statistics, within the Fermanagh and Omagh district there were 1,493 reported domestic abuse incidents and 685 domestic abuse crimes between April 2015 and March 2016.
Recently the PSNI unveiled a campaign aimed at encouraging people to report incidents of domestic abuse. ‘If you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, that’s domestic abuse’ is the key message and designed to make victims aware that they can take steps to stop domestic abuse and to encourage the reporting of incidents.
Detective Nicholson says that when it comes to victims, there is no differentiation.
“Regardless of age, economic status, gender or sexuality, domestic violence can happen to anyone. Very often people in rural areas like here in Fermanagh, find it more difficult to come forward as they feel much more isolated.
“While there’s more reporting of this crime in urban areas, we know it’s happening across the board. Very often in rural communities, you’ll have families who are interwoven through land or a farm so that does present difficulties in terms of someone coming forward to make a complaint. Also there can be pressure from within families not to come forward so that’s an ongoing battle to break that stigma.”
Detective Nicholson says another challenge police face is the huge disparity between the number of reported crimes versus actual incidents.
“When someone does take the courageous step to talk to police, we know that they have suffered a multitude of other abusive incidents in the past. While under-reporting still remains a big issue, we are seeing a year-on-year rise in reported incidents whether that’s through increased confidence or awareness.
“The stigma still remains and that’s what we’re trying to break down by always being victim-led. That involves abiding by their wishes, doing what’s best for them, putting them in touch with supportive services, bringing them through the criminal justice process and providing emotional, mental and financial support.”
One of the most heartbreaking issues for police is to be speaking with a domestic abuse victim and knowing that they’re holding back.
“We’ve rolled out enhanced training to first-responding officers when they initially encounter a victim including body-warrant video. Very often when this is presented to court it gives a very clear picture of what has happened in terms of the demeanour of and injuries to the victim, hostility of the suspect or any damage to the home in terms of overturned furniture or items broken.
“Even in the absence of a complaint from a victim, we have used this as an excellent tool for principal evidence and had some very notable successes as it captures emotional upset, tearfulness and aggression,” the detective added.
Mr Nicholson said he echoed the recent view of a local district judge who described domestic violence as “a cancer on society”.
“Some of the district judges have been very proactive in their approach. They are very well aware of the problem and would rather see more prosecutions coming before the courts.”
The detective is encouraging all victims to come forward and report domestic abuse to the police, by ringing 101 or 999 in an emergency.
“Pick up the phone and make it stop, we can support you and will do whatever you want and what’s best for you. No-one should put up with this or have to suffer in silence. If you have suspicions about another person ring us and let us know.”