The number of Wigan people prosecuted for domestic violence has plummeted by almost a third in just a year.
But experts say that this shouldn’t be cause for celebration: the likely cause is fewer victims’ coming forward due to legal aid cuts.
A Freedom of Information Act request shows there was a 30 per cent fall in domestic violence prosecutions in Greater Manchester in the first six months of this year compared to same period a year before.
A Wigan charity which supports victims of domestic violence today expressed shock and surprise at the news because it says it has experienced an increase in victims coming forward.
Emma Pearmaine, head of family services at law firm Simpson Millar - which made the FOI inquiries - said: “For several years we have seen a steady rise in domestic violence prosecutions which was largely attributed to an increase in public awareness and a change in the attitude within police forces to pro-actively tackle these cases.
“It is rather idealistic or hopeful to assume we are witnessing a society-wide fall in instances of domestic violence, regardless of how much I wish that was true. A cut in the legal aid budget has had a negative impact on the level of access people have to legal advice; this could now be having serious implications for abuse victims.
“My team of family lawyers and I always advise victims of domestic abuse to report it to the police – even when it is a matter of coercive control and not yet physical violence. But in the past 12 months we have seen a marked fall in those cases.
“In some police authority areas, the number of prosecutions has fallen by over a third from one year to the next. We urgently need to understand why this might be to make sure victims are not suffering in silence.”
Gemma Hewitt, service manager at Dias Domestic Violence Centre in Wigan, said: “I have to say that we are surprised to learn of the information detailed. Dias has actually seen an increase this year of people coming to get support for domestic abuse issues. We are concerned that these figures may imply a reluctance for victims to contact the police as statistics say that on average, there are 35 incidents before the victim seeks help.
“Worryingly, a lot of people also believe that domestic abuse is only physical, like a slap or a punch. Domestic abuse can take many forms, it can be emotional, psychological, financial or sexual. We need to raise awareness to break the stigma surrounding the issue.”
Greater Manchester Police declined to comment on the figures. But it last night issued the latest results from a new domestic violence crackdown called Operation Scratch. It is month of action, raising awareness of the underreported crime, capturing criminals wanted for domestic abuse offences and encouraging people to recognise the signs in their own or someone else’s relationship. A total of 245 people have been arrested in the first fortnight.
The Crown Prosecution Service was approached for a comment but a response was not forthcoming the paper went to press.
Dias offers a free and confidential drop-in and counselling service for anyone affected by domestic abuse. Ring 01942 495230.